Pin the Pits Wunderkammer

I decided to attempt to try and write this post on my recent collaboration with Cast, Doncaster’s long awaited performance venue.  Assistant Director Esther Richardson was keen to support my work being a young female artist living and working in Doncaster.

When I arrived back in Doncaster in 2010, I packed up 10 years of artwork, books, photographs and emphera into my Sisters garage. Where it lovingly became know as the boxes of crap in “our Jane’s Garage”.

After a meeting with Theatre Director Kully Thiari I was commissioned to create a new piece of work relating to my part art, part political campaign Pin the Pits. Esther also encouraged me to create a short performance relating to the campaign that could be somehow incorporated into the launch of the new venue.

I’ve been struggling to make artwork ever since I started out, I’ve lived in hell holes, moved up and down the country, survived on fresh air and tinned sardines. Only to have a “box of crap” in your sisters garage and a few newspaper clippings to show for it has been deflating at times.

I titled the commission Ghost Dancer, which is loosely based on the Native American tradition of honouring ones ancestors through the ritual of performance. David Douglass, a very well known and militant ex-miner, writer and activists  who once described this in a book launch at the National Coal Mining Museum in 2010. It always resonated with me, as the more years that pass the more people want to re-live the traditions that was lost post-1984 and the miners’ strike.

Hope Spring Eternal Native American Ghost Dance
Hope Spring Eternal Native American Ghost Dance

This image was sourced from the Native American Online, I found this particular story very moving:

“The Minneapolis Institute of Art put on the first and only exhibit of ghost dance shirts and dresses worn by men, women, and children. The room was black and the clothes were suspended in two circles. You could even see the bullet holes and the blood stains on the shirts from the slaughter of ghost dancers at Wounded Knee under the orders of the government.

“Several Native Americans went to the exhibit, elders as well as young people. The museum would keep it open at night, just for us. We would sit in a circle, surrounded by these ritual dance shirts and dresses, and pass a sacred pipe. We were listening to hear what we could hear, and watching to see what we could see. We wanted to get in touch with those people, those spirits, those ghosts of the past, to reconnect, and to show them that we still carry this love for the earth.

For the Ghost Dancer project I dedicated to create a huge Joseph Cornell box or Wundakammer, which is the  German word for “Cabinet of Curiosities” which would feature of all the things I had collated from 2003 -2010.

Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) 1945-46
Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) 1945-46
This is the earliest know illustration of a wunderkammer from 1599
Evolution Store in 1993 in New York

In order to create my own Pin the Pits Wunderkammer I had to collect the boxes of artwork and emphera from my sisters garage. It was like a family outing to find Aunty Rachel’s artwork that was tucked away at the back of the garage coverred in dust and grime.

My niece and nephew were quite perplexed, especially when I found a letter, which I wrote to myself three years earlier when I packed it all away.


When I got home and read the letter, I burst into tears. It was the most amazing thing to read, to compare my thoughts then and now.. I would recommend writing a letter to yourself and hiding it somewhere. The letter then became part of the performance piece, which I am still working on.

The commission luckily also ran alongside the New Fringe Summer Studio project at Church View. I was able to drop all the boxes  there and try and bring some sort of order to it.

The start of the Pin the Pits Wonder Kammer
The start of the Pin the Pits Wonder Kammer at Church View Centre

The studios spaces at Church View are derelict but it is perfect as they are affordable large spaces to make new work. Every day for three week, I would spend time in the space in true Dadaist fashion, moving objects and images around trying to make sense of the composition and size of the piece.

Looking back, I am so glad it was the summer working late into the evening during the winter just wouldn’t have been possible in Church View, the building is freezing and there is no electricity in the studio space.

Within the piles of stuff, I found an weathered PDF document given to me by Sarah Richards Head of Doncaster Arts Service in 2006. It was the Coal Field Regeneration Fund Evaluation report from that time. I used it to create the wunderkammer layout bringing different elements together like a giant collage. It seemed poetic at the time.

Finally some kind of order is happening
Finally some kind of order is happening

After spending hours in the studio, the piece started making sense, I got into this weird rhythm of moving things around and placing framed elements on top of one another. It began to feel 3D and sculptural and had a visual poetry about it.

Building the Wunderkammer
Building the Wunderkammer note the big piece of Cadeby Coal in the centre

The 2m x 2m frame was built by Graeme Frost a Sheffield based carpenter. He sourced builders scaffolding boards and metal fixtures to create the industrial style cabinet. I borrowed tools from David Williams an artists also sharing the space to secure the work together. Having the collective support of other artists was such an asset to make the piece possible. The big panic came when I was trying to get the monster creation out of Church View and into the Theatre in time for the launch. Luckily, these quality guys helped us to get the piece into the rear stage door of Cast.

The  lads helping me to get the beastly thing through the rear stage door at Cast
Attempting to get the beastly thing through the rear stage door at Cast

The opening night of  Cast was a massive day for Doncaster it was unreal to see the Wundekammer being admired by people on the night. Six thousand people turned out over the weekend to join the opening celebrations.

So many people gathered round it on the opening night. I was astonished.
So many people gathered round it on the opening night. I was astonished.

I  feel completely honoured to be given the opportunity to share my work with people and that this collection of objects actually means somethings to people.

One of the best parts for the Pin the Pits Wunderkammer has to be photographing my little niece in front of the piece. She knew it as boxes of stuff in her mums garage a month earlier. What the strike and coal means to me, will me something completely different to her when she’s all grown up.

My little niece Estelle with the finished piece at Cast in October 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s