Making with Archival Material: ‘ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED’

ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED investigates the folds and creases of letters displayed within the recent ‘Rights for Women Exhibition’ at Senate House Library, University of London.

Examples include a letter from Virginia Woolf to Gladys Easdale and a letter from Emmeline Pankhurst to the WSPU’s membership. The bookwork archives the language which falls on the fold and the ruptures created by the fold, bringing into question what lies beyond the fold and how we handle archived objects. Hand-crafted from 50gsm Offenbach Bible Paper, the reader is invited to approach the bookwork delicately, whilst simultaneously completely unfolding and refolding each page in order to access the text. As a result, the reader approaches the folds of the page as both archivist and original folder.

ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED, titled in response to an Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘fold’, investigates the creases of letters found within the Rights for Women Exhibition at Senate House Library, University of London.[1] The following letters were treated as found objects within my practice, selected due to their folded physical appearance:

  • ‘Letter from Sophia De Morgan concerning anti-slavery campaigning’ [c.1850]
  • ‘Letter from Emmeline Pankhurst to the WSPU’s membership concerning temporary suspension of militant activity’ [1914]
  • ‘Letter from Eleanor Rathbone to Sophia De Morgan on social reform’ [c. 1890]
  • ‘Memorial signed by women doctors addressed to the University of London’ [1877]
  • ‘Letter from Virginia Woolf to Gladys Easdale’ [1936][2]

The bookwork archives language which falls upon and around the fold to consider the way in which folding disturbs the surface of language within written letters. My work considers ‘archiving’ as a critical term which, in conversation with Susan Hiller’s ‘Working Through Objects’, refers to the ‘excavation’ and piecing together of fragments to establish a reconstructed whole.[3] I consider the bookwork to be an archive in itself, collating a history of movements and manipulations made onto the space of the page, alongside anticipating further folds and creases to be enacted by the reader.

The following methodology will place ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED in conjunction with Gilles Deleuze’s The Fold, a text which theorises representations creases within artwork and architecture of The Baroque.  I am interested in how Deleuze is not concerned with ‘how to finish a fold, but how to continue it […], to bring it to infinity’. [4] In conversation with Deleuze, the bookwork functions in extending the possibilities of the fold, as opposed to bringing the folds of the letters to closure.

Within the space of the exhibition, we see the letters bound within a book and laid upon the shelf behind glass. The exhibited letter complicates Deleuze’s theorisation of the fold as an ‘endless’ movement, and instead presents the fold in a static position.[5] In contrast, my bookwork subverts the stationary archived fold in order to create an alternate archive of the fold in motion.

My process involved sourcing and printing off facsimile copies of the letters, and using photographs taken within the exhibition to chart and establish folds in the same position as the original letter, as demonstrated by the following images.

I performed the role of the original folder, alongside unfolding, refolding, rotating, and investigating the letter within my own hands. As part of my initial research, I contacted the curator Maria Castrillo regarding the record of ownership for each letter examined within ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED. Our correspondence allowed me to trace the hands which have encountered each letter. The movements of these hands became central to the concept of my project. ‘Letter from Virginia Woolf to Gladys Easdale’, was hand-written and originally folded by Woolf, unfolded by Easdale, collected amongst Easdale’s additional correspondence, and donated to the library archives. From the moment of Virginia Woolf’s inscription, to the letter’s current position, the letter experienced a series of folding and unfolding. Deleuze asserts that the unfold ‘is not the contrary of the fold, or its effacement, but the continuation or extension of its act’, understanding folding and unfolding to be corresponding movements within a larger, ongoing process.  Within the exhibition, the page is restrained in an unfolded position, preventing an infinite series of folding motions. In response, I printed language over the folds of the bookwork, physically interacting with the texture of the creased page. Like Erica Baum’s Dog Ear, I examined the language across the folded page, and used this to construct the written content.[6] The title, ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED, falls on the hinge of each folded page. Consequently, the folds physically disrupt and fracture the titular letters, preventing the entire title from being viewed within a single moment. A temptation to confront what lies beyond the fold, exaggerated by the transparency of my chosen paper, encourages the reader to interact with the bookwork in the same way that a recipient would physically pull open a letter, rather than simply witness the bookwork as a static, exhibition object.

Consequently, ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED attempts to simultaneously confront the letter as both folded object and exhibited artefact. Hand crafted from 50gsm Offenbach Bible Paper, the materiality of the bookwork invites the reader to approach it delicately, whilst undertaking the necessary action of manipulating, unfolding, and refolding each page in order to access the text. Easily crumpled and torn, the page accumulates damage as additional readers interact with it.

As a result, the reader approaches the folds of the page as both archivist and original folder. The bookwork is framed by 220gsm white card, as a gesture towards the binding and preparation of the letters within the exhibition. Featuring a comprehensive bibliography of used found materials, the card provides the reader with a point of entry into the work. The bibliographical inclusion of my found letters gestures towards the works of Susan Howe, such as Spontaneous Particulars: A Telepathy of Archives and Debths, both of which clearly outline Howe’s source texts.[7] I perceive Howe’s poetics to be concerned with curation. Howe carefully pieces together and exhibits fragments of material within the space of the codex, and simultaneously provides the reader with the necessary direction to seek out the objects and texts for their own research.

A small number of copies are currently available in Bookartbookshop, London.

By Briony Hughes


[1] “fold, v.1.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018 [accessed: 7 November 2018]; Rights for Women: London’s Pioneers in Their Own Words [exhibition] (Senate House Library, London: 16th July 2018 – 15th December 2018).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Susan Hiller, ‘Working Through Objects’, The Archive ed. Charles Merewether (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006) pp. 41-48.

[4] Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and The Baroque (London: The Athlone Press, 1993) p. 34.

[5] Ibid. p. 3.

[6] Erica Baum, Dog Ear, (New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011).

[7] Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives (New York: New Directions Books, 2014); Susan Howe, Debths (New York: New Directions Books, 2017).

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