Artist, photographer and writer Lottie Davies has recently opened a solo exhibition titled Quinn: A Journey at the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry. Incorporating moving image, stills, text and a variety of objects, the display aims to offer an immersive insight into the fictional journey of William Henry Quinn, as he walks from Cornwall to the far north of Scotland in post-Second World War Britain. Anneka French finds out more.
Could you introduce your work?
My work has evolved over the last twenty years. I learnt through assisting commercial and editorial photography work. My fine art practice evolved mid-way through that when I made a series of work called Memories and Nightmares which were staged, narrative, tableaux type pieces based on collecting memory stories. I use life experiences to make semi-fictional photographs. I like the idea of taking an individual’s experience and making it more universal or relevant to anybody and I like the idea that people might feel they have seen one of my pictures before or that something about it makes them think about their own memories or story.
Can you describe the origins of Quinn?
Quinn originally started because my gallerist at the time asked me to do an artist talk and I wanted to do something different. I thought I would do a performance. I called Samuel J Weir and asked him if he would be interested to do a one off performance and I wrote a short story monologue for him to perform. That was when the character of Quinn first arrived and wanted to do more with this. The story of his journey and why he’s walking have evolved throughout the 4 years of shooting. I’m self-taught so I’ve never really approached projects from the beginning with a firm idea of what the outcome would be. I enjoy that freedom of being able to develop the story as we went along, although I knew he was walking from Cornwall to the north west of Scotland early on.
Can you say more about the making of the project?
The whole project started 6 years ago but it took 4 years to shoot because I needed to wait for the seasons to change so that it is obvious time is moving, as well as working in between other projects and Sam’s commitments. It was bubbling along slowly as we went further up the country but things took longer because of the practicalities of travelling in more remote parts, which meant we would have to spend a week somewhere rather than just a couple of days. We finished shooting 2 years ago and the project has sat for a little while, something I always like to do if possible.
How has Quinn’s narrative developed?
The narrative has been the last bit. In the exhibition is a small notebook which is a diary in the form of letters to Quinn’s wife, notes and lists. It took a while for me to be comfortable with its format as originally there was going to be some oral history and various different ways of telling the story. Writing fiction is not something I am very experienced with so it took time to feel like it was alright. But it was really fun and it’s the newest area I’ve been exploring. I love words and really enjoy playing with them.
What can visitors expect within the exhibition’s rooms?
One of the rooms in the exhibition is an installation of a boarding house. The diary is there for people to pick up read by themselves but sections of it are displayed on the walls which is something totally different for me. The room has no photographs in it. I’ve been able to put all 4 of the different elements of the project into the exhibition. So there is moving image, stills of Quinn’s journey and I have been working with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum’s historical collection. Quinn’s belongings which are genuinely from the period are displayed alongside items from the permanent collection. People are invited to interact with the boarding house room – to sit on the bed, open the drawers.
How do you think you might connect with audiences in terms of the contexts of the gallery and the city?
The project is set post-World War Two, which is a central experience to Coventry and to the cathedral next door. Some of the Herbert’s collection objects on show are of this period – things that have been useful and may have changed in meaning or context over time. The show is meant to be more universal than this specific time and at the moment, people all over the world are walking and travelling to find a place to be, as many people were then. A large proportion of the global population is currently uprooted by economic circumstance, conflict, Corona Virus. Quinn’s journey is a metaphorical one for all of us. We all have a journey through our lives and take different directions, sometimes unexpectedly. I’m hoping that people will enjoy the real things on show that have had a life but also that they can relate to Quinn’s story.
Can you tell me more about the performance you have planned?
Samuel J Weir is going to read excerpts from Quinn’s diary at the cathedral and then we will come to the gallery for a conversation about the making of the work with the audience. I will be bringing along a work scrapbook. All the stills were shot on large format analogue film on a brass and rosewood camera so I might bring that along too. I think there is an interest in how things are made, in analogue photography and in real life objects that have had lives.
Quinn: A Journey is curated by Dr Rachel Marsden and is on display at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum until 31 May 2020.
A performance and in conversation event takes place on 17 May, 1:45pm at Coventry Cathedral before moving to the gallery.