For those members who supplied texts for the medal (whether used or not), there is a special price of £225. If you are not sure whether this applies to you, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. This medal is being issued in a special limited edition of twenty and is available to BAMS members only.
Nancy Roth, Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at University College Falmouth, introduces Camilla Peters and Rob Wood’s medal, Not a Day without a Line, which is issued in a special limited edition of twenty.
Readers of the Autumn 2003 issue of The Medal will remember Gaynor Kavanagh’s short essay introducing Not a Day without a Line, a collaborative work by Rob Wood and Camilla Peters, a maquette for which was reproduced alongside the text (this was subsequently exhibited at the FIDEM exhibition in Seixal, Portugal, in 2004). Kavanagh’s essay expressed a hope that an edition of this medal, commemorating the achievements of BAMS itself, could be arranged and that readers would be willing to submit short texts in response to the medal’s title, a phrase from Pliny. This new work has now been completed and is being issued by BAMS. The artists would like to thank all those readers who sent texts, and regret that space considerations meant that a few could not be used.
A collaborative work on at least three levels, Not a Day without a Line began in a conversation between two friends, and has grown into a project that has not only represented but actively engaged the membership of BAMS. The medal is multiple, a coordinated sum of parts even in its technical specifications – materials, casting, finishing procedures. The artists themselves, the BAMS members who contributed texts, the craftsmen in Bulgaria who have been able to cast the small, flat speech bubbles with record efficiency, the writers and editors who helped to publicise and coordinate the work – all are participants in a work that is in some sense ‘finished’, but that refers to an unfinished, ongoing process…
Rather than a stable, identifiable ‘thing’, that is, the medal represents BAMS as a network or circuit, a complex, evolving pattern of interacting voices. The medal’s two bronze, circular surfaces enclose a central layer of alabaster, a material chosen both for its weight and texture and for its chemical proximity to chalk. A handwritten text, in white, appears against the rich black surface at the centre of the medal on each side, recalling the look of chalk on a blackboard. At various points on this surface, twelve flat bronze speech bubbles, six on each side, are fixed through the bronze into the alabaster core, making a physical, if not immediately visible, connection between the words and the alabaster. Consciously patterned on speech bubbles that appear regularly in the work of Gillray and Hogarth, the handwritten texts on these bronze planes relate closely to the writing on the disc’s surface, yet also suggest speech – words in a different mode, supplementary to the writing. Rather than solemn eternal verities, in any case, these texts allude to something ephemeral, words that might have been drawn quickly in chalk on a blackboard in the process of working out a plan or learning something new. Or perhaps they weren’t written at all – just spoken in the passing, tentatively. On one side of the medal the words flow from the centre to periphery, past the edge of the disc; on the other side, they flow back in the opposite direction. Together they propose a circuit of language, or better, a series of potential routes that eyes, ears and minds might take, without setting an obvious destination or fixing priorities. In the medal’s overall profile, the bubbles ‘read’ as wings or feathers, with the potential to lift the whole structure up and away.
Although BAMS has issued some two hundred medals to date, this is the first that members have helped to create. Like many challenging contemporary art works, especially public commemorative works, its actual subject matter is a condition or situation shared by members of its audience. One prominent example is Jochen Gerz’s and Esther Shavez-Gerz’s Harburger Mahnmal gegen den Fascismus (Harburg Memorial against Fascism) of 1986, a public commission for Harburg, near Hamburg, in Germany. The work consists of a steel pillar on which residents and visitors can, and have, written their thoughts, memories, perhaps secrets about their own direct experience of fascism. At intervals, the section of the pillar that was filled with writing and drawing was lowered into the ground. On 10 November 1993 it disappeared completely, remaining only in the memory of its audience. Recent war memorials, works bringing together those who mourn for victims of the AIDS epidemic, work that joins members of a particular age group or a political condition (such as Wendy Ewald’s recent work with refugee children in London), similarly solicit and facilitate the exchange of contributions from audiences. All bear witness to the significant new emphasis contemporary art places on participation, relationship, the sharing of experience among viewers. Arguably this kind of art has most often focused on loss, and employed the power of a communal sharing to mitigate, at least partially, the pain of such loss. Not a Day without a Line, by contrast, engages the past in wholly positive terms. In this case, the ‘work’ is not to repair damage, but to recognise, celebrate, strengthen, or possibly expand the ties that energise this particular organisation.
Even to judge solely on the basis of the texts submitted, it seems clear that BAMS members characteristically enjoy an active, productive engagement with the past. The prospect of giving a contemporary response to a phrase now some two millennia old, for example, presented no apparent obstacles for this group. In fact the age of the words may well have exerted a particular attraction. And although the texts are eclectic in content, nearly all in some way concern the past: remembering, being or behaving consistently through time, the ambiguity of beginnings and endings, the perception of a coherence in human experience even over long periods of time.
Not a Day without a Line is intended to celebrate the ongoing work of BAMS. But it also intends simply to serve the organisation’s two primary purposes, namely to promote the continued production of art medals, and to give that production a firmer footing, a relevance and recognition in the present. It is a medal, very much in the traditions of both small-scale, precision craftsmanship and allegorical procedures for representing abstract ideas. It is at the same time a bid to set these traditions into a rather different foundation, to rethink the dichotomy of maker and receiver, to reappraise the position of dialogue, exchange, participation in the creation of something new.