Impact of the exhibition

I thought it might be useful to include a summary of how the exhibition has been used and the impact it has had within and beyond the School of Museum Studies between September 2012 and February 2013.

Teaching and Learning

  • used by academics in several teaching modules for all MA students (including by Dr Sandra Dudley, Dr Janet Marstine, Dr Viv Golding and others)
  • used as source for 3 PhD-led Thinktank sessions (for approximately 55 MA students) (these were led by Stephanie Bowry, Alex Woodall and Cy Shih)
  • used together with hedsor’s Sheffield Object Dialogue Box, during the Education Option for Dr Viv Golding, taught by Alex Woodall (for approximately 20 MA students)
  • been used as the basis for the successful day-long Creative Symposium, led by 6 of the artists involved, and including 18 participants (including 2 from New Walk, 1 external visitor, PhD students and academics from the School of Museum Studies)

Skills Development and Team Working

  • huge impact enabling Cy Shih to develop his design practice and graphic design skills, and Alex Woodall to develop her curatorial and project management skills
  • involved the majority of members of the PhD community in many ways

(for example design by Cy Shih; curation by Alex Woodall; installation by a team including Cy Shih, Alex Woodall, Stephanie Bowry, Cintia Velazquez Marroni, Kirstin James, Romina Delia, Gudrun Whitehead; deinstallation by Cy Shih, Priya Lin and Alex Woodall; photography by Cy Shih, Priya Lin, Romina Delia and Alex Woodall; writing exhibition text (Alex Woodall) and accompanying essay (Stephanie Bowry); flood defence(!), and probably all sorts of additional things)
- benefitted the artists in various ways including networking at the Creative Symposium event and skills sharing

Funding and Recognition

  • enabled additional funding (for example Dawn received an ACE grant as a result to develop her work further with Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society)
  • Karl and Kimberley Foster and Hazel Jones can use it as an output for the REF
  • press coverage: online as well as Leicester Mercury and Loughborough Echo
  • blog development

Partnerships

  • Strengthened relationship with The Art Department in Nottingham who created the text panels for the exhibition
  • Developed relationship with New Walk Museum (for example through Simon Lake and Hugo Worthy’s attendance at the Creative Symposium)

And I am sure there are many other ways in which the exhibition has impacted upon its visitors that we shall never know about.

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Stephanie Bowry – Essay on the Creative Symposium

One of our PhD students, Stephanie Bowry, whose own research uses themes in contemporary art as lenses through which to explore the C17th century cabinet of curiosities, has written a reflection on the Creative Symposium here: Stephanie Bowry – Μουσείον Creative Symposium

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Creative Symposium

On Wednesday 5 December 2013, we held a ‘Creative Symposium’ led by 6 of the artists involved in the exhibition, and aimed at PhD/MA students, academics and museum professionals.  We were delighted to welcome attendees from Leicester Arts & Museums Service – curators from New Walk Museum and a KS4 student on work experience there, as well as 10 PhD students, and several academics from the School of Museum Studies.

It was fantastic to have Dr Sandra Dudley there to introduce the creative enquiry for the day: ‘why involve artists in museums and their collections?’, and to draw together themes raised at the end.  In addition, our colleague Stephanie Bowry took notes throughout the day to write a beautiful reflective essay on some of the events and thoughts that emerged: this will be included as central in the publication.

The aim of the day was to get some why to answering, or at least playing with, the idea of involving artists in collections – and this was to be achieved through a variety of means: discussion, talks and questions and also through creative making activities, something not necessarily encouraged as part of the PhD process in Museum Studies, but nevertheless something that might enable links and connections to be made in new ways.

The day opened with an outpouring – of buttons.  Without wishing to explain further, Karl and Kimberley Foster began by enabling us to open a space – both metaphorically and physically – for our creative thoughts and ideas to emerge without restraint.   This was followed by a section focussed on making practices in which artists Hazel Jones and Dawn Felicia Knox in turn discussed their own creative practice, using slides and images.

Prior to breaking for lunch, we then had our first making session of the day – based around book-making, Yvette Hawkins guided us seamlessly through the process of different sorts of binding.  Lots of ideas emerged about how we might create the book of the project…  Here is the description of this session:

Yvette and Dawn, book-making with found papers

Both Yvette and Dawn use book making in their practice and have bookbinding elements on display in the exhibition. Dawn is concerned with a book as an object, the physicality of it as well as the marks imparted by use – yellowing fingerprints and ‘foxing’ marks made by smoke and moisture as well as the places where a binding cracks and the pages become unstitched which shows the places where readers paused time and again. The two made books in Dawn’s Book Apothecary case (on the stairs) are made using found papers each marked with use as much as the information originally printed on them. One is made from ephemera gathered from the Lit and Phil some pages nearly 100 years old. It stands as a record of the library in marks of use as much as in printed information conveyed. This interest and way in which Dawn explores it exemplifies, in her mind, what an artist can bring to a museum/archive environment.

Those are the kind of ideas they want to explore with our workshop. If everyone brings in their own ephemera then it become a book about them. They can include anything from ticket stubs and receipts to journal entries and photographs. Then if we work to arrange them in a Book Apothecary case it becomes a museum of the participants.

 

Lunch also included a ‘Brown Bag’ seminar to which several academics came.  Karl and Kimberley Foster talked in depth about their own artistic/educational/creative practice and its resonance with museums, objects and imagination.  The afternoon was themed around museum practice, and here Lyndall Phelps talked about projects including her Evacuate project and Yvette Hawkins sharing her practice based around wonder.

The second creative activity was based on quizzing and narrative, and included Hazel Jones sharing some of her metalworking practices using alphabetical and numerical stamps, loud hammering and bashing, and quiet close drawing and observation. Lyndall Phelps’ activity was based around individuals’ brought and found objects and stories arising from these.   Here are the ‘instructions’ provided to the attendees:

Hazel – quizzing metal objects

Please bring a small metal object (see Hazel’s display case or http://www.a1scrapmetal.blogspot.co.uk/ for ideas) The rest is going to be a surprise!

Lyndall – narrative objects

Lyndall’s art practice is often inspired by historical objects and their related stories. Objects from the Imperial War Museum, London and Parham Airfield Museum, Suffolk were starting points for her work in Mouseion. Lyndall’s workshop will invite participants to create their own narratives, both fact and fiction, in response to an eclectic mix of objects from her own collection. She would like attendees to bring in their own objects to add to the assortment; they might be quirky, poignant, highly personal, amusing, from a charity shop or car boot, a treasured family heirloom – the more the merrier!

At the end of the day, themes were drawn together and attendees completed open-ended evaluations of the day – more on this to follow…

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Noah’s Ark

The day after rummaging about during the ThinkTank, I arrived into the department bright and early to see people looking very worried, and others rushing about with mops and buckets, and engineers clambering on the roof.  There had been a flood.  A flat roof is never a good idea.

Thank goodness none of the objects had suffered, but we still went into disaster management mode, and our rapid response solutions kicked in.  We decided that the objects in cases would be safe, but covered the cases in plastic, just in case.  With the installation on the stairs, it was felt safer to remove some of the more vulnerable pieces (paper-based works) and put them in safety in a cupboard, and then cover the rest of the display with plastic.  Even though the leaks are nowhere near, it felt sensible to do this.  We hope to remove the temporary covers and restore the display on Monday morning.

The best part of the exercise, was seeing one of Michael’s collages peering out through its plastic covering: ‘Shop Early for the Flood’ advertised on the side of a double decker Noah’s Ark ploughing through the floods.  Did he foresee this incident?!  Had we left the collages in their original positions, they may indeed have suffered from flood damage – so all in all, risk averted and everything safe.

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ThinkTank

On Tuesday, Cy and I led a ThinkTank for MA students to come and find out more about the exhibition, and also to ask a wider question around what role artists can play in museums.  ThinkTanks are regular 2 hour sessions in which PhD students share their research, or other interests, with MA Museum Studies and Art Museum and Gallery Studies students from the School.  They are less formal than much of the MA course, but a wonderful opportunity to explore particular topics in a really discursive way.

We started off by hearing a bit about the background to the exhibition: how did it come about? (serendipity) where did the idea come from? (previous work with artists doing interesting things in strange collections) how did we go about choosing artists? (contacts and recommendations).  Interestingly and bizarrely, Cy pointed out to me that every time I have talked about the exhibition, I say something different.  Is this because I am still very much in a ‘cloud of unknowing’?  For me, a curator is not someone with all the answers: a curator sits somewhere on a spectrum between the artist and the visitor (perhaps?), and all of these are in different states of knowing and unknowing – but I rather fear that many curators would contest this view.

Students did a brief activity to outline some of the positives and negatives of involving artists in museum curation and interpretation.  We then went out in groups to explore two cases each: what is this display about?  what is the artist trying to say?  does it matter if your interpretation is different from that of the artist?  There were some fascinating comments about the different works, and responses that I’d never thought of (a separate blog will follow about this).

After a quick break, Cy shared the motivations and creative thought processes behind the design of the labels as objects – a fascinating glimpse into a process that was both iterative and complex – but once the exhibition is installed, now seems and feels perfectly simple and natural.   He took us through a journey from lots of text, to condensing the text, to selecting appropriate materials, to thinking of the graphics as objects and interpretation in itself.  I hope this will provide much food for thought and debate for the MA exhibition design exercise.

From the macro level, we worked towards a micro level, eventually opening some of the cases and having a good old rummage with objects.  The photos speak for themselves – it really demonstrated to me the power of the object, and the sense of ‘privilege’ which was mentioned by many of the participants.  But I don’t think this should be a privilege: I think this sort of access to objects and collections should be at the heart of what all museums do.

 

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Creative Symposium – 5 December

Just finalising the details of our Creative Symposium which will involve many of the artists exhibiting in Μουσείον: artists’ reflections on museums.  It will take place on Wednesday 5 December 2012, 10am – 4.30pm in the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, and is open to PhD students, academics and also to MA students and some external visitors as well.  Booking will be on a first come first served basis and numbers are limited.  Please contact Alex Woodall to book a place (acw18).  Here’s a draft outline for the day which will be posed as a creative enquiry, with lots of opportunity for dialogue, reflection, discussion, handling, seeing and making – and maybe even answering some questions…

On creative thinking

10 – 10.10             Welcome: Alex Woodall and Cy Shih

Posing the enquiry: Dr Sandra Dudley – Why involve artists in museums and their collections?

10.10 – 10.50     Karl and Kimberley Foster

On making practices

10.50 – 11.10     Hazel Jones

11.10 – 11.30     Dawn Felicia Knox

11.30 – 12.30     Yvette Hawkins and Dawn Felicia Knox found papers book-making activity

12.30                       Lunch break

1-2                           Karl and Kimberley Foster – Brown Bag Seminar

On museum practices

2 – 2.20                  Lyndall Phelps

2.20-2.40              Yvette Hawkins

2.40 – 3.40           Hazel Jones and Lyndall Phelps – making /cataloguing/ classifying / valuing

On making and museums

3.40 – 4.20           Plenary panel discussion: why involve artists in museums and their collections?

4.20 – 4.30            Evaluation and finish

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Outstanding

We have a few outstanding updates to make to the exhibition.

Firstly, Dawn Felicia Knox left us with two beautiful papier mache birds which are going to be part of the installation on the staircase.

Secondly, we are hoping to make a catalogue, using the self-publishing website Lulu.  This site is used frequently by York Art Gallery to make exhibition catalogues and to detail projects, and I have been an admirer for a while: this seems like the perfect opportunity to experiment.

Thirdly, Hazel Jones and Michael Leigh received funding via MIRIAD at Manchester Metropolitan University (where Hazel lectures) to create a series of postcards of their work: we need to find a place to display these.

And finally (for the moment at least), we have a visitor comments book which we hope will be widely used for people to share their thoughts and ideas on all aspects of the exhibition.

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