The first of a series of blogs from our new Artist in Residence – Kathleen Herbert.

It is a wonderful start to the New Year exploring The Beaney’s collections as The Armchair Artist in Residence.  In what seems like the blink of an eye the first few weeks have now passed and I am writing my first blog.

I am an artist who works in film, video, photography and printmaking. History, site and context are the inspiration for my work, I explore site as a social, historical and culturally constructed place affected on both a local and global level that resonates today.

My practice is research based. My research often involves finding an obscure historical footnote which I can then explore further to try and unlock a space’s unique atmosphere and identity. I use the uncanny to blur boundaries between fact and fiction, myth and reality, investigating ideas around superstition, rituals and histories.

Having recently moved to Kent I am keen to explore the county. The residency at The Beaney offered me an opportunity to explore continuing themes in my practice and on a more personal level it enables me to understand and learn about the place I have now made my home.

Knowing very little about The Beaney my first few weeks have been spent looking. I gave myself the luxury of spending each visit in a different room, sitting quietly viewing each piece and leaving myself space to think.

The arrangements of the displays encourage looking and investigation. Informative text is removed from the displays, and placed in discreet folders nearby; just as the objects they talk about have been removed from their original context.

Ways of seeing

Items have been unearthed and gifted or bought by the museum. Some items are artefacts that have been taken from the ground through being revealed on archaeological digs, or by accident or removed from ancient Egyptian burial tombs. Others have been discovered on exotic and exciting adventures and travels oversees but all offer myriads of narratives, whether it’s about their original context, meaning, or their discovery and the story of coming to The Beaney.

The objects are curated into themes by room and by case, side by side. The arrangements of the displays create conversations between different social histories from the ancient to the modern as well as cultures alongside the local with national and international.

In the Materials and Masters room seemingly incongruous objects sit together connected by their materiality. All pieces are organised to create visual impact, drawing you in to further investigate.

Ways of seeing 2

Viewing tools such as microscopes and magnifying glasses, kaleidoscopes, and glass display cabinets encourage further visual exploration enabling us to view objects at different angles, heights, scales and offer views across the space to other cabinets and narratives.

The exquisite wonders of jewellery made in Kent during the Anglo Saxon era, are revealed through a magnifying glass held in front of a dragon pendant. How did they create such things of minute beauty in the Anglo Saxon period? We always think of sophistication as a modern conceit, but the Anglo Saxon jewellery is a reminder that sophistication has always been present in the past.

Then there are the kaleidoscopes around each gallery space.  As you look through them different angled mirrors refract back at us. The architecture of The Beaney becomes unfamiliar, fractured and abstracted forming new and previously unseen patterns and structures, offering another way of viewing the present

The kaleidoscope becomes a useful metaphor to describe The Beaney and its collections. The objects and artefacts are fragments of narratives acting like mirrors reflecting back to us the histories, cultures and knowledge to question how we view the world and our presence in it.