JHG Footprints Conclusion

Glen Onwin, A Chamber of the Moon, 1991. Courtesy the artist

JHG Footprints is an online exhibition using John Hansard Gallery’s archive. Over the past two months, four themes have been selected, during which time we have shared texts and images associated with the chosen concept.

To conclude the series, we have a text by Professor Stephen Foster, John Hansard Gallery Director from 1987–2017.

“How can one possibly recount the memories of thirty years of working with artists in a unique building? For me, it begins in the summer of 1987 at my interview. It was the first time I had ever been to the Gallery, although of course I was aware of its exceptional reputation. Looking around whilst waiting for my interview, the vast Gallery floor was covered with galvanized zinc buckets, but otherwise was empty. It was an interesting installation that showed off the wonderful footprint and shape of the Gallery. However, it was just as well I didn’t enthuse about it at the interview, because I later found out that it wasn’t an installation at all; the buckets were there to catch the water from the leaking roof!

I can perhaps recount one particular example where I was asked to perform a number of unusual and memorable tasks. In September 1991 we invited the artist Glen Onwin to create an installation called ‘A Chamber of the Moon’. It was in recognition of the building’s original role as a research model of the Solent. The Solent has, of course, uniquely double tides which was the factor that related the building to the moon. The plan was to create a huge two-dimensional ‘painting’ lying on the floor, mimicking the unique footprint of the building. Glen asked me to purchase a ton of bitumen, along with a bitumen boiler in which I was to melt it. After an exhausting and very hot couple of days I said that I was going to the beach for a swim. He asked if I could take a plastic container with me and go just out of my depth to collect a gallon of Mudeford sea water. When I returned, he put the water into an alchemical flask and placed it on a shelf in the Gallery, along with a number of related objects.

It wasn’t the only time I had been asked to undertake strange or unusual tasks. I began my life at the Hansard Gallery in a building that was leaking like a sieve. Over the next thirty years the building had many improvements, refurbishments and general rebuilding often undertaken by the Gallery staff. In addition, many of our artists tested the building almost to the point of destruction. In the end, when it was all over, life would continue in a pristine, beautiful new building in a different location.”

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