RESPONSE #1 – Katy Barrett
‘A hundred histories in a single object’ is how Ludovic Coupaye memorably termed our project in our first meeting, riffing on the popular British Museum radio series. This highlights nicely what most struck me about the session: how Ludovic got us thinking about the materiality of our objects by talking about our group object – a ten pound note – as if he had never seen it before. He described the material composition and imagery and wondered what someone listening to the recording might decide he was talking about. Not dissimilar to talking about the British Museum objects to a radio audience that can’t see them!
My object is a set of printing plates for weather maps from the Galton Collection. I chose them from the description and picture (which you can also see here) because they struck me as a nice example of an object crossing disciplinary boundaries: creating scientific records of weather, acting as parts of machinery, using imaging techniques, forming part of systems of national identity (we British love the weather after all). So, I thought they nicely acted as objects in the history of science, technology, art and ethnography. I made this judgement, I realised in the session, as Ludovic talked, looking ‘through’ the objects for what they could do for me, not looking at them.
Paradoxically, then, I came away from the session realising that I can’t, yet, say very much about my object, because I’m ashamed to say I have yet to see it. I can tell you that there are two plates. They look, from the photo, like they’re made of metal, probably cast and chased as there’s a rough surface to the flat of the plate. Raised lines create a pattern on the surface. I have no idea what metal these are made of, what size they are, or what the backs or sides of the plates look like. Would they fit into my hand or take up an entire table surface? I can surmise that they have some depth from the fact that they cast shadows in the photo. The raised lines appear smooth compared to the flat surface of the plates, but I can’t tell this for sure without touching them. Then, of course, my skin would etch the metal surface, adding an extra material reading.
One plate has the same basic pattern as the other with additional lines and text. This gives me a sense that the objects might exist as some kind of series and form part of a replicable, or replication, process. The second in the series has additional marks to the pattern in the first: curved lines, arrows and pieces of text. If I take this a step further, my knowledge of the conventions of modern mapping, combined with knowing how print processes work, tells me that both plates show a reversed outline of the British Isles and part of western Europe. One is presumably the basic map, and the other shows an added layer of detail. I can’t yet tell what the text says or what the rest of the image represents.