Twomey’s concept for her work, Exchange, was inspired by the acts of exchange and philanthropy that lie at the heart of the Foundling Hospital: the UK’s first children’s charity and England’s first public art gallery. Each day of the exhibition, ten people were invited to choose a cup from the hundreds laid out on tables. In exchange for agreeing to complete the good deed, they could keep the cup. With each passing day as cups were removed, more deeds were revealed in the saucers left behind.
Ideas for good deeds flooded in from local schools, former pupils of the Foundling Hospital, community groups, charities, the Museum’s many volunteers, and supporters from across the country, including actress Gillian Anderson; Director of Tate Britain Dr Penelope Curtis; presenter Paul Gambaccini; and journalists Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Jon Snow. The good deeds ranged from the simple (Smile more) to the challenging (Don’t use any new plastic bags this year); the familiar (Buy a Big Issue) to the imaginative (Plant flowers on a stranger’s grave).
As Exchange unfolded and transformed, the ways that people completed their good deeds were revealed within the Foundling Museum and in an online archive. Dispersed beyond the walls of the Museum, the cups now act as mementos of good deeds done and an encouragement to do more. They are symbolic reminders of the heartbreaking exchange made by mothers
When mothers left their babies at the Foundling Hospital, they were making a heartbreaking exchange: the loss of a child for the hope of a better life. Twomey’s response to this central act of exchange is both powerful and engaging. By linking the work of the Hospital with that of the Foundling Museum today, Exchange encourages us to follow the example of inspirational philanthropists like Thomas Coram, and reminds us of the many creative ways in which artists have helped improve the lives of others.
Clare Twomey “The cups and saucers allude to the mass of institutional life in the Foundling Hospital. They act as a reminder of the domestic in a mass scale; of warmth and generosity and they hold an individualism that is revealed through the visitor’s interaction with the artwork. Visitors have to think about the sacrifice they will make and what they are prepared to do in this exchange. I hope the content of the work for each participant is personal and as they see their museum object in their homes, they remember what they did and where they did it.”
Exchange was supported by the Exchange exhibition Supporters’ Circle, the Fidelio Charitable Trust and Emma Bridgewater
Moving and life-affirming, this stirring exhibition will open your eyes to the inherent kindness of others
Supported by the Exchange exhibition Supporters’ Circle, the Fidelio Charitable Trust & Emma Bridgewater