Kerry Lemon: Salty Blue Sky
“Museums and galleries are my sanctuary. They have always fed my creativity, determined my travel destinations and informed my commissioned projects. This has recently changed. The current lockdown of COVID 19 prevents museum visits, and whilst I have taken huge pleasure in the online offerings these cultural venues have scrambled to provide, I miss the real museum. I miss the objects, the architecture, the labels, the events, the freedom to learn and explore, the museum shop and drinking tea in museum cafes. I miss museums.
I am aware that in the context of a global pandemic my dislocation from the physical museum is minor and to discuss any sadness feels inappropriate. It is inappropriate. But… in a small cautious and quiet voice and with awareness of where my problem lies within the hierarchy of the current crisis… I am missing museums terribly. Even once they begin to open I won’t be able to visit for a long time. I am shielding. I have to stay put.
Most of me is OK. Most of me is painting and zooming friends and sculpting and doing online exercise classes and failing at banana bread and reading and making cyanotypes and ignoring the cleaning. But. Quite a big bit of me is cross. It’s not a red hot anger. Not a fury. But a quiet, heavy, sharp stone lodged somewhere between my ribs and belly that I need to force down. It feels like a childish anger. This situation makes me feel like a child. Grounded. Confused. Seeking a constantly denied permission. Stopped from seeing my friends. Prevented from going wherever I want to.
I want to go to a museum. I’m not allowed.
This reversion to childhood. This removal of my hard won adult freedom makes me want a scapegoat. This isn’t fair and I want to blame someone. I blame COVID. I picture him (hmm, him – so he is male) as a long feared monster from childhood. Particularly worrisome at night once it’s dark and I’ve got time to think, but there all day long too. A shadowy presence keeping me small and worried. Fearful of leaving home.
I’m fascinated by the Lion Salt Works Museum. I’d never heard of it, never been and now I’m not allowed to go. I have been obsessively learning, about the industry, the machinery, the processes, vocabulary, people and surviving objects. This then culminated in an entire day lost to researching salt. Salt. I had never given salt any thought previously. It was merely something to be passed at a table or accidentally gulped whilst swimming in the sea. I had no idea it came from anywhere other than the sea. But that’s what museums can do. They illuminate and celebrate things that might be ignored or forgotten.
A combination of not being allowed to visit the (seemingly) fantastic Lion Salt Works, alongside my (newly) obsessive research into the cultural, industrial, religious, global social and environmental history of salt. Set against a back drop of being cross with the monster of COVID, and the resulting childish desire to fight back has led me to this proposal…
I would like to declare war on COVID using salt as my weapon.
I understand this is a ridiculous notion but it makes me feel happy. It makes me feel grown and capable and powerful. It allows me to take decisive action. I feel a bit bigger and braver since I concocted this plan and since this project is the opportunity to design the impossible. Something ludicrous and ambitious and ridiculous it feels right. I spend all day creating things for the real world. Giant sculptures for the public realm that need to confirm to the strict requirements of planning, safety and budget. This project does not. I want to do it.
I am going to fill The Lion Salt Works Museum with salt.
This is going to work. In Shinto tradition salt is used in rituals to purify people and places, to ward off evil and attract patrons. This is EXACTLY what I’m after. My salt will ward off monster COVID and make back the financial losses of the pandemic. This pristine salt will protect the museum until I am allowed to visit it. Preserve it perfectly until I can step inside. COVID can’t enter. There is no room for him. No space at all.
of space will be F U L L of salt.
An ancient practice in time of war was salting the earth: scattering it around defeated cities to prevent plant growth. I promise I won’t do this. I’ll be very careful to not spill any salt in the beautiful museum butterfly gardens. But this shows it can work. Salt can be used to win a war. I will wage my war on COVID. Salt is my weapon of choice.
Salt is powerful. I can use it to be powerful. I can be powerful. I don’t need to sit and wait I can be active. I can protect this museum.
Granted it’s a big task. A giant industrial site. Best get Alan to help. He’s a lovely man, very kind and helpful. He is my boyfriend, best friend and now lockdown buddy. We can get this done together. We’ll go on a road trip to the Lion Salt Works. We live in Brighton. It’s bloody miles away. HURRAH. I need to get out, explore, GO SOMEWHERE NEW. Go somewhere far away and different from here. The Lion Salt Works is in the village of Marston, close to Northwich. I’ve had a wee google and the landscape is glorious. It’s right next to the Trent and Mersey Canal, and there’s the giant Northwich Woodlands and wider Weaver Valley to explore. I am desperate to explore.
OK, so a road trip. I cannot wait. We’ll load up our camper van with lots of tins of boiled sweets for the journey and a playlist for the stereo. Alan’s got a ladder, a proper drill and I’ve got a Dremel (to be fair it’s not a real Dremel as they are too spendy but it’s still quite good.) Once we get there we’ll need a quick nap and a snack break. We’ve both got very big thermos flasks and an enviable joint Tupperware collection so I’ll be sure that we’re fully stocked. The first job will be to make sure that all the doors and windows are properly closed, then we can start, we’ll use our ladder to climb on top of the museum roof.
We need to drill lots and lots and lots and lots of tiny holes in the roofs of all the buildings, machinery and equipment. We must remember to bring our coats in case it rains, but it’s been so lovely recently, we mustn’t forget our sunglasses and of course suncream, we’ll be very exposed up on that roof. After the drilling is all finished we will pour salt into every single hole we’ve made. We’ll need LOTS of salt. Too much to fit in the van. We’d never make it up the hills with all that weight. No bother. Me and Alan will bring the Lion Salt Works back to life. At peak production the Lion Salt Works made 3 million tonnes of salt per year, so we’re golden! We can make all the salt we’ll need. I’ve learned all about how they made salt there. It was very hard work. I am very determined. I can do hard things.
They only stopped making salt here in 1986. There must be lots of local people who worked there and could tell us how to get it going again. I think I’ve got the gist of it, but I’d like to check with someone who’s done it before. It’s called inland open-pan salt making. It’s very physical and very VERY hot. The geology in this area of Cheshire has preserved layers of salt beneath the ground and so The Lion Salt Works sunk brine shafts and pumped it out using wind and then later, steam-driven beam engines, This brine was redistributed to large pans and concentrated by the heat of a fire burning underneath. After about six hours the salt crystallises out of the brine solution and falls to the base of the pan, these are raked out and then more brine added and repeat, repeat, repeat repeat…
There’s lots of jobs to be done to make the salt and there’s only two of us so we’ll need to split up the tasks. I’m not worried about the ‘Pan-smith’ bit – the person who makes the salt-making pans. There’s bound to be loads of these already at the museum, so I reckon we can just borrow them. We don’t need a ‘Fireman’ either. He was in charge of the ‘common pans’ for coarser salt but the holes in the roof are too small for that anyway so we can ignore him.
I’m an early bird so maybe I’d make a good ‘Lumpman’. I’ll control each pan and as the fine salt crystals form I’ll skim them into wooden tubs to create lumps and put them in the stove house or ‘hothouse’ to dry. Maybe Al can be the Waller. I rather like this as that makes me his boss. He’ll be sorting the initial draining of the salt by raking it to the side of the pans then moving it using skimmers onto the hurdle boards (walkways) around the pans. After lunch we’ll swap hats. I’ll become the ‘lofter’, these lumps need to be ‘lofted’ or passed up to the warehouse above, and then Al can squash them in the crushing mill and bag the finished salt ready to use. I don’t know what his afternoon job is called. Maybe ‘the squasher’ or ‘the lofter’s assistant’. We’re going to be shattered. There’s so much to do. Very long hours, 12-16 hour days. Thank god I’ve been doing all those lock down fitness classes on Zoom!
OK, so we’ll make LOTS of salt BEFORE we drill the holes and then we can pour mountains of salt into each and every hole. We’ll set up funnels so that the salt can pour in over our left shoulders. My Gran always did this with spilt salt for luck and in Mahayana Buddhist tradition, or after funerals it’s custom to throw a pinch of salt over the left shoulder to prevent evil spirits from entering. We don’t want the evil spirit of COVID inside our museum. We need luck and courage and special shoulder funnels for this.
The salt pouring bit will take ages but we can bring a radio. The Archers is back so that will help. We’ll keep pouring salt until it starts pouring out again. Once we really can’t fit any more salt inside we can seal each hole with a rubber stopper. I don’t want it to get wet. Can’t stand the idea of the rain coming in and washing away all the salt we’ve worked so hard to make. No. It will be properly covered. Filled to the brim and properly sealed so that insects or bird poo or dirt cannot enter.
Nothing can enter. No-one can enter. Not until it’s safe.
We’re all going to just sit tight and look after the people we love. Support the places we love. All the places we’ve been to and all the new places we want to explore. We can visit museums and galleries online. We can pour over familiar and foreign histories and cultures and feel inspired and excited and surprise ourselves with brand new passions.
Like my new love of salt.
It won’t be long until I can really visit the Lion Salt Works. Explore the canal and woods near by, dive into the collections, read the labels, drink tea in the cafe and buy too many postcards from the shop. Not really that long. There’ll be a day soon when I can open the museum doors. The salt can pour out and then we can all pour back in.
The monster won’t win. I promise x”
“Grounded in research I create site specific work in response to diverse environments. Each piece documents intensive collaboration with specialists including plant molecular scientists, botanists, archives, collections, ecologists and historians. I work nationally and internationally, inspired by travel and responding to local plant life, landscape and histories. I love materials and articulate my research in a multidisciplinary practice including monumental permanent public sculpture and mixed media 2D and 3D collages. My artwork and ideas are commissioned by architects, local authorities, developers and luxury brands and I have worked with a range of galleries and museums in both the public and private sectors.
I have an MA in Museum Studies and start every project looking to museum and archive collections in the locality of each commission. I immediately relate to the tangible nature of these objects, they enable me to enter new worlds, a place to begin my understanding of the unique histories and cultures of the people I have been commissioned to create work with and for. I was therefore immediately attracted to the concept of Blue Sky Museums which presents the opportunity to design a fantastical concept in response to a museum without concern for time, budget or safety. A chance to combine my ambitious approach to the creation of public art with my passion for museums. In short, a dream project.”