Mon 4 July - Video Installation with Picnics

Loving the vibrant feedback from the Marie in the Margins installation in two accessible sites through high summer.

“Our children loved the hands touching so many things. Tangible!”

“My son had his school picnic at battle Abbey yesterday so we took the chance to look at this great exhibition…” In Battle Abbey, the installation spans two vaulted rooms of the thirteenth-century Monks Common Room and in Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, the screen is set into a writing desk in the Before Hastings Gallery. Three drawers in the desk are filled with the women’s paraphernalia.

Thurs 24 June - Getting to the Bottom of the Norman Connections Project

Hastings Borough Council’s Major Projects Manager, Kevin Boorman, who worked on the Norman Connections project

Marie in the Margins supercedes the Norman Connections project in which the castles at Falaise and Caen, along with Colchester, Rochester and Norwich were linked with the Bayeux Tapestry venue to receive capital funding supporting upgrades. Hastings Castle is does feature in the Norman Connections map although this venue didn't receive funding at this time; it is hoped that Hastings Castle will be upgraded in the next three years. Battle Abbey, Pevensey Castle and Dover Castle are absent from the map in the Norman Connections literature along with many abbeys in Normandy (represented in a different website initiative). The difficulty with this is that the Norman connections project statement runs, "We represent key Norman sites in suth East England and Normandy." In phase 3 of the Marie in the Margins project, I will seek to address this inaccuracy. Overlooked author Marie de France is significant in England and France and linkage of Norman heritage sites on both sides of the channels through this project is a fresh and exciting perspective. The female live-work communities in Normandy, better known because their abbey buildings still exist, are excellent places to start. Early connecting conversations are enthusiastic.

Sat 18 June - Norman Connection continued

a hand at the base of a pillar, Abbaye de Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives

My last day of this Normandy fact-finding trip has comprised visits to the the St Wandrille Abbey, Abbeye de Jumières and Abbatiale de Saint-Germer de Fly. Staff at Abbeye de Jumière especially welcoming where Hala Wardé’s installation A Roof for Silence is hosted this summer. A great chance for me to explore this installations set up particularly generator and cabling system as to observe how the work unites visitors as a community in this outdoor space in a stunning ruined landscape.

Fri 17 June - Norman Connection continued

Wow, I find Marie de France in a public space! Small but its there. Falaise Castle

A warm welcome at Falaise Castle today which benefitted from capital for an upgrade in the Norman Connections project with European Regional Development funding. The upgrade is an example of best practice in the choice of contemporary materials to sit alongside the original structure and a brilliant augmented reality experience themed on domesticity. The focus on light coming through the window and crackling fires is simple and effective. There are two #herstories projected onto walls, that of Queens Matilda and Eleanor. The exciting discovery is that Marie de France gets a mention. A section of Guigemar is featured on a wall.

There’s little perceivable exploration of the diversity that pervades Marie de France's stories but, at the time this upgrade was implemented, the need for #Herstory was understood. I witnessed school groups and older viewers accessing the materials comfortably and enjoying their visit.

I also travelled to Abbaye de Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives and Bec Abbey and the highlight of the day was Bernay Abbey. Part of this abbey was turned into a small art gallery in the nineteenth century, housing an ecclectic art collection. The vacuous abbey church, accessed via a different entrance, is not operating as a parish church; it is an extraordinary exhibition space and from 2 July-18 September, will host an installation by Ernest Pignon-Ernest. I cannot wait to return to see work in this environment.

I also met up here with retired academic, Jane Snyder, and we chatted through her publications Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress and Early Gothic Column-Figure Sculpture in France, works that have brought her to Marie de France’s writing.

Thurs 16 June - Norman Connections

The garden at Abbey de Montivilliers. It's peaceful. I imagine the noise of a busy workplace in the twelfth century

Started my three day fact finding trip in Fécamp today, a lively fishing town which has associations with Winchelsea and Rye. Found great signage in town listing all the towns connected with the Norman history on both sides of the channel. I recognised its counterpart which is mounted next to the public toilet in WInchelsea. Fécamp’s signage is better positioned!

Jardin de l’Abbaye at Montivilliers is particularly interesting to visit as it housed a female community and is remarkably intact. The Abbey Museum at Graville is also associated with a female community and has a beautiful dedicated exhibition space which was closed. I peered through the window!

The great excitement of the day was the two Caen abbeys: Saint Trinite aux Dammes and Abbeye aux Hommes in Caen. The former foregrounds female saints and abbesses prominently on the walls; the latter is currently hosting a Steve McCurry restrospective.

I found the Norman connections leaflet widely available in venues. I’m meeting Hastings Borough Council’s Kevin Boorman on my return to discuss this initiative which, at one stage since its inception in 2008-9, he led. The signage mentioned was an output of this project.

Wed 25 May - Summer holiday adventuring and introducing tangible links

In the process of writing funding bids for Phase 2 of Marie in the Margins, focused around the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery Marie in the Margins collection of everyday objects, I’m also designing a summer holiday adventuring programme with the tangible links this beautiful collection currently on display with the installation at the museum. The workshops will be supported with Heritage Lottery funding and newly confirmed support from Chalk Cliff Trust.

The museum’s collection of five medieval domestic objects, curated by Philip Hadland, offers tangible links to Marie de France’s writing. The candle holder and the shoe leather will be explored in the tale of Le Fresne where a young women has to undertake a solo journey in secret. The tile and the mug can be related to a story where the family are eating. The coin will be related to the young man who travels all the way to Milan to purchase medicine on the decision of his girlfriend. We’ll have to consider how he will exchange his English coinage!

Marie de France’s tales reflects our diverse world today. There are female decision makers, women writers, youths experiencing bullying including experience of homophobia and young people uninterested in love. This heritage writing inspires the reader to be true to self. Relating Marie de France’s words to the beautiful objects founding the vicinity of Hastings offers relatable connections. This history becomes anchored.

To book a summer adventuring day for 6-13 year olds:

Explore the HMAG Marie in the Margins Everyday Object Collection Online:

Wed 18 May - Installations in Virgin Spaces

Director Gail Borrow with cinematographer Rod Morris

The installation has been running in Battle Abbey for a week now. The staff have been immensely welcoming; the recelption positive.

This site had never hosted an installation before. We have laid 85 metres of cable to the closest power socket. Installations in virgin spaces are exciting challenges and opportunities to catalyse conversations that wouldn’t otherwise take place.

Female viewers have struck up conversations sharing their career histories, the range this week has included experience in the catering, care, cultural and medical sectors.

Viewers with a knowledge of medieval female working history have spoken of feeling validated and energised by the project. Volunteer Robert is excited about offering a range of stories in his tours on the site beyond the predominant male, military narrative. Visitor assistant Caroline has started a #herstory tour taking in the installation.

To avoid damage to the fabric of the building, site manager James Witcombe has worked closely with us in the design of an installation set up that does not screw into the walls or floor, components positioned on matting to protect the heritage floor. We have used sand bags to weight the cable for the same reason.

As this is an unmonitored space on the periphery of a large site, we have also taken care in selecting components to balance the quality of the viewing experience with a choice of materials that can be replaced in case of theft.

I have shared skills with administrators, Zoe Holt, training her in installation project design. Zoe’s specialism is neurodiversity in the workplace. In phase 2 of the project, Zoe will share her newly amassed installation project design skills with early career freelance artists in ExploreTheArch’s mentoring programme for 18-28 year olds experiencing barriers to employment.

We are also researching women’s stage management networks in the cultural sector seeking other organisations that would benefit from our insights. If you know of any networks that would benefit, please get in touch for free sharing of skills.

Fri 13 May - International Premiere at International Congress on Medieval Studies

Director Gail Borrow, performer Hannah Collisson, history Dr Emily Joan Ward

Today the film in the installation premieres internationally. The International Marie de France Society are hosting platform 308 in the International Congress on Medieval Studies. West St Leonards Academy are in the ‘Imagined Abbey’. It’s full on abbey life for us!

It’s now 8.30pm and the premiere’s just finished. Incredible positive feedback!

"Intimate and haunting. So beautiful."
"Took my breath away"
"Powerful-wonderfully constructed"

Wed 11 May - Placing Marie in the Margins in Buildings Associated with a Male Workforce

Performer Yasmin Aishah in her workspace in the Marie in the Margins installation in 1066 Abbey and Battlefield

It’s premiere day at English Heritage’s 1066 Abbey and Battlefield. The three women’s workspaces are installed in the thirteenth-century Monks Common Room with the installation film running in a vaulted adjoining room. Cinematographer Rod Morris and editor Sarah Gomes Harris have worked closely with me to achieve the expressionist style in the film that was a key aim of this project: a raw, visceral experience of Marie de France’s writing. Composer and sound artist Ruby Colley’s track is bewitching in this space. It’s a brilliant moment for the team!

Women have always worked on the margins. Placing Marie in the Margins in buildings associated with a male workforce challenges the prevailing medieval image of women as ‘Maddonas’ with new born babes. I judge this imagery to be propaganda. Women were cultural innovators at the height of Norman power, just as they are today. In Normandy, abbeys housing female communities survive. England is different; those buildings have largely been destroyed. Adding Marie in the Margins to surviving abbey spaces connected with a male workforce adds female workforce history to the predominant 1066-themed conversations empowering young women today.

Tues 10 May - 2022 What Do You See?

Historian Dr Emily Joan Ward in the Imagined Abbey workshop days

Wow, so much insight gained from our schools workshop delivery already. We’re running the Imagined Abbey days alongside the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Western Michigan University, connecting Hastings children up to the biggest conference on medieval studies in the world. In the children’s ‘created abbey’ yesterday, groups cycled around writing, scribing, reading, singing activities and illustrated in the margins. In Dr Emily Joan Ward’s history detectives session, children explored the 1066-themed history they have learnt at school, contextualising through the many stories of migration across the channel, female and adolescent history that Emily is bringing to the project.

Emily showed the children one picture and asked, “Who do you see?” The children enjoyed calling out what they could see; they consistently failed to say ‘women’. The specific way 1066-themed history is approached, with the tight focus on the power struggles of three noblemen, is teaching children not to value women in this historical period. And yet women worked in abbeys in significant creative roles. This female cultural workforce is marginalised.

Mon 9 May 2022 - Joining up with the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Marie de France inspires the children of Hastings in Imagined Abbey workshops.

Imagined Abbey workshop days

The Marie in the Margins installation opens today in Hastings Museum and Art Gallery supported by Arts Council England and Hastings Borough Council. In exploring Dame Marie’s work through three Hastings women, a writer, a graphic designer and an illustrator, my aim is to foreground today’s female cultural innovators on the south coast with the medieval forgotten female workforce who outputted reading materials in the communal live-work spaces that were abbeys the hundred years after the Norman invasion.

Marie’s ‘lai’ adventure stories set the Marie in the Margins team on an adventure this week. Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, we are mounting a week of Imagined Abbey days at the museum with academic partner, Dr Emily Joan Ward, a UCL historian funded by the British Academy. Each day we’re working with a year group from a local school-that’s between 60 and 90 children a day. I’m sure medieval abbeys were busy workplaces teeming with people too!

Mon 2 May 2022 - Claiming Marie de France for Hastings.

Performer Hannah Collisson. Marie in the Margins installation

Preparing to open the Marie in the Margins installation in Phase 1 of the #MarieInThe Margins project is, in some ways, the completion of a phase.

Marie de France was covid project with lockdown impacting the Christmas outdoor show in 2021 with music by composer-musicians Alice Beadle and Frank Moon.

Resurfacing in Summer 2022 with an outdoor experiential theatre production featuring Alice Beadle’s performance alongside Hastings creatives Yasmin Aishah, Alison Cooper and Erica Smith, the audience promenaded round the outside of the house peering through windows, portals on fragments of Marie de France’s writing. These fragments were selected from those that had resonated with the female performers during covid lockdown. For many audience members, it was their first cultural experience since the beginning of the pandemic. For all but two of the viewers in the sold out run and extension run, this was a first meeting with the writing of Marie de France. What an adventure.

In this first phase of funding to create a video installation, I have retained the portals. They are now the women themselves, modern counterparts of the cultural innovators that worked alongside twelfth-century adventure writer, Marie de France.