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 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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