Kettle's Yard residency

“I come now to the town, and university of Cambridge. The colleges, halls, and houses are promiscuously scattered up and down among the other parts, and some even among the meanest of the other buildings; yet they are incorporated together, by the name of the university, and are governed apart, and distinct from the town, which they are so intermixed with.”

- Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)

These works stem from a Space for 10 residency hosted at Kettle’s Yard in Spring 2008. The residency paid for time and studio to explore new areas of my practice without the constraints of exhibitions and deadlines.

I wanted to talk to people in relevant departments for a project about measurement that involves going to the Arctic and the Antarctic, so on a rainy morning, I borrowed a copy of the University directory to look at their handy directory. Leafing through it, I noticed it began with ‘Academic Division’ and ended with ‘Department of Zoology’.

‘Department of Zoology’ gives some clues as to its remit, but ‘Academic Division’ troubled me, as it could be read in a number of ways.

It had stopped raining, so I decided to go to the studio where I had begun making an installation that I was photographing as I put it together a frame at a time, (perspective animation).

On my way to the studio I took some snapshots of people and things on the street in a hurried and slightly embarrassed fashion, partly because of the subject matter - I was photographing bins rather than churches – but also because I wasn’t used to using a camera, and this hand me down was my first foray into the compact-digital-street-photographing world.

I came across a piece of wet cardboard on the road that had been split in two by a passing vehicle. The directory listings entered my mind and the words ‘Academic Division’ drifted into view.

I took a photo of a bus whose destination read ‘SORRY’ and thought of another entry in the departmental listings, which could serve as a title – ‘Admissions Office’.

On my wanderings around Cambridge I took lots of photos of the urban centre and began to marry up each photograph to a departmental title. I began seeing what is nominally outside the University, as the material from which to describe the sometimes-gnomic sounding titles of departments.

As I preceded, some of the photos I had taken that I liked fitted the department in my own mind – ‘Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences’ made me think of Netwon’s quote, Standing on the shoulders of giants’ a picture of a man on a ladder standing near to a taller man almost fitted, but not quite. So I spent quite a long-time painting out the ladder and making one man look like he really was standing on the shoulder of a giant.

The photos have clues in the picture somewhere, and most of them aren’t doctored to that degree, as most of the time I have relied on the overlaying of a title to do its own job – as can be seen in the only photo that shows the inside of a University, depicting Prince Philip staring at his mortar board pompom under the title of ‘Faculty for Oriental Studies’.

So somewhere on the way to the Poles I got sidetracked. Maybe I’ll still make it there someday.