The Museum of Ordinary Animals

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

This exhibition tells the story of the boring beasts that have changed the world: the mundane creatures in our everyday lives including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice. These animals are rarely represented in natural history museum displays. They are not special enough. People would rather see dinosaurs, dodos and giant whales. The Museum of Ordinary Animals gives these commonplace creatures a chance to tell their stories. It begins by asking where ordinary animals came from, followed by the exploration of the themes of Ordinary Animals in culture, in science and in the environment.

I visited the The Museum of Ordinary Animals on the same day as heading to the Can Graphic Design Save Your Life exhibition at Wellcome Collection. A stones throw away from each other, both newly opened, and both small enough to not be entirely museumed out, it made sense to see the two. Both concerning entirely different topics, it was fascinating to see both in the space of a couple of hours.

The Museum of Ordinary Animals, curated by Grant Museum Manager Jack Ashby, opens up the collection to a wholly different narrative that natural history collections are presented. Since the renaissance curiosity cabinet era, natural history collections have existed to exhibit the most curious of animals and the most exciting of species. Collections such as the one held by the Grant Museum in University College London are perceived as a space for awe, wonder and amazement. The Museum of Ordinary Animals appears to be the opposite of that, yet it isn’t.

Focussing on ‘ordinary’ animals doesn’t sound like it would be the most fascinating of topics, of course the animals that are on display are the types of animals you see on a regular basis in farms and even in your own homes. But, key to the exhibitions success is the thematic discussion of the importance of these animals, the threads that tie them to our society makes them anything but ordinary.

One particular theme that interested me was the exhibition’s section on recognising controversy, and how we have impacted the natural world around us – often to it’s demise. This section covered eugenics, animal cruelty, and selective breeding. While our worlds would be an entirely different place without domesticated animals, and while it is uncomfortable to recognise the damage we have done to the animal world, The Museum of Ordinary Animals doesn’t shy away from that. The display stems domestication back to its roots, when wolves were first introduced to nomadic societies in a symbiotic relationship, eventually looking at the sheer damage that selective breeding has caused to species such as Pugs. Linking to the devastating results Darwinian thinking has caused to both the animal world, and the human world when adopted by the Nazi party in the 1930’s, the exhibition highlights the chaotic connection that humans and animals hold.

However, aside from that rather difficult section, the rest of the exhibition maintains a sense of humour throughout, acknowledging the rather bizarre relationship that humans and animals have, as well as the curious world of seemingly ordinary animals.

Overall, The Museum of Ordinary Animals certainly encapsulates the “boring beasts that changed the world” in a human way. In putting the spotlight on the animals that are so often ignored by both natural history museum curators, and the visitors themselves, the exhibition recognises the enormous impact that these species have to our planet. As well as being humorous, enlightening and absorbing, The Museum of Ordinary Animal offers a new way to see the animal kingdom and questions our place at the top of it.

21st September to 22nd December 2017. Free admission.
Grant Museum of Zoology. University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT.

Can Museums challenge Youtube?

Monday, March 27th, 2017

“Curated by members of the local LGBT+ community, this unique exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, exploring and celebrating those who campaigned and continue to campaign for equality for LGBT+ people.  The exhibition details the development of an LGBT+ movement, showing the internal and external struggles, the different party political approaches to equality, and the social and historical context of the last sixty years of activism.  This is the complex and compelling story of a long and often bumpy journey.”

Perhaps you’re not that into Youtube, fair enough, who really needs to know what lipstick Zoella likes recently. But, what is important, important enough to write a blog post about, is Youtube’s blocking of LGBTQ+ videos, while on their ‘restricted mode.’ (Read more about it on Buzzfeed here, where it’s much more eloquently described.)

Youtube’s blocking of LGBTQ+ content was met with mixed response. Some on the side of the fence of “it protects children from sexually explicit content” and others on the side of “HOW CAN THIS BE, blocking LGBTQ+ content is homophobic and dangerous.” Me? I think I’m still on the fence, with my leg dangling on the side of HOW CAN THIS BE. Although sitting on the fence is painful, uncomfortable, and only a temporary place to sit, literally or metaphorically.

So, this is a museum blog after all, back to museums. I visited the Never Going Underground exhibition at the Peoples History Museum this month, not long before finding out about the Youtube news. When the Youtube news came out, it got me thinking about the similarities between social media and museums, in terms of what they are to society. Now, perhaps I’m too millennial, but both, to me, are integral parts of society. My entire masters dissertation was about social media, so I definitely am too millennial. Social media, to those who use it, is a way to communicate, both individual stories and community narratives. Sound familiar? So are museums.

Peoples History Museum is always forward thinking, it’s the main reason it’s one of my favourite museums in the country. Never Going Underground is (unfortunately) brave. It is complex, enlightening, sad, joyful, humorous, dark, and curated expertly in perhaps a way no other museum could. I’m fascinated by how it was curated by volunteers from the local LGBT+ community, but definitely not surprised, who else could it be curated by? Never Going Underground presents the LGBTQ+ community, in my subjectively cis-het perspective, perfectly. People’s History Museum does what it does best, a timeline, a cracking timeline. Seeing the development from homosexuality being a crime, to it’s (ish) acceptance today, you can see how far we’ve come as a society, and how far we have left to go. It also portrays perfectly the complex vastness of the LGBTQ+ community, and doesn’t shy away from the racism and transphobia that exists within organisations such as Pride. But ultimately, Never Going Underground shows the resilience, strength, and vibrancy of the LGBTQ+ communities past, present and future. Also, how incredible are the family friendly bags, and when will they be available at all museums? Soon, I hope.

If museums, and social media broadly, but looking at Youtube in particular, blocks or hides these stories, what happens next? While I understand* the right to conservative beliefs, and the desire of those beliefs to ‘protect’ children from sexuality they are not mature enough to process until adulthood, blocking those stories is more than just ‘protecting children.’ If the excuse is there that it is protecting children, it inherently implies that it is a bad thing to need that protection from. If our museums don’t have LGBTQ+ displays, there is the implication that those stories are hidden for a reason, that they are bad stories, that should be hidden.

I wholeheartedly recommend following Queering Museums, particularly their brilliant podcast that has come out recently, on the matter. One day London will have a museum dedicated to LGBTQ+ stories, and I will be there on the opening weekend, with pride.


*by understand, I mean I can empathise with having views different to my own.

Pinch Punch first of the year

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

This highly intelligent and witty title is of course referring to this being my first blog post of 2017! It’s almost a year since living in London and I’ve still not been to all the Museums. (Not that I was ever expecting to, there’s about ninety???)

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of cartoons, excluding the Beano, of which I had a membership and a fan-club card when I was a child. Punch, however, if they did fan-club card for adults, I would definitely get that. So when The Cartoon Museum had a temporary exhibition displaying Punch cartoons, I knew I had to go. The temporary exhibition is celebrating the 175th anniversary, with Punch founded in 1841. A celebration of all the artistry, satire, as well as an exploration of the social, political and cultural changes so subtly while also blatantly portrayed in Punch.

While I went to the Cartoon Museum expecting to spend a long time in the temporary exhibition, and fly through the permanent galleries to be polite, that wasn’t the case. The contemporary cartoons including Corbyn, Brexit and Cameron were gripping, both in their humour and relevance. I had also forgotten that they have in their permanent collection the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, produced after the terrorist attacks that defined satirical cartoon discussion for much of 2015.

What likewise had struck me most with The Cartoon Museum was their use of space. As a self-funded, relatively small museum, with the daunting competition of the British Museum literally over the road, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of interpretation. While the budget restrictions compared to their neighbour are of course huge, they’ve used what they have to best effect. Their ‘Young Artists’ space is low-key, while also being somewhere schools, families, and probably even adults would love. Sometimes you don’t need tablets, TVs and computers to engage with audiences, sometimes you just need a clipboard, some crayons, and a drawing kit.






First Night at the Museum

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

If you’re reading this blog, you probably like museums, so probably don’t need to Museums at Night explaining. But, just in case, Museums at Night is  a country wide late night opening of Museums and Galleries, produced by Culture 24. Museums at Night is an ‘opportunity for museums and galleries to come together around a single, simple campaign that is attractive to venues, audiences and the media. It’s a social experience, where visitors can get involved, delve deeper into fascinating subjects and perhaps enjoy a cocktail or two with friends.’

After moving to London in February, this is my first Museums at Night in London, so I wanted to make the most of it. After a swift visit to National Gallery, en route to the Houses of Parliament, a walk through the city reminded me how much I love London.

I’ve wanted to visit Houses of Parliament since I’ve lived in London, but since living in London, I’ve also learnt when it’s best to avoid tourists. Produced by Culture 24 and Museums at Night at the Houses of Parliament ‘Rights and Rebels: An alternative look at Parliament’ celebrated the Rebels, activists, and protestors that have shaped British political and social history. Those who have risked all to go against the grain to challenge the norms of their time.

The event was housed in the Westminster Hall, with a tour of the houses for thirty minutes. In the hall, the atmosphere of grandeur was emphasised by the beautiful award-winning folk artists, Nancy Kerr, Greg Russell and Tim Yates, playing music lyrically related to the themes of rights and rebellion. Unlike the typical visitors day at the Houses of Parliament, the Rights and Rebels: An alternative look at Parliament event had gin tasting, from the new House of Commons branded Gin from Sipsmiths; an unexpected ode to the gin legal crisis of the mid 1700’s.

A personal highlight of the visit was the tour, delivered by one of the Houses of Parliaments Visitor Services staff, the usual tour was flipped to a discussion of rebels and rights, from LGBT+ activists, to suffragettes, to contemporary protests. The tour was an important reminder that the Houses of Parliament should be, ultimately, for the people.

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Colour and Vision

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Colour and Vision is the newest blockbuster exhibition from the Natural History Museum, exploring the science, and the mystery of how and why animals interpret colour.
The exhibition took a relatively chronological narrative, starting from the micro organisms that existed without sight, exploring the hows and the whys of the evolution towards colour and vision. Sexual attraction, camouflage, and warning off predators are cited as the Darwinian explanations for the development of vision, firmly rooted in evolutionary thinking.
Visiting V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-70 in the same day, I will admit, skewed my impression of Colour and Vision. Although they are dramatically different exhibitions, and making comparisons is counter-productive, Colour and Vision seemed comparably dated. The exhibition followed uninspiring curation, objects in glass cases with lengthy texts, with limited interactivity. For a paid, blockbuster exhibition with so much publicity, I left unenthused. But, as said, perhaps that was visiting You Say You Want a Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-70 in the same day that left that subconscious impression.
Colour and Vision was a safe haven away from the shouting school groups surrounding the rest of the permanent galleries, armed with clip boards and excitement. Temporary, paid, exhibitions often tend to have that adult only vibe.

Most fascinating, and something that’s always fascinated me, is how colour is perceived completely subjectively, but how there is no way of discovering how another human interprets colour differently. Our definitions of red, yellow and green are the same descriptions, but might be completely different things.

The exhibition was what I wanted it to be, a question I’ve always pondered; what is colour?







Don’t visit a University museum in Freshers Week

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

My main piece of advice to any museum visitor, don’t go to a University museum during Freshers Week. The idea of university museums is incredible, inspiring the students to be curious, to learn about history or science or art in ways that books or lectures just never could. But, freshers week, avoid. I didn’t do this. I didn’t even think of this. That said, obviously, being just off from Euston and in the middle of one of the biggest universities in the country, I was expecting busy. Grant Museum of Zoology was worth making my way through the crowds.

Established in 1827 by Professor Robert Edmund Grant, originally built the collection on finding he had no sources to teach with. Now, the museum is open the public. One thing that struck me about the Grant Museum of Zoology was the feeling you were still in the 19th century, which is meant as a compliment. The museum does have modern interpretation methods in place, and public engagement is modern in its essence, but somehow it has held onto its magic.

The cabinets still feel curious.

Grant Museum of Zoology has a niche market, students of the broad but narrow subject of Biology, but also the vast market of those seeking the morbid and macabre. I fit into the second category. Noticeably, so did many of the other visitors around me. Big crowds gathered around the jar of Moles, a photograph of which adorned a postcard in the gift shop. I’m sure there’s a lot of research about the psychology of this, I’m sure most of the UCL students would understand it. Fortunately for me, and for you, I’m not one of those people. I’m just making uneducated speculations about this obsession with looking at brains in jars.

The grandeur of the architecture, the curiosity in the macabre cabinets and the finely balanced engagement methods all make up a fascinating museum, tucked away just across the road from Euston station. Brace yourself, maybe carry a folder or a laptop to blend in with the students, and visit the Grant Museum of Zoology.

Sidenote: Grant Museum was one of the Museums in my ‘twenty five to-dos’, remember that? Me neither. Was I ever really going to visit twenty five museums in twenty five weeks, of course not. A girl can dream.







The best, and worst, thing about living in London

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

It’s been circling around in my head for what seems like weeks, how to write about the opening of Tate Modern’s new building. Circling spiralling thoughts of how to write in a way that is concise, intellectual, factual. So much so, ironically, I’ve left it too late to discuss it as ‘new’ at all.

Today I realised: it doesn’t matter.

I realised this wearing my new hat. To me, this new hat is a highlight of an otherwise monotonous tube commute. What is a highlight to me, no one else glanced at.

The best, and worst, thing about living in London is that no one cares. Every person and every community is so wonderfully diverse and interesting and cool that you can do almost anything and barely stand out.

While that may seem intimidating, perhaps even depressing, it’s also incredibly, incredibly relieving.

It doesn’t matter that I know nothing about art, or art galleries, or architecture. There’s another million blogs that discuss that. There’s another million readers that read that. So I guess I can write whatever I want, wearing my new hat, and no one really cares. In the best possible way.

So, here’s the unintellectual, barely factual, most certainly not concise, thoughts about the new Tate Modern building. The view. There’s nothing I could type that can’t be said by looking at these photos. In terms of visitor figures, tourism, etc, the view will be a stand out addition to the gallery. To draw in crowds, what more could you need than these beautiful views. I’m sure the art snobs amongst us are cringing at the thought: commoners, coming into the exquisite Tate for something as simplistic as a view. But, Tate’s gotta pay the bills. That said, of course the extension has more to offer than the views. Of course it does. But that’s where it gets a big stickier for me. I wish this could read as some Guardian worthy think piece analysis, but it won’t. What does stand out is the atmosphere, the new building feels more accessible, more open, more light, less elitist, more democratic. Maybe I felt this with rose tinted glasses, embracing the crowds who were there for opening weekend that maybe aren’t the regular demographic. But I sincerely hope not. I hope the views draw diverse audiences, new audiences, and then it’s Tate’s job to have something to keep them there once they’ve left the tenth floor.

Mods, Jews and Suits

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

I’m not Jewish, or a mod, or a man, and have never worn a suit. Jewish Museum’s temporary exhibition Moses, Mods and Mr Fish isn’t really for me. But, I really enjoyed it. The gallery explores the past 150 years of fashion in menswear, much of which has been influenced by Jewish figures. Marks and Spencers, Burton, and Moss Bros have a distinctly Jewish heritage, that is often forgotten in the modern age.

Moses, Mods and Mr Fish is strikingly visual. Suits displayed surrounded by mirrors so the back is visible, but also emphasises their significance, taking centre stage. The exhibition encourages a clockwise route around its galleries, telling a distinctly chronological narrative. This chronological narrative works well within the exhibition, setting the historical contexts for the menswear revolution of Mods and Carnaby Street. The shift from pre-war conformity to post-war emergence of teenage subculture is clear in the galleries, almost split 50/50 in quantity of content, split from left-side to right-side of the space.

What the exhibition has brought the Jewish Museum is an element of ‘cool.’




How to engage as a Millennial

Monday, June 13th, 2016

The title of this post is intentionally controversial, of course millennials can engage with a museum or gallery in a traditional manner. But I have become increasingly aware and interested in how the ‘millennial’ generation will develop to engage with museums.

This was originally inspired by Marina Gross-Hoy from Imaginibus’ post about twitter, in which she tweeted a photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art every half hour, to structure the engagement during her visit. So, armed with my camera, I aimed to try something similar. I love video, and editing video in a creative way, videoing my visit seemed an obvious choice.

I agree with Marina Gross-Hoy. Using technology in this way didn’t distract my visit, it structured it. I became more aware of what artworks I was naturally drawn to, which ones I responded most with, as they were the ones I chose to record.

Videoing the Tate in this way also made me much more aware of how other visitors were engaging with the collection. While I was recording a video, some were drawing, some were photographing, some were on a tour, some writing notes. Engagement is engagement. While I might be bias, as a ‘millennial’ myself, recording a visit as a form of connection with the works is not a new phenomenon. Technology, the internet, and social media, will be a part of museums future regardless of criticism. Seeing so many sketching the works reminded me that drawing and photographing, in the context of taking home an image and memory of the gallery, really aren’t much different.



Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

As part of my pledge to visit 25 museums in 25 weeks, I visited Jewish Museum London.

I was beginning my route around the History: A British Story gallery, when I heard a little voice behind me, “hello, would you like me to show you round?” I was shown around by a lovely, passionate, knowledgeable, engaging volunteer called Maureen Moses. What struck me about the tour was the sheer love. The love of the museum and the love of the content. I used to volunteer at the Manchester Jewish Museum, for a fair few years, so I’ve given my fair share of tours. While I was aware of what might have been the ‘official tour script’ and what was her own personal, fascinating tangent anecdotes and knowledge, it blended seamlessly.

Volunteering is a bizarre concept, when you think about it, working for free. But volunteering in the museum sector especially is such a core centre to the front of house visitor engagement for many museums, big and small. While not undermining the volunteer sector of other industries, museums have such a strong relationship with volunteering as an ideal and a strong expertise of putting it into practice. Unfortunately, this is of course increasingly due to necessity.

#Volunteersweek is an annual celebration of the work of volunteers, this year taking place between the 1st-12th of June. Both Volunteers Week and my visit to Jewish Museum today has made me acutely proud that I have been in the past, and still am, a museum volunteer. For the sheer love of it.

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