copper 2

The Hopwas project was originally motivated by an idea I had during a previous series of works. These works were a suite of gothic photography based on urban legend ‘Bragolin’s Blue Boy’. The legend regards the painter Bruno Amadio, popularly known as Bragolin. The story is that he created portraits of children from a local orphanage in Spain which subsequently burns down with many of the children still inside. The paintings were widely available in the 1970’s and are believed to burn the house of whoever owns them to the ground, leaning the paintings themselves unscathed.

Bragolin1
The idea was that I could somehow create my own urban legend, one that would have real effects on people. This idea came back to me while reading a compilation of short stories by Luis Borges in which, as I said In the ‘Mind Space’ section earlier ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ caught my attention through the notion of the ‘Hronir’.

But I would create these artefacts partially embedding them in a myth, or story that already exists, co-opting it to the point where it would become my own story – enabling, through these interventions the creation of a kind of ‘living-fiction’. This would be much like narrative-archaeology but with the premise of creating new narratives rather than collecting old ones-although the collection of old stories eventually become part of this project as well.

The embedding in a basic but pre-existing story would lend a certain amount of credibility to start the project with. This living- fiction would allow participants (not merely a viewer or a reader, but including these activities) to become immersed in narrative events and structures that use all the tools and devices of printed literature, but which are also married to and dispersed via rhizomatic connections between them and other medias. This immersion would not entirely be for the purposes of fantasy or escape, but as in literature and the critical arts it would aim to trigger internal debate.

This was never a cynical project; initially it was an investigation into fiction, not any kind of fiction but the kind of fiction that we frequently fail to remember is fiction.

“My intention in Secret History was not to create a hoax, but rather to discover something about who I imagined my father to be. […} {It] became more than just the search to understand my father-it became an investigation of history, fiction, and truth itself. The work is about how we know what we know. It is a rethinking of the notion of truth.” Eve AndréeLaramée, 2004

The physical artefacts that I created for the project included two copper plates and an Egyptian style statuette. The first copper plate was found by the West Midlands Ghost Club and subsequently made it into the Tamworth Herald. And when the other two were not found I used false personalities to write to the newspaper over a period of months claiming the discovery of the other two artefacts. As well as those involved with these artefacts I also created several other characters which included Tabitha Wald, a woman who was a member of the Silver Star occult group in the early eighties who wrote several letters to the Herald calling for the plate to be returned to the woods due to its importance as a religious/spiritual artefact.

copper 3

The project also became an opportunity to help protect an area of natural beauty that I have loved since I was young. The strategy being: to keep the woodland in the media and the minds of the local people, with the rationale that if the Hopwas Woods were in the minds of the people then it would make it much harder for anyone (e.g. Tarmac) to cut it down for the aggregates beneath. Despite this, the project is not subordinate to the woodland as a method of protection as it is important that the art is not seen merely as a P.R. exercise.

The Hopwas project has been the largest of my projects to date, yet it has been easier to work with in some respects as it has involved working with others much more in order for it to be achieved. It required the use of networking, project management and curating skills, which also means there is a lot less room for perfectionism.

Egyptian Statuette Close-up

Parts of the Project have managed to create a lot of discussion, particularly online via chat rooms, comments pages, and blogs but also in local newspapers: in Tamworth/Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield. There has also been interest from occultists in America and paranormal magazines in Australia – strangely, even a British Asian television company (BritAsiaTV) was interested to involve it in one of their shows. This is all very useful in bringing Hopwas Woods into the limelight, especially after a woodhouse dating back to the 16th century, which would not have happened if the interest was there.

town ahll 2

I see the same practice at work with Eve Andree Laramee’s exhibition at the Islip Art Museum in New York, entitled ‘Secret History: Yves Fissiault, Artist of the Cold War Era’. Eve Andre Laramie, like Jamie Shovlin, posits herself as a curator, having come into contact with the material they curate by some capricious fluke. Then, hiding themselves behind a fictional character or group, they use tropes and display methods taken from institutional bodies such as museums to give their counterfeit artefacts an air of authority. This is the method I have chosen to explore with this project, yet intend to take it much further in scope over a period of years.

art refs

‘After all, that notion of the integrity of an historical epoch—that sense of what is possible and impossible in a given period—is literary as much as it is historical. Critics like Valla could spot inconsistencies, but in many cases it was the forgers who took on the most ambitious projects of historical recovery. They were the ones who were trying to make the past live again, to animate, to resurrect the lost worlds. They had to steep themselves in these worlds enough that they could actually inhabit them creatively. In a sense these sorts of forgeries are not an effort to falsify the past, but in fact to rescue it. The most radical version of this claim is fantastic: the forgers are the first real historians, since it is they who genuinely want to bring the past to life!’‘Deception as a Way of Knowing: A Conversation with Anthony Grafton’ Cabinet Magazine, Issue 33 Deception 2009

town hall

The next step of the project was to create an exhibition in which I could bring together all of the material that I had created so far. This is an exhibition that will retrospectively (along with other elements of the project) challenge the public to be more critical of the authority that they give to trappings of ‘authority’. But not before taking on a life of its own through the media and other levels of communication, where information regarding elements of the project will be generated and disseminated by the public itself. This can be tested presently, simply by searching elements of this project online.

The Hopwas Woods exhibition at Tamworth’s Town Hall was meant as an artwork in itself, a relational event that would create more material for the Hopwas Project narrative. It allowed a situation where the public could come directly into contact with the artefacts – which were exhibited in a glass cabinet amongst local art and information about Hopwas Woods. The glass cabinet lends the false artefacts an air of credibility.

The exhibition coincided with the display of the Staffordshire, Saxon Hoard at Tamworth castle which is merely a few meters away from the Town Hall. This was an intentional consideration while planning the exhibition, knowing that many visitors to the larger Saxon Hoard display would come into contact with this exhibition due to the bottle- neck effect of the bridge which links the castle grounds to the site of the town hall.

The town hall bestows the exhibition with an institutional air, giving the material displayed a credibility and authority the false artefacts need in particular. These considerations were partly motivated through a conversation with artist Jamie Shovlin about institutional tropes, privilege and the authority of institutional framing with its embellishments. That any particular object could have many distinct (and almost subconscious) elements added to it depending on its presentation, such as the accepted presentation methods of the institution it is placed in. These methods of presentation may be deeply entrenched in notions of privilege, class, commercial and historical value. The exhibition was also quite pastoral, with wildlife artworks displayed on wooden easels and documents arranged simply in a way that would mimic other local events so as not to seem out of place, adding a level of humour for those in the know in regard to its authenticity.

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Tillmans’ lo-fi display of photocopied newspaper-clippings under glass, set on top of simple wooden tables, gave me enough confidence to decide that not all presentations of my own work had to be pristine for it to be best represented. In fact it could be a complete mess, if that’s what it required for the best reception and context of that work. Once again, Olivia Plender’s ‘Machine Shall Be the Slave of Man, but We Will Not Slave for the Machine’ was a consideration while constructing this display due to its DIY aesthetic and use of glass cabinet to privilege these objects.

It is important to note that the Hopwas Woods exhibition was not a pastoral exhibition, but a reconstruction. It was a contemporary artwork in the guise of a pastoral exhibition, one that will create further material for an actual contemporary art exhibition at the end of the project when its full nature will be revealed.

The author Guy N. Smith with artist Gwyddion Flint

At this point only a small number of people that have helped me set up this exhibition know about the authenticity of the artefacts, and for them the viewers of the exhibition became the viewed. The visitors became part of the exhibition, itself as an event that was set up largely for the artefacts to interact with, and be placed within the public environment adding to the cache of narrative that surrounds them.
During the planning of the exhibition I got in contact with the famous pulp fiction novelist Guy N. Smith (see image above), perhaps most famous for his Killer Crabs series from the 1970’s, which could be seen as a British analogue of Godzilla. Knowing that he was born and grew up in the village of Hopwas I thought that his oeuvre could add a new avenue to the narrative that I was building if I were to gain his involvement with the project.

Luckily after several letters I managed to get in contact with the author who now lives on the Welsh Border. At the time I commissioned him to write an article that would go into a booklet published for the exhibition, and later invited him to visit the exhibition. At this point in time I am still in contact with Guy N. Smith and hope to work with him on further projects. Despite this, he does not know elements of the exhibition were inauthentic yet. Remaining booklets from the exhibition can be purchased on his publisher’s website.

Hopwas Woods Exhibition

I also managed to get hold of props from a music video created for the band D.C. Fontana. The recently filmed music video was entitled Meshkalina, shot in Hopwas Woods it was instigated by all the ‘strange happenings’ surrounding that wood. I hope this is likely to have been due to the reportage of the copper plates and other artefacts in local newspapers at the time, it would then mean that the project is taking on a life of its own not only on weblogs, and local newspapers. I thought it was important to try and get the band’s participation to feed once again back into the project narrative in order to get a kind of feedback loop going. I’ve tried to use this feedback strategy with all people involved in order to get the most out of their participation, as well as keeping the narrative going.

Another person I commissioned for the exhibition booklet, one that does know the full nature of the exhibition, is the archaeologist Mark Lorenzor. It was his interest in psycho-geography that led me to make clear the truth of the artefacts and the reason for their use. At the present time I’m assisting him with his historical blog Tamworth Time Hikes and the ‘online event’ that is Pastorm, both our projects becoming mutually beneficial.

I also intend to use the research gathered through these projects, the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard as well other elements, as material for a historical and partially meta-fictional novel in the near future.

 

Click here for ‘Hopwas Woods Exhibition Booklet‘ (featuring articles by Gwyddion Flint, Guy N. Smith, and Mark Lorenzor

 

Artefacts above found at Hopwas Woods: ‘Hopwas Copper Plates’ and  Egyptian statuette article – For more info: http://www.westmidlandsghostclub.com/page9.htm

 

More information about DC Fontana’s music video here: http://www.thisistamworth.co.uk/Rock-witchcraft-ancient-woods-DC-Fontana-filming/story-12982506-detail/story.html

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