In 2018 the government introduced a tax on soft drinks, commonly referred to as the 'Sugar Tax'. By introducing this “sin tax”, sugar is now treated in a similar fashion to substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
The aim to reduce sugar in our diets is relatively new however, in Elizabethan times, black teeth were seen as a symbol of wealth and the ability to afford sugar. In 1961 the polio vaccine was administered on a sugar cube, LSD can also be taken this way.
In this collection we find an array of sugar paraphernalia, together with similar objects connected with alcohol, tobacco and medicinal and illegal drugs.
In 2018 the government introduced a tax on soft drinks, commonly referred to as the 'Sugar Tax', whereby drinks with more than 8g per 100ml face a tax rate equivalent to 24p per litre. Those containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml face a slightly lower rate, of 18p per litre. By introducing another of these so called “sin taxes”, sugar is now treated in a similar fashion to alcohol and tobacco.
Bad teeth, obesity and heart disease have all been linked to excess sugar, a poor diet and the inability to afford "healthy" food. However, in Elizabethan times, black teeth were seen as a symbol of wealth and the ability to afford sugar and it was the poor who retained their white teeth. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the poor were selling their healthy teeth and even the dead were robbed of theirs in order to replace the rotten teeth of those with the resources to pay.
In this collection we find an array of sugar paraphernalia, together with similar objects that have a connection to alcohol, tobacco, medicinal or illegal drugs.
On the adjoining wall, are two displays of index cards, each card containing a statement related to an object withing the display. The statement on each statement is classified and colour coded according to its subject matter: how it relates to sugar or other "drugs"; the historical period and demographic to whom it applies; any relationship between the object and forms of control; and the use of the object, a taxonomy constructed purely on the whim of the collector.
What becomes apparent as we study the two arrangements of cards more closely, is that each set contains the same statements. However by arranging them in different patterns according to their colour codes, different stories can be constructed. It is true that both polio vaccine and LSD are taken on sugar cubes, but also that Tate and Lyle launched Mr Cube in response to the threatened nationalisation of the sugar industry and that in cafes and bars, cubes are wrapped in paper which is used for advertising purposes. We construct the information in different ways according to personal remincences and experiences, each one of us arriving at our own personal story.
"In 1970 when I was just seven years old, my great uncle John Singleton PhD, FRS, who had always indulged me, died childless, leaving his house together with his collection of scientific research papers and artefacts centring on a hybrid bird known as the Scribbler in trust to me until I turned thirty.
I have built on his ornithological collection with items that reflect my own interests in social history and anthropology until I too, have become totally consumed by the Scribbler but still have moments when I question the validity of the entire project." Nathan Roberts PhD
"In 1970 when I was just seven years old, my great uncle John Singleton PhD, FRS, who had always indulged me, died childless, leaving his house together with his scientific research papers and artefacts in trust to me until I turned thirty.
Many of his findings proved to be at the very least esoteric, centring on a hybrid bird known as the Scribbler which appeared in a number of ornithological reference books.
I have built on his collection with items that reflect my own interests in social history and anthropology I have found my own references in the most extraordinary of locations: as the preferred source of quills for pens, as a symbol for eighteenth century satire, in poetry and nursery rhymes and as a remarkable pet. I too, have slowly become consumed by the Scribbler but still have moments when I question the validity of the entire project."
Nathan Roberts PhD
Singleton's office, reconstructed from images taken in the 1950's, contains the majority of the collection together with the Britannica, bound in embossed leather, sitting in its custom-made bookcase, the ultimate symbol of education.
A window divides Singletons' desk from that of his nephew. Here, he works to compile his definitive catalogue. We find the latest MacBook displaying an entry from Wikipedia. The solidity of information contained in the book, has been displaced into ‘bits’, authoritative facts which immediately fly down fibre optic connections.
A scanner digitises the precious documents which will be uploaded to ‘the cloud’ and from an Alexa Echo a disembodied voice, our twenty-first century oracle, or agony aunt plays stories of the lost bird.
We are posed a question, ‘In the digital age, are online resources such as Wikipedia, Pinterest or Ask Alexa any more reliable than the encyclopaedias, museums or oracles of the past?’ To search for the answer, we travel to a world where truth and legend meld with science and folklore, a place inhabited by a chimera known as the Scribbler Bird.
The beginning of the eighteenth century is seen as the start of the age of enlightenment, truth was either based on ‘facts’ or logical deduction, where 2+2 can only equal 4, or on ‘authority’ the ultimate authority being that of the church. According to the Professor of history David Wootton at York University, ‘beneath these two accepted knowledge bases, there was only opinion, rumour and gossip, and the world was unreliable and untrustworthy’.
The institution of the Roman Catholic Church had been questioned during the Reformation, and found wanting. Now, philosophers and mathematicians were beginning to question the lesser authorities of the ancient philosophers.
It was in this environment that Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, together with a group of fellow Tory literati formed the Scriblerus Club, in 1714, as a platform to voice their satirical reflections on the philosophies of the enlightenment thinkers, and ‘all false taste in learning’. Taking the Scribbler Bird together with its literary associations as its icon, and drawing particular inspiration from Jonathan Swifts's Battel of the Books (1704), a satire on the struggle between the 'Antients', philosophers such as Homer and Aristotle, and the ‘Moderns', for instance Bacon and Descartes’, the club embarked on writing the personal memoirs of a collective, alter-ego of the fictitious Martinus Scriblerus.
In ancient Greece, it was believed that you could communicate with the Gods in certain times and places and through certain people in order to obtain advice and predictions for the future. However, answers were often obscure and could be interpreted and applied to many different outcomes.
In medieval Europe, for those who could not afford a physician, it was the Wise Woman to whom people turned for advice on illness and medical conditions.
In 1691, a printer, John Dunton, realising he had no one to turn to for advice on an affair he was having without revealing his identity, launched the Athenian Gazette, the first incarnation of the ‘Agony Aunt’ and interactive magazine.
Currently the Alexa device is in the early stages of development, and only listens when the wakeup word Alexa is used. Amazon however, have filed a patent to listen to all conversations allowing what they promote as the possibility for future ‘targeted marketing’. In the same way as Facebook have been exposed for exploiting the information and 'truths' they have learned should we beware this Orwellian move by another global 'institution' to harvest this data or embrace the opportunities it brings for faster access to information and products?
In 1517, when a monk and German Professor of theology Martin Luther nailed his pamphlet The 95 Theses, rejecting the sale of indulgences for the benefit of the church, to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, he began a revolution which ultimately lead to the disestablishment of an institution that had ruled people's lives for the previous 1,500 years.
The Roman Catholic Church, as God's representative on earth, was seen as the ultimate authority and the social network which bound a worldwide community together. Today the platform for our social network is Facebook, where we share and announce intimate information and secrets. As technology writer Mic Wright postulates, the medieval indulgence, or prayer for one's soul, is traded for the 'like' and the more 'likes' you attain, the more your message will be promoted.
Some 500 years after Luther, Christopher Wylie has blown the whistle on the use of the information, harvested and sold by Facebook to Cambridge Analytica. Similar outrage is building today as the magnitude of the exploitation of trust by a global organisation in order to grow its shareholders wealth, and the implications of such a betrayal are beginning to be uncovered.
Both these global institutions have been exposed for misrepresenting the truth for money and either have, or are, paying the consequences. Whether Facebook has the same resilience and structural strength to recover as the church remains to be seen.
The encyclopedia Britannica was first published in magazine format, in 1768 and in a novel taxonomical format where related topics were pinned together alphabetically as a series of essays.
Like the Scriblerus project, this too was written under a pseudonym, ‘A Society of Gentlemen in Scotland’ although it was in fact authored by only one man, William Smellie who borrowed freely from authors such as Swift and unreservedly accepted the unreliability of the information.
‘I wrote most of it, my lad, and snipped out from books enough material for the printer. With pastepot and scissors I composed it!’ ‘With regard to errors in general, whether falling under the denomination of mental, typographical or accidental.... men who are acquainted with the innumerable difficulties of attending the execution of a work of such an extensive nature will make proper allowances.’
— William Smellie, at a meeting of the Crochallan Fencibles
Launched in 2001, Wikipedia is now the world’s fifth most popular website with the concept that there should be no central editorial control a ‘neutral point of view’ (NPOV) policy, contributions from highly qualified volunteers contributors and an elaborate peer review process. The history of revisions to each article freely available. However, in academic papers it is seen as a tertiary source and we are discouraged from citing it in academic or journalistic research.
In 2010, Britannica ceased to be issued in printed form and now sits on virtual shelves costing a mere £1.75 per month alongside Wikipedia its freely available cousin. It is for the ‘subscriber’ to choose which speaks with the greater authority.
From the fourteenth century, collections containing both ‘artificialia’ and ‘naturalia’, were assembled by the powerful and wealthy as cabinets of curiosities. Owners arranged and rearranged objects to delight and impress friends and visitors, becoming their curators and authorities merely through the act of ownership. Some four hundred years later, as these private collections began to be dispersed into museums, the tales and truths of the owners became attached to the objects as authoritative narrations, accepted without question.
The website Pinterest, cites itself as the world’s catalogue of ideas. Freely accessible to all, it is used by 150 million people around the world every month, and a virtual vitrine where subscribers can assemble their own personal collections of diverse objects from across the globe. In the words of Andrea Witcomb, PhD, these virtual collections force a ‘non-hierarchical space of communication’, ‘flattening social hierarchies and territorial boundaries’. Once again, we are able to attach our own truths and associations in our arrangements of 'objects'.
The desks of Singleton and Roberts are connected, the wall divides, the window unites past with present. Only the visitor can interpret the image as a whole. On a purely aesthetic level we reminisce on old technologies. Should we look further, we uncover more subtle references to the evolution of the truth, and the adaptations it has taken.
In the golden age of the radio 1930's and 40's demagogs and politicians, such as Hitler and Churchill, were able to influence and inspire the public directly with no fear of the filter of the journalist. Once again, through the use of Twitter, politicians have a platform for self-broadcast, bypassing any form of journalistic commentary and selection.
As the idea of ‘fake-news’ is expanded, as once again we are faced with life in a world of uncertainty, a place where we can trust nothing. Hearing only gossip, opinion and rumour, it is up to the individual to choose which information source he trusts and to seek out his own reliable origins outside the personal echo chamber.
‘Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and decide whether any part of it is worth keeping’
– Virginia Woolfe, A Room of one's Own (1929)
[Tabula rasa, Παρθένο υπολογιστή meaning “blank slate” origin – wax tablet used for notes, which was blanked by heating the wax and then smoothing it, to give a tabula rasa
This installation consists of a cabinet containing a set plates depicting six figures all using writing tablets.
Three of these plates are copies of genuine Greek pottery which depicts the use of the wax writing tablet. The other three show the use of the tablet today.
A second cabinet contains a selection of modern day tablets and stylus' cast in wax.