Amy Houghton's exhibition investigating the past of Gertrude Benham

Female explorer’s forgotten past plumbed in Hacking Antiques at Plymouth College of Art

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Amy Houghton's exhibition investigating the past of Gertrude Benham

Hacking Antiques, an exhibition by artist Amy Houghton, offers an insight into the life of oft-overlooked female explorer Gertrude Benham. It’s at Plymouth College of Art from Thursday, March 3.

In this exhibition, Amy employs artefacts which belonged to Gertrude Benham, an accomplished but little-known explorer from the last century. Gertrude’s achievements included circumnavigating the globe on several occasions and being the first European woman to reach the summit of Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

Amy Houghton's exhibition investigating the past of Gertrude Benham

But the adventurer also engaged in knitting and embroidery, often practising the crafts while camped at some of the world’s most inhospitable places. And it is her written documents the ethnic craft objects picked up during her travels which she exchanged for her embroidered and knitted creations, which form the focus of Amy Houghton’s artistic project.

Amy Houghton's exhibition investigating the past of Gertrude Benham

The connection between Amy’s own background in textile arts and Gertrude Benham’s craft-making pursuits made the explorer an irresistible subject for the artist’s attention.

Amy Houghton's exhibition investigating the past of Gertrude Benham

Amy told ArtsCulture: “I was immediately attracted to the idea of Gertrude’s collection because she was a maker. I like the thought of getting to know Gertrude through the objects she collected, which to me, seemed like they had a particular kind of aesthetic. I ponder upon the possibility of how her experience and knowledge as a maker could have influenced her choices of objects she collected.”

Gertrude left many of her belongings to Plymouth City Museum in 1935 because she had been impressed by the institution during a previous visit to the city. The collection has presented Amy with the ideal opportunity to access the items and to begin her research into Gertrude’s life. It has also allowed Amy to incorporate imagery from Gertrude’s acquired craftworks, letters and other objects, into her exhibits.

In Hacking Antiques, Amy has combined elements of Gertrude’s life and offered a contemporary perspective on them. Amy presents Gertrude’s textile-related collections using interactive animation to demonstrate how the exhibits were made. Her work celebrates the technical aspects of craft-making as well as exploring themes such as nostalgia, time, authenticity and connection.

Amy Houghton's exhibition investigating the past of Gertrude Benham

Amy explains how her modern methods work, and how her approach inspired the exhibition’s title: “I ‘hack’ into antique, photos, textiles and other objects from collections, using digital methods such as animation and video software to make them come alive. These are then shown in the digital realm of screen and projection. I have also ‘hacked’ into antique machines, enabling them to activate the digital animations. I play around with the hand-made, the mechanical and the digital.”

This latest artistic offering from Amy ties in with a touring exhibition, Taking Time – Craft and the Slow Revolution, coming to Plymouth Museum, in which Amy’s work also features. This touring show has been inspired by the Slow Movement, which embraces the notion that faster isn’t always better. In a reaction against the rapid pace of the modern world and its throwaway culture, the movement aims to remind people about the value of carefully made, hand-crafted objects.

Amy Houghton's exhibition investigating the past of Gertrude Benham

The Slow Movement ethos has also been cultivated in Amy’s working approach throughout her ‘slow residency’ at Plymouth College of Art, which began in September 2009. During this time Amy has been given the time and space needed to develop her craft – and Hacking Antiques is the culmination of this period of research and exploration.

The exhibition runs until Saturday, April 23.

Art Bite, a chance for the public to have a guided tour given by Amy Houghton around her solo exhibition, exploring and explaining the ideas behind her work, is taking place on Wednesday, March 3, 12.30pm-1pm. 
Email exhibitions@plymouthart.ac.uk to reserve your place(s).

• The Gallery, located at Plymouth College of Art, Tavistock Place, is open from 9am-5pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 10am-12pm on Saturdays. Contact the college on 01752 203434 for holiday opening hours. Free admission – Advance booking advised.





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