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'Sardine Constructions': a Look at the Exhibition

Exhibition Guide Elinor Cole explores her favourite piece in the current ShakespeariAnne exhibition on display by the Birthplace

Elinor Cole

Carrie Reichardt’s work is weird yet wonderful. Bold, bright, and adventurous, her ShakespeariAnne exhibition has been a quirky addition to the Birthplace’s visitor experience. Though not always what the visitors are expecting, it has opened people’s eyes to Anne Hathaway and questioned what we take away from Shakespeare’s legacy.

My favourite piece in the exhibition – the one I always return to in moments of quiet – are the ‘Sardine Constructions’, created in collaboration with Bob Osborne. Two boxes, each packed with nine sardine tins, which house tiny vignettes relating to Shakespeare’s life and works.

To Buy or Not to Buy

Colourful and textured, it immediately draws you in, and with so many quirky details hidden away in each tin, viewing the piece provides eighteen little moments of discovery and wonder. The tins are like treasures, or trinkets; I am not surprised one visitor asked if they could be bought in the Gift Shop.

What is fascinating is the mix of vintage items, with recognisable, everyday objects, such as sardine tines. In ‘To Be or Not to Be’, Carrie uses 1920s cigarette cards to depict some of Shakespeare’s most popularised plays; in ‘To Buy or Not to Buy’, souvenirs featuring Shakespeare’s face show how ‘bardolatry’  and consumerism have always walked hand in hand. These deciphered meanings can be explained to visitors, or can be left to speak for themselves, and enjoyed purely for their fun and unusual qualities. 

The aspect of this artwork I have enjoyed the most is how it can be used to engage children with the exhibition, where other pieces might not be so immediately accessible to them. The sardine constructions, with their bright colours and toy-like qualities, offer a more playful interaction with Shakespeare. Quizzing them on the Shakespeare plays and characters they know, children can work at matching these to the individual tins. To one girl, the portly monk in the lower right corner was Bottom, to another it was Friar Lawrence.

Friar Lawrence

The comment I have received most often from visitors regarding the piece is how clever it is, despite its relative simplicity. Almost anyone could fashion a similar thing, using a food tin and a trinket brought from the Birthplace Gift Shop. In this way, it engages and inspires people to make their own artwork out of everyday objects – it sparks a desire to create – something I think Shakespeare would be very proud to know.