Boda blog 7

The wall

The exhibition is up! After 10 weeks of work, with a constant month of 12- 14 hours days at the end, it is done. I am delighted with the result and with the project overall. It is the fastest project of this size that I have undertaken in such a short time. My only regret is that I didn’t get to make more postings here, so it is my intention to continue, both the blog postings and with the project. The show is on until the 20th October for those who are in the region and would like to see it in the flesh head to The Glass Factory. For those unable to visit, I’ll continue to post images here.

Heart of matter installation

The show comprises maps, drawings, black and white silver gelatin photographs, digital colour photographs, installation pieces, glass sculpture and photograms. As such it is multi-faceted and I will deal with each element in separate postings over the next few weeks. To begin with, I will deal with the maps and drawings.

32 walks around Boda

The first thing I did on the residency was to make a map of Boda. My intention wasn’t to make an aesthetic piece, but to facilitate the process of place learning, of finding a way of orientating myself in the landscape and to identify my study sites, the abandoned buildings of Boda. Rather than drawing from existing maps of the area, I decided to use satellite images from the internet to map Boda by projecting onto permatrace (the drafting paper used by archaeologists) and to trace roads, buildings and other salient features. Then, every time I made a field trip, I would draw my walk on the map, making my lines of travel visible and when I repeated journeys, these lines got progressively darker. Each journey was numbered and dated.

32 walks around Boda, detail

Through this process, I was able to quickly position myself in the landscape and identify buildings that looked abandoned (marked in red on the map). This was supplemented by local knowledge. Despite seeing buildings that looked abandoned I needed to confirm that they were before carrying out my investigations. This was initially done through consultation with the staff of The Glass Factory and went on to include local people as well as the project developed. Efforts were made on my behalf by Rigmoor at The Glass Factory into identifying and contacting the owners to gain permissions to go ahead with the project. Many thanks to Rigmoor for doing this, and for providing me with additional local knowledge that proved indispensable!

Detail of Fieldnotes a digital photograph of my field notation of site 2, drawing and text on permatrace photographed on a drawing board with a graph paper grid below.

The second drawing element in the project takes the form of field notes. Each site had a sheet of permatrace mounted on a planning board that I borrowed from Rubicon Heritage here in Cork (A thank you to Bruce Sutton for the loan). I took the board to site on each visit and added my thoughts and perceptions as well as using the board to both sketch a plan of the site’s features such as the location of buildings and other features (at the top of the image above) and to draw a perspective drawing of part of the site. In this case, I also incorporated colour by rubbing plants from the site onto the drawing. The work is a photograph, printed larger than the original board, roughly double the size of the original and edited. The text is deliberately cropped, making it’s narrative impossible to decipher entirely. I knew that many of those seeing the works would not understand English, so the text would largely remain obscure. By cropping it I intended to allude to this linguistic component, the text becoming incomplete traces of thoughts. Language impacted other aspects of the project and I intend to delve deeper into this in future research. My lack of knowledge of Swedish was something that was both an advantage and a disadvantage. The positive side to this was that I tended to focus on material evidence on-site, rather than what could have been researched had I spoken Swedish. It meant that I wasn’t delving into the lives of those that had occupied the site, they remained anonymous. As some of them are probably living today, this avoided an invasion of privacy, something I was often aware of was the sensitivity of what I was investigating in these domestic spaces and I was keen to keep away from prying into peoples private lives.

Burnt Barn Scale plan. Pencil on permatrace c. 1m x 2m

The final drawing piece was a scale drawing of the burnt barn that I mentioned in Boda blog 5. I spent many nights in the studio meticulously drawing this piece. In the end, I managed to retrieve some of the artefacts from the site and incorporate them in the installation pieces, so it is possible to find the objects depicted where they were situated in the drawing in the gallery space.

Detail of Burnt Barn

Boda blog 6

At the heart of Boda is, of course, the glass factory, without it, Boda would still, quite possibly, be a small farming settlement with a mill. The factory was opened in 1864 and located in Boda because of the proximity to wood, the fuel for the furnaces, and water power. A mill for grinding glass into powder still stands and was restored in the 1980s.

The Mill, above in March and then in July, and below, the massive grinding stones inside.

For many decades the core of the industrial production of the glass industry was the press mould. Working with the glassmaker Peter Kuchinke, we have located moulds that were saved from former factories in the region. Some of these date from the 19th century. They were kept by the former glass factory owner Lars Ingersson and his cousin Kjell Enerold, who have kindly lent us some for the exhibition and some experimentation!

A mould for making a cream jug photographed when we went to collect it.

We are in the process of cleaning all the moulds and have made some forms using one of them. We are unable to reproduce the original vessel from the mould as we do not have a press, but rather we are trying by hand to making sculptural pieces that bare traces of the original form.

Molten glass was placed in the mould and then pressed by hand

Our problems with this are twofold; firstly temperature, we need to get the mould up to roughly 400 degrees Celcius. We didn’t want to heat the mould by placing in a kiln, for fear of damaging the wooden handles, so we repeatedly pressed with molten glass, using the glass to heat the mould and progressively. We managed to get to 300 degrees, not enough to make a facsimile of the original form, but enough for our purposes. Our other difficulty was pressure. Originally this would have been done with a mechanical press. By hand, we were unable to get enough pressure, but for our purposes, we managed to get the forms we wanted, pieces that combined the design of the piece with more abstract sculptural forms.

A piece in the mould

One piece, along with some of the moulds, will be in the exhibition. An acknowledgement of the glass making traditions that made Boda what it is today.

Boda blog 5

Land Aversion

In the course of investigating these empty houses and their surroundings, I have found that occasionally I feel an aversion to what I find. That despite my interest I am repulsed by what I encounter.

This may be a kind of Topophobia, as Yi Fu Tuan would term it. A sense of revulsion of, for instance, the burnt down barn initially made me simply glance at it and then avert my gaze, rather than study it intently. I felt a deep sadness that compelled me to look away and turn my interest elsewhere. My reaction was an attempt to blank it out of my experience as something I would have preferred not to encounter. Of course, despite this, I did investigate further and made images on that first visit. Without the incentive of this project, I would probably have left the site without examining it.

The burnt barn photographed on my first visit

This aversion to elements in the landscape is fascinating, particularly in terms of our everyday lives. It may well be a coping mechanism for living in degraded environments. We seek to disconnect ourselves from painful landscapes by ignoring them. This is problematic, in terms of care of duty toward the places we live in. Even if there is, seemingly, nothing that can be done, acknowledging and investigating the landscape and its averse elements form the basis for local geopolitical awareness. From this, actions may be devised and undertaken to mitigate the degradation that caused the aversion in the first place.

In the case of the barn, the building had gone, only traces remained. Scattered burnt timber, foundations, corrugated iron roofing and burnt artefacts (mostly metal) were all that survived what was probably an intense heat. The life of the building had recently ended, as the fire burnt last April, according to local knowledge. A form of landscape death. Aversion is often associated with the signs of death and decay, the corpse of an animal by the side of the road, or a field of dead vegetation “treated” with herbicide. We dislike being reminded of our own mortality.

Having focused my attention on the remains of this building, I am treating it rather like an excavation, recording it by drawing a plan view, what would be a pre-ex plan, if I was to excavate the site.

Work in progress on the plan view

2 metres by 1 metre, this makes the largest plan I have made and it is taking hours to complete much intensive detailed work.

Boda blog 4

I’ve been here for three and a half weeks now, although it seems longer, as I have been so very busy. Things are progressing though. The first stage of identifying sites is complete, of the five I initially found four interest me and I am concentrating on two, one in the forest to the northeast of here, beyond a lake (site 2, see my previous posting for a description) and the other (site 1) is to the north. This site has proved much more extensive than I initially thought when I visited on the night of my arrival. The house was probably built in the early 1960s as evidenced by the dates on newspapers that were used as an underlay for the first layer of wallpaper. This I discovered in the cellar, where it is peeling off. It is empty of furniture, even the radiators have been removed. The kitchen is in a terrible state, the rest is just empty. There are two large rooms downstairs in addition to the kitchen and small attic bedrooms upstairs. There is a covered veranda at the entrance.

The veranda

Both here and at the other sites, I have found that the exterior spaces around the houses interest me more than the interiors as they are often better indicators of the life of the settlement. In the case of Site 1, there is evidence of a variety of activities from different times that can be temporally and spatially mapped. A short distance to the northeast of the house, there is a greenhouse made of old window frames with a roof of corrugated plastic, like the veranda.

The greenhouse made of old window frames

The wall is made from window frames that pre-date the house. There are also red ceramic roof tiles and fragments of a glazed ceramic stove lying around the site in various places that appear to be from an earlier building. It is quite possible that an earlier house was on the site before the current one.

To the east, at the top of a slight incline, there is a hunting hut. Next to this is a kiln or small oven, Littered around this part of the site there are a lot of artefacts including some specimens, in the form of an elk skull, a jaw bone and another skull I’m yet to identify.

Elk Skull and jawbone

I’ll be going back this afternoon to photograph this in black and white before I excavate it. I’m thinking of using it in the installation.

Around the site, there is another large barn, although I should say the site of another large barn, as it burnt down last April. This is so reminiscent of older archaeological sites that I have excavated, especially pre-historic wooden buildings. The trace that remains of the wood is charcoal, which becomes inert and is all that remains of homes and outbuildings from thousands of years ago. This is a valuable material both for carbon dating and wood identification. Here there is an over-abundance of charcoal. A rich resource for the work to come.

I am currently making a plan view of this in the studio. I managed to find someone to take an aerial photograph with a drone for me to work from using a projector. This is progressing well and I’ll post an image here later. I’ve also done some photo-grammetry of the barn;

Untitled (as yet)

I’ve visited this site five times, becoming immersed here, getting a strong and growing sense of the place. There is much more here than I’ve mentioned, so more to follow.

I’m writing field notes each time I go to the site, on a planning board. On visit 4, I got caught in a storm;

Just arrived and thunder is rolling around the forest. […] There is much more here than first I saw. It’s started raining and I don’t have a coat! Pouring, under a tree waiting for the rain to stop. The storm is over to the northwest, for now, I think it is heading south. Don’t know though. A burnt down barn is to my south. Quite violent thunder. The rain is easing, or setting in?

The storm has passed, for now… Bitten by mosquitoes!

Extract from my field notes

Boda blog 3

First prints from the project

Another week has passed, a busy one, with many explorations of abandoned buildings and black and white printing of the results. I’ve been loaned a Hasselblad, so appropriate, a Swedish camera for a Swedish project. The square format is a pleasure to work with and the camera might even be as old as me, having been made in the sixties.

In the forest to the northeast, just beyond the lake, there is a small farmstead. No one lives there and vegetation is creeping toward the house, covering the grounds. As well as the house there is a barn, inside, along with piles of timber, are three 1960s cars, with another one outside, covered in pine needles from the tree it sits under. The house looks like it was left yesterday, a newspaper sits on the kitchen table and a teddy was dropped on the upstairs landing.

I feel uneasy inside, quickly recording the rooms, but concentrating more in my heart on the exterior. I don’t touch or move anything inside, leaving it exactly how I found it. Documenting the interior is necessary, the local commune here is keen for me to do this before decay sets in. I shoot digital images but know the black and white is what I’ll use here.

Site #2 Visit #2. House from the S.E.

The house is tiny, three rooms, one downstairs and two up. Built from wood painted a rusty red, as are most of the houses here. The paint is a by-product of copper mining high in Iron content. The barn, by contrast, is large, three large rooms covering three times the floor space of the house.

Site #2 visit #2 Barn from the N.W.N.
Site # 2 visit #2 Earth store

Behind the house in a small square building cut into the earth. It used to have a roof, as the piles of tiles testify, but it is open to the elements now. This was the larder, or earth store (the literal translation for the Swedish name). I retrieved two empty jam jars from here, my first artefacts.

Site #2 visit #2 House form the S (hand coloured)

The photographic paper I’m using at the moment is old stock, not as old as the camera, but old enough not to have any blacks. I’ve tried hand colouring, thinking about how I combine photos with drawing on the permatrace. The obvious reference is to the late 19th and early 20th-century popularity of hand coloured black and white. Not sure how I feel about this, but in certain lights the pencil work is more evident than others

Site #2 visit #2 House form the S (hand coloured)

This is close to what I was thinking for the permatrace. Something like erasing the image by obscuring it…

Next week I’ll do a test, along with more printing and site visits. I have identified five sites so far. Enough for the project, not all of them are accessible, in some cases the outhouses are but the house is locked up. Three are open. The one in the forest is best preserved, still largely intact and untouched. One in Boda is in a poor state, with a leaking roof and evidence of rats. To the northwest, another house is near derelict. The barn burnt down last April, only the foundations and charred remnants remain. Tomorrow I’ll be going there.

Boda Blog 2

After arriving on Monday, I got straight down to work with my assistant Andreas, who’s done a great job of constructing a darkroom down in the basement. We’ve managed to develop the first films, do some printing and tested the photo-emulsion on permatrace and it works. My first test image was of a road, not here, but in Ireland, near my point of departure.

Road out of Cork

Interesting how it looks with different backgrounds and light conditions. The semi-translucent quality of the paper makes the background show through. I have had the thought that hanging in space might be good, then as the viewer moves the background would change.

Project Map (5/7/2019) (122 x 151 cm)

I’ve also got started on the map. This is my reference point for the project. Each time I venture out to do some work, then the path I follow will be marked on this map, as well as identifying the empty houses hereabouts. So far I know of six buildings of which five are houses. The other is another factory, that has a sign with ‘Design House’ outside. I have a feeling that this will be almost unreadable by the end of my stay. I suspect I’ve spotted another house that no-one has mentioned to me, I’ll see what is out there in the next week, when I spend much more time in the village and around it.

Stretcher, ‘The road out of Cork’ and the map in the studio

In a strange coincidence, perhaps, in the week Andreas found an ‘ambulance’ stretcher in the basement (outside the darkroom). Strange because in 1999, I did a project where I also found stretchers in an industrial building. This is a good omen, I now have the first found object, or artefact for the project.


Boda: Abandoned

Field notes from an investigation

July – October 2019

Last March, I was invited to give a talk at the Glass-hack symposium at The Glass Factory, an art centre and museum in a former industrial glass production factory in the village of Boda, in Smaland, Sweden.

Today I am packing my bags in preparation for my return in two days’ time. I’m going back for six weeks to investigate abandoned buildings in the village around the factory, a village suffering from depopulation. Ever since the factory closed, people have been leaving, going elsewhere. Leaving behind their former dwellings and former lives. I’m really fascinated to see what traces of the vanished community remain. I will be using a combination of techniques drawn from archaeology, cultural geography and visual art to ‘map’ this changing landscape. This blog will follow the process from its beginnings to the production of an exhibition, and whatever else might happen. When I was first there in March, I glimpsed the possibilities in both the factory itself and the surroundings;

The basement in Tillie’s house
Road’s end

I will be periodically posting updates here, following the project over the next few months.