Selected Projects 1990 - 2010

Mr & Mrs Walker have moved

Kettle's Yard (with Anne Eggebert) (1998)

 

 

 

In the summer of 1998 Anne Eggebert and Julian Walker were invited to propose a site-specific work for Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.  Kettle’s Yard is ‘a beautiful and unique house containing a distinctive collection of modern art. Kettle's Yard was founded by H.S. 'Jim' Ede as a place where visitors would 'find a home and a welcome, a refuge of peace and order...'[1]  The house museum contains a closed collection of 20th century art, antiques, and found objects.  It was developed by Jim Ede with the idea that ‘art [is] better approached in the intimate surroundings of a home’[2].

 

The house at Kettle's Yard is the former home of Jim Ede and his wife, Helen, and contains a substantial collection of 20th century artworks displayed alongside furniture and other objects in the unique setting that Jim created. Jim Ede's idea was 'that art [is] better approached in the intimate surroundings of a home'. Kettle's Yard is designed as 'a refuge of peace and order', an act and site of spiritual contemplation. It is proposed as a model for English domestic settings/interior design which 'could be anywhere and for some reason it isn't'.

 

"We recognised that Kettle's Yard offers a cultural model for the perfect living space that we desire. However, we are aware that this environment which is proposed as something natural is a tightly constructed English aesthetic. We considered the ambivalence of the delight of being in the space alongside the oppressive care of negotiating our way amongst the objects"

 

We decided that the best way to test Ede's idea of Kettle's Yard as a domestic living space and not a museum was to move in as a family. On the 16th June we invited guests to visit us and our 2 year old son in our new home.

 

We installed CCTV cameras around the house, including its bedrooms, the cameras relaying images of our activities to a monitor facing the street.  Members of the public were able to witness us greeting visitors to our new home and trying to maintain our domestic lives in the restrictive space of the museum. While we were there we performed ourselves as artists, installing and making new works/events/documentation in response to the site, and engaging in discussion about the project and implications of the work.

 

The work Mr & Mrs Walker have moved comprised our living in the site for a week. Domestic activities were carried out in the public view, either seen directly by visitors to the House, or from the street through closed circuit surveillance directed at the bedrooms, the eating area and the playpen, shown on a monitor in the window of the gallery space. Our overnight stay could be watched throughout the night.

 

Works created during the period of Mr & Mrs Walker have moved included a sound work exploring the interconnecting space between Jim's and Helen's bedrooms; a time-based work involving the redecoration of Helen Ede's bathroom using an artist's palette and brushes; I Should Like To Live For Ever, a performance work examining the desire for self-validation through attempting to donate objects to closed collections.

 

[1] www.kettlesyard.co.uk 27th June 2011

[2] Kettle’s Yard and its Artists – preface, Michael Harrison

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Do Bees Like Van Gogh's Sunflowers?

A Sci-Art Experiment in Comparative Visual Attraction

 

Lars Chittka and Julian Walker

Biological Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

2003

 

 

 

Colour vision is biology, not simply physics. This is because colour vision systems differ widely between different animal species. The colour that an animal sees depends on its particular colour receptors and post-receptor neuronal wiring. Flower colours have evolved over 100 million years to address the colour vision of their bee pollinators. In a much more rapid process, cultural evolution has produced images of flowers that stimulate aesthetic responses in human observers. The colour vision and analysis of visual patterns differ in several respects between humans and bees.

In this project, a behavioural ecologist (LC) and an artist (JW) explore how bees react to paintings of flowers. Bees were inserted into an arena containing hand-reproduced and machine-printed reproductions of paintings of flowers, with documentation taken of where and how often the bees landed. Results showed that the bees landed most frequently on the blooms of Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

While the project highlighted between-species differences in visual perception, and provoked thinking about the implications of biology in human aesthetics and the relationship between object, representation and its (biological) connotations, other coincidental effects were noted. At the time a poll of popular views of paintings in the UK revealed that Van Gogh's Sunflowers was the nation's second most favoured painting. The simultaneous release of our findings was widely regarded as a biological proof of the painting's validity, despite the basic fact that what bees see in real flowers would have differed enormously from what they saw in the paintings. Why the bees frequently landed on the images of blooms has not been explained.

The project attracted attention worldwide, was reported in Art Monthly and New Scientist concurrently, and was the subject of a cartoon in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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EV+A Invited  -  Limerick (2006)

Encounters with Objects

commissioned by EV+A.

 

The Hunt Museum collection is a diverse group of objects, many of which were in use as domestic objects in the homes of the Hunt family.  The idea that these objects were in a private house, treated as personal possessions, and in many cases used in accordance with their original intended usage, contrasts with their inevitable removal from usage as they become museum objects; yet they remain objects which visually convey the idea that they were made for physical use. 

The objects have changed their identities a number of times: made with specific intentions, which may be considered as their primary identity (1), mostly they then became stored, lost, hidden, used as decorative, treasure or grave goods (2), until their acquisition by the Hunt family (3), in many cases then reverting to their primary uses.  On passing to the Hunt Museum they acquired a new identity as museum objects (4), for study or contemplation, referencing their roles at (2).  

Encounters with Objects comprises documented physical interaction with objects from the collection, in which the objects are treated as tools fulfilling the original purpose for which they were made.  The work, a video, 8 photographic prints, and a number of text labels describing the experience of using the objects, tests the nature of the objects by re-using them in accordance with their original intended usages, including shaving with a Bronze Age razor, drinking from an 18th century cup, and combing hair with a mediaeval ivory comb.

 

The work references a view of time as a helix along which points of repetition may be perceived creating lines of connection.  It tests many ideas whose physical focus is the collection, including the nature of the projection of presence conveyed within the body of preserved objects, the nature and extent of the museum’s engagement with the objects, and how this relates to the Hunt family’s engagement with their collection. 

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Gone Away (2010)

 

At the start of the First World War German armies invaded Belgium, causing a massive movement of refugees, about a quarter of a million of them being given refuge in Britain.  From November 1914 to 1918 up to 67 refugees, mostly the families of postal workers, were given shelter in Valentines Mansion, Ilford.  At first they were welcomed enthusiastically, and for many people this was an opportunity to patriotically support a country which came to be known as 'plucky little Belgium', even though some were aware of the institutionalised violence which had characterised the Belgian colonial exploitation of the Congo. 

 

Fundraising was carried out diligently over 1914 and 1915; concerts, whist-drives, social evenings, collections and flag-days all brought in food, clothing and money for the refugees.  At one concert, in October 1914, in Stratford Town Hall, my grandfather, Fred Walker, under his stage-name of Russell Stewart, sang four comic songs. 

 

By late 1915 the funding had become institutionalised, and some were questioning the costs of fuel and support, and whether the refugees were doing enough to support themselves.  By 1916 discrepancies over Belgian and British conscription, and the fear that Belgians were 'taking British jobs' were making people view the refugees less favourably, though by this time too the British government was secretly recruiting Belgian industrial workers in Holland to come and train British munitions workers.  Thus in a sense Belgians were working to make the shells which were destroying their own land.  While using Belgian support the British government was careful to keep track of the Belgian refugees so that they could be repatriated - 50,000 history cards are still kept at the National Archives, and have provided some of the names of the Valentines Belgians.

 

By late 1917 most of the Belgians at Valentines had moved on, to find accommodation elsewhere, and the house was being turned into a maternity hospital.

 

But following the German offensive in early 1918 more hospital space was required for British soldiers and there were plans to turn Valentines Mansion into a convalescent home.  Views were expressed however, that this might be interpreted as 'throwing the Belgians out.'  

 

In 1918 my grandfather was stationed in a trench 100 metres from the Belgian border.  His diary for Weds 9th Oct reads 'Gassed'; for Sun 13th Oct 'Began to see a little'; for Mon 11th Nov 'Armistice signed with Germany'.

 

In 1920 the War Refugees Committee for Ilford petitioned the Council for permission to erect a brass plate in the Mansion stating that Belgian refugees had been housed there.

 

The familiar stories of welcome, charity fatigue, generosity, bureaucratic control, and self-congratulation underlie this largely forgotten story of refugee migration, in an area whose identity is formed of migrating people.  In workshops with clients of the Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London, local research enthusiasts, and staff and volunteers at Valentines Mansion, we are working through the story from different angles, and producing artwork which uses such elements as First World War postcards, soil from Belgian battlefields, fragments of wallpaper and rescued laths from the walls of Valentines Mansion, Congolese postage stamps, a newspaper advertisement offering free haircuts to Belgian refugees (not Saturdays), songs from the 1914 Stratford concert, and texts from Government memoranda.

 

A key work is a video in which I sing the four songs my grandfather sang in the 1914 concert.  The songs are performed solo in a field near where he was wounded in 1918.

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Four Defining Absences

The Museum of Mankind (1992)

This installation started from research into three objects lost from the collection of the British Museum's Dept of Ethnography, an ostrich shell necklace from Sudan, a set of bolas from Patagonia, and a South Pacific shell fish-hook. These items were defined by an installation that recreated their physical, documentation and research surroundings, delineating the boundaries of their existence by creating in effect the negative space around them. The material included a 19th century collecting box with straw showing indentations of the objects, recreations of handwritten catalogue sheets, a photograph of the site of a previous museum where one of the items had been housed, faded paper showing the outline of one of the objects, and a London-made selection of glass beads used for trading for items for the museum's collections.

The visual documentation of the installation cannot currently be displayed.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3cubHZvLTw

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Collection: Items Held

20 x 2.4 metres, 2005

Norwich Castle, for most of its long history, was primarily a prison. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century did it become a museum, the cell-blocks and exercise yards which radiated from the central guard area becoming galleries to display art, historical artefacts, taxidermy specimens, rocks, fossils and examples of applied arts.

The familiar opposition between what I know and what I see is central to my experience of this site, the "what I see" being the museum, and the "what I know" being the much longer history of the site as a prison. Is it possible to bring together simultaneously these two identities, to know together the two times of the one place ? What happens in the changing of the place from a site of misery to a site of treasuring: does the melancholy linger? Do the boredom, the fear, the repetitive tasks become museum objects? Was there inherent in the prison a sense of items extra-ordinary, different, and curious?

This work comprises over 4000 objects in a grid on the wall of the Timothy Gurney Gallery at Norwich Castle Museum. Each item is labelled with the hand-written name of someone who at one time was held on the site as a prisoner. The items are in a sense all failures of the museum test: they are broken, torn, bent, corroded, dirty, burned; fragments or fragmented; the commonplace, the not very interesting, the cheap version; copies, forgeries, pastiches; covers, mounts, labels. Never the real thing, or if they are, then there only by a mistake of judgement.

The identities are those of people who spent time imprisoned here for crimes ranging from rape, murder and rebellion to the theft of a smock, a turkey or a loaf of bread, or simply for following the wrong faith. Some were executed, some were repeat offenders, and some were no doubt entirely innocent. Their crimes, like their names, were peculiar to them, but become repetitive, expected, almost as inevitable as the stuffed birds, the landscape watercolours, the fossils and the Roman coins. Some indeed stand out; the murderer, the polar bear, the hero’s hat, the transportee turned successful businessman, the leader of the rebellion, the prison Bible, the painting of the bridge. Mostly they pass before our eyes, a succession of objects, names, dates, statements, inviting occasional scrutiny; the object so like one I have at home, the name so like my own.

Objects and identities are linked here by the fact that they were put in a safe place removed from circulation, through the well-intentioned offices of an authority working for the improvement of society.

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Altered Embroideries

"Sample"    The Embroiderers' Guild

August 2003 -May 2004

Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead

Dutch Textile Museum, Tilburg, Netherlands

Hall Place, Bexley

 

The work for this touring exhibition comprised a number of nineteenth century child-made samplers which were altered by unpicking parts of the original text and images and replacing them with my own.  The texts of sentimental received truths were replaced with new texts reflecting adult  and parental fears and doubts at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

 

Responses to the work, alongside its potential for exploring concepts such as violation, dialogue across time, the continuous process of art as a conversation, led me to continue working in the medium. Further exhibitions of this kind of work included 'Home' at Contemporary Applied Art 2015, Subversive Design' at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery 2013, 'Art in Romney Marsh' 2012, 'Unravelling Nymans' 2012.

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For more works from this period please see https://walkerjulian.tripod.com/index.html