Tales of Blunt Blades (2021) is an artist book featuring short stories, poems and comics about a selection of 43 blades from the social history collection at The Higgins Bedford. From 2019 – 2021, Lebrusan invited creative writers and the public to pen new histories for the selected blades. Through this, Lebrusan endeavoured to amplify the voices of individuals with a story to tell while encouraging them to consider the varied roles knives in our everyday lives.
Scroll down to view images of the publication and the selected blades, as well as, to read the introduction from Tales of Blunt Blades by Arabel Lebrusan.
We have come a long way since humans first discovered the use of iron to make blades. Everyday a chef or florist would pick up a knife and use it to create and transform, or fix the plumbings of humans if you’re a surgeon. The knife is more than just a utensil for opening boxes or a rapid deflation device for angry exes to use on their former lovers’ tires. Unless, you’re a very particular sort of person, the knife will be the only item in your possession designed to lacerate with malicious intent. Think about it – inches of deadly, sharp steel lying on your kitchen table. It has the same capacity for chaos as a loaded handgun, and yet it is primarily used to express love for your family by preparing their dinner.
The knife is one of the few things we give houseroom but at the same time, feel on edge about. One would have a knife casually laying on the dinner table but not a hammer or a screwdriver. We have evolved to become a cautious, risk-avoiding society and have rid our households of dangerous objects.. except the knife. Even my abuela (grandma) would keep a pocket knife in her handbag and bring it wherever she went. While the knife may look simple, it isn’t an effortless instrument. It is one of, or perhaps the only remaining domestic tool that we must discipline ourselves to master – rather than switching it on and expecting it to be of service to us. At some point in our lives, we would have learned from a senior how to use and respect a blade, be it to shave, cook or produce creative masterpieces. Some of us commit time and effort to our blades – caring for them, sharpening them and washing them carefully. How does a simple relationship between human and tool so easily develop to a kind of fixation? What is it about knives that makes us feel this way?
Like most things that we use every day including our own bodies, a knife will change its shape and functionality over the course of its life. So what makes a kitchen knife become a deadly weapon? What makes a deadly weapon become a one-of-a-kind jewel, or a beautiful home ornament? My mind has been occupied with these questions since Bedfordshire Police gave me 3 crates of confiscated knives and weapons in 2013, marking the beginning of my project Blunt Blades.
When I had the opportunity to exhibit the project at The Higgins Bedford, I was lucky to be able to browse and intervene with the museum’s social history collection. I selected a range of knives and utensils based on their peculiarity, age and aesthetic to be curated and exhibited. Much like a cobbler knows their customers’ steps by their shoe sole, each knife tells a story whether it has been passed down for generations or newly bought from the store. Blades can be as distinctive as one’s culture or personality. Predominantly used in the daily preparation of food, I believe they are as diverse as our cuisines and as influenced by local beliefs, traditions and taboos. There is an element of magic in the idea of the blade as a symbol of human diversity, thus I invited creative writers and the public to pen new histories for the selected blades from the museum’s collection. In this, I endeavoured to amplify the voices of individuals with a story to tell.
While the infinite subtle differences of knives are intriguing, so are their similarities. I later realised a resemblance between the blades from The Higgins Bedford and the confiscated weapons given by Bedfordshire Police.
In the two years since my first open call, I received prose, poems and comics which have been collated into the paperback that you currently hold in your hands. This book is a collection of tales about the blades from The Higgins Bedford’s social history collection, authored by writers from local Bedfordshire all the way to Canada and Malaysia. I hope you enjoy the tales as much as I did when I first read them.
Thank you again to all the writers, editors and people who contributed to realising the publication.
Arabel Lebrusan (b.1974, Madrid) is a UK-based visual artist whose practice centres on material culture and the feminine tactile environment, exploring wider issues of power relationships, exploitation and inequality.