legacy

Making the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) - reading between the lines of letters from the bank

“I learn to re-connect on an emotional level with my father’s letters”

MOOP participant, Philip Franklin used everyday documents to explore the unspoken parts of his family history. Here’s how he created his powerful piece for MOOP last year

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“Your father had no hobbies,” my Uncle Harold, his twin, said to me once, “unless as you say, drinking and smoking constitute hobbies, or playing Frank Sinatra records at earsplitting levels.” He was speaking of a time when chaos had descended on our family, when hurt and pain were the stuff of our everyday lives. 

Both my parents had been dead for more than twenty years, but the chaos had overtaken me again, and I realised that a damaging compulsion was leading me to the same downfall as he, a repeating pattern of memory, thought and action.

I was writing a memoir, inspired by Stephen Poliakoff and Alan Garner, based on a collection of letters sent by Barclays Bank – his employers – to my father over the course of his career. But the work was stalled – it was as though I was looking at our family history through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Then came MOOP.

Suddenly I am hearing that archives are “the secretions of an organisation” and learning of a mysterious world of inert plastic, linen tape and brass paperclips. But there is much more to come. I learn to re-connect on an emotional level with my father’s letters. Lucy asks – What isn’t in your collection? What is missing? And that unlocks an altogether different psychic space.

I investigate the words in the letters, daisychain them like Tom Phillips’ text re-creation “A Humament‘ (One day) (in his native heart) (Mr Franklin) (does more harm than good.)’

I experiment with sound. Bells, weird knocks, backward speech and birdsong. It is a process infused with anxiety. I listen for my mother’s voice on old cassette tapes. I am certain there is one of her calling upstairs when I was in my brother’s bedroom. I find it – she doesn’t call though. She comes upstairs and speaks to me – we have had a row and the air spits with tension.

One week our homework is – take some photographs that reflect any narrative in your collection or anything you have uncovered in your writing. I go on a photographic walk “in my father’s footsteps” around Brighton, Hove and Portslade, with my dying Vivitar camera/camcorder, the viewfinder broken so that the composition of my photos is a matter of luck. My father appears in some of the images, disguised as my own shadow or reflection. 

The former bank building where Phil’s father used to work

The former bank building where Phil’s father used to work

I develop the story as a performance piece. I am reluctant, nervous, but Jolie encourages me, pushes me. After the rehearsal I’m on a high. It rains, and I’ve left my glasses in the Marlborough. Jolie has left them behind the bar for me to collect – I feel like a star of the Fringe!!!

Hot days, and outside the Spire, everyone but me drinking beer; we are sanding boxes for plinths. Lucy, Barbara, Rose and Anonymous help me create my exhibit. My fingers are sticky with spray mount.

Then it’s the last day of MOOP’s pop-up museum. The responses have been unbelievable. I take a last look at my exhibit, which is due to come down tomorrow. My parents are present here, revealed behind layers of time I have stripped away.  

Philip Franklin will be developing “My Father’s Footsteps” for MOOP: STORIES – the Museum of Ordinary People’s return to the Brighton Fringe in May 2019 – on Tuesday May 21st at Phoenix Brighton, 7.30pm-10pm, along with other exhibits themed around “Legacy”.

Reserve tickets to MOOP: STORIES here