SUGARCOATED COLLECTIONS Presenting my sweet proposition for the delicious Wunderkammer Field project, based on cloying experiences and deep glazed research during our scrumptiously immersive trips around the UK’s rich collections and sumptuous museums.
It was fun to create this proposition, play with individual artefacts, explore their ideas and put them in a different context, or rather present them in a different way than the traditional one.
As I wanted to make something physical and play around with clay, I quickly sculpted a ‘sketch’ of the Spanish baby Jesus. To make it more ‘commercial’ and ‘shiny’. I roughly vacuum-packed it, or rather just suggested it by slightly melting a piece of plastic from the bin over it.
I like the visual contradiction, as well as historic, from these 2 revolutionary materials; only from opposite ends of history.
Even with rather tight deadline to produce this presentation, I felt fairy confident with it.
However, presenting it I panicked and rushed it too much, not allowing me to explain my proposition as clearly and well as I would wish.
I should really just calm down and slowly make sure that people can actually understand me, and not make them confused as much as I’m normally at these situations.
My collection gathered while visiting collections and museums across the UK with the Wunderkammer Field project.
The ideas and context behind it.
Before starting our travels across the country, I decided to scrutinise the catering facilities of each of the establishments we would visit, through a quick review of cakes – their taste, texture, etc., but also the ideas behind them, the presentation, and the context – of the environment, museum, company, etc.
Classical museums were hardly built with cafes as one if its main attraction points, or hardly even included in the architecture.
However, they became the hearth of museums and galleries, which not only soothe the thirst for knowledge, but the more bodily needs too. For most visitors, cafe experience in museums is as essential as seeing the fossils and dinosaurs, learning facts about coal, playing around with electronic interactive exhibits, or seeing Rodin’s Kiss.
I like sugar. I like fat. I’m human and therefore interesting in consuming, but I’m also interested in seeing how I’m consuming art, information and knowledge, and how they effect each other, and how I remember the experiences while visiting museums and galleries on this Field trip.
Ratings of museums on Google Maps are largely influenced by the cafe experience, with as many words and photographs, if not more, dedicated to cafe – its staff, menu, cleanness, presentation or price and value.
Nevertheless, I feel that my enjoyment of the cakes had no influence on how I enjoyed and seen the art and collections.
I felt rather lost and uninspired in the Whitworth, Manchester, but their cafe was magnificent, with the highest rated cakes.
There’s a great distance from the cafe experience and museums, they don’t influence or interact with each other much, other that the medium of blood, as when my sugar levels drop I feel distracted and couldn’t concentrate.
However, there’s one aspect, and that is the feeling of welcome. I did feel more welcomed in the museum where I could slow down, reflect and satisfy my tastebuds.
I think I would ordermy collection by how welcomed the whole experience made me feel in the museum or gallery, not by the taste test (as all of them were comparatively good).
The Wellcome Collection, Cardiff Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum and St Fagans would be on first place, as their cafes are located in very central location of the establishment, with at least some exhibits or artworks displayed around. With the St Fagans it was even more special as you enjoyed themed food, technically within the exhibition object/relic, while experiencing history and tradition.
Ashmolean Museum, Birmingham Museum?, The Hepworth Wakefield, YSP?, The Whitworth or Manchester Gallery were rather disjointed from the rest of the building and collections, making the whole experience less wholesome.
At the other end, such as Hunterian Museum, had no cafe and you felt rather alienated as the building’s main purpose was to house the Royal College of Surgeons, not you as a visitor; or the Soane’s Museum where limited space restricted the maximum visitors and their time in.
Straight after our final Field Trip to the North of England, we went to London for the weekend and managed to see briefly yet another 2 exhibitions, giving us another examples of curation, exhibition space, and context.
Serpentine Gallery had very interesting exhibition on Zaha Hadid, completely changing my expectation on presenting architecture within gallery setting.
The gallery is located in the Hyde Park, so I asume that is the reason why there were such surprising number of people. It made me think that park experience must be linked to experiencing art, for majority of people.
A very quick visit to V&A, but so valuable when we found exhibition on changing design and changing world’s ideas: mostly on consumerism, status and globalisation.
Extra visit while on our way walking in Manchester. It was an interesting museum, with exciting, extensive and educational exhibits on environmental issues. Interactive experiences with few handling tables/stations, and indoor zoo/live animal exhibits including devastating examples of our human activity and industry on the planet.
A very unique museum experience and like no other encountering on our Field trips. Objects and historical artefacts are displayed within historical buildings, deconstructed from their original location and reconstructed on the museum’s grounds, together telling the story of Welsh life. It’s really an anthropological museum, like Pitt Rivers or Anthropological Museum in Cambridge, just curated in very different way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our 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.
Advertisement for the glass and wood vitrine maker. Over time it became description label, giving us history lesson on it’s origin.
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.
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?