A nice cup of tea (& other fragments)

Year: 2001

Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery is one of those wonderful museums full of dead stuff. Dead animals, old weapons, mummies, ancient glass work, ceramics and all kinds of fascinating evidence relating to human productivity and archaeology. It is a place where old things adopt a dignified posture and quietly stand in perpetuity. For each item a curator saves the very same act determines its fate - it being once practical or alive, there it becomes dormant. It is a museum where things do not die but rather they simply go to sleep.

In a quiet bid to bring things back to life, I set about a series of interventions throughout the museum that discretely placed the contemporary amongst the old, the ignored amongst the valued and the live amongst the dead. Over twenty interventions were produced but ironically for a musuem little document survives. A few are described below:

A discarded chair that had been found dumped on the A36 to Bristol was covered with the same silk damask that lined a gallery full of Old Masters all in a futile bid to implicate itself into the very fabric of the museum. Bristol blue glasses were made so that, like soldiers on parade, they appeared to have fainted having grown simply too tired to stand after all those years on display. Abandoned mattress remains were mounted exactly the same as the rare textiles that were also on display. Dust collected from around the museum then left layering the bottom of a display case was the only sign of where a rare Ming bowl had been, it only being noticed by the evidence of its absence. And, a nice cup of tea was left in the blue and white 18th century porcelain display. (That I was compelled to buy a piece of comparable porcelain on being told that it was impossible to use a tea cup from the collection revealed the wider absurdity of the museum's paradox: to preserve a tea cup, its purpose has to be denied.)

So discrete and embedded were the interventions that people started seeing interventions that were not my handiwork. The empty can of coke spotted on a ledge far beyond the possible reach of any visitor had in fact been left by an absent minded tradesman only to be discovered after the vast scaffolding tower required to access that particular part of the building had been taken down. It had been there for years. It might still be there now.