During the 19th century, exploration, collection and classification were widely practised by individuals as a means of understanding the world. Many of these collections became the foundation of our museums.
Fables From A New World: The life and times of T. H. Thomas (1839-1915) as imagined by Jennie Savage.
Responding to the fascinating life of artist and collector, T. H. Thomas (1839-1915) and his collections, now housed in Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, artist Jennie Savage considers his life story, aspirations and the impact of his work, alongside broader social themes of the times.
During the 19th century, individual exploration, collection and classification were widely practised as a means to understanding the world. Many private collections from this period became the foundation stones of our public museums. A proposal was devised by Oriel Davies Gallery and developed with Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales for an artist to explore the transition of private collections, their histories, associations and contexts as they enter the realm of the public museum.
Artist, Jennie Savage was invited to respond to this outline. Her practice seeks to transform people’s perception of situations through the creation of mediated experiences. Working site-specifically she explores the grey areas between systems, institutions and the human story: the lived lives and personal narratives that connect them. Working through a process that uses archiving and intervention she seeks to map the other life of a place, community or individual in order to reveal a complex situation, a micro-structure or simply an unheard voice.
Through a year-long process of research and site visits to Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales in Cardiff, Jennie developed ‘Fables From A New World’ which focuses on the life and times of artist and collector T. H. Thomas, (1839 – 1915), whose wide ranging collections were bequeathed to the museum upon his death. Her audio-led installation takes viewers on a physical as well as philosophical journey through a series of ‘rooms’ within the Gallery. These environments weave connections with T. H. Thomas and offer three distinct encounters, starting with the familiar and gradually dissolving into the strange and unknown. Through visual and sound based experiences each individual is immersed into this ‘new world’. The use of headphones deepen a sense of intimacy and create an intense, reflective passage through the work.
The first room features objects from Thomas’ collection which have been presented in a recognisable, museological manner. An accompanying soundtrack features information and reflections around Thomas, his life and the wider milieu. A shift between the public and private takes place in the second room (Acts & Monuments). Visitors seemingly enter behind the scenes of the Museum where the notion of museums, their structure and layers are put under scrutiny. Certainties begin to slip and the idea of knowledge is questioned. After travelling along a narrow, unnerving corridor the visitor is plunged into the darkened space of the third room (When the darkness is bigger than the light). Emerging from the darkness is a film featuring an isolated figure moving through a dense forest, all the while accompanied by a disorientating soundtrack.
Through deconstruction, this installation explores the undercurrents and issues beneath the surface of Victorian Britain during a time when we were becoming modern: science as a belief system, the museum as an institution, the decline of oral culture, the industrial revolution, the beginnings of rationalisation, the birth of consumerism - all in the shadow of Darwin, uncertainty and anxiety.
Alex Boyd Jones, Curator, Oriel Davies Gallery Bryony Dawkes, Partnership Projects Curator, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Fables From A New World has been organised as part of Celf Cymru Gyfan - ArtShare Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales' visual arts partnership scheme. Generously funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the scheme aims to increase access to the national art collection through exhibitions and projects across Wales.
The artist, Jennie Savage, for her hard work, unbounded enthusiasm and continual inspiration. Pratap Rughani, James Tyson, The Cotrell Rd Hotel in Cardiff, Debra Savage, Nic Finch and Lotus Films for the loan of equipment, staff and volunteers at Oriel Davies Gallery and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.
‘Fables From A New World’ (Sound Track 1) Interviewees: Andrew Haycock, Christabel Hutchings, Cindy Howells, Dr Tim Rich, Emily O’Reilly, Jennifer Gallichan, Lowri Jenkins, Dr Peter Sedgwick, Tom Sharpe. ‘Acts & Monuments’ Camera Anne Siegle, special thanks to Chris Forster for his expertise and John McMullin. ‘When the darkness is bigger than the light’ Camera, Pratap Rughani, figure James Tyson with special thanks to Inza Lim.