Concentrates of Place

Jan Michalski Foundation, Switzerland (2017) - a Concentrate of Place by Tanya Shadrick
souvenirs of place & people

a rest-of-life project begun by artist Tanya Shadrick after sudden near-death

as featured by National Geographic Education, Ernest Journal and The Simple Things

These tins – an ongoing series – are the artist’s rest-of-life response to a sudden near-death experience: an arterial haemorrhage that happened at home on a quiet afternoon just days after the birth of her first child.

In the first years after the emergency, Shadrick worked for a time as a hospice lifestory scribe – wishing both to render service to those facing death, and to understand better her own close encounter with it. Listening to those at end of life, she became fascinated by the brief moments that seemed to last and resurface in memory – replayed on repeat, so it seemed, by those she met.

On the tenth anniversary of the emergency, she began both the One Minutes recordings and these tins. What she now calls her #ConcentratesOfPlace are a deliberate way of honouring places and people.

A large portion of the collection remains private.

Ernest Journal: Do you have a favourite Concentrate?

Tanya Shadrick: My mentor is the sculptor David Nash, whose work returns after each exhibition to the Welsh chapel that has been his home and studio for the last 50 years. A chance event brought him and I into orbit, just as I began my second life as a writer, and I now get to stay among his huge carved pieces most summers, which is such a deep pleasure and privilege. And so the tin filled with slate and heather from there is a particular treasure.

Read Tanya’s Interview with Ernest Journal
Blaenau Ffestiniog 2019 (Behind the chapel of sculptor David Nash) - a Concentrate of Place made by Tanya Shadrick

“Last spring on Twitter I learned about the artist Tanya Shadrick‘s Concentrates of Place project, a beautiful way to make memories tangible by filling small tins with items from particular places and times. Tanya describes her Concentrates of Place as a ‘deliberate way of honouring places and people.’

The project resonated with me, and as a geographer I am so interested in place. I also love the idea of collecting little pieces of a place and putting them in a tin for safekeeping, and I figured if I loved this idea my students would as well.”

Concentrates of Place as Featured By Marianne braca for National Geographic education

[Commissioned for The Simple Things, September 2022]

Treasure Tins

They make look modest, but within a collection of vintage tins Tanya Shadrick creates repositories of memories, each celebrating the places and people that mean the most to her

The bookshelves and windowsills of my home are neatly rowed with an ever growing collection of vintage tins that are nothing much to look at: just old cough-sweet and tobacco containers like the ones my grandfather used for nuts, bolts and fuses in his workshop. Some are rusty, others bear marks of old labels with handwriting long worn away.

But when I lift the lids, each reveals a bright reminder of a time and place in concentrate: sand from my childhood beach; rosehips and dried flowers from the lane I played along for my first nine years before my single mother remarried and moved us away; slate and moss from the stream my husband dammed as a small boy. A deliberate trip made to recover each one.

How much more potent than old photos, these keepsakes I can open, and touch, and hold to my nose. Artefacts I can hand to my children or a new friend. The past not as a flat image on a screen, but a tiny treasure chest of texture shape and scent. But I don’t only make these tins, my ‘Concentrates of Place’ as I call them, for nostalgia’s sake.

Our wake-up calls often arrive without warning – and so it was with mine. On a quiet Sunday afternoon in my 33rd year, just 10 days after the birth of my first child, I began to die fast and without warning from a massive post-partum haemorrhage.

As the ambulance crew rushed me away, I experienced what I now call the slow time of accidents: a phenomenon also reported by those who have survived car crashes or other sudden emergencies. Everything around me became incredibly close and etched with brilliance. How precious life looks when you’re leaving it.

By contrast, I had spent my twenties blinkered by steady office work and home renovations, obsessed with creating the kind of routine and order I’d been without as a child. The angry adults who raised me broke so much and moved so often that I had few tangible reminders of the past, and any creative energy before my near-death went on making a safety net for myself.

Emerging from induced coma days later, I was seized with a need to live differently. Having almost lost my life in minutes, I wanted to play more, and to pay slow and generous attention to the world around me.

Every decision I’ve made since has this approach at its heart. But of all the ways I’ve found to celebrate the everyday, it is my Concentrates of Place – these collections of painstakingly arranged little artefacts of significant places – that resonate most strongly across different cultures and generations.

“What would you put in yours?” I ask, whenever a person admires mine online or at the workshops I run, and they tell me poignant stories of seashells, cherry blossom, bark from a silver birch tree: small things that would have been close to hand during a first kiss, a final goodbye or a rare visit to a dear friend far away.

The Concentrates of Place have even been taken up by teachers in countries as far afield as North America, using them with their students as multisensory alternatives to the traditional (and joyless) ‘what I did last summer’ exercise.

I delight in every picture and story that reaches me from those who have taken my idea and adapted it. My life once narrowed in minutes to the width of an ambulance stretcher, with no time to exchange a last word or touch. But the simple creative exercise that grew out of that shocking experience has now connected me – slowly, steadily – to people all over the world.

Share your own tin and its story on Twitter or Instagram by using the hashtag #ConcentratesOfPlace, and explore how other people around the world have responded to the idea

Haute-Savoie, France 2019 - A Concentrate of Place by Tanya Shadrick
Haute-Savoie (France)

A short sound recording I shared online from my small town moved a stranger – who was as shy and private as I’d always been – to invite me to her home at the foot of mountains and waterfalls in the French Alps. It was a total trust fall for both of us. But we fitted together and spent a soulful week walking in her valley rich with wildflowers.

Crackington Haven (Cornwall)

My estranged father had died after a long illness without leaving word for me. On the day of his funeral a few miles inland, I visited my childhood beaches and improvised a mourning rite: I let go a cufflink of his I’d kept since I was three, and gathered sand from a happy place that had always been a more reliable source of comfort than he had been.
Crackington Haven (Cornwall) 2018 - A Concentrate of Place by Tanya Shadrick

Dungeness, Kent (2018) - A Concentrate of Place by Tanya Shadrick
Dungeness (Kent)

It was my first visit to Britain’s only desert, a landscape I couldn’t understand – so different to the farming counties I’ve lived in. But I had a tin with me and used it as a viewfinder: what to put in it? Some rusty metal? Bits of old fishing net? Then I noticed tiny white stones everywhere that looked like…beach teeth. So I collected a set. Just putting a frame around things alters and enhances them.

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