I have been a mass-observer now for a few years, and had heard a lot about Julian Trevelyan’s work as an artist, and specifically his suitcase of ephemera – tickets, receipts, newspaper and other similar paper-based enchantments. (And I adore paper-based enchantments.)
In 2013 I took a day-trip to London to see the fantastic Mass Observation: This is Your Photo exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery in London, and so I was able to view this coveted suitcase in person.
Isn’t the doily so perfectly preserved?
Julian Trevelyan was an artist and poet who documented street-scenes of northern English towns – specifically Bolton – through detailed collages crafted from the contents of his suitcase. I love this idea, and I love the fact that he was clearly an archiver of the times; a social artist and diarist through the medium of paper and glue as well as pen and paper.
With packing bags for a few trips away of late (including a spa break for my birthday), and trying to maintain my creative practices while away, I thought back to Julian Trevelyan’s suitcase and how wonderful it must have been to travel about and just ‘set up shop’ to craft and create, wherever and whenever.
There is such a beautiful freedom in that for me, and although I try to recreate that carefree sense of creativity on the go in my own life, I always end up loaded down with sketchbooks and scrapbooks and maybe my laptop and knitting needles poking me in the eye.
I also keep memory boxes and envelopes with tickets and receipts and postcards; collections in the physical realm that represent and trigger memories of days out, holidays, trips to the cinema, encapsulating an era, a time in my life, pockets of thought that can instantly be recalled just through the visual stimulus of the paper trail left behind.
They are like springboards to other creative practices such as art journaling and writing down my family story which is omnipresent in my mind.
But I can’t help but compare the jam-packed, jumbled suitcase contents to memories all stacked together, filed in non-chronological order inside the creative mind. The mind of any creative person with projects and plans intertwined and multi-layered, multi-faceted, overlapping.
I wonder what Julian Trevelyan would have made of the modern technological world as a platform for artists, and for documenting life and art as we do now pretty much everyday in one way or another through social media, blogging, video, etc? I’d love to know.
I cruised around and settled on the outskirts of town near to some cotton mills and reservoirs. At the time I was making collages; I carried a large suitcase full of newspapers, copies of Picture Post, seed catalogues, old bills and other scraps, together with a pair of scissors, a pot of gum, and a bottle of Indian ink. I was applying the collage techniques I had learnt from the Surrealists to the thing seen, and now tore up pictures of the Coronation crowds to make the cobblestones of Bolton. It was awkward, sometimes, in a wind, when my little pieces would fly about, and I was shy of being watched at it; but it was a legitimate way, I think, of inviting the god of Chance to lend a hand in painting my picture.
From his book, Indigo Days, 1957