Learn about the writers, musicians and artists that have had residencies at The MERL, past and present. Discover the different ways in which they have engaged with the museum’s collections, and explore the remarkable creative work they have produced in response.

Current residencies

There-and-Then: Ingrid Pollard

Clasp by Ingrid Pollard. A camera obscura photograph of a polehead from our collection.
Image © Ingrid Pollard

In an intervention in The MERL galleries (on display from 26 July 2022), Ingrid Pollard, Turner Prize nominee, extends the idea that notions of place emerge at meeting points, both literal and figurative. They result from historical and political co-operations, gatherings, and intersections. They are constantly being made and remade afresh, to provide new landscapes in which to live and connect. In the writings of Doreen Massey this concept of space as shared purpose is expressed as a kind of throwntogetherness in the here-and-now.

When invited to find her own meeting points within The MERL’s historical collection, Pollard was drawn to the visual power of friendly society pole heads. These striking symbols were markers for meetings. Based on pub names or on metaphors for solidarity, they were paraded in villages to promote the collective action of small, rural welfare unions. At a time of tension between land owners and occupiers their simple gatherings offered hope of renewal, survival, and friendship.

Pollard interweaves Massey’s sense of space with Richard Sennett’s writings on workshops and the crafting of collective life and Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ practical and poetic take on a fractured world. Their words are throwntogether with pole head imagery in the here-and-now, reanimating meeting points from the past. A camera obscura lens seems to capture Massey’s tectonic sense of deep time and of the geologies and geographies of nature that continue to shape our world. To relocate hope and friendship we must reimagine landscapes as shared meeting points. And to do this we must look to the There-and-Then.

Discover more about There-and-Then and plan your visit to the museum. To find out more about Ingrid Pollard and her work, visit Ingrid’s website.

AHRC PhD Creative Writing placement: Toby Martinez de las Rivas

In March 2022, Toby joined The MERL on a six-month residency (supported by the AHRC). His work is published by Faber & Faber and he is a final-year PhD student at the University of Newcastle. During his placement, he has been exploring the Eric Guy Collection as well as supporting the delivery of our learning and engagement programme across the museum. We look forward to sharing more about Toby’s placement, and the writing that his time at the museum has inspired, very soon!

Learn more about Toby and his work on the Faber & Faber website.

Past residencies

2018/19 Musicians in Residence: Jackie Oates and Pete Flood

In collaboration with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), The MERL hosted artists Jackie Oates and Pete Flood for twelve months in 2018/19 as musicians in residence. As part of the wider project, musicians took up residencies at the National Coal Mining Museum for England in Wakefield and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. For more information, see the EFDSS website.

The project explored how intangible and tangible heritage can be brought together and illuminated through the creation and performance of new music or song. The artists’ extensive range of experience and talents as educators and creative musicians were drawn upon through outreach activities, engaging audiences with the composition process and the bringing together of folk music and songs with historical objects and themes.

Jackie Oates

Jackie Oates plays music in the company of the Mewes Knitters, The MERL's resident knitting group.

Jackie’s delicate balance between then and now, respect and reinvention, and tradition and otherness has made her a name synonymous with the thrillingly rude health of English folk music in the 21st century. Jackie Oates grew up surrounded by the music she plays. She started her career as a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards. She went on to win the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Horizon prize in 2009 and took home the award for Best Traditional Track on the same night. Jackie has surprised and beguiled critics and fans with each album, and is currently working on her seventh studio release, to be launched during early 2018. As a teacher, Jackie regularly runs choirs and music groups for young people both in her home town and across the country. For more information, visit Jackie’s website.

Jackie took part in the panel discussion on intangible heritage at the MERL Annual Lecture in November 2018. Watch the conversation on our YouTube channel.

Pete Flood

Pete Flood is a drummer, composer, teacher and botanist. A graduate of Goldsmith’s College, he has written for television, radio, theatre, dance and opera and appears on numerous albums in genres including Japanese folk music and Algerian rai. From 2004 to 2016 he was the drummer for folk behemoth Bellowhead, writing many of their arrangements. He also played percussion for Tim Van Eyken, Lisa Knapp, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, Belshazzar’s Feast and Faustus, and worked in a rich variety of collaborative projects with the Renga Ensemble of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra. He’s released two albums of experimental music based on his rural roots, and adapted a series of bawdy broadside ballads for the Bristol Old Vic production of The Life and Times of Fanny Hill. Other collaborations include Oysterband, Emily Portman, Sam Lee and Nathaniel Mann. He teaches percussion at Leeds College of Music and Kingston University.

Musician in residence and percussionist Pete Flood uses museum objects to emulate rough music or skimmington as part of the EFDSS / Berkshire Maestros project.

As part of his residency, and in collaboration with Berkshire Maestros, Pete worked with a group of 10-13 year old percussionists on a programme called the Rough Music Project. The group devised a piece inspired by themes of bullying and marginalisation and informed by the folk tradition of rough music or skimmington. Click here to find out more.

Livestock Art Residencies: Christine Mackey’s Homegrown Housing and Deirdre O’Mahony’s Speculative Optimism

In summer 2017, The MERL hosted two artist residences as part of our Wellcome Trust funded project Nutrition, Health and Rural England. Artists Christine Mackey and Deirdre O’Mahony explored health, food and farming in creative, open and exciting ways. Christine and Deirdre have drawn on The MERL’s artworks, artefacts and archives to inspire and support their work to explore the overarching theme of ‘Livestock’.

Find out more about the Livestock Art Residencies.

Poet in residence: Jack Thacker

A black and white photo of poet in residence Jack Thacker standing in front of a bright window next to a bookcase, holding a book.

Jack is a poet who grew up on a family farm in Herefordshire. His poetry has appeared in a number of magazines and online journals and has featured on BBC Radio 4. He is the winner of the 2016 Charles Causley International Poetry Competition, judged by Andrew Motion.

From October 2017, Jack’s AHRC-funded six-month residency explored the connections between The MERL and life on working farms as experienced by people in the past and present. Using the museum’s collections of visual and written records and objects, as well as oral histories, his work responded to the notion of the farm as archive through the production of poems, talks and workshops.

Read Jack’s blog about his residency and learn about his collection, Handling, inspired by his time at the museum. Alternatively, discover I, Sheep, a filmpoem produced by Jack with Teresa Murjas (Professor of Theatre & Performance at the University of Reading) and filmmaker James Rattee. Follow Jack on twitter.