‘New Dawn’: The women’s suffrage artwork for Parliament, part 1/3 – Prototype

‘New Dawn’: The women’s suffrage artwork for Parliament, part 1/3 – Prototype


My name’s Mary Branson
and I’m Artist-in-Residence here at the Houses of Parliament, and I’m making a artwork which is a memorial for women’s suffrage. When I first started my residency, I was spending my time
wondering around the Palace, and I was really
overwhelmed by the artwork. The floors covered in tiles, there was just artwork everywhere. It’s very beautiful, but there wasn’t a place for
me, and I kept on gravitating
to this area again. And also when I was
researching the archives, all the activity that
happened with the protests, with the suffragettes,
it was all happening along this corridor. So it was like a corridor of power. I kept on coming back to this space. This is just a site
where it felt as though a contemporary piece of art could
reside. We’re in my studio. It’s in the Surrey Hills. The type of artist that I think I am is an installation artist, and predominately I work in light. It’s very much about the space, and it’s a balance. And it’s a way that the
light, and the architecture, and the people that are
actually in the space, and how they use it. All of those factors together make the decision for me about out how I create an
installation with light. And I am a feminist. I’m an artist and I’m a feminist. I don’t shy away from making
artwork that celebrates women. I needed to make a piece of work that was contemporary, but also reflected the
history within the building, and not jar. So I wanted to do
something that could exist for the future
and be timeless in a way. So glass, I think, is timeless, if it’s done in the right way. I’ve spent a whole year being with incredible people, incredible
women, and witnessing their
stories and absorbing them, and wanting to make a piece
of work that reflects that. So this project really started in
2014. The Works of Art Committee had been collecting Suffrage memorabilia, but felt that they really wanted to
mark women’s suffrage in a
more significant way. So they advertised for
an artist in residence to come and research
what might be possible for a permanent artwork. Mary Branson applied and
was eventually selected. Here we are in the Original
Act Room in the Victoria Tower in the Palace of Westminster, and this is where every Act of
Parliament passed since 1497 is stored. Physically what we’re
looking at is the end of a very very long roll made up of individual bits of
parchment stitched together. Written on by hand with an ink pen, the whole Act of Parliament
is then rolled up and put herein to be stored. So the artwork which Mary has
designed, which is called “New Dawn”, is visually very similar
to what we see here. She’s used glass, blown glass,
to make individual scrolls of all different sizes exactly
as we see here on the shelf, representing all the different
women’s organisations who campaigned for the vote. You can see how the two, both the
visual, and the meaning behind them,
really came together for her. This is one of the oldest
parts of Palace of Westminster and has been an entrance here, indeed there was a chapel here, where a lot of business used
to take place years ago. And we felt that this was
the appropriate place, where the women who tried to get the
vote, would have come through
here in their attempts, which sometimes didn’t end very
happily. But we did get the vote in the end, and they would have come
through this entrance. Mary had a track record in an area
where we just don’t have any works of art. She’s an installation artist. She works with steel and glass and
light, and we thought that this place could do with a bit of modern art, and so that was a key
part of the consideration. No one had noticed that space
before, because it’s dark, and as a light installation
artist it’s perfect. It was perfect because I knew, that I always wanted to bring
light into the building. It’s been waiting for a piece of
artwork. So today we’re doing the prototype. It’s all the ideas that
we’ve been putting together for the last six months. Having a look today, about
the scale, the light levels. Our ideas, do they actually
really work in this space? So it’s a bit nerve… I’m feeling quite
nervous today about that. The glass panels themselves are
unique. Each one will vary slightly. The colour intensity will vary, and therefore the amount of light each one requires will vary. As individual pieces of glass
they all look fantastic, but when you actually set them up
there, right above your head, it’s just magical. Mary has some light sheets
which are acrylic discs behind each one of the 168 glass
panels, and it’s my job to get those to turn
on, at the time Mary wants them to turn
on. Which, unlike most lighting
challenges, has actually been determined
by the changing of the tide. The finished effect that I’m
hoping to get with the light, is that at high tide the
intensity of the artwork will be really strong and brighter. And then as the tide decreases then the light levels
will decrease as well. The tide is a reoccurring icon of suffrage literature posters. They wanted the tide of change. The anti-suffragists were fighting
against the tide of change. So the tide is the outside world. The tide will bring the
outside world into Parliament as it’s integral to this artwork. And of course it also reminds
Parliament of all the people, the country that’s outside
that they’re representing, and the ongoing campaigns for change. We’re still looking for
change in all sorts of areas, and the tide will provide that
link to contemporary life.

Dereck Turner

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