'This oasis of meditation, a personal vision of human beings and their impermanence enclosed in the warm, dark wood of Jane Wildgoose's old library; a place where compassion is not only tangible, it gets under your skin; a place which can only exist because of its creator's ethical concerns. And, ultimately, a research facility addressing death as an essential experience we should not be afraid of: it's no accident the library is dedicated to Persephone because, as Jane pointed out, "there's no winter without summer."'
Ivan Cenzi, My Week of English Wonders
THE WILDGOOSE MEMORIAL LIBRARY (WML) is an ongoing accumulation of reference material that informs Dr. Jane Wildgoose's work as an artist and writer. A constantly evolving work in progress, and a place for meditation and consultation on universal themes of life and death, the WML began as an informal collection of objects and books relating to Wildgoose's enduring fascination with the interest of the dead to the living, and a research resource for her work as a designer/maker for theatre and film.
In 2003 the collection took on a more formal aspect when it became the consultation basis for the BBC Radio 4 documentary On One Lost Hair - a meditation on a wisp of hair from the head of Horatio Nelson, bought on eBay, co-devised with producers Gregory Whitehead and Neil McCarthy. Encouraged by critical acclaim for the programme, and a NESTA Dream Time Fellowship to develop the Library, Wildgoose has gone on to establish a multi-faceted approach to collecting that brings new perspectives to a broad range of associated values: ranging from the historical, aesthetic, sociological, anthropological, scientific and educational, to the emotional and instinctive.
The WML's distinctive acquisitions policy - which places emphasis upon the capacity of an object to resonate with the viewer's imagination through its appeal to the senses - may be traced to the Keeper's own first motivations to collect dating back to Wildgoose's childhood on the South Coast of England, where she became a dedicated beachcomber. Growing up among a predominantly elderly population living out their days in modernist, light-filled bungalows containing the accumulated relics of lives spanning two World Wars, the curiosity and wonder Wildgoose experienced picking through flotsam and jetsam brought in by the tides was informed, from an early age, by awareness of the deep emotional ties that may become established between people and objects. The daughter of an enthusiastic parish organist, she also spent a fair proportion of her childhood visiting country churches and graveyards.
Today, the unique role Wildgoose has created as Keeper of the WML balances her professional background in design/making for theatre/film, and her scholarly attention to research - developed during her doctoral research in the School of Art & Design History at Kingston University London, as a Wellcome Sciart Awardee, NESTA Fellow, and BBC radio broadcaster - with careful excavation of personal experience. The work of The Wildgoose Memorial Library brings together an idiosyncratic approach to collecting with a thorough understanding of the sensuous appeal to the imagination of materials and handicrafts; the communication, through site-specific scene-setting, and improvisation, of a wide knowledge of literature and rigorous historical research, with a heartfelt empathy for the narratives and associations that may become attached to remains of all kinds.
THE WML ON LOCATION
The Wildgoose Memorial Library makes regular appearances "on location" as Wildgoose presents her collection to the public in a variety of settings, including: the 1930s wood-panelled splendour of Hornsey Town Hall in North London (2008); the white space of the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, Portland, ME, USA (2009) (On One Lost Hair at MECA) and the candlelit, vaulted cellars of Copped Hall, a superb derelict 18th-century mansion in Epping Forest, on a foggy midwinter's night (2010).
Working in collaboration with the Willis Fleming Historical Trust, The Wildgoose Memorial Library has also presented The Field Tent at North Stoneham as an ephemeral open-air museum on the site of the long ago demolished North Stoneham House in Hampshire (2008).
In 2013 The Wildgoose Memorial Library materialised in the marble and mosaic lined Maddick Mausoleum at West Norwood Cemetery, one of London's "Magnificent Seven" Victorian cemeteries. Presenting selected material from the WML collection as an installation entitled A Question of Archival Authority, Jane Wildgoose raised questions and talked with visitors about the significance of knowing where human remains are sited; her account of the project, and public response to it, appears in Afterlife Writing and Situation of Graves published in the European Journal of Life Writing.
The WML collection was central to the culminating exhibition of Jane Wildgoose's doctoral project, in which she presented her findings as an archive of the WML at the Crypt Gallery St. Pancras (2014) - also later exhibited at the Lumen Gallery in the crypt of the beautiful St. John on Bethnal Green designed by Sir John Soane (2018).
In 2019 Jane Wildgoose transformed an office at King's College London into a temporary home for the WML collection, the WML@KCL, which acted as a vibrant backdrop for a series of workshops and talks that she led about life writing and death, in association with the Centre for Life-Writing Research and REACH.
Neil Jakeman, Senior Research Software Analyst in King's Digital Lab visited the WML@KCL and enquired whether he might produce 3D models of selected WML items to be posted online. In 2021 Jane was appointed Artist in Residence at King's, attached to the Digital Lab, to research and develop WMLDigital@KCL. For this new project Jane Wildgoose and Neil Jakeman began to consider how they might "quarantine" items from the WML which, although legitimately obtained over the years - including ivory, coral and taxidermied trophies - pose ethical questions today about their original acquisition and continuing retention in collections: with a view to devising a virtual WML, in which to "store" problematic objects online while also making them available as the subject for dialogue about their ongoing status in collections.
Back at home in the WML, Wildgoose hosts consultations by appointment with interested members of the public; she also uses the unique setting she has created as a forum and reference resource for collaborative work and for debate, as well as the backdrop for digital photographs informed by her research into Victorian studio portraiture, and 17th-century Vanitas paintings. She is currently investigating the potential for a permanent and more public-facing home for The Wildgoose Memorial Library - part artist's studio, part reliquary, part research centre - which she envisages being built from recycled materials, overlooking the sea.