Museum collector brief: digital sketchbook and work journal

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Feb 7 2014
For this brief I am going to need to present a fairly sizeable portion of my notes and research here as, due to an injury still causing much difficulty and pain I can not work properly, I can only write backwards and pretty messy at that.
This will allow me to keep up and keep it tidy! I decided this just now actually after the two days researching were quite hard going and I did not achieve anything more than a couple of pages of rough thumbnail sketches but I did take a mountain of photographs. What I was able to write was messy and rough, I am not happy with the visual quality so will use this to help me. I will work on paper as well and will progressively improve but this is a necessary evil. It is intended as an addendum to the other sketchbooks I will produce and will combine them all somehow later in the brief.

All the photos are my own primary research unless otherwise noted

Notes: As I understand the brief so far, students are to get as familiar as possible with the collections in the museum and educate themselves on the what, when where and so forth of their chosen area of interest among the millions of pieces in the collection.

This is a great challenge for me, of course because I love everything and am interested in the whole collection and always have trouble having to choose one thing over another so this was great, making me look at it all in a more focused and subjective way.

I started in the areas I am less familiar with like the living cultures ( link2) and archery gallery, meteorites and fossils and rocks and minerals. As I was working on the handling table  in the Ancient Worlds gallery I initially thought I had best not choose this as it might be cheating then I thought , as this is a specialist pathway brief, this is my specialist pathway, hands on, art and artefact, etc... collections, collecting and display.
So, at the moment I am thinking Ancient worlds or Living worlds, in particular the skeletons and fossils as they hold a great deal of visual interest to me in the form of pattern, geometry in nature and repetition.
The Egyptian collection of course is a big one and I then started to think about the heiroglyphics, cuneiform and Roman script all inscribed on various stonework. This is the language of human beings evolving right before our eyes, I would very much like to find a way to explore this in the brief, it is visual so fits there and is all in one department, Ancient Worlds.

Or, really, what I found out that I love by wandering and looking closely at the collections are all the cabinets filled with little things neatly organised in jars and racks and display boxes, the layout, the display itself.

The taxonomy in Mcr Museum is incredibly well thought out, one is never looking at a boring collection, there is a slick visual dynamic to the gigantic cabinet of curiosities that is this museum. So I wonder, how can I make this my topic?


Feb 8th 2013

Manchester Museum was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of the Manchester Town Hall,  the prison at Strangeways, The British Museum and many of Manchester's prominent buildings at the time. It was comissioned by the Owens College (now University of Manchester) to replace the original museum on Peter Street.

It is the largest university museum in the UK.

Flikr Page extensive photo collection

I'd like to look at written language, text, writing, the evolution of the written and visual word and the museum has a great many examples of this from the cuneiform text of ancient Iraq to Roman inscriptions unearthed in Manchester and the many heiroglyph emblazoned pieces from the Egyptian collection.
Granite column brought to England from from the temples of
ancient Bubastis (modern Tell Basta) in the Nile Delta.

Assyrian cuneiform from Nimrud, Northern Iraq, Ancient Worlds gallery, Manchester Museum.

Parts of Roman inscription on a column in Ancient Worlds gallery

I also really want to explore the difference, if there really is any, between art and artefact and the museum is perfect for this.
In particular the current Coral exhibition looks at this through the display of jewellery, paintings, drawings and other items that blur and eradicate this line. This might be best left for another time though or.. maybe not, we shall see.

Feb 11th
The brief part two directs students to find a part of the collection that inspires to then focus efforts on.
I have decided to make my topic:

The origins, development and usage of written language and visual communication.
A brilliant article on the topic here
“If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”   Plato, Phaedrus
As true as this may be (and there is much discussion to be had on that), where would we be without the written record? We would know nothing of what went before us and the lives of those who recorded it. We feel the need to write, to leave a note, to record our lives so that, I imagine, we do not feel invalid, we have existed if we leave a legacy, we continue to exist if we leave a record of ourselves, make a mark, create a lasting reminder.

 I will explore how written language has evolved from cave paintings to sky writing, pictograms to alphabets and computer code and how we have adapted and developed other ways to use visual language in the decorative and visual arts such as asemic writing, calligraphy and grafitti art.

I also want to look at "made up" languages such as Esperanto, Polari, "Hobo text"  (and any others that were created for a very specific group or for safety and secrecy), Klingon and Elvish and other pop culture tongues, Hebrew  and Arabic text, Runic writing, Character based alphabets and absolutely everything in between.
The materials and methods we use such as writing on a slate, papyrus, scrolls and now computer based communication, carving into rocks and trees, inking onto our skin, printing onto paper and pressing into wet clay. I want to look at how we use visual language in a digital world, how we change it to suit our lives, such as text speak which is now commonly used. I want to look at how typefaces and colours affect us visually, all of it, everything to do with written language and visual communication, of course including pictograms and icons still widely used in contemporary communications and design.
*(most of this work is in sketchbooks)

I am looking at Proto Writing,  the development of different methods of writing, their delivery, usage and evolution. I will look at how writing changed the world, how the availablilty of knowledge, once so closely guarded for the elite has opened up the world to all those who choose to avail themselves of it.
I have found some interesting videos on the topic.

Feb 12th.

I have been researching a great deal over the past couple of days, beginning with, obviously, Petroglyphs as these are the first real evidence of humans using visual imagery and writing to tell a story or to communicate.
They are found all over the world and some have developed through exposure to others, some independently.

I discovered PG's in Hawaaii that are markedly different from their North American counterparts, Australian versions that are among the oldest in the world, and the more well known examples in the US southwest.

This has been a fascinating piece of study and research and one I could happily pursue for as long as there is time but for this project I must keep a lid on it and watch the clock so I can cover all that I have to cover.

I went then to the utterly fascinating Ancient Chinese Dongba system of pictograms and rebus heavy writing from the Naxi people of Southern China. This just threw me into a wormhole of further reading that could literally go on forever, I discovered that it is Tibeto-Burman in origin and when you really get into it by writing and transcribing it it becomes obviously the predecessor of the Chinese languages we are familiar with today. It is lovely and pictoral, very enjoyable to look at and quite likely the only pictographic language still in use today. 
This led to Bronze script which is beautiful and interesting and one I will go further into a little later and Oracle bone script, looked at in a less intensive manner and sadly left to wait for another day as there is a great deal more proto writing work to get through.

So that has been two pretty full days reading, researching, writing and drawing and really climbing into the topic I chose.

Here is my pinterest board for the brief with loads of great stuff to look and links to research ...this brief  has been like falling into a wormhole and not coming out til the sun is almost up, just reading and following the cookie crumbs)

Feb 13th

I have progressed onto Proto-cuneiform and the original systems of recording transactions that took place in Uruk in Mesopotamia. 
 The Sumerians using logographic systems of noting their financial trades went through a few styles until they settled on the familiar cuneiform we know today. There are some beautiful example of these in museums and collection all over the world. I have a small collection of images here for this brief.

So I have been looking into Persian Cuneiform,  Sumerian and other forms of Cuneiform by writing them out and thereby getting a feel for the structures and shapes of the characters.
There are so very many different scripts and variations that I shall only really have a peek at them lest I be here for the rest of my life and do nothing but study these ancient languages which, let me say is a very tempting thing to do!! However, I shall not.

Anyone wanting to learn and start looking into ancient languages should really start with the wonderful website which is a motherlode of language resources.

I am going to move onto hieroglyphics this weekend and then see where that takes me. It is something I have been wanting to study and research for some time and I am starting to understand it already a lot better.
video  link   link   

It is important to mention Roman Egypt and the changes in culture at this point because, as with any invasion of a people the language, culture and demographic change forever. The changes in the written language of the time are well documented and not something I have the time to research as much as I would like for this project, it will keep for further study later though.
Feb 14th .. secondary research, work journal

These two are a couple of artists whose work I find infinitely fascinating and beautiful. My interest is in type,characters and words, written language, text and the evolution and devolution of it as a functional system and as a decorative one. Brody Neuenschwander does magnificent work and I love how he combines materials and uses text decoratively and subtely. He is a calligrapher and does movie work. His work is elegant and very powerful.

Another person who I am very much currently excited by is Francesca Biasseton with her abstract and bold renderings of text and simple black lines it does it for me. Particularly in regards to this brief in the evolution of the written word and its application in visual arts. She is also a calligrapher, obviously.

The particular way in which these two artists approach Asemic writing is very inspiring to me and it just makes me want to put ink on paper and brushes in big tins of drippy paint.

Cy Twombly also deserves a mention in this area for his bold strong abstracts and asemic writing.

I am still reseraching and learning about ancient writing systems for the brief but I am excited to get to the part where I can start combining all this new knowledge and ideas with stuff I already know, who knows where this will take me.

Feb 16th

Well, I have not done as much research this weekend as I would have liked, that is not none, just not as specific or as much as I had in mind.. work and other things like there being a huge amount of material to sort through.
I did go to the lovely and always magnificent Rylands Library the other day for a bit of a look at the current exhibitions and to see if there was anything there to inspire me for this brief which as I get further into I realise is an enormous task but that is ok, the task is to learn about the history and evolution of writing. Here is a very cute video from some years ago explaining the whole thing!

Feb 18th

This is funny, I have been drawn to this stuff for a while and am intending to photograph as many of them as possible for this brief, I will post the pics here of course as and when I take them. Always wanted to know what they mean. Well obviously they are to tell people to do things but I like the look of a collection of them, adds a randomness. Plus it looks like seom secret language of glyphs.

graffitti and writing on everything is interesting to me too and definitely part of what I will look at.

Update, it has clearly become the major focus of my final work.. such a strange departure from my original research, I am still a little surprised by this as this seems so simplistic but I like the aesthetics of words and language being shown in a non functional way. It is noce to look at the letters and words as shapes.

I am starting to think about where this will take me in terms of the collector aspect of the brief and the outcome which, excitingly can be anything from me inventing a new language to an installation work to... well, you name it.  That said I am going to sadly draw a line under the investigations of ancient languages  part of the project for now, just so I can get on with the rest of what I have set out for myself and after looking at Greek and how that came about into Latin I wil get into the many methods of writing and conveying visual communication such as Papyrus, scrolls, scratching into rock, smoke signals, which are pretty interesting , sign language and pen and paper to tablet computers and smartphone watches. maybe.

It is also worth looking at systems of visual communication that require an intermediary to view them like qr codes and barcodes.
some artists have actually done some pretty cool stuff with qr codes and it is quite fun to play around with. As a form of visual communication it has a great deal of potential for practical and aesthetic purposes.
Also I really like this because it crosses lines, it is tech, can be art, is a practical tool for not just shipping and business but a great promotional tool, no one wants to type in a web address on a mobile phone so a quick scan and you are there. It can be used for interactive games and projects as well. Museums and galleries are using them to provide more information on the collections and enhance the visit. As far as an interactive project there are limitless ways this could be used.

I was researching the hobo glyphs for this as well and this came up  which is pretty exciting, smartphone owning travellers keeping up with the tech, love it.

Feb 19th

Artist research journal

I just found this exciting installation of various languages scripts made from what looks like hair.. it is a brilliant piece of work, inspirational for this topic for me.

Some more people whose work I am excited by are:
Cecil Touchon, I could live in a house wallpapered by his work, it is single minded, bold and typography gone wild, I am a fan and a half.
I mean... how do you not love that!? just Google image search and you will see.

Jimmy Ernst, Untitled 1971 
Jimmy Ernst also is a visually exciting artist, I was not sure at first what I thought of his work as it is so involved and detailed, it takes a moment to absorb but I spent some time getting used to it and it is captivating in its intricacy and detail as well as the petroglyph like character of some pieces and the general energy of the work. He really reminded me of Barbara Hepworth for some reason, must be the angles and the energy, there is a definite similarity there for me.
Feb 20th 

I am starting to think more about the collector element of the brief, I do love to collect things and have to forcibly stop myself from accumulating things. Now I can enjoy collections like this and this, ( this last one is pretty addictive) some great uses of organisation and different arrangements that can make the most boring and mundane things look like art. So I do not have to hoard to collect and can enjoy it digitally.

How does this fit with visual communication and language, written language?
some of my collected stuff that I have photographed ( badly) 
bits and pieces from my box of found objects

my bits of broken sign collection

bits and pieces I have lying around, was looking at materials and colour here


This artist has come up with a beautiful way of using the concept of cylinder seals for some environmental art with a lot of appeal and impact.
ancient Mesopotamian Cylinder seal, used on cuneiform tablets as a signature.
I can definitely play with this idea as I wanted a way of using cylinder seals somewhere, not necessarily this size but the concept of printing and the repititious nature of it is meditative.I really like the way he has used the cylinder seal idea and his imprinted bike tyres are wonderful also, this is a great way of working with language and visual communications incorporated with environmental and interactive practice.

Feb 21st

What I have so far really come to enjoy is the ancient Chinese languages and their progeny, I will definitely study further into this. there are some beautiful scripts like, of course The Naxi people's Dongba which is the only pictograh system still in use, Yi script which is enormous and very nice to look at, Oracle bone and Bronze script and the list just goes on and on. Cylinder seals have captured my attention and I very much want to revisit my environmental art interests, I have some ideas for large scale projects in parks and gardens so i would really like to look at geoglyphs more closely and how this can be incorporated.. perhaps use a steamroller as a giant cylinder seal and drive everywhere spreading messages in ancient scripts... maybe!
Well at least it gives me some new printing methods to think about using as I have also really enjoyed Indus script which is essentially moveable type, like the Phaistos Disk ( of sorts) so this tells me it is possibly time to move into looking at the origins of printing and typesetting.

Feb 23rd

Since this brief is about collecting, something I do enjoy and my direction seems to be very much the written word, I want to put together a little collection of pictures I have taken during the year that feature writing in some way.


I just love the zombie man on this sign

So in all a pretty random and ongoing collection of images of written words or letters but I do like to look at everything and explore the interesting stuff I come across on my wanderings, everything is interesting depending how one looks at it..


Feb 23

I have been really interested in the Chinese writing systems and ceremony surrounding them so it is fascinating to learn that the world's only gender specific writing system, Nushu exists and had its origins in women not being ok with the fact that they were denied education. It is a lovely looking script, very elegant and upright.
Here is artist, Victoria H. Chang in Canada working with Nushu.

with information on pinterest

So of course this makes me think of all the languages and scripts the human race has developed over the time we have been here and how some are for reasons very different from others, like Nushu some are for survival and safety. It also gets me thinking about how one would go about creating a language, a script and I have played around with a series of letterforms and characters so I have to have a look at how this will work in terms of the properties of the symbols, will they group or be single, will the addition of a second character change the meaning or will an accent do? There are many things to think about and it is great fun.

Feb 24th

So thinking today about direction and outcome for this and I have thought I would like to have process be my piece, in that language has been a great many evoluntionary processes I would like to continue to explore some of the written scripts and some of the methods of creating them, perhaps mixing it up a bit and doing Chinese characters on clay tablets and cuneiform in pen and ink. To ask the questions of what would be different if the cultural and environmental factors around the creations of these systems had been different?

I would like to produce some books, some collages and prints and perhaps a sculpture piece or two all based on writing and the methods and materials used to create it. But as I usually get more ambitious than time allows I will see what I have time to do.

My main piece I want to do however is to create a number of individual characters and letter forms from corrugated card, print off some prints with them, burn them and all the scrap, make ink from the ashes and then do a series of prints with this ink of the original letterforms. I will photograph the whole process so I can present the lot together. So let's see what happens! This type of thing:

another character from Seal Script

Feb 25th

I have decided to go with mostly prints and utilise a variety of different print techniques
today's work
I plan to make some patterned cylinder seals from clay and use different designs, for these experiments I used grafitti I photographed then cut out of card and glued to these tubes, I will print them up tomorrow and see how they come out, hoping it is a workable way of printing. Who knows, the cardboard might work well on a larger scale, or I could carve some rolling pins. So I took this picture at the bus stop and made the rollers with it.

It didn't really work very well, probably because there was not enough weight and/or height as well as it was hard to roll... but that's cool, I will try again with another technique.


And my linocut efforts, not too bad for a first cut, I am enjoying this and really glad to be doing lino cut again after so long, I think it is my favourite.
So yes, a series of prints of different alphabets and characters, visual communications signs and symbols. that is the way forward for me.

This image is a character from Chinese Seal Script  which is a beautiful script with a very interesting  history.

Feb 26th

liking the texture at the top better than the bottom half
More print experimentation today. What I really want to do is take portions of images of graffitti and make them into a series of lino cut prints, I did this one today, it's ... well, for a test ok, just a practice but it showed me what to look for in original material to get a good result, plus I need some new cutters.

original image, I took a portion of for the print

So in all a successful test and now I have a good idea of what I want to do with this, so I will keep collecting good source material and get stuck in.
texture test block:
I want to do a series of multi block prints of made up maps so I was testing some different textures here, the prints came out nicely I think.

March 3rd

 I have been busy printing and testing inks, colours, techniques and style for the last couple of days and I have settled on the subject matter I am liking, sections of poster text and grafitti done with reduction blocks.. had a go at that today and it was an ok test, not perfect, but a good start.

The second print after the extra carving came out ok, it showed me where to tighten up the lines, the outer lines need to be much sharper so I am glad I got some new better quality tools today so I am looking forward to christening them tomorrow.

I know it prints out backwards but that's fine as it is in part an excersise in asemic writing so no worries.

these are some of the blocks I am going to try and make.
it will be really tough to convey the feathery edges on the yellow parts here,
need to think about this before I start cutting. I like the images anyway,
nice juxtaposition of straight black edges and feather curvy colour.

I am ridiculously excited about this project actually, it seems that I have veered far from my research on ancient and interesting languages and gone more towards the visual elements of type and text, the purely decorative look of some grafitti and the processes of printing in themselves. I am ok with that though but I will still make time to do my ink and brush experiments and clay tablet experiments as well as make some more 3d ( ish) letterforms and I do in particular want to do more work with the Oracle Bone script because it is fun and playful in its petroglyph like qualities and has a pleasing symmetry in many of the characters, well, I just really like it. Ultimately this has given me a great new understanding of many of the qualities and histories of languages and another thing to keep on with studying as and when.

Oooh, also I nearly forgot about this, this is beyond anything else. And interesting as well as I had not really paid any attention to numbers which is a bit bad. The quipis ( there are two acceptable spellings) from the Andes, a system of counting and recording information on knotted cords.. simply amazing.

I was also playing around with monoprint with the worn out ink and did some nonsensical "writing" then some of the above Plato Quote then my one of my lovely classmates did one in Arabic for me so then the ink on the table was looking cool so I took a few photos of it and thought it might be something I can play with as far as asemic writing. I like the combo of asemic, English and Arabic together.
I layered up a few of the photos to see what it would look like.

March 7th

Journal stuff..

So we have an old car tyre in the classroom and every time I see it I think I would like to do this with is amazing and is right in line with the cylinder seal idea I have still got going round my head.. I wonder how long it will take to carve something this size..must see if I can score an old tyre.
yeah, and as if that's not big enough along comes this making me want to get hold of a steamroller and a beach.....

I have been researching lino print reduction techniques a fair bit so I can wrap my head around planning a multi layer reduction and it is not so simple. I found this artist,
who does incredibly cool work with this method.
that sort of work is certainly something to aspire to.

10th march

So here are a couple of shots of the reduction block I have been doing, I don't really like the texture so much but it's been working out ok, I am really trying to get the colours right as well as figuring the best way to line it up without messing it up.. not so easy with a larger block

Here are some of the graffiti and lettering images I have been taking for this brief, it is the sort of stuff I like to look at and see the visual of the words and letterforms take over from the functionality of the words themselves. I like this as a collection of images as well and think it fits with the collector brief in as much as it works as a collection, this makes sense but none of the images on their own would mean a great deal. I would love to blow them up and have a room full of them.

March 12th

End of brief, here are the last prints I did yesterday, I like the colours and will put them together as a little book tomorrow. I really like the way they came out on the fabric actually.
really enjoyable brief. time for fmp now. stay tuned!

this didn't work as well I thought it might, I just need to try again but put pressure
on the backing strips overnight, will give it another go later.


I also made this nifty QR code from cardboard, a painstaking process no doubt but it works, now I just have to finish painting it.

Written language and visual communications, from petroglyphs to QR, and a few arts!

Caveat Lector.

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