Artist calls for personal keepsakes to create collective memory bank

Artist calls for personal keepsakes to create collective memory bank

Carlisle based artist and recent graduate, Jan Marshall 55, is making an unusual request of staff, students and local residents living near the University of Cumbria, Fusehill Street, Carlisle.

She wants their keepsakes and mementoes to set into resin ‘bricks’, which together she will use to form a series of colourful and original sculptures to transform the university campus.

She hopes the resulting sculptures will form a giant collective memory bank.

Jan’s unique art evolved from her love of collecting ‘treasures’ and the need to keep them somewhere they could be displayed: 

“My work revolves around years of obsessional collecting and hoarding of keepsake objects; natural organic shells; stones and feathers - they were my treasure. 

“I asked myself, what you do with all these small objects. So instead of them being in drawers, shoes boxes and cupboards, where you forget about them and the memory that they once held, I wondered how I could keep them alive. 

“So that’s when I started making a series of what I call my nature shrines. These are full of little compartments that I fill to the brim with all my collected objects to become little cabinets of curiosity,” Jan said, explaining her artistic approach. 

Jan has been an artist for over 30 years but during this time she experienced a traumatic incident which has since influenced much of her life.

During her undergraduate degree she was raped but did not feel able to tell anyone and the resulting torment and depression drove her to attempt suicide several times, leaving her wheelchair-bound.

This cycle continued for several years until she was diagnosed with cancer.

But this tragic news gave Jan a renewed zest for life, motivating her to make a difference and leave her mark on the world.

“The diagnosis was a huge kick up the backside. I started to really appreciate my life, thinking I haven’t much life left, and thinking about how I could leave something behind.

“In making my shrines, I found a sense of purpose and achievement and it’s worked magic for me, keeping me well for the last eight years.”

It was the culmination of this work that caught the eye of Vice Chancellor, Professor Julie Mennell, who was so captivated by her works at her MA Fine Art exhibition, she challenged Jan to create vibrant sculptures for the university. 

A selection of Jan’s shrines and other artwork is positioned around campus for the public to view until the end of January.   

Keepsakes, can be dropped off in the Learning Gateway building on campus. 

Jan is in residence there Wednesdays to Friday mornings to answer any queries.  

Her plan is for the finalised art works to be in place by summer.