REMLA Laura McEwan (1)

September 21, 2017by lauramcewanNewsPublicRoyal Engineers Museum and Archive (17/18)


My first visit to REMLA

Considering the location of the museum, I wasn’t expecting much, but after a short walk from the station we were greeted by enormous tanks, that just seemed to get more intimidating the closer you stepped. The building itself is beautiful and grand, but even after seeing all this I had my doubts about what was inside. We went into the foyer for a quick talk with Heike (our course leader) and was introduced to Roy (who will help lead the project) and Danielle the deputy curator for the Royal Engineer Museum, Library and Archive. Who explained more about the project and the plans for the day. I felt very welcome there, and the brief tour of the museum was extremely helpful and eye opening for me.

The collection in the museum was surprising to me, as I said earlier I didn’t particularly expect much, especially not to see a part of the Berlin wall. I loved walking through the museum, I never knew we had such a hidden gem sitting on our doorstep. There was so much to take in, you’d think the inspiration and ideas would be popping up like daisies, but instead I suffered the artist equivalent of writer’s block.

I wish I could attach a smell now, as the aroma of the Library/Archive was the first thing you notice, I inhaled the smell of musk and old books, and wished there was a candle in this scent. The next thing I noticed was all the old books, with gold detailing and rough edges, these were visually pleasing, but still an idea didn’t spring to mind. We looked through a tiny portion of the archive just to get a taster and wet our appetites and boy was I sold on this option. Still not a set idea in sight, but I knew I’d find something.

I began thinking about decorating a vase with the archive images, but this was something I was just toying with, and it just came from personal interest.

From the museum the Hiroshima vase stood out to me, along with the biscuit a soldier sent back home and the looted items from the Summer Palace in China. I do like quirky things, hence the biscuit and I have always been interested in Chinese culture. Perhaps it was seeing the tiny vase from Hiroshima that sparked my vase idea I mentioned earlier.


Round 2 at REMLA

It wasn’t until my second visit to the archive that I happened to stumble upon some pretty landscape images, from the selection of albums that Danielle had laid out for us. It was from seeing such nice images that I wondered what the other end of the spectrum would be like, the horror and gores of war, and from that curiosity my idea was born. I would create a juxtaposition of images, presented on vases, inspired from my visit to the Serpentine Gallery to see Grayson Perry’s work.

I started testing how I was going to decorate the vases, and used images I had to hand, not all from the archive or strictly relevant but it was more for the technique than the look. I was experimenting with tissue paper and how the amount of layers and thickness of the PVA would change the outcome.


Idea Proposal

When it comes to creative projects, I have the tendency to work backwards, and it has been no different with this project.

I knew I wanted to go with the Royal Engineer option, as I have always been interested in the archive, before I began creating archive based work I found the idea quite boring and it wasn’t until I discovered artists like Fontcuberta (during year 2) that I began enjoying it, so this time round I did think about creating a fake archive or story from the images in the real archive, but decided to go with a different route than I would normally.

So initially I knew what the outcome would be, my first idea and fondest, is to decorate a vase with the images from the archive, inspired from my trip to The Serpentine gallery where they had the Grayson Perry show.


The second idea was to create cut-outs from images and build constructed scenes in boxes, so the layers create an environment inside a box. (plan B) Inspired loosely from Joseph Cornell, the majority of his boxes aren’t so much of a constructed scene but more a beautiful collection of things.


Concept and plan

I struggled for a little while coming up with a strong concept, and it is still a working progress, but on the vase I plan to create a juxtaposition of images (and possibly text) to emote shock in the viewer.

The images that I will combine are ones of the horrors and gruesome truth of war and the picturesque landscapes from the travel side.

One of the jobs of a war photographer is to bring back images to show the audience who won’t experience war first hand, what it’s like. It is fair enough that people say “I know what it’s like” or “I can imagine” but its completely different to actually seeing something.

Unless people go searching for the images that I am going to decorate the vase with, they will remain unseen and I think it is important that they are seen at least second hand.