THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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178 posts categorized "Arts, literature & performance"

06 April 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas!'

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This week’s selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World & Traditional Music.

Cover of CD release 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea'
Cover of 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea' (TSCD918)

Former senior producer for BBC Radio 3 John Thornley made this field recording in 1987, in Kei Village, near Mount Hagen, in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. The field recordings resulting from his three month stay in Papua New Guinea form part of the British Library Sound Archive collections. A selection from his collection was published on the Topic Records CD ‘Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea’ as part of the Topic World Series, done in collaboration with the World and Traditional Music section. The ‘Hunting Song of the Moge and Kopi clans’ features nine unnamed performers from Kei Village playing a song on bamboo flutes. Thornley’s liner notes about the song and players hide an interesting story inaccessible to the ear. I recommend listening first, to sink into the song’s hypnotic melody and then reading Thornley’s words about the song, which reveal a surprising layer of insight.

Hunting Song of the Moge & Kopi Clans

‘This was one of several songs that this group had arranged for bamboo flute, staggering their individual breathing so the song could be played seamlessly. This song is about a hunter who has no luck, and sings: ‘I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas, I came to hunt for possum and birds!’ The four holes of the flute are played with the first two fingers of each hand. One player had a missing second finger on his right hand (in the area it is still a tradition to chop off one or more fingers as a sign of mourning for a close relative) so was playing with his first and third fingers.’

If you want to listen to a broader selection of recordings from the CDs published by Topic Records, you can listen to 'Topic World Series', our tenth programme for NTS Radio.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

30 March 2020

Recording of the week: Dusting books

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This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Three men dusting books
Three men dusting books, one bent over © New York Public Library Archives, The New York Public Library

John Milne, born in 1929 in Aberdeen, worked for Bisset’s Bookshop in the 1950s. In his life story recording he reflected on changing approaches to bookselling and book handling. He talks about the importance of looking inside the books on the shelves, and argues that bookselling has now become about retail rather than about expertise. ‘Books are now sold like bars of soap, and that’s not my phrase, it came out years and years ago in one of the marketing ploys.’ In the following audio extract he takes us through his method of dusting the books in order to get to know the stock.

John Milne recalls the value of dusting books

People don’t handle books in the same way they used to. In the old days you would dust the books, and that’s the best way to get to know your stock. The discipline of dusting, every morning you would start on the shelf where you had stopped the day before, and you would pick up a book and you would have your duster or your brush, and you look at the title of the book and you look at the author and you look the publisher, and if you are standing still you would open it and read, a couple of pages, and to try to get some hold of the book and say, right, that’s it, back on the shelf. And work your way along the shelf, and you would maybe do two sections that morning. And after a week somebody comes in and says, a book, you say, ‘Oh I saw that yesterday,’ and you can stretch out your hand and have that book. It’s not done nowadays. There isn’t the discipline of learning about the inside of books. Maybe I’m denigrating present book staff but I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s the depth of knowledge that was there in the great old bookshops like Thin’s, Wallace, and still is, I don’t want to denigrate anybody, but Thin’s is a great bookshop, full of people who were wrapped up in books and did nothing else but books. Blackwell’s was the same, Heffers was the same, any of the big important shops of the Thirties are more or less still there.

John Milne was recorded by National Life Stories for Book Trade Lives in 1999. The interviewer was Sue Bradley. For more information about this recording see the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

18 February 2020

National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship 2020-2021: Suzanne Joinson

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"Cycling every day, about three and a half miles along the front to Grand Parade where the art school was, and I used to, if I was late, I used to hitch on to the back of a lorry, sounds terribly dangerous … I used to somehow hang on to the back and get right along the front in about five minutes."

-- Juliet Pannett on attending art school in Brighton in 1928

It is possible to tell so much from a voice: the tone, accent and emphasis. The artist Juliet Pannett’s recording from 1991 is both nostalgic and immediate. The tonal quality of her speech evokes another era, and her laughter is full of life. As we listen to her recalling details – like hitching on lorries along Brighton seafront – we connect to her memory and see her classroom or art studio vividly in our mind for an instant. Listening in is a privilege; it’s like being trusted with a secret or engaging in a magical form of time-travel.

Juliet Pannett on attending art school in Brighton in 1928 (C466/09)

As the National Life Stories Goodison Fellow 2020-21, I will explore the audio archives of three creative women connected to Sussex: Juliet Pannett, archived under Artists’ Lives and Ann Sutton and Barbara Mullins from Crafts Lives. Not household names by any means, but they all achieved significant professional success and I believe that in quiet, unsung ways, they have each left an impressive, potentially subversive artistic legacy that resonates today.

Photograph of Graffham, West SussexGraffham, West Sussex. Copyright David Spicer, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

On the surface, weaver Barbara Mullins lived a quiet life in the village of Graffham, West Sussex. With Gwen Mullins, her mother, she offered spinning, weaving, pottery and classes in dyeing using Sussex plants. In her interview she discusses their trip to Santa Fe, running out of money, and returning home to deliver workshops. Their cottage industry developed into the Gwen Mullins Trust, offering an apprentice scheme and financial support for craft makers. This paved the way for a government-funded body, the Crafts Council, which eventually replaced the Trust.

Listening, a number of strands become clear: the importance of international travel to Barbara and Gwen to these women who lived a seemingly very ‘English’ and provincial life; the collaborative, creative and possibly co-dependent relationship between mother and daughter; the endless navigation between creativity and money that necessarily exists in an artist’s life; and the importance of legacy.

Because the National Life Stories oral history methodology covers a life-span where possible, the interviews provide a birds’ eye view of how the local and domestic situation of a subject’s existence is intrinsically connected with the professional ‘output’ of their life. This, I believe, is pertinent to appreciating female artists, especially those living and working outside of metropolitan areas.

I will explore the archives to look at big questions: How does their work relate to geographical locations? What is the overlap between place, art, money, family, reputation and legacy? How did domestic and family situations contribute to their professional work? How does their self-narrative reflect their position within a cultural map of the south of England? And beyond, how are they now situated within national and global contexts?

Internationally acclaimed artist Ann Sutton talks with wry matter-of-factness about the reality of forging a career in the sixties. We follow her training, teaching jobs and commissions. It is moving to listen to her talk about the choices she made around birth control, opting not to have children and how her marriage intersected with her vocation. In this clip she talks about the potter Bernard Leach and her desire to challenge the status quo he represented:

Ann Sutton on Bernard Leach and breaking with tradition (C960/22)

From her studio in Arundel she conducted an impressive career and ran the Ann Sutton Foundation. Through this she supported talented graduates and pioneered a way of helping young artists transition to the commercial world. This approach that would later be taken up by art colleges directly.

My aim with this Fellowship is to delve deep into the National Life Stories archive to celebrate the unique contributions of these impressive artists. I want to map how their individual stories and works link to a bigger cultural picture and I hope to showcase how the National Life Stories project is a tremendously impressive, unique resource.

At some point in their oral history interviews all three women say ‘It’s been a good life’ or ‘It was a marvellous life’. I want to honour those marvellous lives, their work ethic and professionalism, and use my time as a Fellow to share with a wider audience the continuing creative and artistic legacies of Juliet Pannett, Barbara Mullins and Ann Sutton.

Suzanne Joinson is an award-winning writer and academic. Her novels A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar and The Photographer's Wife are published internationally by Bloomsbury. She lectures in creative writing at the University of Chichester and writes regularly for a range of publications including the New York Times, Guardian and others. She has a strong interest in oral history and the stories found in landscapes and places.

03 February 2020

Recording of the week: "If Not, Not"

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This week’s selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World & Traditional Music.

Tapestry in entrance hall of British Library- If Not, Not

You may be familiar with the tapestry featured in this photograph if you visit the British Library every now and then. If its bright colours and mysterious symbolism haven't lured you in before, it’s a tapestry based on the painting If Not, Not (1975—1976), by the artist Ronald Brooks Kitaj RA (1932 – 2007), which hangs in the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. For me it has been a source of wonder and stimulus on countless wanders through the Library’s public areas, leaving me with many questions on what the man with the hearing aid in the lower left hand corner, the large, brick gatehouse in the upper left corner or the general atmosphere, which is both attractive and ghastly, might mean. It has felt like an endless source of ideas and stories when procrastinating away from my desk and it's led me to dig deeper and uncover more about R.B. Kitaj's life and remarkable work.

The tapestry rendition of If Not, Not was commissioned for the British Library by its architects MJ Long and Colin St. John Wilson, who were good friends of Kitaj’s. Kitaj painted their portrait The Architects, in August 1979, to celebrate the remodelling of his home by MJ Long. A book called Kitaj: The Architects, gathers diary entries and fragments of conversation from their sitting sessions.

The tapestry was woven on a bespoke loom at the Dovecot Tapestry Studio by the Edinburgh Weavers Company, it required 112 kilos of wool and 7000 hours to complete. Seven master weavers worked on different areas of the tapestry to create this impressive rendition measuring approximately 7 square metres. It was the largest tapestry to be woven in Britain in the 20th century. It was funded by the Arts Council of England Lottery Fund and others.

For Colin St. John Wilson, works of art were an integral part of the building’s design and not mere decoration: 'Tapestries and sculpture are absolutely part of the building, not afterthoughts or adornments to prettify it' (Independent). When the tapestry went on display in July 1997 (its original spot was on the opposite wall where the large exhibition poster currently hangs), its textural qualities not only contributed to the character of the space, serving as a contrast to the hard surfaces throughout the area, but also benefitted the space acoustically by absorbing the sound echoing and reflecting throughout the entrance hall.

In the following excerpt from a much longer interview, which is part of the National Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives, we can hear Colin St. John Wilson speak about some of the references woven into the tapestry's complex network of symbols. He also talks more broadly about the importance of visual imagery in public buildings and how the Library's readers might relate to the works on display.

Colin St. John Wilson on tapestry

This tapestry will be one of the many artworks featured in a series of site-specific tours which explore the Library’s public art collections through sound. Following David Toop's idea, as fleshed out in his book Sinister Resonance (2010), that it is possible to imagine a sound world within ‘mute things’, the tour guides have used sound recordings from the British Library Sound Archive to draw out or expand the stories within works by artists such as Barbara Hepworth, R.B. Kitaj, Eduardo Paolozzi or Antony Gormley. You can find more information on how to book yourself on to a tour on the British Library’s event page.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 January 2020

A Life Lived and Seen: a tribute to Anna Teasdale

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The Bath-based landscape artist and long-time art tutor Anna Rose Frances Teasdale, has died aged 88. For those fortunate enough to have studied with her, or to have spent time with her (as I did, when I recorded her life story for Artists’ Lives, National Life Stories), she was a magical, extraordinary woman whose loss makes the world a meaner place.

Black and white photograph of Anna Teasdale holding a painting

Anna Teasdale, 1962, photographed by Anthea Sieveking. Courtesy Denny Family Collection

Anna Teasdale never received proper recognition for her painting practice. She certainly enjoyed sharing her pictures, but she was driven to paint not by career ambition, but by an innate need to practice, and she viewed the art market with unease. Anna was honest about the project of living, and her art, she used to say, came out of her life. Reflecting on the trajectory of her work, she observed that ‘it was almost as if I had made a covenant with the future’. Indeed, her life story recording is all the more compelling because, as a social document, it offers rare insights into the condition of being an educated, working-class, figurative, woman artist in mid-twentieth century England—when none of those attributes gave you a start in life. Because Anna was visually astute, her observations often have a sharpness of focus: ‘It’s not what a thing looks like, it’s what it is, and when you find out what it is, you know what it looks like’. She saw the order underlying the landscapes she painted, and this understanding ran alongside her Catholic faith—a close concert between the seen and the unseen that imbued her landscapes with myriad emotions. In her view, the process of painting takes the painter through the gamut of emotions, and, like an afterimage, the memory of these emotions remains within the painting; she experienced life from the solitude of the easel, ‘because it all happens’ in the process of seeing.

Anna Teasdale’s decision to become a painter, C466/379, Track 18 [00:01:38 - 00:03:31]

Anna’s life intersected with many of the century’s important British artists and movements, yet she proudly remained out of step with them all. She was unusual for a woman of her generation and means because she sustained her painting practice throughout her life. For Anna, painting was not a choice, but a fundamental necessity—‘the only thing I could do’. Anna was unconcerned with, and suspicious of, contemporary art; its quest for new forms of expression and conceptual underpinnings seemed to stray from the ‘true faith’ of figuration. For her, painting was almost a spiritual act, her own inner resource that gave shape and meaning to her life. As she wrote a few months before her death: ‘I am jogging on trying to be kind and helpful! My painting is going well but slowly and is still the joy of my life. I look at my painting and climb into it and tranquility (and terror) take over.’

Anna Teasdale on being a landscape painter, C466/379, Track 9 [00:59:02 - 01:00:42]

Anna ran away from a penurious and abusive childhood home as a teenager to follow her dream of attending art school. Enduring poverty and sometimes homelessness, she enrolled at St. Martin’s School of Art, where she displayed a rare facility for drawing and subsisted by working as an art school model and living (illegally) in a semi-derelict bomb site. By the end of the 1950s, Anna had met and married fellow student and rising art star, Robyn Denny, and for a time, Anna became an integral part of the Swinging Sixties art set. Among her closest friends in the early days were Pop painter Peter Blake and abstract Pop painter Richard Smith, as her bohemian life settled into a more secure round of art world gatherings. Beside her husband’s glamourous accolades (Denny represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1966), her achievements were modest, but they were real: by the mid-1960s her paintings were included in exhibitions at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery and the ICA among others.

When Robyn Denny was lured to the West Country by the offer of a lucrative teaching position at Corsham, Bath Academy of Art, in the mid-1960s, Anna and Robyn bought a Georgian town house in Bath which was frequented by a coterie of successful artists who relocated from London to Wiltshire (their friends included Howard and Julia Hodgkin, Joe and Jos Tilson, Richard and Betsy Smith). Anna continued painting when she could, supporting her famous husband and juggling the domestic demands of motherhood.

When Denny left his young family, Anna was again plunged into self-reliance and financial straits, but always used her art to sustain herself and her two children: entrepreneurially if informally, establishing an art school in her own home—‘The Seymour Road Academy’, as she wryly referred to it. Anna understood the fundamental differences of approach behind her and her husband’s approach to art making: ‘I drew and he thought’, she demurred. In her reflection upon these different modes of art making, Anna defines the schism that shaped contemporary art in the second part of the twentieth-century.

A close friend reflected on Anna’s life with the clear-eyed observation that ‘she lived a rackety life’. But a bit like the rhythmic structures that order and shape her landscape compositions, her life’s outward racket concealed an inner order, strengthened by the twin pillars of faith and humour. She did not withdraw from her artistic commitment even when pinned by duty; she took heart in an aesthetic view of life that allowed her—almost incomprehensibly today—to see motherhood not as an obstruction but as an extension of the creative life. Considering one of her landscapes, she noted what is a fitting epitaph: ‘it was a whole life painting this picture’.

Written by Hester R. Westley.

Hester R. Westley interviewed Anna Teasdale for Artists’ Lives in 2016-2018. The full life story interview is available for researchers at the British Library and can be found by searching C466/379 at sami.bl.uk

23 December 2019

Recording of the week: painting Winston Churchill

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This week's selection comes from Cathy Courtney, Project Director for Artists’ Lives, and Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Elsbeth Juda (1911-2014), was born in Germany. She and her husband Hans Juda (referred to as ‘Hansie’ in this audio extract) settled in England as the threat of Nazism grew in Europe. Elsbeth became a respected photographer, under the name ‘Jay’, mainly known for her fashion images, many of them taken for Ambassador magazine. She and Hans were at the centre of a closely knit group of international friends and her Artists’ Lives recording is full of lively glimpses of many of these figures. Among them are the painters Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Graham Sutherland (1903-1880).

At Lord Beverbrook’s suggestion Graham Sutherland was commissioned to paint the portrait of Sir Winston Churchill in 1954, to celebrate the former prime minister’s 80th birthday. Churchill was by this time in poor health and Sutherland’s sittings with him at his home, Chartwell in Kent, were difficult. In desperation the artist asked Elsbeth Juda to accompany him on one occasion, to help cheer Churchill and also to photograph him so that Sutherland had reference material to use back in his studio. When the portrait was ready Sutherland took the precaution of inviting the art historian Kenneth Clark and Churchill’s wife, Clementine, to view it at his home, Trottiscliffe in Kent. Both visitors were happy with what they saw.

Winston Churchill
         British Government [Public domain]

The portrait was unveiled at Westminster Hall in front of a large audience. Churchill hated it and it was later destroyed by Clementine. Along with Juda’s photographs, her account in her Artists’ Lives recording is also of special value as evidence of a vanished work of art. Tantalisingly, her account tells how she and Hans tried to save the portrait by buying it themselves and for a short time it seemed they had rescued it. There are varying accounts of how the painting was destroyed and whether Clementine did it herself or asked an employee to carry out the act.

Juda refers to Churchill wearing a ‘zoot’ suit for his sittings. The National Portrait Gallery information clarifies this was a siren suit, a deluxe peacetime version of his war outfit. Also mentioned in the extract is the Churchill's London home at 28 Hyde Park Gate, where they were neighbours of the Judas.

Elsbeth Juda on Churchill

Elsbeth Juda was recorded by National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives in sessions between 2001-2003. The interviewer was Cathy Courtney. For more information about this recording see the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. This clip features on the British Library website Voices of art, as part of an article by Helena Cuss that explores the links between Artists’ Lives oral history recordings and the collection at the National Portrait Gallery.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 December 2019

Recording of the week: PTOOFF!

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This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

Apologies, this may be our shortest ever 'Recording of the Week'. It does however provide an excuse to highlight a colourful product of the late 1960s countercultural arts scene centred in and around Ladbroke Grove, London.

PTOOFF! was the debut album by The Deviants, a bluesy psychedelic rock band led by singer Mick Farren (1943-2013). Our copy of the LP came to the Library in 2013, as part of the Barry Miles collection. Miles, as he was usually known, helped found the influential underground newspaper International Times, to which Farren also contributed. In the 1970s, Farren became a regular staff writer for the weekly New Musical Express, and then a novelist and also non-fiction writer. He continued to pursue music on the side throughout his life.

The LP was released independently on the band's own label, Underground Impresarios. It was distributed by mail order through adverts in International Times, and by underground retail outlets.

PTOOFF! album cover art

The vividly coloured cartoon sleeve (by ‘Kipps’, aka Pete Broxton) unfolds to become a six-panel poster. Our copy is the original issue, with brown ink used for the inside print (subsequent issues used blue ink). Reissues of the album shouldn't be hard to find but for copyright reasons we can provide only a short audio excerpt here.

So please enjoy the first five (sardonic) seconds of a true underground classic.

Listen to the first few seconds of the LP

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

25 November 2019

Recording of the week: 'Power' by Adrienne Rich

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This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

This week’s recording of the week features American poet Adrienne Rich reading her poem ‘Power’. Rich is performing at the 1st International Feminist Book Fair, London, 1984. The poem was first published in 1977 in Rich's acclaimed collection The Dream of a Common Language.

Rich introduces ‘Power’ saying it's a poem about power (women’s power), considering both true and false power...

The poem also examines the quality of endurance, with reference to the life of scientist Marie Curie.

Adrienne Rich reading 'Power' at the 1st International Feminist Book Fair London 1984 (C154/2)

Marie Skłodowska Curie (7 November 1864 - 4 July 1934) was a Polish-born physicist and chemist.

She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, the only woman who has won it twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields.

Marie and her physicist husband Paul Curie did research on uraninite, a radioactive uranium-rich mineral and ore. The Curies isolated the uranium from its radioactive elements, which they named radium and polonium. The latter after Marie’s homeland in Poland.

As a result the Curies won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 (shared with physicist Henri Becquerel). Later in 1911, Marie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her services to the advancement of chemistry.

Marie Curie died from aplastic anemia. This was reportedly caused by her exposure to chemicals and radiation.

Marie Curie working in her laboratoryMarie Curie in her laboratory. Photo credit: National Archief on Visual Hunt / No known copyright restrictions

The 1st International Feminist Book Fair took place 7-9 June 1984 at the Africa Centre in London.

This was a public event with presentations on politics, class, race, gender, sexuality, social equality and women's place in the literary world.

Speakers included: Audre Lorde, Suniti Namjoshi, Toni Cade Bambara, Alifa Rifaat, Joan Barfoot, Susan Griffin, Nicole Brossard, Maureen Watson, Grace Nichols and others.

The  event was recorded by the British Library and the collection has been recently been digitised by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @BL_DramaSound, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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