An alternative archive of information and materials–Ben Branagan’s 'Storage Facility'
by Purva Chawla
Ben Branagan's 'Storage Facility' is a collection of objects that is richly textured, beautifully pebbled in its hues and patterns, and boasts the somewhat imperfect, and therefore precious forms that one associates with historic, archaeological finds. This assortment of artifacts–objects and vessels of varied shapes and perceived functionality–was handmade by the London-based artist and designer, using the pulped remains of deaccessioned library books as his primary material.
There is a simple, unquestionable, and almost primal beauty to these pieces, and to the method and materials that Branagan has chosen to create them. What is truly powerful, however, is the motivation behind this collection–Branagan is examining the methods we employ as a society, to store and recall cultural knowledge, and this idiosyncratic collection of artifacts seeks to create an alternative archive of the information that the now-discarded books once held.
Pursuing his longstanding interest in collections and archiving, Branagan metaphorically captures and transforms the knowledge within discarded books into a new physical format through this collection. In fact, Storage Facility builds on the ideas and processes explored in Branagan's prior project ‘Monuments,' while both projects represent a shift in his practice towards material experimentation and the exploration of object making.
Something about the act of transformation and the motivations at the core of both of these projects seems to hark back to a scientific, universal truth–"Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another." To this author, it feels as though, in the case of 'Storage Facility,' that energy is the information and materials that reside in the books, and Branagan's work ensures that none of that is ever lost. He facilitates their metamorphosis into a new format, a new vessel, for the future. The result is a preservation of sorts, one that is both archival and geared towards future use.
Branagan's original inspiration for this body of work came from seeing a Skip full of books being thrown out from a Library. In addition to his previously mentioned interest in creating an alternative archive of the information held within these now-redundant containers, he wanted to return them, in contradiction almost, to an object making tradition that is prehistoric, and pre-literate. So, having encountered the discarded library books, how was the material for this collection sourced, and how was Branagan's object-making executed?
Most of the books that Branagan pulped down for these artifacts came from the library at London College of Communication. Some were from other libraries that were discarding books as well, and a few encountered ad-hoc by in the city, by him. Branagan says "The Library at LCC has an excellent system of donating most of the withdrawn books to charities that supply books to developing countries. Those that are damaged or unsuitable are then offered to students for sale. The librarians very kindly gave me any books that were left over after this process."
After pulping these books down, Branagan begins molding basic shapes using simple forms (found objects and bits from pound shops), which are then brought together to make the final objects we see in the collection. He says "The design process is quite ad hoc and improvised; it starts with sketches and drawings informed by the shapes of the molds and the different ways these fit together, but parts of one form quickly morph or grow into another design as I’m going along."
This organic, explorative process relies on a recycled, sustainable material and found objects for molds, and results in handmade creations that possess some of the visual quality that pre-literate and pre-historic objects might have. Sited at the intersection of past, present, and future, Storage Facility is therefore an excellent fit for Form&Seek's Age of Man exhibit, to be held in Ventura Lambrate at Milan Design Week next month.
Each member of the Form&Seek collective of designers has responded to this pertinent theme in different ways, and each has interpreted the 'Age of Man' and the role of designer or artist in it differently. Branagan's interpretation is equally unique and gives us another insight into his work. He says "There is a painting by the artist Joseph Gandy that shows the then newly created Bank of England as a ruin. Painted in 1830, it shows a group of archaeologists, some 1000 years in the future, as they pick through the remains of the now crumbling and hollow building. I think it’s this idea of what we might leave behind that really motivates my
work. I'm interested in the indelible traces and fragments of human existence that might survive us."
About Ben Branagan: Ben Branagan is an artist and designer based in London where he also studied at the Royal College of Art. He has exhibited both in the UK and internationally, most recently as part of Craft Emergency 2016 at Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, UK and in the group show Wild Things at the Texture Museum, Kortrijk, Belgium, curated by Lidewij Edelkoort & Philip Fimmano.
His work can be found in collections including the Tate artists book archives and has been featured in publications including; Vice, World of Interiors and It’s Nice That. Alongside his own practice, he is an associate lecturer in the Interactive and Visual Communication program at University of the Arts London where he co-edits the research journal Tangible Evidence. To learn more, visit Ben's website here.