‘Making Time for Shelf Life’

Monday 10 October 2016

Having read the introduction to ‘Shelf Life: The Ornaments Are Talking To Me’ and seen some of the images of Mark Clarke’s work, I was intrigued to meet the artist and find out more about how he came to create the exhibition. Offering to write a daily installation blog seemed the perfect answer, despite me being part-time and always wishing there were more hours in the day; hence the blog title ‘Making Time For Shelf Life.’

I’d communicated with Mark prior to his arrival and he’d told me the exhibition was all about time lost and loved so I thought it was definitely worth investing some of my time to explore the concepts to share with you as the exhibition came together.

Showtime Girl who greets you on entering the exhibition with ladder!
Showtime Girl who greets you on entering the exhibition with ladder!

Entering the temporary exhibition gallery, there was a hive of activity with four imposing shelves being positioned in front of high backboards, whilst the artist, Mark Clarke and our Exhibitions Manager, George Harris were deep in conversation about the positioning of the accompanying descriptions and vinyl graphics. George introduced me and it was great to finally put a face to the name of the man behind all of our email conversations.

Mark Clarke
Mark Clarke


Mark explained how he’d designed the four fireplaces, all with different mantelpieces or shelves relating to the themes and MER Services had built them to his specification. The high backboards, imitating chimney breasts, were much more imposing than I had imaged so utilising the high ceiling of the gallery and giving each shelf a real presence in the space.

MER Services installing the backboards to the shelves
MER Services installing the backboards to the shelves

Mark showed me the colourfully wrapped paintings which would be hung on each backboard complementing the stories being told by all of the objects on the shelves. Items portraying the fifth theme ‘Primetime’ would be displayed on a long grey trestle table rather than a fireplace-style shelf. The objects on the trestle would be 13-14 heads of celebrities, made from household objects, who because they live in your home, on your TV or through other forms of media, you feel like you know them. Mark said: ‘For example, you feel like you personally know Lorraine Kelly’. Not entirely sure whether she’s one of the celebrities, but waiting to see.

Wrapped paintings
Wrapped paintings

Whilst all of the 1,000 or so disparate objects were packed up in neatly labelled storage boxes, so still a secret as to what might be revealed, Mark showed me some photos of the objects and ornaments which he has used and modified in his studio in preparation for the exhibition some 2-3 months back, when he mocked up every shelf and worked out where each item would fit within the meticulously-thought out composition. His description of some of the heads or in this case feet, which would feature in ‘Primetime’ such as popstar, Sia’s shoes with cherries as toes, and his own head as a self-portrait, perhaps the only ‘portrait’ of himself which he’s willing to share (he doesn’t like photographs) were tantalising to say the least.

The Ornaments
The Ornaments

Pressing Mark to explain the significance of the title of the exhibition, he explained how the ornaments on the shelves in our homes were silent witnesses to the ongoing dramas in our lives, hopes and dreams, tragedies and triumphs. Just imagining some of the stories the ornaments in my home could tell, I moved on swiftly!

Having looked at the shelves, the trestle and some of Mark’s photos on his phone, we moved round the gallery to look at one of the shelves on which he’d pencilled all of the placings of the ornaments. Becoming even more animated, I thought, or maybe that was just me, he explained about ‘Once Upon a Time’ when fairytales seemed real; Cinderella, Snow White and all sorts of characters were going to come alive played by tourist dolls and the woods would be recreated by wicker lamps. As if that was not enough to capture my imagination, Mark mentioned the glitter! All five of the shelves, once installed will be covered with coloured glitter, and my ultimate prize at the end of the week, is to help sprinkle it on the shelves…if I’m a good girl like in the fairytales, of course!

Showtime - The Ultimate Glitter Goal
Showtime – The Ultimate Glitter Goal

Tuesday 11 October 2016

So actually the start of my day was quite simply no fairytale with an intensive fundraising meeting, but entering the exhibition gallery with Mark Clarke afterwards, my take on things brightened up as it was quite astonishing to see how much had been done since yesterday. George, our Exhibitions Manager was working with Mark to position and secure ornaments onto the backboard of ‘Once Upon A Time.’ Mark introduced me to Cinderella’s father, a penguin, and the wicked stepmother, a tad taller than her husband! And then I met Cinderella and Snow White, both tourist dolls modified by Mark to portray his story.



A very busty looking Snow White
A very busty looking Snow White

George was securing Cinderella’s father and step mother onto the frame of a painting with Museum glue. During this process the painting was moved across the gallery to the trestle where I met the first of Mark’s ‘heads’, no other than Will-i-am!

When Cinderella's parents met Will-i-am
When Cinderella’s parents met Will-i-am


George positioning the prince on the backboard behind the 'wicker' woods
George positioning the prince on the backboard behind the ‘wicker’ woods

Plans for the rest of the day were to finish all of the backboards, completely finish ‘Once Upon A Time’ and make a start on the ‘Time To Kill’ shelf. Mark explained ‘Time To Kill’ would be all about retirement and the dismantling of your life. It would try to make sense of all sorts of unrelated stuff which you’d gathered throughout your life, and make it work together.

Our Creative Apprentice, Charlotte was busy painting one of the backboards a lovely warm orange. I was tempted to stay and help but I was told I was too much of a distraction!

Charlotte painting
Charlotte painting


The ornaments talking...
The ornaments talking…

Last but not least, Mark showed me a huge bag of neon orange glitter. He said if I brought a jam jar in to work, he’d give me a little bit of ‘Mark Clarke sunshine’ for my desk!

Wednesday 12 October 2016

This morning I found Mark Clarke and our Exhibitions team having a quick coffee and scone in Café Bowes, which was actually quite fortuitous as I had forgotten to bring in my jam jar, and the Café has cute little individual pots of jam.

We headed up to the gallery and it was great to see that the ‘Once Upon A Time’ shelf was almost complete. Mark showed me Snow White and the poisonous apple she ate, Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters who’ve had their eyes pecked out, complete with white sticks, shades and guide dogs. There’s Jack and the Beanstalk, with a ginormous bean, Red Riding Hood looking deflated as she’s been eaten by the wolf, lots of towns people, animals peering out from behind a gate and Rapunzel is perched at the top of the backboard having climbed up a very tall ladder indeed made out of brushes! There is so much to see, densely arranged on the shelf, and I think it will be a fascinating exhibition for children, to spot things and characters they recognise.

Cinderella's Ugly Sisters
Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters


Fairytale Animals Peeping Out Including a Kangaroo with Plaits!
Fairytale Animals Peeping Out Including a Kangaroo with Plaits!

As all of the ornaments were in place, it was time to add the finishing touches, the golden brown glitter. Our two Cultural Apprentices, Charlotte and Catherine got the enviable job of sprinkling it between the fairytale characters, creating a glittery woodland floor. Catherine kindly let me do a spoonful… think I’m definitely in the wrong job!

The Huge Bag of Golden Brown Glitter
The Huge Bag of Golden Brown Glitter


Catherine Spreading the Glitter on the Woodland Floor
Catherine Spreading the Glitter on the Woodland Floor


Glitter Beneath the Feet of Jack's Cow, Milky-White
Glitter Beneath the Feet of Jack’s Cow, Milky-White

Mark’s next focus was on assembling the ‘Showtime’ shelf. He explained his thoughts behind some of the paintings on the backboard, such as the portrait of an older looking gentleman and a woman, both characters you know nothing about. So he explained when you see old people you don’t even think about some of the amazing things they might have done with their lives. Taking Mark’s words from the graphic panel which explains it better than I can: ‘In this bright and shiny new whizzbang world, illuminated by hazard lights, it is easy to not see the old and the infirm, especially the lives that they might have once lived. The way we are painted does not always show the whole picture.’

'Showtime' Backboard
‘Showtime’ Backboard

Mark pointed out some of the ornaments and toys he is using for the ‘Showtime’ shelf, like the tiger with the new tail he’s added, a dog with a star for his missing eye and the action man wearing boots which were previously drinks measures! All curious adaptations keenly thought out, with a hint of humour.

Dog With a Starry Eye
Dog With a Starry Eye


Action Man in Boots
Action Man in Boots

With lots still to do before the opening, Mark and our Exhibitions team were keen to finish all five shelves, before adding the finishing touches such as lighting and graphics. I thought it was time I headed back to my desk with the tiny jam jar of golden glitter which Mark had given me until tomorrow!

Thursday 13 October 2016

Time is of the essence today and I was given strict instructions by the Exhibitions team that I wasn’t to hold Mark Clarke up with lots of questions! All of the Shelves were almost finished and our Museum photographer, Jason was busy photographing them to send out to various publications and newspapers.

'Dinnertime' Finished
‘Dinnertime’ Finished

So without stopping Mark from finishing the ‘Time To Kill’ shelf, he was able to multi-task and tell me about its theme: clearing out your parent’s house, stuff they have accumulated over the years, which has become familiar to them, garage gear, ropes and wires. It’s as if the past gets vaguer and disconnected, the familiar nuzzles in and takes the place of what has gone before.

'Time to Kill'
‘Time to Kill’

Very quickly Mark showed me ‘Once Upon A Time’ which had now been lit and fully ‘glittered’ and the lighting was so effective as it fell like moonlight onto the wicker woods and characters below.

'Moonlight' on 'Once Upon A Time'
‘Moonlight’ on ‘Once Upon A Time’

‘Dinnertime’ had been sprinkled with white snow-like glitter, with a mixture of snow-globes, Christmas decorations, dogs wearing party hats and masks, and perky-looking robins! The significance of the dogs being on the shelf being that pets share your home life and it’s this day-to-day life which is punctuated by mealtimes such as Christmas dinner. Mark explained: ‘Sometimes the most steadfast and close friends are our pets, the dogs, the cats who continue to happily share the day to day with you, to occupy the house and the time that passes. The everyday presence of a dog or a cat offers consistency and helps to mark time, such as dinner time. Christmas dinner in our family home was an especially frenetic time. Albeit chaotic, some kind of fun was never far away, played out against a backdrop of civil unrest.’

'Dinnertime' Dogs in Party Hats
‘Dinnertime’ Dogs in Party Hats

And finally, Mark quickly introduced me to the celebrity heads on the trestle table (the fifth shelf). There is Victoria and David Beckham, Will-i-am, Madonna, Nicole Kidman with her auburn hair made from a grass skirt and long dangly Christmas decoration earrings, Beyonce, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian to name but a few. The heads aren’t labelled so it’s up to you to closely scrutinise the quirks and characteristics to identify who’s who. Mark’s own ‘self-portrait’ head is on the trestle with his dog (although he has a cat in real life!) The trestle has more of a contemporary feel to it with no glitter, but is equally as eye-catching as the other shelves.

Celebrity Heads & Feet in 'Primetime' Before Lighting
Celebrity Heads & Feet in ‘Primetime’ Before Lighting

I left the gallery with George up scaffolding setting the lighting on ‘Dinnertime’, hoping there might be time to pop back tomorrow when it’s complete.

Friday 14 October 2016

I called into the gallery this afternoon and low-and-behold, the installation was finished! Mark was boxing up his tools and accessories which he’d brought with him from his studio. He showed me the finished ‘Time To Kill’ shelf which was glue-gunned in place to speed up the process in the end. The heads on the ‘Primetime’ trestle table had been stylishly tweaked into position and lit to give a dramatic, contemporary feel.

Mark asked me which was my favourite shelf and without a doubt it has to be ‘Once Upon A Time’ because I love believing life is like a fairytale with a happy ending just round the corner. I turned the question on him, and his favourite is ‘Primetime’ being new and a something of a ‘fad’ for him.

This week has been so enjoyable just finding out some of the stories behind the curious characters on the shelves, part of Mark’s inventive portrayal of time passing, being loved, and lost. So I’m calling time on this installation blog, with the use of the bell that strikes midnight, indicating it’s time for Cinderella to leave the ball, on the ‘Once Upon A Time’ shelf. All that’s left now to do is welcome guests to the preview tonight and you to the exhibition in the morning when it opens to the public at 10am. I hope you love it as much as we do.

Time To End The Blog & Open The Show
Time To End The Blog & Open The Show

By Alison Nicholson, Digital Communications & Fundraising Officer


One thought on “‘Making Time for Shelf Life’

  1. Sounds really interesting! Will need lots of time to scrutinise the shelves and work out what is all about. Hope to find time to visit the exhibition very soon. Alison’s blog really brings it to life, well done.


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