Monday, 8 March 2021

Journeys and stories

Tales of ice and sky
Travelling Stories, 

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

We called this Buxton Museum and Art Gallery project “Travelling Stories” as this sense of objects that have been carrying stories around the world for years really appealed. The objects in the Schools Library Service brought the stories of their homelands to the people of Derbyshire, inviting visitors to investigate – or speculate – on the stories behind the artefacts. Now, those objects and their stories are moving on again. Some pieces are following long wandering trails back to where they came from. Others are moving on to new homes, taking their stories with them and hopefully sharing those stories in different ways with new people.

We invited our artists (or maybe challenged them) to respond to objects within the collections that were going to their individual museum. The finished works will be presented in an online exhibition in the spring. We'll keep you posted on that experience as plans develop. meanwhile, here is another instalment of "where are our artists going?"

This week, as another of the Buxton artists, I'm adding my bit to the mix....

With me it’s always stories. I am drawn to a sense of connection of movement, of emotion and depth wrapped in adventure

The Arctic collections from SLS that are staying with Buxton Museum really appeal. I have already had some expeditions into creativity with them – most strongly with Tupilak who you can meet here and who has surfaced again in the piece I am writing now.

I am drawn to the layers of stories that seem to be embedded in that Arctic collection. Most of these artefacts were made specifically for the tourist market: these are not original working tools (like Ryan's boomerangs) or perhaps ceremonial pieces ( the carved paddles that Akhran is looking at). These tiny harpoons and chunky carved lemmings were made with a view to enticing visitors into parting with their pennies. That does not devalue them as pieces of art: the detail and work that shaped model kayaks and a sled dog team is beautiful, their purpose simply offers a different story.

If the first story contained by a model kayak is tourism, a second might reflect the people behind the artistry: the resources they had to draw upon (bone, walrus ivory, whale tooth, seal skin, fur): the skill and dexterity needed to shape these small pieces and how that reflects the dedication needed to make, say, a full-size kayak. Going further, there is the relationship between people and landscape and ecology. And further still lies the relationship between people, place and wildlife:  a set of subtle and profound partnerships recognised by our artists. Theirs is a fierce world, a landscape that freeze the life out of someone in moments, animals that can kill with a paw or the blow of a broad fluke. This is also a world of breath-taking wonder from sunlight on snow to reindeer on migration to a mass of walrus on a beach to the shimmer of the aurora rippling across the northern nights

“the greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls….”

Iglulik Eskimo quoted in “Shaman: the wounded healer” by Joan Halifax

There are prints in the collection, too, worked from slate blocks and revealing more of those relationships: a world where humans, animals and even weather features move in and out of each other, shifting from one shape to another. 

That brings me back to another carving: a small, subtle, delicate piece of a person turning into a seabird. It is exquisite and I wonder if this was made for the “tourist market” or if this was made to be slipped into a pack and kept safe, a token of transformations experienced

I am not here to give answers: I’m here to offer stories. I don’t know if this is “tourist trade”, if that was made for practical use or creative fulfilment, or all of the above, or none. It might be nice to know but for now this collection provokes me: challenges, offers ideas, Tupilak sitting in the shadows, dripping and whispering wonders or Sedna, Arnagnaksak, in the cold depths of northern sea singing the walrus from the open palms of her fingerless hands, while Quailertetang guides the shaman down to her friend. 

So I scribble notes, collage moments from prints with sketches, think of white landscapes ad shadow puppets, and play with phrases

Something is coming together.

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