'Drawn from the Well', installation by Felicity Powell
2002–2004, Cast Court, Room 50b
In 2002 Felicity Powell was commissioned to make a medal commemorating John Charles Robinson. From this came the idea of making the site-specific installation Drawn From the Well.
"I’ve always enjoyed coming to the Victoria and Albert Museum to look for inspiration and to revisit favourite objects while making new discoveries. So I was delighted to be invited by Wendy Fisher and Marjorie Trusted from the Sculpture department to make a medal for the collection. Working on the commission for the John Charles Robinson medal brought a particular focus to my research and investigations.
I use drawing as a way of thinking aloud, a tool for gathering ideas. It was a wonderful moment when Wendy Fisher and I came across one of John Charles Robinson’s own drawings among his papers.
On a much earlier visit to the V&A, I’d made a drawing of a bronze hand in the Indian collection and this developed into 'Silvered Hands', shown in Room 50b. Gesture, especially in hands, has always interested me. When I was looking at a sculpture that had been collected by Robinson (The Annunciation by Arnolfo di Cambio in Room 23), I made a quick note in my sketchbook, drawing the sequence of hands. The gesture of each hand conveys a message and I thought that this might be a possibility for one side of the medal: the collection is passed from one hand to another over generations.
During the course of my research at the V&A I looked at many things Robinson acquired for the Museum but I was really drawn to the wells in Room 50b, two of which he purchased. I liked the way their circular interior shape echoed the circular format of the medal. Using circular mirrors that fitted into the wells seemed appropriate. I liked the idea that it was possible to reflect aspects of the collection, to see it from different perspectives, and at the same time make drawings in mirror that would be subtle and sympathetic to the original artefacts.
The mirrors placed within the wells are reminiscent of water. They recall the function of the wells and how they were once focal points of everyday life. The well heads themselves are historically specific artefacts - one of them stood outside the house of the painter Tintoretto - but the mirrors reflect the objects and architecture that surround the well heads now. They draw these current surroundings into the centre of each well head.
The drawings in the mirrors reveal themselves as the viewer moves around them, changing as the angle of reflection changes, fleeting and elusive against the static weight of the stone. The drawings appear to be suspended in the space reflected around them, requiring a shift of focus to what can be seen beyond.
Two of the mirror drawings are of transient moments, ripples and tears, held suspended. Another drawing in mirror describes zooplankton, the invisible life in water made visible. In another an image of a tree lies across the surface, the roots mirroring the form of the branches. There are direct visual connections, allusions and echoes between the drawings, the reflected surroundings and the well heads themselves.
Seen from the bridge that runs across the gallery, the great height and space of the gallery is extended down into the wells. As you walk across the bridge, different details from the surrounding collection come into view within the wells in surprising ways. When the mirrors were first installed into the wells, I discovered that the angel with outstretched wings, high up on the left side of the gallery as you come in, is reflected into each well head as you walk around the room. But you have to look for her.
As a contemporary artist I found working on site at the V&A a remarkable experience. It has been a privilege to work with such a great collection. It has also been a pleasure to meet and work with people from different departments in the Museum, so knowledgeable and skilled in their different specialised areas. They have taken such care and interest in my work. It has also been an exciting point in time to be at the V&A."
Drawn From The Well is supported by Falmouth College of Arts.