Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Room and Book: Mark Hearld's Lumber Room

The Lumber Room, York Art Gallery, photo by Jonty Wilde from Random Spectacular website
Some time last year I was up North and went to have a look at the revamped York Art Gallery. I hadn't visited the city since 1980-something and my abiding memories are of wet cobblestones and of climbing up a drainpipe to visit a friend who was incarcerated in a boarding school. Who? Where? Why? All gone...

Anyway, the main purpose of my detour was to see Mark Hearld's Lumber Room: Unimagined Treasures, a curatorial adventure inspired by Saki's short story of the same name. I was curious to see what an artist with such a powerful sense of design and pronounced magpie tendencies would make of the gallery's collection of - not to put too fine a point on it - old stuff. Not long before I'd been bowled over by the new displays at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, which somehow managed to show exactly the same material but in such a way that it became magically fascinating.

Mark did not disappoint. Here were all the usual oddities you'd find in any good provincial museum, from military uniforms and stuffed fish in tanks to Staffordshire pottery and portraits of long-dead ladies. In a traditional museum setting these might have been presented in rows and blocks, with a display of porcelain here and a group of paintings there. According to this model, each artefact is a self-contained unit that relates to similar works placed nearby; our experience is linear, like reading a book.

The Lumber Room was not like this, but was instead a kind of collage, only in three dimensions. Things related to other things in ways that you wouldn't normally consider, based not on what they were or when they were made, but on colour, texture, form. When you looked across the room, from any point, you saw layers of shape and colour that shifted with your vantage point. Yes, there were some Hearld pictures and ceramics to liven things up a bit, but they weren't really necessary. The room quivered with the life of objects placed in aesthetically stimulating relationship to one another.

I tried to take some photos but soon gave up. To me, at any rate, this was an experience you could only enjoy by being there, in the room. It was an exhibition all budding curators should have been forced to attend, repeatedly and for long periods, because it demonstrated that the strength of an art exhibition lies less on the quality/value/notoriety of the works on display but in their arrangement. An interesting combination of pictures and objects will bring each one, however humdrum, to life.

I can't remember whether 'the book of the show' was being advertised there, but I do remember wondering how you could capture the experience of The Lumber Room in book form. In fact I didn't think it could be done. Exhibition catalogues rarely convey the real spirit of a show, but tend rather to serve as a reminder and a record. This being said, there are things you can do in a catalogue that you can't do in an exhibition, such as show multiple pages of books.

Now The Lumber Room: Unimagined Treasures has been published by Random Spectacular, the St Jude's imprint. It is not a catalogue, nor is it really a record of Mark's exuberant intervention. There are a few photos of the exhibition, which serve as a kind of reminder, but Emily Sutton's drawings convey the eclectic pleasures of the room better. Otherwise Mark has taken the exhibition as a starting point and set about creating a book that stands on it own and which offers an experience complementary to that enjoyed by visitors to York Art Gallery. There are drawings by other artists of artefacts, pages from Mark's Regency scrapbooks (a particular highlight) and a photo essay about the making of ceramic horses.

Guess the artist!

Instructions for assembling your own horse...

Hearld plus horse

Emily Sutton's drawing of the exhibition

I want one!! From Mark's Regency scrapbooks

Readers of previous Random Spectacular titles will recognise that adventurous, slightly chaotic Saturday Book style. It isn't an easy book to navigate, but then it isn't the kind of book you start at the beginning and end at the end. The Lumber Room is, like the exhibition, a three-dimensional experience.

The Lumber Room: Unimagined Treasures is published by Random Spectacular - info here. Thanks to Simon Lewin for sending me a copy.




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