Nicola Naismith's Artist's Statement

Artist Response was a visual art commission focused on exploring the links between documents held in the Parliamentary Archives and Norfolk Record Office with a focus on the Land Tax Act of 1821, the longest act held in the Parliamentary Archives. The project sought to explore 5 commissioners named in the Norwich section of the Act

Working with members of the community group The History Detectives the project was based on a residency at the Norfolk Record Office and the Parliamentary Archives in 2012. Exploring documents related to the 5 commissioners and their civic activities the group undertook research on a weekly basis and participated in a number of artist-led tours around Norwich over a 6 week period. Visiting historic streets, churches and civic buildings the group was able to make connections between historical documents and contemporary sites. Building pictures of the 5 commissioners through a series of mapping activities led to exploring connections between parliamentary activities and local civic enterprise. The Artist Response blog tracked the development of the project, mapping conversations with the group and archive staff, reflecting on what was seen and what was being considered.   

The video work Administrative Processes + Events = Documents combines historical documents and photographs of contemporary sites through still and moving image. The documents contained within the artwork were selected by the History Detectives in collaboration with the artist from both the Parliamentary Archives and the Norfolk Record Office. Collectively these items draw out key events which illustrate the status of the individuals being explored and the connections between the two locations of Norwich and London.

The artist was keen to explore the aesthetic of the stored documents so images include Land Tax records with heavy folds, cataloguing numbers and hand written entries from meetings held by the Society for the United Friars.  Historical documents are juxtaposed with contemporary images of relevant sites from around Norwich to offer movement and colour. The contemporary images capture buildings in their current state, some are very much as they would have been in 1800's while others have undergone renovation or change of use. The inclusion of images of the former Norfolk and Norwich Hospital offers an example of a building undergoing renovation illustrating how historical sites often aren't static, but negotiate the lines between preservation and reinvention. Using the commissioners portraits offered the opportunity to put faces to names, adding an extra aesthetic to the information collated about each commissioner. The spoken audio offers a historical narrative which contextualises the visuals being presented. Complimenting the images the historical narrative was formed in part from information received from the History Detectives group. Each commissioner in turn is given the space to be represented as an individual with images of joint activities and civic enterprises bringing the artwork to a close. 

One of the high points of the project was visiting the Parliamentary Archives and reading about the Wensum or Foundry Bridge Act  which 4 of the 5 commissioners were involved in instigating. The Act contained details of when and where the first meeting of the bridge committee should take place. Back at the Norfolk Record Office a hand written invitation was located demonstrating how the Act was being implemented locally. 

The connections between London and Norwich in the early 1800’s are visualised through the interplay between the historical and the contemporary. The combination of poetic image and factual information offers an artist’s response to the Land Tax Act of 1821, the work of the History Detectives and the documents held within the Norfolk Record Office and the Parliamentary Archives.