The Secret Staircase, 2008, detail study for woodcut by Caroline Isgar 80cm x 290cm © the artist
The Secret Staircase

The Secret Staircase

40 Brunswick Square London WC1N 1AZ
10 Apr 2008 — 14 Jun 2008
  • Exhibitions & Displays
A collaboration between artist Caroline Isgar and writer Michèle Roberts, inspired by objects in the Foundling Museum collection, which explored mother and child separation.

The exhibition and book text, initially inspired by the tokens at the Foundling Museum, explored the abandonment, loss and grief felt by an adult daughter as her mother goes through the process of dying. Taking the form of an inventory of items connected with the mother, such as a hairbrush or a button box, which provoked childhood memories, the text counterposed, alongside the mother and daughter’s direct I-you speech, a sequence of rewritten nursery rhymes, which in their poetic language utter all that the daughter dared not openly say.

The visual component’s images suggested folklore, legends and myths, with particular reference to animals, domestic artefacts, children’s writing exercises, plus objects as tokens of memory. These images were printed as an unusually large-scale woodcut (1 x 3 metres). The form of the woodcut block itself was a table, inspired by the large elm table at the Foundling Museum which originally used as a refectory table. The text was printed on a paper sheet identical in size to that used to print the woodcut. Text and print were also bound into a limited edition artist’s book. The table, the woodcut print, the print of the text, and the artist’s book together formed an installation piece, exhibited alongside documentation of the making of the work in terms of ideas and process.

The research involved in cutting this large scale woodblock was made in collaboration with Roger Clarke, in the sculpture department at Bath Spa University and Tom Lomax, in the sculpture department, at the Slade School of Fine Art UCL. The woodcut was printed at the Royal Academy Schools in the printmaking department with the assistance of Jason Oliver, Barton Hargreaves and Yasu Ichige. With special thanks to Professor Maurice Cockrill RA, Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools and to all the staff and students.

Michèle Roberts is an award-winning novelist and poet. She is Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Caroline Isgar studied postgraduate painting at the Slade School of Fine Art and is visiting artist at the Royal Academy Schools where she researches and works on special projects in the printmaking department. She is a visiting lecturer at Central St Martin’s and the University of Greenwich. Caroline and Michèle have previously worked together to produce two other artist’s books.

This exhibition was kindly supported by the Arts Council.

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