Museum of Ordinary People at Brighton Fringe

The Anne Clarke collection which inspired the show
By Rose Lock

When artist and theatre producer Jolie Booth moved into a squat in Brighton in 2002, she didn’t expect to find a time capsule from the 1960s in her bedroom.

A woman named Anne Clarke had died but her possessions remained: psychedelic artworks, clothing and records, and a large bone, which Jolie initially believed to be Anne’s own hip (turns out it’s actually a pelvic bone, but its animal owner remains a mystery).

Jolie tells me Anne was the last ‘proper’ hippy to work at Infinity Foods.

“She wouldn’t stop smoking spliffs so they put her in the basement, and she was there packing herbs for a while. I think in the end they told her she had to go.”

Jolie kept Anne’s letters and diaries, and in 2015 wrote a show inspired by her life called HIP.

MOOP at the Spire

Having discovered new layers in Brighton’s history through Anne, Jolie led theatrical walking tours around the hippy and punk hangouts of the 60s and 70s.

The Hip Trip: A Psychedelic Wander featured the rainbow memorial on Gloucester Road for the Unicorn Bookshop, a beatnik hub and home to the infamous Bill Butler’s Unicorn Press.

After publishing JG Ballard’s Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan in 1968, the shop faced an obscenity lawsuit which put Butler in so much debt he had to close in the early 70s.

It was on a walking tour that Jolie met Lucy Malone, a curator who had also discovered a strange collection of objects belonging to her late mother, labelled My Future Work.

“I said to her that I keep meeting people who’ve got stories like this, and what this world needs is a museum of ordinary people. Because otherwise where do people put these things?”

There began the makings of the pop-up Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP), which debuted last year and won the Brighton Fringe Visual Arts award.

Guantanamo exhibit

Jolie and Lucy worked with eight members of the public for six weeks to teach them how to turn their diverse collections into an exhibit.

They all told the story of an ordinary person, or as Jolie says: “Someone who wouldn’t normally make it into the museum canon.”

This year, MOOP STORIES focuses on the exhibits in more depth.

On three themed nights (FOUND, CONNECTIONS and LEGACY) artists will incorporate a live element, such as a talk, performance or film.

One tells of a human rights lawyer who spent years tracking down the family of a fisherman who had been wrongly sold into Guantanamo Bay, and contrasts his account of eight years’ imprisonment with the US government’s version of events.

The exhibit features origami birds made out of legal documents, with the sea projected on top.

A Gulf War soldier’s love letters to a teenage punk provide another exhibit, and Jolie will be breathing new life into Anne’s story too.

MOOP’s war exhibit

Empathy fuels what MOOP does, and Jolie believes the first person narratives are a challenge to the colonialism of the traditional museum world.

“Museums are quite immovable beasts, and they can’t respond to what’s happening culturally in real time – it takes a long time for them to change anything.

“What we’re doing is coming from a completely different perspective. It’s not valuable objects that we’ve stolen from people, it’s mundane objects that we value the emotive story behind.”

MOOP STORIES is at Phoenix Brighton on May 7, 14 and 21 from 7.30pm to 9pm, all by donation.

To book tickets visit www.brightonfringe.org

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