Plans are presently under way to show work with Bookscapes Collective at the Bridewell, Museum of Norwich. All the work to be shown responds to objects from the collection and the event will be part of the Art Libraries Conference UK & Ireland.
On entering the museum, it is difficult not to miss a beautifully preserved old fire engine. This was my starting point as I began to think about the long and interesting relationship Norwich has had with fire. It was not until 1668, just two years after the Great Fire of London, that Norwich had its first fire engine. Numerous fires had caused devastation in 1505
and again in 1507 when Norwich was 'almost utterly defaced'. Given that many buildings would have had thatch roofs, fire spread quickly.
Even the Bridewell Museum has seen its building engulfed by flames. Formerly a prison, in 1751 a fire destroyed most of the building leaving only two medieval arches, a long flint wall and the beautiful undercroft.
Eventually in 1835 Norwich City Council was allowed to levy a rate to pay for combatting fire, leading to the formation of their own fire brigade five years later. While Norwich Union’s fire brigade disbanded in 1858, large companies still maintained their own fire brigades.
Given the potential this history of fire opens, I felt I needed to narrow my focus, so decided to concentrate research on the cities various library collections.
Sadly the thread of destruction by fire weaves through the history of Norwich, as does its resilience to salvage, rebuild and begin again. Beginning with the 1200’s with the destruction of the cathedral library, through the 18 and 19th centuries, and on into the twentieth century numerous collections have tragically ended in flames. The most recent being the devastating loss of the Central Library and archives in 1994. Over 150,000 books burned along with irreplaceable historical documents from the Record Office. This led to project Phoenix and the rebuilding of the Millennium Library at the Forum which is one of the most busiest libraries in the country.
Work in progress
Books are fragile objects. Aside from damage caused by fire, they are also susceptible to other hazards, insect damage, damp moisture, and mould. There is the added element of difficult choices about what to preserve. Within this selection process preferences and narratives can also influence what is kept and subsequently survives.
Work in progress
History is fluid, a series of redactions, ever evolving and changing as more understanding emerges. Views and attitudes change over time. We see this in many areas today as Museums strive to readdress a balance, giving voice to often silenced or overlooked experiences and perspectives.
I am also part of Bookscapes Collective.
Bookscapes is a group of six artists that have developed a group practice specialising in site specific interventions and exhibitions.