My late father-in-law was a collector of ancient biblical coins. I remember well his carefully catalogued archive housed in an old metal filing cabinet in the corner of his study. Hundreds of coins placed in individual plastic wallets, handwritten notes popped inside each one, arranged historically, in date order.
I was fascinated by his collection and the stories it could tell. Once he passed me a coin to hold inscribed with the name Pontius Pilate. I held the modest, well worn coin between thumb and forefinger, rubbing its surface gently, feeling the indentations, the smoothness, allowing it to speak to me. Who else had held this coin? Where had it been? What had it seen? My father-in-law was a retired Methodist Minister so one can only imagine the connection this little piece of metal gave him to a past on which he had built his life and beliefs.
Archives tell all sorts of stories, not just about the individual pieces it holds, but about the person or institution that collected them. The slide I have chosen to adopt is a pencil drawing on a ground glass lantern slide. I fell in love with these slides as soon as I opened the box; a row of glass lanterns, the edges shimmering like jewels, held and protected as well as any cut glass crystal. Adolph Loos would be proud; a small window of ground glass, there to let the light in, not to let the gaze pass through; an introspective gaze that focuses the mind on the image in front of you.
‘Reflection from a curved surface’ is a teaching aid from the 1950’s drawn by R.S. Partington, a lecturer on Architecture at the then Regional College of Art, Manchester. I hold the lantern up to the light and I can see and feel the past reflected in every pore of its being. The Visual Resource Centre is not just a collection of images; it is a collection of how Art and Design was taught, here at this institution, over the last half decade. Taken as a whole, it is an historical document that tells a very particular story. When old ways of doing things become outdated and new technologies inevitably take over, we leave the past behind. But that is not to say we can’t learn something new from it and allow it to help shape our understanding of the future.
Not long after my father-in-law’s death his collection of coins was broken up, split into individual lots, torn apart and auctioned off. We lost more than the physical objects that day. We lost a part of our family’s history; a thread that connected us and the coins to a grander narrative, embodied within the material presence of the collection.
And once it’s gone, believe me, it’s gone forever.
Artist and PhD Researcher, MIRIAD