The Reading Room: Retrospective description 2: Activities and Reflection

It is proving interesting  and useful, thinking about this so long after it happened.

There’s a different sort of clarity to the reflection, maybe only remembering those things in shadow or relief the way we squint when looking at an object when drawing.

So this section will discuss the activities I set up for the Reading room event, the levels of participation and the intention behind them.

  • Newspapers: local and international
  • Linocut
  • Home-spun ‘letterpress’ printing
  • ‘Global News’ whist
  • Cut-ups
  • Film
  • Communication with participants from Camberwell MA show
  • Watching a live – feed of the event from the event
  • Eating and drinking – Home-made cakes (not by me!) , tea and coffee
  • Conversation


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I’d started to collect newspapers from around the time started visiting the Reading Room but had widened the collection by asking friends who were visiting foreign parts or lived abroad to select a paper and bring them/ post them to me.

In itself this was interesting as i often then had to provide return gift as exchange…. in this case… Banbury Cakes, a local speciality.

This exchange made me think of Marcel Mauss and the meaning of exchange, particularly pertinent as we were approaching the General Election.

All the British newspapers were full of it … and not much else.

You could have been forgiven for thinking than Britain existed as an island, in isolation from the rest of the world…..

Oh jolly gosh! We do!

Anyway, with the help of friends I collected  about 100 newspapers from

Global Australia Northern Territory:Japan:Canada:Bahrain:Mexico:Spain:US:Sicily:Tunisia:Turkey:Austria:Ukraine:Poland, France:Germany:Spain:Several Arabic newspapers: China today: several British editions of each). Local papers from Wales: Cumbria:Lancashire: ScottishIsles:Leicestershire:Northamptonshire with some very local town editions and others county-based and national British newspapers including the Metro.

There were also newspapers from my personal archive of Significant days… the birthdays of my sons, the attacks on the Twin Towers, January 1st 2000, 50 years since V-J day ( my father’s freedom from POW Camp): and also some from the 1950’s left in my present house when we moved in.

Some I bought from news stands around the country when I was out and about…I stopped collecting on the day of the event, so had papers from April to mid- July.

There was lots of ‘news’ as the movement of refugees was building, as well as events in Kuwait and Tunisia.I will write more about my observations of  the newspapers in another post.

So the idea behind this collection was to fill the Reading Room with newspapers and ‘ bring it back to life’ but with a global perspective and in the present.

Bringing the world to The Reading Room in a similar way to the way Broadband and the web can do. But bringing it visibly in.

I wanted to present to the villagers their position within a global context as the proximity to RAF Croughton across the road from the Reading Room demonstrates so well.

The ‘isolation’ of the village through slow Broadband, poor mobile phone signal, whatever the network, very restricted bus service ( one every 2 hours till 6ish and none on Sundays), no Post-Office, means it, in common with a lot of rural villages, has a feeling of ‘separateness’ from the world.

RAF Croughton meanwhile has super-fast communications network connections globally.

I wanted the newspapers to act as ‘links’ to the urban and global as they would have done in the early 20th century when the Reading Room was built. For the community there to be aware of the communities ‘ outside’, with whom they are already ‘linked’, albeit invisibly.

Newspapers, according to Sir George Grey’s editorial in Liverpool Mercury (1858) were essential to working men as they:

Deal with Events, discussions and living interests …

It is …a daily or weekly universal history

The newspaper teaches political science by discussing the principles of legislation and government in their practical applications

The intelligence with which it constantly presents him from all parts of the world, renders it a textbook on geography


as quoted in Aled Gruffydd’s Jones lecture on Reading Rooms at the British Library

Over a century later digital news has partially replaced print but print provides something ‘other’.

The haptic experience and communication involved in reading communally with ‘ hard copies’ is different from reading communally on-line, although the use of tablets rather than desk-tops and even lap-tops has some similar characteristics in terms of simultaneous social engagement with both the geography of the reading location and the geography of the ‘read- about’ location.

 What actually happened and analysis –

Because the number of visitors was low and spread over a few hours there was never a large number of people reading at the same time.

Because the number of papers was so large, maybe, most of the people who did read them tended to stand and flick through rather than sit down and really read together.

Though thinking back maybe that isn’t true… I just didn’t document the sitting!!!

Maybe this is because there was no central focus to focus round and the seating wasn’t ‘comfy’.

Possibly it needs a critical mass of people to ‘set the trend’.

People did stay and chatted over the newspapers and possibly there conversation was influenced by the content ( at least the front pages) and presence of the papers.

The papers certainly became part of the room.

This contrasted with the bar where the film was being shown ( see next post).

All these things play a part.

I considered how to place the newspapers for some time but possibly by adding the activities to the event it distracted from the newspapers.

Because I had been working with workshops I added these to the event.

Originally I was just going to have newspapers and newspaper-based performative activities.

Somehow I got distracted by ‘wearing two hats’

The printing would have been good to have if there had been another space to do it in….or maybe a simple change of arrangement of the tables would have made a difference.

As it was… it was what it was… an experiment.

People came, read the papers and made conversation………



I included this activity as an introduction to participants to printing  and making  their own printed mark, maybe for the first time.

Most people have made potato prints at school but this was a way of directly demonstrating how print could be created as an image or text.

I’d been working with children with emotional and behavioural problems on a small project and also with some adults and found that linocut is a good  means  to encourage creative engagement, as well as making the link between ‘print’ and communication for participants in the event.




A few people engaged with this activity and spent a while making both text and images.

They really enjoyed it and were very excited by the process.

This is where it becomes ‘fuzzy’ from my point of view…….were they truly engaged in and participating in an art-work or was this just a free community workshop…….

 Ooh, the dangers and difficulties of working in the community……

When I’m working with people, as with places, I get caught up in them and find it had to remain detached and objective….. I am drawn to the people and the community…… I need to stand back when doing my own work, just as I would with a drawing… to re-assess rather than get caught up in the process…

It’s difficult morally though as I do not want to

  • use people from a community
  • treat them as part of an anthropological study

and, though I’d paid  rent for the Reading Room, Jane and Richard had been so helpful that I felt I needed to give something back….. Possibly….

Anyway, In Future i need to keep professional boundaries and stand ‘outside’ more.

Home spun ‘letter-press’ printing:

I had hoped to use the Letter Press workshop at Camberwell to make some posters to advertise the event in the village.

Jonathan explained that this would be very difficult as the Final year students had priority and I couldn’t just ‘pop-in’ to use it when convenient.

So I decided to make my own ‘type’ with Lino-cut.

The letters need to be quite large as I wanted the posters to be A1 and also to use the same  type on a ‘group text’ on a large roll of Fabriano paper during the event.


I made the type and printed posters to ‘advertise’ that `I was present in the Reading Room of anyone who wanted to visit when I  to used it as studio space in the run up to the event…

( part of the publicity for the event)… and a way of making contact with people.

 If you look closely you will see my BIG MISTAKE!!

I was linocutting the alphabet type for relief printing as with letterpress.

 I had been showing lots of children and adults basic printing technique and emphasised the fact that text is REVERSED when it is printed.


HOWEVER, I got so carried away and was doing so many things at the same time… including editing video for the event….that I FORGOT! and I had got to about  ‘R’ before I realised……….

It had taken hours, actually a couple of days at least to make the ‘type’ as the letters were quite large………..

 Lesson here in having too many ideas and trying to do too many things at the same time….

I got little cross from a while….

Then I decided to cut the letters out completely and so have some free letters that could be used ( albeit rather fiddly) to print in relief and the background lino cut to print as a positive with the ‘space’ showing the type.

In the end it looked OK and I printed up these rather rough posters.

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I also had both sets of type available for participants to use for printing and they got the experience of relief printing and positive/ negative images.. so it worked out really well in the end.….STILL what a bozo mistake to make!


I couldn’t use the big Fabriano roll as

  • there wasn’t space in the room to unroll it
  • I hadn’t got a table large enough and putting it on the floor as I’d first thought was impractical because of the age of the likely visitors
  • the long pasting table we were going to use wasn’t strong enough to allow printing.

Shame though, I still like the idea of a communal group piece of printing as a symbolic piece of work with democratic decisions being made as part of the process….for another project, maybe….

I also laid out a ‘John Bull’ miniature printing set and people did mess about with this.

Occasionally combining  it with the the cut-ups, below, to link the text…………….

People did use the lino cut  ‘type’ and again engaged well.

P1030363 P1030367


Did they see the link between the newspapers and the printing activity… and the wider link between digital comms…. the past and the present.

I like to think so but it would have been more tangible link if I could have had a digital comms connection and the live feed etc..

But thats sort of what it was about too.

A non- sequitur, a paradox.

Global news Whist:

I’d played around with the Sports Direct deck of cards that was used in the Reading Room for the Whist Drives and made a deck with each suit covered with images from:

El Universale – Mexico (28.05.15)   Hearts

Wall Street Journal – USA ( 14.05.15)  Spades

Independent – UK ( 09.04.15)  Diamonds

Al – Hayat – UK edition 26.04.15) Clubs

with the suits visible and the Sports Direct logo covered.

Making these was a good opportunity to study the imagery used in the different newspapers from the point of view of

Content ( depending on the breaking news in the locations most interesting to the various audiences- personal, financial, commodity, conflict, violence), humour, geography ) – US: mainly commodity, UK: some humour, Mexico: images of personal attacks and British news, Arabic: images of destruction and post-aggression .

Colour ( the lack of colour in the Arabic newspaper is immediately obvious and the emphasis on colour likewise in the `meican)

Gender – overall male bias. Few images of women at all

Layout and size ( Arab newspaper images tended to be portrait and smaller, US and UK larger and landscape)

China Today- UK edition ( not included here) has a graphic illustratration on the front every day and drawings throughout… not cartoons…

Practically speaking they were not really good to use as playing cards as they didn’t slide easily over one another and there were tiny differences between them.

A keen Whist Player would be able to notice these differences and remember what cards had been played from which hand…..and win!

also they were a bit crinkly in places as the PVA was hard to apply with some thin newsprint.

It would have been good to have had some printed especially with the images on, a proper deck,

Maybe worth looking in to for an extension of this……..


There weren’t sufficient people who wanted to play whist present at the event at the same time….

so they were there as an exhibit but not used interactively.

Whist was advertised on the posters.

Maybe I should take them to one of the existing whist drives and see what happens when they are used.

The trouble is Whist is a Very Serious business…. and not for messing about with…..Watch this space…


This idea came form looking at the Dada artists, their anti- war stance and their politics wrt  contemporary issues, the proximity of RAF Croughton and the activities that reputedly are carried out there. It is 100 years since the beginning of the movement and WW1.

I was also interested in using ideas of Chance which seem pertinent.

I had looked at some of  Gustav Mezger’s work with newspapers as below

I was really drawn to the Cut-up method of creating text as below

This particular methiod came from the Dadaist, Tristan Tzara

‘The poem will be like you’ -Tristan Tzara

To make a Dadaist poem:

Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
The poem will be like you.
And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Tristan Tzara

I adapted the idea though and cut words out of several newspapers written in English.

Local and national, UK broadsheets, China Today, USA Today, I think.

I cut words and very short phrases from these papers and then put the text in a box.

Participants were invited to take text randomly from the box one by one and stick the words on to a sheet of paper.

They could also choose an image from another box to create their own ‘page’



Analysis –

As this had a stronger conceptual link with the location and my overarching ( hate that word) concerns, I feel happier about this as an activity.

It was placed closer to the refreshments in a ‘safe’ corner so about half of the visitors participated in this.

Maybe that’s also because it was quick, not too messy, didn’t involve using tools they hadn’t used before and there was no fear of ‘failure’……

 It was not as strong as the original poem piece and i think I should have made this link more obvious by showing the poem and possibly asking people to repeat the same action  as Tzara’s rather than adapt it.

 It diluted the meaning and made it ‘fun’ which is fine… but not so strong as a ‘serious’ interactive piece……..

 Here are some of the results so you can decide…including the one with added printed text… ‘lemurs’…….

P1030358  .P1030353P1030348


See next post for Film etc……..


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