Editorial – Dr Daniel Sturgis
Substrate Pronunciation: /ˈsʌbstreɪt/
(Noun.) An underlying substance or layer. The surface or material on or from which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment. A material which provides the surface on which something is deposited or inscribed.
This edition of Bright Light is dedicated to the idea of the substrate. It started with a series of three symposia hosted by the Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon (CCW) Graduate School and held in the Green Room in Millbank. Over the Spring Term in 2014, Professor Stephen Farthing, Professor Chris Wainwright and I invited artists, academics and students from across the University, together with outside guests, to think what a substrate could be and if the substrate might be an interesting way to speak cross-disciplinarily about practice. The following volume lays out some of what we discovered. Together with the Series Editor of Bright Light, Dr David Dibosa, we asked participants from each of the sessions to either develop their papers or re-present them in a written form; not everyone who contributed to the sessions or discussions were included, which in some sense is a pity, but space limited us and also a desire to show divergent approaches. The one thing I think everyone who attended the Symposia discovered, as the reader will, is what slippery fish the idea of substrate is. How it can mean very different things to different people – but remarkably within that breadth the substrate somehow still retains a base that links its various interpretations. It is this base that is so intriguing.
Dr David Dibosa
A classic comment from music teaching is that any piece of music starts before the beginning and finishes long after the end. The same could be said of history: the history of the present century started sometime towards the end of the last. 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ascendancy of the USA as the pre-eminent superpower and the establishment of a globalized circuit of international economic exchange. Who could have guessed to where it would all lead? Certainly, few people were predicting the return to an intercontinental balance of great powers with China and Russia tilting the global equilibrium to hold the dominance of Europe and North America in check. Another unforeseen development would be the increased presence of East Asian students on the campus of higher education institutions, particularly in London – where the impact of neo-liberal policies in nearly every sphere of life, from housing to hospitals, has been keenly felt. Focussing too much on East
Asia or any other part of the world would be a mistake, though. For, the remarked upon contribution of Chinese, South Korean and Japanese students and scholars to university life in London remains no more than an indicator of a more profound shift – the wholesale internationalization of higher education in England.
Contemporary London, then, provides a platform where universities become
more universalized. Is there anything new in this formulation? As the word suggests,
‘universities’ were always meant to be places of assembly of people and ideas from
all over the known world. Alongside people and ideas, of course, come things –
objects that sustain them, represent them or simply embellish them. This first edition
of the Bright Light series, titled Implicit Geographies, invites us to take another look
at the objects assembled around us, especially but not exclusively those in formal collections. By reviewing the geographies of such objects – local and global – we
look at the journeys that they have taken before they reach us. Our encounters with objects in collections thus become more like our relations to music: we can tell that something has already started before our initial encounters have begun.
We commence Implicit Geographies with an article looking at collections held in
two conceptually different but geographically close institutions – Kettles Yard and
the Scott Polar Research Institute – both in Cambridge. Professor Paul Coldwell’s article, Objects as Conduits for Memory emphasizes the significance of the mundane,
suggesting that everyday objects elicit far more evocative and challenging thoughts than the alluring materials that often get awarded high status in collection displays. Edwina fitzPatrick similarly invites us to rethink the way we look at collections, suggesting that we need to see the limits of representational strategies when considering how we engage with the ecosystem. fitzPatrick’s article, Translocation and Witness in the Anthropocene Age, argues for us to attend to artwork that collects together parts of
the ecosystem and presents them to us in a different way. Questions of metaphor and metonym are brought together in fitzPatrick’s discussion of work, such as Tania Kovats’ Meadow (2007), in which the artist transported a wildflower meadow from Bath to London via canal routes.
The journey of art objects and artefacts continues as a theme in Implicit Geographies through the work of Curators Donald Smith and Daisy McMullan who, in their article Alpha Rug from the Omega Workshops, discuss the different manifestations of
a design object such as the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition Rug. The significance
of the rug (sometimes referred to as the ‘Omega Rug’) as design object becomes clear: its staging as both object of spectacle and teaching device is highlighted in the article. The use of collections as communicative devices features in the article by Gustavo Grandal Montero and Ann Harezlak, Sent/received: invitations and other ephemera related to the Nigel Greenwood Inc. Ltd. gallery, 1969 –1974. The article introduces major questions about the changing function of ephemera: how should we think about historic gallery practices, as exhibition paraphernalia, such as invitation cards, moves from print to digital media? Materials, such as work done by Gilbert & George can come to be seen in a different light. By looking at ephemera, Grandal Montero and Harezlak reprise the theme of underprivileged objects discussed in Paul Coldwell’s article at the opening of Implicit Geographies. To close the collection of texts in this issue, Sue Doggett’s article The Contingent Tourist develops a speculative mode
of research, connecting together a wide-range of collected objects to pose questions about their origins, their provenance and their journeys to becoming objects of
On the whole, the texts in Implicit Geographies look at the relations between places that objects suggest. In particular, objects in collections bring places together, creating connections that might not otherwise have been foreseen. New proximities can be forged when objects from distant places are sat side-by-side. Equally, intimacies can be shattered when things usually seen back-to-back are set at a distance in a collection that renders them unrelated to or disconnected from one another. This issue, as a collection in itself, cannot help but set a frame around some dissonant thoughts and thereby suggest some compositional alignments between them. The aim though, is that the reader might read between the lines or even drift way off the page to introduce other elements, suggesting that, although our task of bringing this collection together may be complete, the endeavor that we have started is long from being over.