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Embedded in the history of Bletchley Park’s archive collections are stories of adversity, secrecy, achievement and hope. Artist Sally Annett spent many hours researching the archive collection, intrigued by both the historical content of the archive and the material nature of the diverse items within it. The works she produced for her 2018 summer exhibition at Bletchley Park ‘Systems of Philosophy – Wall(paper)s of Mind’, explored themes of internationalism, fragmentation of information and, above all, the layers of secrecy our holdings represent. Here, we have picked out some of the material Sally found most inspiring.

 

This Collections uncovered album was first published in 27 July 2018.

This decrypted Enigma message is a physical example of the layering of material that so struck Sally Annett. During the decryption process, thin strips of typescript text are pasted onto the back of the original intercepted message, then annotated by hand. Part of this text appears in Sally’s Text 2 series.

The secrecy surrounding Bletchley Park means that we may never know the full identities of all of those who worked here. The woman in this photograph is identified only as “Nan” in a photograph album compiled by a veteran. Sally celebrated Nan’s achievements despite her anonymity by basing an entire series, Nan, around her.

Sally developed a novel printing process, incorporating rose petals, to create her artworks. In some, petals were used to transfer ink onto the paper, while in others petals blocked the ink from making an impression. The petals are a literal homage to the ‘English Roses’ who worked for Bletchley Park.

A recurring theme in Sally’s works, particularly her Tesselate series, is the circle. Wheels and cogs, justice and balance appeared repeatedly during Sally’s research. This is a face-on view of a Bombe drum taken from an engineering blueprint.

As well as using circles in her Tesselate series, Sally incorporated part of this view of the back of a Bombe drum in one of her works.

Sally’s work also featured a representation of this photograph. It shows Cinderella and Prince Charming in a production by the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force personnel who worked at Bletchley Park.

The printing process allowed Sally to play with layering and scale. These reflected the layers of secrecy and the increasing size of Bletchley Park’s staff. A version of this image appeared overlaid at a scale that dwarfs the other components.

The use of the Most Secret stamp shown above reminded Sally of the human element of Bletchley Park’s work. Most of the archive is machine-produced text, whether enciphered or not and devoid of human personality. The machines are obscuring the presence of the humans who operate them.

This French language document demonstrates the international impact of Bletchley Park’s work. Sally’s project reflected this by locating part of the project’s output  in France and part in the UK.

In her Text series Sally plays with the idea of disguised meaning by reproducing a version of this annotation. Sally rewrites the text to read “Sophia” rather than “Sofia”.

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