Cybernetic Serendipity on the Electronic Superhighway

 

By Jack Mulvaney, Special Collections Assistant

Electronic Superhighway, a major exhibition currently on display at The Whitechapel Gallery (29 January – 15 May 2016), focuses upon how contemporary art has adapted its creativity towards new digital mediums. It brings together over 100 works from established names such as Nam June Paik, from whom the exhibition title is borrowed, to more recent innovators such as Ryan Trecartin  and.  In the Whitechapel Gallery’s own words:

Arranged in reverse chronological order, Electronic Superhighway begins with works made at the arrival of the new millennium, and ends with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T), an iconic, artistic moment that took place in 1966. Key moments in the history of art and the Internet emerge as the exhibition travels back in time.

A narrative is forged in this idiosyncratic manner, as the inverted journey through a moment of art history reveals both the convergences and differences in how artists approached the information revolution. As Electronic Superhighway examines the fascinations and malaise of virtual reality in a rhythmic fashion, it becomes interesting to look back to artists such as the aforementioned Nam June Paik and examine how the reality of our predicament matches the hypothesis of previous artists. Although the delivery and medium differed by looks dated by today’s standards, such as June Paik’s now ubiquitous TV screen sculptures formed of clunky CRT monitors, there is a clear expectation that digital life would reshape our inner lives. This is reflected in the offerings of contemporary artists, where a clear trend towards simulating the uncanny vertigo of an increasingly hyperreal virtual reality emerges in Electronic Superhighway.

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Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) ephemera on display at Electronic Superhighway (2016). Images by author.

It was exciting for Special Collections & Archives of Goldsmiths Library to find an exhibit in Electronic Superhighway of documentation from the Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) exhibition, the spiritual forerunner of Electronic Superhighway, including copies of some of the rare ephemera that is held here in our very own collections.

Opening in London at the ICA in 1968, Cybernetic Serendipity was radical for its time, exploring the frontier of communications technology long before it would become a point of cultural fascination. Curated by Jasia Reichardt, the emphasis was on algorithms as a productive force generative force of artistic content.

Several mediums were used to explore this notion. There was a large emphasis on aural creativity, with a significant part of the exhibition dedicated to devices that generated unique compositions of music. Taking inspiration from composers who wrote in mathematically informed manners such as the precociously modernist Charles Ives, much of the sonic work in Cybernetic Serendipity sought to use operations taken from computing for the production of harmonious sounds.

Whilst computer’s new found utility for producing new symphonic compositions was experimented with in one manner, another aspect of Cybernetic Serendipity focused on the ‘serendipitous’ ecologies that could be produced by building systems of exchange between the user and technology. One piece performing this exact idea was an interactive installation by early synthesizer pioneer Peter Zinovieff that allowed sounds made by visitors to be sung into a microphone which then translated the sound waves and attempted an improvisation of an original piece of music.

The ICA produced a vinyl compilation of audio pieces to accompany the exhibition, featuring the likes of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis, as well as the aforementioned Zinovieff. For years this has been a scarce object as only a handful of copies were ever made and sold at the exhibition itself. Fortunately for those interested in this early foray into electronic music production, Special Collections & Archives managed to acquire a copy via a re-release run in 2014 by the label The Vinyl Factory. As the ICA website describes in their promotional materials:

Both unique and extraordinarily influential, Cybernetic Serendipity Music captured a nascent scene on the cusp of a synth-led electronic revolution and was the only compilation of its kind to bring together the musicians, composers and inventors pushing the boundaries of early computer music on one record, a good six years before Kraftwerk’s Autobahn changed modern music for ever.

Though the aural aspects of Cybernetic Serendipity were prescient, there was also much attention given over to visual manifestations of creative computing. Media art pioneer Nam June Paik was present with the mechanical sculpture Robot K-456 and some of the aforementioned interactive television sets that make an appearance in Electronic Superhighway. Jean Tinguely contributed two machines able to autonomously paint in a similar fashion to the self producing music machines described elsewhere in the exhibition, whilst his cohort in auto-destructive art Gustav Metzger created a typically terminal creation called Five screens with computer programmed to gradually disintegrate over time. Gordon Pask arranged a group of large mobiles that integrated the viewers via large moving parts. Bruce Lacey anticipated the drone age with radio-controlled robots and other automaton such as a light-sensitive owl.

A particularly curious feature of the Cybernetic Serendipity monograph is the amount of attention given of to Computer generated images, or CGI as it is often referred to now. It is clear that artificially constructed computer visuals, though not fully understood, was being anticipated on the horizon. The monograph features several pages of text and images that investigate how concepts such as pattern recognition and geometric depth will be essential to the exchanges users perform with technology. This was strongly reflected in the main exhibition in a permutations with pieces such as a simulated Mondrian piece and the iconic decreasing squares spiral that appears on the exhibition’s poster and monograph. A video from the Boeing corporation featured a demonstration of wire frame modelling, the skeletal system of interconnecting points that is now an industry standard in CGI production. This dimension of Cybernetic Serendipity highlighted the gestalt-like ability of the human brain in organizing simple shapes into complex images with depth and shade, something that would prove necessary for the later production of virtual reality.

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Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) poster, on display at Electronic Superhighway (2016). Images by author.

Though dated by the immersive and hyperreal standards, Cybernetic Serendipity was radical in beginning a conversation in art about the impact information and computer technology was to have on aesthetics. It’s legacy was considered significant enough that the ICA decided to return to it in a retrospective in 2014. The nostalgia for mining previous incarnations of digital life is perhaps drawn from the interesting observations to be gained from some of the differences in how technology and culture have developed, as well as the uncanny similarities. It’s location in The Whitechapel Gallery’s Electronic Superhighway provides it with such a context, as it locates the exhibition within a series of historical trends in visual art continues into the contemporary with artists such as Cory Archangel and Hito Steyerl.

Though the monograph and vinyl record are bound behind glass at Electronic Superhighway, here at Special Collections & Archives we have both available for viewing and listening in our Goldsmiths Library facilities all year round. To inquire about arranging a booking for Cybernetic Serendipity materials or any of our other research material, please email special.collections@gold.ac.uk or call on +44(0)20 7717 2295.

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A Remedy for Rents: Darning samplers and other needlework from the Whitelands College Collection

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Following the private view on 26th January for A Remedy for Rents, the exhibition will be running in the Constance Howard Gallery (home of the Goldsmiths Textile Collection) until 10th March 2016.

Opening of the Exhibition ‘A Remedy for Rents – Darning Samplers and Other Needlework from the Whitelands College Collection’ held at the CHG 19/01/2016 to 10/03/2016

Curated by Vivienne Richmond, head of Goldsmiths History Department and author of Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-century England (2013), A Remedy for Rents showcases a rare collection of exceptionally fine needlework by working-class women in the last quarter of the 19th century. As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles.

As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles. Yet such everyday purpose belies the creativity and skill displayed in their work and the exhibition takes its title from a quotation by John Ruskin, a patron of the College, who marvelled that ‘work of so utilitarian character’ could be so beautiful.

The centrepiece of the exhibits, all from the Whitelands College archive, is an album compiled by Kate Stanley, Head Governess from 1876-1902, containing 26 darning and 17 plain needlework samplers worked by students, the stitching on which is extraordinarily fine. In addition, a number of loose samplers are displayed together with a variety of small-scale practice garments, also of a high standard, made as an economical and time-saving way to learn techniques.

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Whitelands College students went on to teach at schools and training colleges across the British Empire and so the ideologies, techniques and style of garments they learned at Whitelands entered the minds and homes of millions of poor and working-class girls. The exhibition, therefore, not only offers a rare opportunity to see needlework by non-elite Victorian women, but illuminates also the history of working-class dress, female education and gendered roles, experiences and expectations in 19th-century Britain and beyond. Further information on the history of Whitelands college can be found here.

A pdf with more information on the exhibition can be downloaded here.

A Remedy for Rents is available for viewing during the Goldsmiths Textile Collection & Constance Howard Gallery’s opening hours of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11.00-17.00. For more information visit Goldsmiths Textile Collection’s website or contact us.

Christine Risley: Works and Research

Constance Howard Gallery
Deptford Town Hall Basement
24th November 2015 – 23rd December 2015
Tuesday – Thursday
11am – 5pm

Late opening and Christmas drinks: 8th December 2015
5−8pm

Event info

Christine Risley was a key member of Constance Howard’s remarkable and innovative textiles department at Goldsmiths College, and an influential figure in the craft of textile art in her own right. It is with great honour that the Textile Collection is able to host Christine Risley: Works & Research and honour the memory of an integral member of staff in the development of textiles as a craft at Goldsmiths.

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Curated in collaboration with former colleagues and personal friends of Christine. Using original artworks and materials from the Textile Collection, Christine Risley: Works and Research presents an exclusive look at the life, works and influences of the late textile artist.

Christine was introduced to textiles at an early age by her Mother and Grandmother, who taught her to sew and knit. After winning a scholarship to Prendergast School, Lewisham, she was expected to go to University. However, she instead decided to go to Art School and enrolled on the intermediate Exam in Art and Craft at Goldsmiths in 1944. Christine specialized in painting though found it uninspiring as the style taught at the time favoured photographic representation over personal interpretation of subject matter. It wasn’t until she saw an exhibition of fabric collages by Constance Howard’s education students that she re-connected with her early interest in textiles, immediately identifying with this way of working that allowed for freedom in choice of imagery, colours and design.

After completing her Art Teacher’s diploma at Goldsmiths in 1949, Christine taught at Central Saint Martins. During this time she continued to produce her own work, exhibiting and selling through the ‘Pictures for Schools’ scheme, the Society of Designer Craftsmen and various galleries in the UK and abroad. ‘A Bird in a Cage’ (1951) is an example of her work from this period, which was pictorial, whilst often fantastical. Christine also undertook Design work for a range of companies including Sandersons, House and Garden Magazine, Triplex Glass and Jaeger. She often favoured pen and ink drawing. Recurring motifs can be identified from her sketches and drawings, such as the bird, which appear in her Design work for Yardley and the Palladio wall paper, as well as in her fabric collages.

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Drawn to the speed and accuracy of Machine Embroidery, Christine studied under Dorothy Benson at the Singer Work Room in 1952.  She then went on to Bromley College to learn how to use the Cornelly and Irish Machines. Having worked part time at Goldsmiths since 1959, Christine accepted a full time position as head of Machine Embroidery under Constance Howard in 1967. She relished the opportunity to encourage individuality and creativity through tutorials and seminars, a teaching approach remarkably different from her own early experiences. From this time Christine specialized in Machine Embroidery, having published Machine Embroidery (1961) and Creative Embroidery (1969). She became heavily involved in the research for her third book Machine Embroidery: A Complete Guide (1973) having been awarded a grant to research Machine Embroidery in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Christine enjoyed gathering together material and information, amassing a diverse collection of examples of machine embroidery, a selection of which are on display. The cabinets of objects and ephemera assembled from shelf displays in her house are also testament to her love of collecting. This tendency to gather, bring together and assemble is reflected in the fragmentary nature of her woks made in the 1980s, which came to characterize her style. She would combine influences from experiences and events captured through photography and drawing, as well as textiles she collected, and create scraps of Machine Embroidery which would later be pieced and stitched together. Much of this work was started in her sabbatical year from Goldsmiths in 1981. Around this time Christine began to experiment with abstract linear designs of Machine Embroidery, often working on clear plastic and layering or weaving together sections. This work is less known but an interesting insight into Christine’s continued commitment to pushing the possibilities provided by machine embroidery.

From starting out as a student at Goldsmiths, Christine Risley went on to leave a significant influence upon Goldsmiths and Textile Art more broadly, establishing the Machine Embroidery subject in the 1960s and later becoming the head of Textiles, before retiring in 1990.

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Please join the gallery on Tuesday 8th December for a late private viewing of Christine Risley: Works and Research with Christmas drinks. Please contact the Textile Collection at textiles@gold.ac.uk, call 020 7717 2210 or visit http://www.gold.ac.uk/calendar/?id=9313 for more information on Christine Risley: Works and Research. Opening times are Tuesday – Thursday, 11 – 5.00 pm.

 

 

 

The Curious Case of the CICAM Cloth

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Goldsmiths Textile Collection (part of Special Collections & Archives) houses an array of eye catching & intriguing fabric based objects. From embroideries to cultural significant fashion garments, many of these items have been collected over time with the intention of inspiring creative and academic imaginations from a variety of disciplines. As this blog post will attempt to explore, many of the objects housed within the Textile Collection have a rich cultural and social history that extends far beyond the first impression.

A problem that many academic researchers will no doubt be familiar with is attempting to analyse the authentic story at the heart of a matter. Many an academic have scratched their heads upon finding that deeper inspection of a subject sometimes ends up complicating the matter at hand rather than resolving it. This sort of quandary is an everyday occurrence during research, and the objects based in the Textile Collection are no less exempt from such issues around history and identity. Such is the case for the subject of this blog post, a highly colourful waxed cotton print from Cameroon. This particular object gets quite significant amount of attention here in the Textile Collection, thanks in no small part to an attractive and somewhat psychedelic colour scheme, with a fiery orange hue that evokes vivid sensations of warmer climates south of the equator. Amongst the blazing backdrop is a highly presidential looking figure with the text ‘Republique Unie Du Cameroon/United Republic of Cameroon’, ‘JCNU’ and ‘YCNU’ sitting below it. A small insignia of ‘CICAM’ along the borders of the cloth gives some indication as to who the manufacturers might have been, or perhaps the organisation who might have commissioned production of the cloth.

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As far as actual historical detail goes, this is where things get a bit more puzzling for the enigmatic wax cloth. As is sometimes the case with objects donated to archives, we don’t actually have much knowledge of the object’s provenance beyond that. So visual information of the cloth is all we initially have to go on. Crucially, we didn’t know who the presidential figure might be, the year the cloth was made or what it was specifically commemorating. The amount of gaps in the cloth’s story leaves the exact intention somewhat ambiguous, so equal measures of luck, intuition and detective work would be needed in order to ascertain more. Luckily, there is a lot of information on the cloth that can be garnered with the naked eye, and so this was as good a place as any from which to proceed.

Firstly we could arguably identify the cloth as being from Cameroon, as it bears the commemorative text of United Republic of Cameroon – the functioning government for the nation since 1972. Researching the cloth’s manufacturer, CICAM (Cotonnière industrielle du Cameroun), reveals it to be Cameroon’s national textiles company. This confirms both the origin and stately significance of it as an historical object. The cloth is likely commemorative in nature, as it seems to be celebrating both a public figure and an institution from Cameroon. These particular details seemed like a worthwhile place from which to proceed an investigation.

An internet search of ‘Cameroon commemorative cloth’ reveals that cloth making is a popular activity across the sub-Saharan continent, and has a particularly strong following in Cameroon. According to Tommy Miles from tomathon.com, they are referred to interchangeably as Wax Prints, Pagnes or Batiks. As he explains:

I’m using the French term ‘Pagne‘ as sometimes they are called “Pagnes commeratifs”. Coming from Portuguese, pagne really describes the cut of cloth not the patterns or content. It has come to be one of several terms used to denote these brightly colored, intricately designed, and socially significant cotton fabrics produced and worldwide, and especially throughout tropical Africa. In West Africa, these tend to be “Fancy” (i.e. cheaper, one sided) mass produced “roller” prints on cotton. Also known as Wax prints (like the more expensive double sided Waxes, by companies like Vlisco), and occasionally as “Batiks” (which they are not), the names come from the production process. Batiks use hand painted wax to mask off areas from dye. Most roller prints use resins to achieve this effect, but retain the vein like “crinkles” characteristic of hand printed fabrics with wax fixer, a technique also known as starch resist or wax resist. Machine made, they feature repeating patterns rolled onto a long cotton cloth, usually 46 or 47 inches wide. The forms and design traditions are ubiquitous in West Africa. The slightly different “khanga” form of similar cotton fabrics is popular in East Africa and points south.

Tom’s description is useful in providing us with important information for our investigation. He provides detail into the elaborate creative processes that go into producing a commemorative cloth, as well as describing their cultural importance for establishing historical events.

Returning to the visual details of the cloth, it seemed necessary to examine other details so as to get further indications about whom the presidential figure previously described might be. The text of ‘JCNU’ and ‘YCNU’ seems to be politically significant to the design of the cloth. Searching through library catalogues, Churchill Ewumbue-Monono’s Youth and Nation-building in Cameroon (2009) holds some answers as to what these acronyms might represent. JCNU and YCNU interchangeably to refer to the youth wing of Cameroon’s National Union (CNU). The youth party was set up by the CNU’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo in 1966, so it’s possible he may be the figure depicted on the cloth.

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Former & Current Presidents of Cameroon Ahmadou Ahidjo & Paul Biya

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However, the image isn’t a clear match for the one on the cloth so we couldn’t be positive. Furthermore, the cloth seems relatively modern and colourful in comparison to others from Ahidjo’s presidency. However, his successor Paul Biya, could also possibly be the figure in the wax cloth (albeit without the ubiquitous moustache). Biya took the presidency of Cameroon under somewhat controversial circumstances and remains in control to present day. Despite being involved in various scandals throughout his presidency, Biya has expressed a commitment to the JCNU/YCNU. In 1984 Biya began the roll out of a brand new youth policy for Cameroon. This included a New Deal agreement geared towards getting the youth of Cameroon into employment. It’s highly possible that the cloth was manufactured around this period to commemorate Biya’s new hopes for the youth of Cameroon.

Unfortunately, this is as far the investigation into the wax cloth has been able to get. We are unable to provide an exact photo match with the image on the wax cloth, making identification and provenance problematic once more. On the other hand, a high volume amount of information has been pieced together using some highly disparate sources. This information has led to the accumulation of knowledge about a moment in Cameroon’s national history. By getting us to explore further into this particular moment in time, the CICAM wax cloth is very successful in its function as a commemorative object. It demonstrates that the process of research can be a highly enlightening experience in lots of unexpected ways, and that objects of inquiry can be transformative in their effect on reseachers.

If anyone has any more precise information on the Cameroon Commemorative Cloth then we would be very excited to hear from you, so we can add more to the origin story of this unique object. Alternatively you wanted to view the wax cloth or any of our other wide variety of items in person, then contact the Textile Collection at textiles@gold.ac.uk for more details. Opening times are Tuesday – Thursday, 11 – 5.00 pm.

By Jack Mulvaney

From the Archive: TX magazine and pirate radio

Currently showing at the ICA, Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s (26th May – 19th July 2015) is a visual exploration of the tower block pirate radio movement that radically transformed British popular music culture and listening habits in the 1980’s. Shout Out! documents the emergent and progressive unlicensed broadcast scene through the considered usage of archival material and ephemera from the period. The timely adaptation and re-purposing of authentic content enables the audience to engross themselves in the excitement and creativity of the new wave of UK pirate radio.

Pirate radio is re-emerging as an artisitc interest due to a legacy of cultural activism during the politically turbulent years of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. At the time, the BBC and other licensed commercial stations were offering limited access for voices within marginalised communities and alternative forms of popular music. Often broadcasting with makeshift antennas from the roofs of residential tower blocks, pirate radio circumvented traditional restrictions on breaking innovative new sounds to potential audiences. The now practically institutionalised Kiss 94.5 FM was among other stations such as Dread Broadcasting Corporation (DBC), Alice’s Restaurant, Radio Invicta and London Weekend Radio (LWR) making a noise in the first wave of UK pirate radio stations. Whereas the previous incarnations of pirate radio tended to broadcast from offshore locations such as ships and rigs, this new generation defined itself by commandeering the rooftops of inner city tower block buildings for broadcast. With the now ubiquitous rallying cry of ‘lock down your aerial’, these stations were critical in allowing exposure for black and alternative music, blazing a trail for the explosion of rave, jungle, garage and house that followed shortly thereafter.

No cultural scene is complete without public spaces to distribute information and frame discussion. As music releases proper had the NME and Melody Maker to get word out about new independent releases, so pirate radio enthusiasts found imaginative ways in which to reach audiences. TX, a magazine dedicated to offering insider information on the pirate radio scene, was one such publication whose ascendancy and eventual prohibition very much mirrored that of the subject matter it reported upon. TX began life as the project of Stephen Hebditch, who became interested in the pirate radio scene after leaving university. TX‘s first run was as a free fanzine. Its popularity would steadily grow until Hebditch was able to get limited copies in some London based record shops and newsagents. TX ran for 18 issues before the time constraints of returning to university forced Hebditch to withdraw from print publication and move towards a telephone hotline format, where he and other enthusiasts were able to continue getting the most up to date insider information about pirate radio out to an eager public. Hebditch’s own website AM/FM chronicles the history of TX and offers an online version of its published output.

Here at Goldsmiths Library’s Special Collections and Archives, we are lucky enough to hold three physical print issues of TX. These are housed within the Terence Kelly collection. Terence Kelly was a broadcast specialist reporter for the UK Press Gazette – Britain’s trade magazine for journalists. He amassed a unique collection of cuttings, papers and reports during research and writing of his weekly articles. As someone covering the inside detail of the radio broadcast world, it is understandable why TX would be of interest to Kelly.

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Leafing through TX reveals a goldmine of insider information about running a pirate radio station. The layout was composed on Hebditch’s own Sinclair Spectrum with a rough and ready 8-bit aesthetic. The DIY feel of TX absorbs readers into an alternative version of 1980’s subculture as it reports breaking news and new trends in the pirate way radio community. All the issues held with Special Collections and Archives date from 1986 and vividly illustrate the fast paced lifestyle and sense of camaraderie that underpinned pirate radio at the time.

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TX offered listings of pirate radio broadcasts, useful for finding out when a young Tim Westwood would have been broadcasting on LWR.

As well as monthly briefs on individual stations activity, there is also plenty of logistical advice on how to best place a broadcasting UHF aerial and the cheapest and most mobile equipment to use in case of a police raid. Included in the August issue is an interview with an anonymous activist group in the process of a plot to jam the signal of Capital radio and other commercially licensed radio stations, intended as a dadaist inversion of the governments own attempts at the time to block broadcast signals. Amongst all this are a liberal amount of swipes at the DTI (Department of Trade & Industry), the government organisation aimed at bringing down pirate radio stations in what must have felt like a perennial game of cat and mouse to all parties involved.

As the guerrilla aesthetic of TX elicits, the history of pirate radio has been one of sourcing new modes of transmission met with swift responses of censure. The Telecommunications Act of 1984 allowed the Radio Investigation Service powers to enter properties without a license and detain equipment suspected of being used in illegal broadcasts. Ironically, this only served to inspire broadcasters to adapt and develop alternative strategies to outmaneuver the authorities. The glamorous peril of pirate radio and move towards more easily mobile equipment ended up adversely increasing the number of pirate radio stations and heralded a new wave of stations with over 600 stations nationwide by 1989, with 60 in the London area alone.Scan209

The implementation of the Broadcasting Act of 1990 sounded the death knell of the TX era of pirate radio by prohibiting advertising and offering the more popular stations the opportunity to obtain legal broadcasting licenses. The excitement of the period can be revisited through the Shout Out! exhibition and TX magazines held in Special Collections and Archives. The Kelly collection of which TX is a part of contains further official radio industry documentation and applications by some of the radio stations that would go on to become legitimate broadcasters, such as the now pervasive Kiss FM.

Stephen Hebditch recently published a personal account of UK pirate radio in the 1980’s London’s Pirate Pioneers: The illegal broadcasters who changed British radio (2015), and is highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to learn more about the subject.

To learn more and arrange possible viewings of the TX magazines and other items from the Kelly Collection, visit us in Goldsmiths Library, email us here, or alternatively call on +44(0)20 7717 2295.

Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s is currently on at the ICA in London till 19th July and tours to the Phoenix in Leicester, 23 July – 24 August 2015.

By Jack Mulvaney

On a (m)other’s watch

On a (m)other’s watch

Symposium opening exhibition by Eti Wade curated by Samantha Lippett (MFA Curating), Saturday 11th April 2015

image.php‘on a (m)other’s watch’ is a collaboration between curator Samantha Lippett and mother artist Eti Wade, supported by the Women’s Art Library. The project comprises two public ‘interventions’ within the Goldsmiths campus of previously unseen works by Eti Wade entitled Joscasta and 57 Baths. The project is supported through an accompanying symposium which will provide an international overview of mother artists work.

Symposium 10-5pm
Opening reception 5-6pm

Women of Goldsmiths: Evelyn Gibbs

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Goldsmiths Library’s Special Collections & Archives has been taking time to reflect on positive female characters in Goldsmiths institutional history. A previous post looked at Caroline Graveson, the first in the prestigious post of Women’s Vice-Principal of the Goldsmiths Training Department.

Following in the stead of Graveson and the gains she made for women in the academic institution, Evelyn Gibbs provided a resolute influence for the teacher training department of Goldsmiths College during the difficult period of the Second World War.

Gibbs undertook the study at the City of Art School in her hometown of Liverpool in 1922 before being awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London alongside other notables of the period such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. It was during her time at the RCA whereupon Gibbs would develop an interest in the craft of engraving.

Gibbs early work was heavily based on the art of carving images into wood, and this is perhaps what first beckoned her to Goldsmiths College, which by then was drawing the attention of the art world for the so called ‘Goldsmiths School’ of engravers, including the future principal Paul Drury. Her adeptness in the fine craft of engraving would lead her to winning the prestigious Prix de Rome Scholarship in 1929, complete with a scholarship which she would put to use in two years of further study of art in Italy.  Her first steps towards academia came after returning to London in 1931 and turning to teaching at a school for handicapped children as a means to support herself. It was this experience that would lead her to write a book on art teaching for children, and featured illustrations by her pupils. The Teaching of Art in Schools (1934) was well received and showcased Gibb’s flair for shaping the learning experience.

Evelyn Gibbs. Image courtesy of Goldsmiths Library Special Collections & Archives.

Evelyn Gibbs.

After demonstrating a natural instinct for teaching others as well as high degrees of artistic talent, Gibbs found herself in demand and Goldsmiths College came calling in 1934. She officially became a teacher-training lecturer at Goldsmiths College. Gibbs settled into Goldsmiths well, and was able to sustain her art practice alongside teaching, and she would make a welcome return to painting. Goldsmiths Art Collection is pleased to hold several artworks by Gibbs, with Spanish Fisherwoman being a prime example of the poignant sophistication she had achieved by then.

Spanish Fisherwoman. Image courtesy of BBC Your Paintings.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gibbs would follow Goldsmiths College when it was evacuated to the safer landscapes of Nottingham. Not one to be perturbed and disheartened by troublesome things occurring in the world at the time, she found the drive to help found the Midlands Group of Artists in 1943, a collective dedicated to fostering the development of experimental artists in the region. The Midlands Group would be instrumental in the assisting several notable artists, including David Hockney and Bridget Riley, a Goldsmiths alumni and influential woman artist in her own right.

Evelyn Gibbs sadly passed in 1991, though Goldsmiths College is pleased to be able to honour her memory and gains she made for women in both teaching and the art world. We hold several pieces of Evelyn Gibb’s artwork in Goldsmiths Art Collection, including Spanish Fisherwoman, in various locales around the college. The teaching of art in schools is available for loan and viewing in Goldsmiths Library. Here in Special Collections & Archives we hold much material related to Gibbs in the Womens Art Library, including slide files and Pauline Lucas’s Evelyn Gibbs : artist and traveller (2001), a detailed survey of Gibbs’ life and work. Please contact us here or alternatively call on +44(0)20 7717 2295 for more details.