Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and The Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (7, 8)

A new city and another university’ collections.


First two museums we visited in Cambridge were traditionally subject based, predominantly on Geology and the second one on Anthropology and Archeology.
It’s not surprising as they are part of Cambridge University, which has total of 9 museums and collections.
As with the University’s purpose, the aim of these museums is to educate the public.

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The Sedgwick Museum was the most traditional in its presentation, with impressive  antique wood and glass cabinets, but rather static display.
The layout was quite clear and direct, coming from the earliest period of 544 million ears ago from right, to the Pleistocene epoch and exhibition of work by Charles Darwin on the left. Each open ‘room’ divided by the large cabinets was dedicated to different environment such as Costal Plains or Tropical Seas, most significant in its epoch.

The individual open ‘rooms’ had more information scattered around, with main introduction board, individual artefact signs and handbooks by the windows.
It was rather passive reading, and looking through glass experience.

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I appreciated the airy installations on the cabinets, bringing some fresh imagination to the collection, using the imagery found within the cabinets.

It was exciting to see the original and hand painted Geology Map, created by William Smith, and read its impressive story, not just admire it’s impressive size.


Just few steps away and we found ourselves in the Anthropological and Archeological Museum.
After seeing fossils and natural/life’s evidence it was interesting to suddenly appear in space filled with human ‘fossils’ represented predominantly by ceramic objects.
It’s like ceramics are human fossils; used by archeologists to get most information on humans, their activity and history, as geologists get their information from fossils on life and environment of past.

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The collection was very similar to the Pitt Rivers’ (as both are anthropological museums), however the curation couldn’t be different.
I enjoyed it in different way, as exploring themes in more depth, such as ‘childhood in the past’ is more educational and informative, than just explore and compare different objects on their own, like in Pitt Rivers.

It was in the exhibition on childhood, where we discovered that museum descriptions doesn’t have to be dull, but can be rather entertaining. It was in a form of educational criticism and sassiness on descriptions of pottery techniques and examples made or decorated, most likely by a child.
Signs are one of the most influential feature of the museum experience, as absolutely everyone reads at least one, but I believe they are not the most griping and exciting to read, in most cases not even really relevant.

Furthermore, on the last floor, there was another unusual sight – of a glass cabinet with cardboard boxes and unnumbered, unmarked relics placed carefully on a foam tissue.

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It was a visible storage while they prepare a new exhibition on that floor. With the boxes probably hiding more objects safely, it felt like a retail environment where the products are left to speak for themselves, ready to attract, be picked up, explore its purpose, how it’s relevant to the buyer/observer, and be bought.

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A simple map with objects placed on their geographical origin reminded me of different coffee, tea or chocolate stating their unique geographical origin, trying to attract customers (of products or ideas) with their unique properties, customs, resources.

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Pitt Rivers and Oxford University Museum of Natural History (3, 4)

From chronological art and history, to subject based curation of artefacts across time and culture; as well as presentation of the nature and its history.


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IMG_1712.jpgOur third (and technically fourth) was the Pitt Rivers Museum with entrance through the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Again, the collections are owned by the Oxford University and displayed for education purposes.
I found a vitrine explaining principles of Darwin’s Evolution Theory through the extensively bred pigeons of different shapes and colours quite fun and interesting. But the overall feel of the impressive building and giant skeletons towering above us, surrounded by aged wood and glass vitrines, was an experience in itself.

A temporary exhibition displaying big digital prints of micro photography of insect life brought great new and different perspective on the subject of the collection, alongside preserved skeletons and taxidermy.


Entering the Pitt Rivers through the Natural History Museum was a different experience.
Still grand and impressive, but with deeper sense of wonder, as the space is filled with antique displays of not natural world, but the phenomena of nature, humans and all their creations.
The taxonomy and presentation couldn’t be different, not just by grouping the artefacts by subjects (such as toys, musical instruments, religious figures, etc), but by less subject writing and more focus on particular artefact and it’s origin, telling it’s story which creates diverse narrative of individual cabinet, and combined, the narrative of  the whole human world across time and space.
This really evoke bigger sense of exploration and wonder, with more artefacts hiding in drawers underneath.
It felt like real wunderkammer.


It even housed artefacts that I’m very familiar with from my culture.
I would blow and decorate my own eggs, when I was little, and decorated the house with them on Easter.

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Seeing something that I could technically have made, as a cultural ritual, behind a museum’s glass, in an anthropological collection, just made me feel as part of the humanity. Just another way of adapting natural resources around us, in a decorational/ritual way or as a functional object.
It made me wonder what is the most recent object in the collection, as we are still doing the same thing – adapting and changing the material around us, for many peculiar purposes.
It would be interesting how ideas and use changed over the time, how new materials such as plastic changed the visual and practical aspects of objects.
What ideas deceased and what are the new ones, or what improved or what people in past did better?


 

 

The Hunterian Museum, London – Wunderkammer Field Presentation

A presentation of our allocated museums, on their core collections and collectors, ethos, organisation, curation, architecture, history and context.
I was allocated the Hunterian Museum in London, within the Royal College of Surgeons’ Headquarters.


I was glad I got to research deeply and digest data on a scientific based collection. My fascination was quickly directed to the strong ethos of careful observation and objective scientific method, that led John Hunter to collect around 15,000 specimens.
This approach, and the exhibits themselves, helped him to make a number of breakthroughs in medical surgery, which the curation of the museum reflects.

During my presentation, straight after the presentation on another science based collection of Wellcome Foundation, a deep conversation on ethics emerged.
The collection itself, as well as how some of the artefacts were acquired, raised questions on what is appropriate in art, medicine and science.
The exhibiting of the objects, human parts, in a public museum setting requires special attention, that’s why the ban of photography in Hunterian Museum.

Cardiff Museum (1) and Introduction to the Wunderkammer Field project

Introduction to the project; to the nature of collections, its acquisition, its taxonomy, presentation, housing, as well as our first visit to a museum.


We had an extensive and compelling 2 introductions to the project and nature of collections. From eclectic collection of all the possibilities in arranging and categorising collections: from alphabetical order, colour and material, size and description, geographical location, grouping by type and theme, artist or collector, taste and style.

Other artists or curators took these aspects even further, and layer multiple meanings and categorisation into one, exploring the new relationships created, such as Richard Wentworth with his Boost to Wham, Claire Twomey and her engaging interventions, or David Shrigley shining a critical eye on how objects are displayed  and what ideas are presented in public establishments.

Scrutinising and looking at museums and collections more deeply raised basic questions of what they are actually for, and what can we find in them or what can we learn from them.


Cardiff Museum was constructed later than any other major cities, as a status of newly established, industrial cities. Built together and alongside the the City Hall and the Court of Justice, as an essential part in the life of city and it’s urbanised community.
The classical building, build in modern industrial era is presenting a forward-looking ideas, showing the past but finishing with the ambitions of current workers, about the social progress, advancing to a female graduate.

The main art collection that the Museum holds is the acquisitions of the Davies Sisters. Their industrial father built the 2nd largest port of that time in Barry (after Cardiff).
Despite the extreme industrial landscape of then current Cardiff and the area, and the source of their inherited income, their choice in art was mainly based on romantic landscape, and mythical imagery and figures; seemingly to counteract the ugliness, desperation and fast progress caused by the rapid industrialisation.
Their collection show the middle ground between the current, very conservative art of the Royal Academy of Arts, such as Constable, and The New English Club and avant-garde with acquisitions like Monet, Rembrandt or Van Gogh. Other acquisitions include works by Walter Sickert, Augustus John, Rodin, Van Gogh or J.M.W Turner.

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This really makes the answers even more complex and raises more questions. Mostly about context and motivations for a collections. Through who’s eyes is the art collection reflecting the world they see. What is the art doing to them and what to public that see it. How the ethos of the building and the institution shapes the collections and ideas presented. ….

Penguin mugs, Grayson Perry and Douglas Coupland

Appropriation of Penguin Books’ design and its symbolical use within art.


The distinctive, horizontal blocks of colour and text within as a cover design of Penguin’s paperbacks, proved so iconic that its appropriation on a simple utilitarian ceramic mug became highly popular merchandise.

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In Grayson’s Perry “The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal” (2012), a monumental piece of tapestry from his series, he is using these mugs as a social class symbol, and the movement through classes.
“On the table is a still life demonstrating the cultural bounty of his affluent lifestyle”. Together with the French press, car keys with Damien Hirst like skull keychain, local organic jam, fresh vegetables on the Guardian newspapers or the raw wood table they are all placed on, they are the symbols, the style-creators of aspirational middle classes.
They represent an aspiration for wealth of knowledge as well as monetary wealth, success and domestic nostalgia.

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Douglas Coupland is another artist, and novelist appropriating the Penguin Books in his collages, and text based visual art, blurring the boundaries of art and literature.

This collage of “Jet Boy Jet Girl”, a song name stuck as vinyl stencils onto Penguin Book titles such as “Two Adolescents” by Alberto Moravia.
The punk song by Elton Motello about 15 years old boy’s lust and sexual relationship with an older man adds another complexity to the bluring of bounderies.

The ‘correct’ place for people within their social class or sexuality is challenged, and the nature and freedom of movement between them explored.

If I want it or not, appropriating the Penguin Books or the Penguin Donkey in my work will have significant impact on the context it carries.


https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/the-annunciation-of-the-virgin-deal/DgHzNHCbRZyjLw

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/jet-boy-jet-girl/CQHy-8Vm-UsLHg

2D Museum visit – Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal

For our first session in the Cardiff Museum we were asked to redefine the Second Dimension, using an extract from “Phenomenology of Perception” by French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty as well as an object from the museum, to help us define and back up our definition.
This definition should be then connected to my subject – Ceramics.


Logo for Treasures exhibitionI took the chance to see the new exhibition “Treasures: Adventure in Archeology”, and when reading the text few interesting points came out to me, and somehow I could see a connection with the exhibition, new ideas and definitions for ‘2D’ were emerging.

The exhibition on archeology, and archeology itself is my object/subject from the museum, as it’s trying to compress multidimensional (time, space, humans, stories, events, lives, …) into 2D form, behind a glass, trying to show the invisible/transparent relationships between the objects, events… and link it/direct it at a thinking individual in another dimension, in a specific time and place.

So my definition for second dimension looks like a phenomenal glass to look at past where objects and events,  time and space overlap, creating/revealing new images or angles, in relation to the observer, which is me, a person, again at specific time and place, looking at the same objects, just aged.

This reminded me slightly of Flatland, being in 2D, you can only see the lines.
Timelines.

From the text I circled certain sentences that I was able to understand and which helped me create the definition. It spoke about knowledge and transparent relationships, between history and perceived objects, which in my opinion spoke exactly about archeology. The text also tried to position us and our consciousness as a subject, having an important role.

To link it to ceramics is simple. Ceramic is the 3D 2D timeline of time and space.

Another definition could be how we perceive the world around us. Most the time we perceive the objects and events around us in 1D, just absorbing the sensual stimuli with our body but not thinking about it or even noticing it fully.
However, when we look at an object with our gaze, an inner reflective eye and start thinking, applying our experiences, thoughts and phenomenal layers, we see an subject in a 2D, possibly 3D when more layers of meaning and seeing are in play.
Our brain, mind is a prism that changes the 1D world around us into multidimensional realm of endless points of view, possibilities and meanings.

More ideas that emerged from this exercise, which could be possibly explore:
Preservation – mummifying – 2D – second life
2 overlapping ideas, objects, feelings, create a new possibility.
Second dimension is the space between boundaries, and when the inside of something becomes the outside, revealing the transparent space of a boundary from completely different angle.

Source of my Dug Clay

8GB-Old-Map-British-IslesAs a summer project before starting the degree we were asked to dig up some local clay for further testing, analysing and experimenting with.
Also undertaking a short research into how the area was used before for production; socio-historic timeframe, history and geology.


I dug up my clay in one of my favourite explorational places around Cardiff, where I tend to go on a short bicycle trip to relax and explore.
Fforest Fawr with the Castle Coch nesting nearby, above the village of Tongwynlais.

Landscape – Site of Specific Scientific Interest – the woods surrounding the Castle Coch know as the Taff Gorge complex, are amongst the most westerly natural beech woodlands in the British Isles. … The area has unusual rock outcrops, which show the point where Devonian Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous Limestone beds meet.

Screenshot of my location from Geology of Britain viewer on British Geological Survey website.

In the area of Tongwynlais, coal, limestone and iron ore deposits could be found in close proximity to each other, allowing creation of early industrial landscape for iron production.
The mine entrances known as “The Three Arches” (or The Three Bears Cave) descending of up to 20 metres deep into the thick bedded limestone, is still visible, but fenced. The walls of the cave reveal how the mines were carved, with cylindrical features; former drill holes for dynamite to blow open the seam.
The iron works ceased in 1879 due to competition of surrounding towns using cheaper methods of extraction.

Looking at British Geological Survey’ viewer, I could pinpoint the location of where I dug the clay substance and look at the geological composition of the area.
Unfortunately, there’s no specific information on surface composition of exactly where I dug the clay; but “Alluvium – clay and slit,…” deposits very close-by in the village.
The bedrock of the forest area is sedimentary Dolomitic Limestone, formed about 326-359 million years ago.


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Me trying to dig some clay.

Equipped with only a small frog trowel, big buckets and a dear friend driving me to the chosen location, I enthusiastically set out for the investigational task.
With the advice from the letter stating the summer project, we’ve found a small stream in the forest. Trying to dig approximately 40cm deep before excavating the clay proved to be challenging without a proper spade. So after about 20cm of excavation I couldn’t go any deeper so collected any, at least a bit plastic seeming substances.

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Carved wooden sculpture next to the mine entrance, also known as the Three Bears Cave.
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Castle Coch next to the Fforest Fawr, with my brother in the foreground.

Back home I spread the mud substance, removed any larger rocks, twigs and leaves and let it dry. In the process a strong smell of mainly sulphur creeped across my house.


Resources: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/geologyOfBritain/viewer.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castell_Coch