Thursday 31st July 2014

Today I have a meeting with James Ford, who is doing his PhD investigating the artistic symbolism of the union of the British Isles, held within the Palace of Westminster.

James is my final meeting (I hope!) It feels as though it completes the circle of my journey here, as he was the first person I met with Melanie way back in May. We were to share a desk, but I just ended up having portcullis as my HQ. I felt more involved there and I wanted to stay working on my own laptop. Anyway that first meeting now seems a lifetime away!

I go to the Arts team* to pick him up and we decide to start our tour on the spot where I would like to make my artwork. James begins to point out details in the architecture and artworks around us. He has an art history background, so it was a pleasure to view the space through another artist’s eyes.  Everywhere we looked there were symbols of the union and other strange and wonderful images hidden in the stained glass panels. A purple Rhinoceros in St Stephen’s Porch window; he didn’t know what that was there for (I must find out).

I told James about my other residency at Watts Gallery and no sooner than I said his name, he led me up some stairs, (I will never find again), to show me a George Watts painting. This was slightly damaged as something had dripped down from the ceiling above, apparently when the work was still new. Records report that during the construction of the building workmen washed bricks in the room above and also used it ‘for even less cleanly purposes.’ What does that mean? I asked. James explained the stains might well include urine.

GF Watts, ‘The Red Cross Knight Overcoming the Dragon’, fresco, 1853, Upper Waiting Hall. Parliamentary Art Collection WOA 2883

We moved on to a committee room with another huge Watts painting. I hadn’t been in a committee room before, so it was interesting to see where the details of debates were informed and worked out, before they get to the main gallery.

James was doing some extra research about Lady Astor, the first women MP for the House of Commons, and a painting of her that had hung in the stairwell we had just come up. James was looking for signs of spaces where the painting could have been hung previously. We couldn’t see any.

We both decided that our favourite part of the whole building was the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. It’s such a magical, atmospheric place. I love the lights and the gruesome depictions of the martyrs on the ceiling.

Edward M Barry, ‘Houses of Parliament, St Stephen’s Crypt (Restored)’, watercolour, c.1865. Parliamentary Art Collection WOA 1601

James hadn’t been to Emily Davison’s cupboard, so off we went together. I wondered if the cupboard was actually located under St Stephen’s steps? We quizzed the security guard down there; they know where everything leads and how to situate yourself within the palace. He reckoned it might be, but I wasn’t convinced.

This afternoon I retreat and I say goodbye to Parliament for a while.

Come back on Thursday 3 November 2016, when Mary visits the Women’s Library at LSE…

* Find out more about the work of the Parliamentary Curator’s Office