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 graphic design change your life

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

Explore the relationship between graphic design and health in our current exhibition. Comprising over 200 objects including hard-hitting posters, illuminated pharmacy signs and digital teaching aids, ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?’ will consider the role of graphic design in constructing and communicating healthcare messages around the world, and will show how graphic design has been used to persuade, to inform and to empower. This exhibition will highlight the widespread and often subliminal nature of graphic design in shaping our environment, our health and our sense of self. Drawn from public and private collections around the world, it will feature work from influential figures in graphic design from the 20th century, as well as from studios and individual designers working today. ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?’ is curated by graphic designer Lucienne Roberts and design educator Rebecca Wright, founders of publishing house GraphicDesign&, with Shamita Sharmacharja at Wellcome Collection.

I took photographs in an exhibition that has a no photography rule, please don’t have me museum overlords! I made sure to not get any artworks in shot, so no copyright will be infringed. (That makes it totally fine, right?!) But, Can Graphic Design Change Your Life, the newest temporary exhibition from the Wellcome Collection was far too beautiful to not get a quick instagram. The colour palette was to die for, gorgeous pastels to envy a Wes Anderson film demand to be photographed.

Can Graphic Design Change Your Life explores the interweaving connection between graphic design and medicine and health, questioning if our lives would be the same without graphic design.

It would be quite easy to miss the beauty of health products. After all, we tend to only use them when we need to, i.e when we’re ill or injured – perhaps not the time when we are most absorbed in the material culture around us. However, what Can Graphic Design Change Your Life highlights is the beauty in the everyday.

I presumed, entirely wrongly, that the exhibition would explore the ways that graphic design can change your life for the better – when walking in you are confronted with the opposite, showing the glamorous and powerful cigarette adverts from the pre-illegalised era. Juxtaposed, fascinatingly, next to the equally powerful design-fuelled advertisements that highlight the health implications and encourage quitting. As a precursor to the centre of the exhibition, the cigarette section indicates the complexity of where the rest is going to take you – quite different to the simplistic ‘graphic design helps pharmaceutical companies save lives’ that I was naively expecting.

Now, as a long-term Wellcome Collection fan girl (as may be apparent from all the other temporary exhibition reviews featured on this blog) it is no surprise that I loved this exhibition, I’m yet to visit one I didn’t. However, I don’t know much about graphic design, and I certainly don’t know much/anything about the world of medicine and pharmaceuticals. So, from an outsider, what struck me most was the importance graphic design holds in the field of health to transcend language barriers.

Can Graphic Design Change Your Life opens up a dialogue about the importance of visuals in healthcare and how design is intrinsic to the success of medicine, and nestled in the Wellcome Collection’s often either social or scientific exploration of medicine, it was a fascinating addition.

 

Bethlem museum of the mind

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Situated within the hospital grounds, in a stunning Art Deco building shared with the Bethlem Gallery, Bethlem Museum of the Mind was formally opened by artist Grayson Perry in March 2015. The museum cares for an internationally renowned collection of archives, art and historic objects, which together offer an unparalleled resource to support the history of mental healthcare and treatment.

Open on the first and last Saturday of the month, at the start of this month I headed over to Bethlem Museum of the Mind. Shortlisted for the 2016 Museum of the Year award, the Bethlem Museum of the Mind tackles a difficult history in a reflective, ethically minded, and accessible exhibitions.

The first thing that is wholly needed in a museum that reflects a difficult history is  friendly staff and volunteers. Although the building, situated in the midst of a seemingly intimidating hospital complex, the staff when arriving build a welcoming and accessible atmosphere for it’s visitors. Considering that the museum is likely to have visitors with an personally emotional connection to the heritage on display, as well as the contemporary interpretations, the need for friendly and welcoming staff is not to be underestimated.

I willing tried to not read too much about the Bethlem Museum of the Mind before I visited, wanting to let the building speak for itself. So, perhaps naively, I was surprised by the extent of Grayson Perry’s involvement. The housing of the museum in the Bethlem Royal Hospital is fitting, as the hospital – founded in 1247 – was the first UK institution focussed on caring for the mentally ill.

The space is split into three major spaces, two temporary and one permanent exhibition. The first of which, The Art of Recovery, showcases works created to reflect their experience of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Statues Melancholy and Raving Madness by Caius Gabriel Cibber then lead you up the stairs to the permanent exhibition.

While I shouldn’t be surprised by a museum that opened in 2015, the permanent gallery is modern and bright. Bethlem Museum of the Mind has perfected the fine tuned balance of having digital interactives without being flashy. Although the museum is clearly new in it’s design, I don’t feel that it will age anytime soon.

Most importantly, the permanent exhibition has no shortage of spaces for reflection. As the museum represents the huge topic of mental health in a physically small site, this decision is clearly intentional. One specific break space that is bright and airy with floor to ceiling windows (not photographed but visible in the video) is situated next to an instillation of solitary confinement padded walls. The juxtaposition of these two polar opposites is striking.

Bethlem Museum of the Mind is engaging, while leaving space for much needed contemplation. Awareness and understanding of mental health is slowly growing, perhaps not fast enough but the museum is leading the way – as well as being an fascinating visit.

p.s, charmingly and delightedly, the man in the first photograph asked if he could pose in my photograph of the building. How could I possibly say no?

 

 

 

Exhibition Openings, and Exciting News!

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

“Based on the ground-breaking research of Wellcome Trust Professor at Oxford Brookes University, Paul Weindling, this exhibition examines coerced experimentation in Nazi-dominated Europe. Through the portraits of victims and perpetrators, the exhibition explores the legacy of medical research under Nazism, and its impact on bioethics today.”

On what felt like the rainiest day of the year, in new (and inappropriate for the weather) shoes, I attended the exhibition opening for the Wiener Library’s newest exhibition, Science + Suffering: Victims and Perpetrators of Nazi Human Experimentation.

On the 17th of May, after attending the Museums and Heritage Show in Kensington Olympia (whole separate blog post on that coming soon) I headed over to the launch event of the exhibition. The launch begun with a chance to see the exhibition and ended with a fascinating talk by Wellcome Trust Professor at Oxford Brookes University, Paul Weindling. Paul Weindling spoke about the processes of researching for the exhibition, a discussion of what is included on display, and the typical thank you’s of all involved. The Wiener Library also has a series of events connected to the themes of the exhibition such as film screenings of Unit 731 – Did Emperor Hirohito KnowGray Matter, and Forgiving Mengele, as well as lectures from Professor A Keith Mant.

On that note, the exciting news of the title, is that I will be joining the Wiener Library! As of the start of June, I will be joining the Wiener Library as their Visitor Services and Volunteer Coordinator. The Wiener Library already has a great volunteer program, with opportunities like Blogger, Book Reviewer, Events Assistant, Social Media Assistant and Tour Guides. I’m looking forward to starting working with such a diverse team of volunteers, in a library that hosts such a great collection, opportunities, and events.

Take a seat with Josef Frank

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

“Explore the work of designer and artist Josef Frank (1885-1967) in the first-ever UK exhibition of his textiles. The Austrian-born architect moved to Sweden in 1933, where he developed his colourful brand of modernism, working with Estrid Ericson on furniture, glassware, lighting and interior design ideas. Together they redefined what is regarded as Swedish Modern. This exhibition in association with Millesgården, Stockholm highlights Frank’s vibrant fabric designs for Svenskt Tenn alongside a number of his previously unknown watercolours.” 

I didn’t realise that the Fashion and Textile Museum only holds temporary exhibitions, I went to the museum quite blindly, expecting the stereotypical image of ‘fashion museum’ with mannequins scattered with 1920’s flapper dresses. However, between the 28th January to 7th May, the Fashion and Textile Museum has hosted the Joseph Frank: Patterns, Furniture and Painting exhibition, in association with Millesgården museum, celebrating the architect, artist, and designer. Curated by Dennis Nothdruft, the exhibition is the first ever dedicated to Franks work, and explores Josef Frank’s works within his social and religious background. Josef Frank was born an Austrian Jew, and fled to Stockholm with his Swedish wife in 1933, to escape growing Nazism. Beautifully and poignantly, the vibrancy of Franks style is in a direct opposite to his contemporary fears in the political and social climate, of course felt most heavily within his Jewish faith and heritage.

What struck me most about the exhibition was the accessibility. While I appreciate the beauty of the work, I went in with no prior knowledge of Frank’s work. By the time I’d left, I adored it. Throughout the exhibition were sofas, armchairs and seats all made in the fabric that the exhibition was there to celebrate. The textiles are displayed as both a grand and authoritative persona when displayed on the walls, while at the same time as accessible, physical and functional as part of the visitor experience. Viewing textiles, in a paid museum, can be an intimidating experience. I could’ve felt out of my depth. But, the curation by Dennis Nothdruft and the Fashion and Textile Museum make the visitor experience comfortable. While simple, the physical act of sitting on a comfortable chair, in my opinion, is not to be underestimated.

Not just textiles, the exhibition also displays Franks not often seen watercolours. As a man of many talents, he created, combining his love for art and architecture, with charming results. His ‘fantasy houses’ are the most impressive. Designed without the intention on ever being built, Frank’s thirteen fantasy houses took shape during 1947, inspired by modern architecture, often built with friends in mind who could live in them. This escapism into his fantasy estate, for me, summed up the exhibition, a story of Frank’s innovative and eccentric design in an era of political turmoil. The Josef Frank Patterns-Furniture-Painting three month exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum is an insight into Josef Frank’s take on modernist design, his growing understanding and processing of the horror in Jewish 1930’s Europe, and his beautiful botanical designs are one of a kind to see.

 

 

Spark Of Life

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The story of electricity is the story of life itself. From the structure of the atom to the functioning of our brains, this invisible yet vital force is intrinsic to human life. For centuries electricity has captivated inventors, scientists and artists alike, and in the modern era it has transformed our world.

What Wellcome Collection does well, both in it’s permanent and temporary exhibitions, is find that unique blend between science and society. As a scientific collection, it would perhaps be more straightforward to display the collection for what it is, science. Curatorial decisions however, pluck out the human stories, the social and the personal. This is no different for Wellcome Collection’s newest temporary exhibition, Electricity: The Spark of Life. Opened on the 23rd of February and running until the 25th of June, The Spark of Life is to be the blockbuster exhibition of Spring. (Sorry, Making Nature: How we see animals, you got beat here)

The exhibition is divided into three sections: Generation, Supply, and Consumption. Much like how the Making Nature: How We See Animals exhibition is, coming to think of it. The three sections Generation, Supply, and Consumption are separated by contemporary commissioned videos.

Generation, the first section is shrouded in darkness. Most objects centred around the 18th century, links to religion are throughout. As ever with the Wellcome Collection, there is a blend of art and objects that highlight the themes it represents. Themes of ethics, humanity, and enlightenment set up the rest of the exhibitions narrative. Most poignantly is the consideration of ethics. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly is a key bookmark in the storytelling of this era. As summarised in an exhibition label, Mary Shelly’s “keen interest in electricity and the reanimation experiments prompted by Galvinism is said to have been the central inspiration for her gothic novel, in which she describes the creature as infused with a “spark of being”” This narrative is displayed in three juxtaposed interpretations: a film of the 1931 Frankenstein playing, an edition of the book on display, as well as the Galvani experiment equipment. Blending objects from different disciplines is what Wellcome does best and it does it so well in Electricity: The Spark of Life.

Supply: Wiring The World is headed by X. Laevis (Spacelab) by John Gerrard (2017) which explores the Galvinist experiments in reanimation that have been considered before it. Moving into Consumption: the Silent Servant is headed by Electricity by Bill Morrison (2017) commissioned by the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, which again brought the human element to the exhibition, in that it explores the profound impact electricity has on our lives.

What impressed me most about Electricity: The Spark of Life, was the subtle curatorial decisions. Perhaps the gradually improving lighting is an obvious one, as much as I’d like to think I have an expertise in noticing these things. But, what was more subtle, was the gradual improving of the exhibition cases “quality.” Moving from wood, to brass, to steel exhibition design meant the exhibition itself moved with the content and theme.

The exhibition, like is often the case at Wellcome Collection, ends in the present and future of the story it tells. The last space considers climate change, energy consumption and what it means for our society to be so dependent upon energy for survival. What I assume to be, or what was definitely for me, the highlight piece of the exhibition. January 2017 Horoscope by Camille Henrot, is a newly commissioned piece, which considers the vast consumption the last section of the exhibition opens. Strobe lighting and animation is used to create a moving image of hands and a lighter setting an energy bill alight, as well as origami energy bill frogs jumping. The piece is striking visually, and it’s dark tone of the dangerous levels of consumption of energy end the Electricity: The Spark of Life perfectly.

 

 

A Temple in London

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Ever since reading The Museum, a Temple or the Forum by Duncan F. Cameron, most museum visits for me have a background noise of thinking which they are, a forum or a temple.

I visited the British Museum this week, for a lecture on the upcoming The American Dream exhibition. Opening on the 9th of March for three months, the exhibition will explore American culture, centred around American printmaking from the 1960s to the present. Curator Stephen Coppel discussed the pieces in their relation to gender and race issues that have been addressed in the prints, and have existed as social issues in America. As the lecture was delivered in the grand lecture theatre, above the Great Court space, the Temple or Forum debate sat in the back of my mind.

British Museum is perhaps the pinnacle of the ‘Temple’ stereotype. Often didactic interpretation, grand architecture, it literally looks like a Temple. It’s so easy to get lost in the British Museum, both psychically and intellectually. The globally and chronologically broad collection tells so many stories it’s easy to lose sight of individual objects and individual narratives.

I’ll admit my bias from the get-go, I prefer a smaller museum. Big crowds, tourists, and screaming children do little for me, no matter how great the collection is. So while I’m thinking about museums elitism, perhaps I should consider my own personal elitism as a visitor. The age old argument that interactives are ruining the experience of museums for some, like the one linked here, is never going away, and it’s one I struggle to balance while visiting a major museum. Intellectually, of course I know the value of interactives, and family engagement. Personally however? That’s perhaps a little different.

But, back to the Temple or the Forum debate, which ones museums are, and which they should be. There is something quintessential and nostalgic about the Temple template museum. Grandiose marble staircases and peering through glass to see a cabinet of labels and objects evokes that sense of what a stereotypical museum visit should be. Perhaps this should be enough. Surely the collection at the Science Museum is enough to engage, is Wonderlab necessary to maintain our depleting attention spans? Maybe it is.

Without delving too much into that controversial extreme caricature of what I don’t completely believe, to  next consider the Forum template museum. The forum ideal is ultimately where my heart is. Yes, as an adult visitor, with a considerable interest in museums before walking in the door, and without children, perhaps the piece and quiet of the interactive museum would fit me best. But, unfortunately, the world doesn’t yet revolve around me. Ultimately, museums work best when they work for all. Without believing that it’s possible for museums to be perfect for the multitude of subjective opinions that walk in the door, there should of course at least be an attempt to address every visitors needs, and attempt the tricky balance to facilitate accordingly.

This slightly controversial, mainly satirical, blog post is written with the intention of weaving through my own complicated opinions on the matter. What do I want museums to be (as one day I might rule the museum world, of course), and what works best for both the current audience, and to engage audiences currently excluded. Ultimately, museums can never be wholly a Temple, or wholly a Forum. Even if they could, neither would quite work.

Fear and Love 

Monday, February 27th, 2017

“The exhibition asserts that design is deeply connected not just to commerce and culture but to urgent underlying issues – issues that inspire fear and love. This is a bold, multidisciplinary and global exhibition that aims to capture the mood of the present and establish the Design Museum as the home of design debate”

I couldn’t read the description of the Design Museum’s newest temporary exhibition quote without thinking of THE Donnie Darko scene, “there are other things that need to be taken into account. Like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else.” Maybe it’s an intentional tie, maybe it’s not, but the quote felt oh so relevant. The exhibition explores love, it explores fear, and it explored the whole spectrum of human emotion.

Fear And Love makes the future, and the present, feel dystopian. Fitting perfectly into the desperation most half of the UK, and half of the US, felt in 2016, the exhibition plays into the essence of dystopian despair 2016 brought to many. Fear and Love perfectly tapped into the parallel fears Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror brought to all that watched it, of how far truly can social media take us.

Andres Jaque’s Intimate Strangers focused on dating apps, and the impact they have upon our ‘real’ relationships, blurring the line between real and networked. The Pan-European Living Room, designed with interior style from all 28 EU member states questions the British decision to leave the EU, and the motivations to do so. Minus by Madeline Gannon received the most attention from visitors, myself included. Minus is a 1200kg industrial robot, and through developed software mimics human behaviour. As the robot appeared to follow visitors around the room, and take a closer look at visitors it ‘chose’ to, the robot was humanised, and taps into the social fear in a postmodern climate of robots and what it means to be human. Fibre Market by Christien Meindertsma is, after running away from Minus, the most visually striking exhibit in the room. Exploring disposable fashion and the ethical implications, Fibre Market subtly but explicitly calls into question the social impacts of technology and globalisation. And finally, Room Tone by Hussein Chalayan explored, through devices that visually display the wearers emotions, summarising the exhibition that postmodernity is terrifying and exciting in equal measure, that we all fear it but ultimately love it. 

Fear and Love is the perfect blockbuster exhibition for Design Museum, what the permanent collections display does so well is bring in the social and human interaction with design and technology, Fear and Love is both a continuation and addition of this. Even those ‘inartistic’, and ‘not interested in design’ visitors (myself included) will engage with this exhibition, as is it intertwined with all of our personal lives, our personal anxieties, and our personal obsession with globalisation and postmodernity. 

p.s, I forgot my GoPro, so not arty video, no joyous playing on iMovie, sigh. Low quality iPhone photos will have to do this time. (Is it ironic to care so much about the technology used to discuss this exhibition?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tate Meets Black Mirror

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

I’ll admit, I don’t often relate to artwork. Without reading the labels, I certainly don’t understand art. Outside of appreciating talent, and enjoying the aesthetics of works, that’s as good as it gets for me. However, when I do love a piece, I LOVE a piece. So much so, it gets its own blog post. A disclaimer to this post, I am fascinated by anything dystopian, especially if its related to technological dystopia. Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is perhaps my favourite television show of all time. So perhaps it was inevitable I was going to love Glasgow-based Mixed-Media artist Rachel Maclean’s Wot U About.

Curated in a space of bright purples, fuchsias, yellows and blues, by Elsa Coustou, the exhibition is as first inviting for it’s surreal, cartoon, fun. It is at second glance that the contents intention is visible. Wot U About is a satirical parody of social media, ‘selfie culture’ and consumerism is paradoxically bright and dark is portrayed in the film ‘It’s What’s Inside That Counts’ and accompanying prints, described by the Tate as a ‘vision of society that is at once seductive and nightmarish, exaggerating contemporary preoccupations and behaviours.’

Open until April 2017, Wot U About is a striking contrast to the traditional works displayed by Tate Britain, both in style and content.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/rachel-maclean-wot-u-about 

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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.

 

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