Mind the Gut đź“ŤMedical Museum, Copenhagen

Happy Thursday!

During my study trip to Copenhagen I fell in love with the Medical Museum. Its current Mind the Gut exhibition is a collaborative show created by three artists, two scientists, an architect, a graphic designer and the Museums’ curatorial staff. Opened in October 2018 and located in the newly refurbished basement rooms the exhibition examines the intricate, complex and often misunderstood relationship between the mind and gut.

Merging the fields of art, science, history and medicine, the exhibition looks at the interconnectedness of emotions and physiology, mental health and diet, the brain and inexplainable ‘gut feelings’.

The exhibition starts with a monochrome film; created by artists using movement to explore and represent the complex relationship.

The exhibition examines how doctors, scientists, historians and artists have attempted to study and explore the complex relationship between mind and gut. It is a puzzle that has occupied us for centuries and is a recurring topic in many disciplines with the development of contemporary science, fashionable lifestyle trends, and debates about the nature of health and treatment. Curator Adam Bencard says “we challenge the typical division of brain and gut as two isolated organs and open towards new understandings of the body as consisting of complex, interwoven systems”.

My favourite section was the interactive Pill Machine created by the phenomenal artist Mogens Jacobsen. The installation plays with ideas of diagnosis and treatment with visitors using an embedded RFID coin & engaging with 8 input-stations to answer questions related to body, emotions and environment. After submitting answers visitors input their coin into the vending machine & receive a ‘prescription’ and ‘medicine’ (sweet/gum) to help the illness! My treatment advised me to drink rum & milk before getting out of bed which I can definitely get on board with!

Another great engagment section was #DigestMTG where visitors were instructed to pick a postcard which stated an emotion of the front. On the reverse, a question was posed. Visitors were asked to answer the question and place the cards in the postbox. These were then scanned onto a projector screen showcasing the answers.

Mind the Gut won the ‘Bikubenfonden Exhibition Award Vision 2015’ which is awarded for outstanding exhibition concepts. Two of the installations in the exhibition have been supported by the Danish Art Council.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

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đź“ŤMedical Museion, Copenhagen

Happy Friday all,

My trip to Copenhagen was absolutely made by visiting this magnificent Medical Museum – so much so that I visited it twice during my 4 day trip!

I’m a massive fan of a Medical themed museum and an regular visitor to The Wellcome CollectionThe Hunterian MuseumOld Operating Theatre to name a few but this visit was next level for me for a few reasons. Firstly, the Museum is housed in the former Royal Academy of Surgeons – a building which is a current candidate for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The stunning auditorium, in which doctors were trained until 1942, is the stunning architectural heart of the Museum. Designed by Peter Meyn, the room is neoclassical in style with hints towards antiquity whilst the ceiling is based on the roof of the Pantheon temple in Rome. Leading medical personalities Galen and Hippocrates adorn the walls whilst reliefs depicting Asclepius, Athena, King Christian VII and Frederik IV are also featured.

Secondly, during the study trip we were able to get an exclusive behind the scenes look at the collections work being undertaken by conservators at the Museum. We ventured into the stores with Ion Meyer, Head of Collections where we met 3 Conservators that are currently working on a large scale documentation and digitisation project that is happening across museums in Copenhagen. Hearing about the project goals, challenges and successes thus far – as well as seeing some pretty cool hidden gems (including the box of 19th century drugs below) – was a great addition to the visit.

Finally, the Museum has utilised, it seems, every bit of space available to them so that no space is left as ‘nothing’. There are light installations in corridors, art pieces in alcoves and medical instruments filling shelving units. I’ve always been a collector – any spare space in my room is filled with nick-nacks, souvenirs or useless pieces of paper that I promise to “stick in my scrapbook”. So when I walk around museums and see areas of nothingness it makes me feel a little annoyed. On average only 5% of museum collections are on display at any one time (unbelievable I know!) so SURELY something could be displayed to fill the voids. The Medical Museum proved that this is something that can be achieved effectively without the objects or installations being damaged, at risk or feeling out of place.

In the next posts I’ll write about the 2 current special exhibitions on at the Museum; Mind the Gutand The Body Collected, again two of the best exhibits I’ve seen.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

đź“ŤThe Workers Museum, Copenhagen

Hi all,

In my last blog post I gave you an overview of my exciting visit to Copenhagen, Denmark as part of the SEMFED Study Trip. This week I am going to start writing about the individual museums that I visited; starting with The Workers Museum.

In 1871, a large Labour Movement began in Denmark. A year later, riots between the socialists and Danish authorities lead to Movement meetings being banned from public arenas. A local Labour Group in the city began collecting money to purchase a meeting space. By 1879 the group had raised enough money to purchase the building known as the Workers Assembly Building. In 1973 the space, which is reportedly the 2nd oldest workers building in the world, became The Workers Museum.

The Assembly Hall: Located on the first floor, this room originally served as the main space used for working class families to participate in political meetings, dances and reading clubs during the 1800’s. In 1913 a stunning glass cleaning was added whilst the side walls are decorated with intricate wooden carvings representing a variety of workers’ trades. Today, the space is used for weddings, lectures and museum conferences. In 2011, during the European refugee Crisis, the museum successfully secured ÂŁ90,000 (750,000 Kroner) funding from the Ministry of Culture to create a new educational course suitable for young learners. The theme of Young Voices is democracy and its aim is to make young people’s voices heard. The Assembly Hall is used to teach these lessons rather than at school; linking back to the Hall’s original purpose. FUN FACT: Nelson Mandela spoke in the Hall in 1992!

The Children’s Workers Museum: My favourite part of the Museum – filled with handling objects, interactive stations and reconstructed spaces based on 1930s Denmark. The exhibition aims to teach young visitors about the way working class children lived in the past. The rags to riches story of Thorvald Stauning, a working class boy who grew up to be Denmark’s longest serving Prime Minister (1924 – 1926 and again from 1929 – 1942) is a major part of the exhibition narrative. Throughout the Children’s Workers Museum you can pretend to live, work and play like in the past whilst learning about child labour, working class life and how politics impacted Danish communities.

The Sørensens – A Working-Class Family: This gallery focuses on The Sørensens – a working class Danish family made up of two parents Peter; a Labourer, Karen; a housewife and their 8 children. The family moved to Copenhagen from the Danish countryside in 1885 and moved to various locations before settling in a two room flat in 1915. This flat is on permanent display as the Museum to explores give an insight into the home of unskilled labourers from the early 1900s.

In the late 1940s the parents passed away and after 7 children moved out, Yrsa (the second youngest daughter) stayed in the flat – where she lived until December 1989. When she moved to a residential home, her family kindly donated the entire contents of the family flat to the Workers Museum where it still stands for people to visit.

Alongside these permanent exhibitions, The Workers Museum also showcases special exhibitions – one of which I shall write about in my next post.

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

 

I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyriađź“ŤThe British Museum

Hi all, happy Friday!

Today I want to highlight a very special exhibition that is currently on display at my former workplace, The British Museum. When I worked there last year I was lucky enough to meet with Carine Harmand, the wonderful Project Curator of the current I am Ashurbanipal exhibition. She introduced me to the history of Assyria and King Ashurbanipal as well as talking me through the objects and key narratives that would be included in the exhibition. The plans were so exciting that I knew it would be a success and I definitely was not disappointed!

Displayed in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery (Room 30), I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyria explores the life of King Ashurbanipal who was at one stage, the most powerful man on the planet. He ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the largest empire in the world, between 669–c.631 BC. The first artefacts we are introduced to are a set of Assyrian palace reliefs known as the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal which would have decorated his North Palace in Nineveh (now modern day Mosul). The reliefs depict the King participating in the royal sport of lion hunting. The intricate stone works represent the King killing ferocious lions which serve as a reflection of his heroic, strong and vivacious leadership.

Underneath the reliefs, the scenes have been enlarged and interpreted so that visitors can get a better understanding about what is happening in each scene. In addition, there are ‘Family Labels’ that use simpler language to pose questions and set out activities for younger visitors. Both are a great example of how to include interpretation for a range of audiences to support engagement and understanding.

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Another fundamental part of the exhibition is the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal which consists of approximately 30,000 cuneiform tablets including letters, literature and medicine records. Included in the Library collection is the Epic of Gilgamesh – an epic poem from Mesopotamia which is regarded as the earliest great work of literature. The poem, c.680 – 630 BC, was discovered in Nineveh by excavator Sir Austen Henry Layard’s assistant, Hormuzd Rassam.

Finally, my absolute favourite part of the exhibition has to be the use of colour and lighting to bring the Assyrian reliefs to life. The addition of both enables visitors to see what reliefs would have looked like in the past and it was absolutely SPECTACULAR! When hearing about this during the planning stages I was intrigued about how this would turn out in reality as I’d never seen this kind of technique used before. But my goodness, did was it a triumph!

Above, you can see how lighting and colour was utilised to highlight where canals and aqueducts, forests and palaces are presented in the relief. The use of authentic colours means that the artwork underneath isn’t detracted from at all; instead it helped me to see more of the intricate details than I had beforehand.

Similarly, the use of lighting and projected text really brings the story of Ashurbanipal and his brother Shamash-shum-ukin to life. Their sibling rivalry is a complex narrative to grasp, especially for someone like me who has very little knowledge of  but through this interactive display, the battle between the rulers of Assyria & Babylon is explored and explained in an engaging & more manageable way. The exceptional use of technology is one which I would love to see used in future exhibitions (budget permitting of course!)

You only have 9 days left to see this spectacular exhibition at the British Museum (note: you can get 50% exhibitions if you buy/have a National Art Pass) so hurry! From the lighting and interpretation to the choice of artefacts and inclusion fo the British Musuem’s Iraq Scheme, I am Ashurbanipal is more fantastic than I could’ve imagined. Congratulations to Carine and everyone involved in putting together such an immersive, engaging and inspiring exhibition – the best I’ve seen in a very long time!

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

Museum Detox Christmas meet up đź“ŤBritish Museum, London

Happy Friday all!

Earlier this year I became a member of Museum Detox – a BAME network for Museum and Heritage professionals which aims to utilise radical approaches to challenge and ultimately dismantle the injustices within cultural organisations around the UK.

Our Alternative Christmas meet up at the British Museum was very exciting as we were treated to a special behind the scenes tour of the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery by fellow Detox member Dr Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator: South Asia. Alongside Sushma were her wonderful colleagues Yi Chen, Curator: Early Chinese Collections and Yu-Ping Luk, Basil Gray Curator: Chinese Paintings Prints and Central Asia. Last October, whilst I was a Fundraising Trainee at the British Museum, I assisted with various VIP events, one of which was the reopening of the Hotung Gallery by Her Majesty The Queen so being back here was full of fond memories.

The evening began with an introduction to the gallery by Jane Portal, Keeper of Asia, who gave us a great introduction to the space and why certain decisions for the new gallery were made. Jane explained that the rotunda in the centre of the gallery is often treated as a “meeting place” so this gave a central point to work from in the redevelopment. From this, curators decided to split the gallery in two – with the left hand side exhibiting South Asia (blue panels) and the right hand side displaying China (red panels).

The gallery, which is as long as a football pitch, is filled with listed mahogany cases which could not be removed or replaced. So, as museums so often do – the staff worked with what they had and utilised the space as best they could. In each bay there are “gateway objects” which give visitors an overview of what is included in each set of cases. I personally love this idea as it allows visitors to gain an understanding of the overarching theme and context without needing to access all of the objects (which is always good when you’re in a place as large as the BM and you don’t have the time or inclination to read every text panel or look at every artefact!)

Next up, Sushma gave us a tour of the South Asia displays which showcase South Asian history from 1.5 million years ago to the present day. She explained that one of the key narratives she was keen to explore in the redesign was the longstanding connections that South Asia has had with other parts of the world since c.2-3000 BC. The objects that Dr Jansari chose to highlight for us were particularly special and explored themes including religion, trade, politics, women suffrage and culture. Below are an example of the objects we were introduced to:

Left: Greek god Herakles (4 BC) – found in Afghanistan (1892,1104.61) Right: Sabre, handle and guard. Blade damascened in gold Koftgari work with a tiger and a tiger-stripe, Quranic inscription on back, Srirangapatna (1878,1101.450) Bottom: Gilded silver pepper pot in form of a recumbent ibex, damaged (1994,0408.35/AN186370001 Hoxne Hoard, Suffolk. Image from British Museum Collection Online)

Next, Yi Chen introduced us to the China section of the Hotung Gallery. She highlighted some beautiful Chinese cherish vessels found in northern central China; many of which would have originally been used to offer food and drinks at ceremonies. The vessels are passed down through generations with inscriptions inside documenting family history.  The curators decided to showcase the inscriptions on text panels underneath the objects and although this may seem like a simple addition, I think it’s such a thoughtful and effective for the Museum’s international visitors (who make up 70% of the gallery’s visitors) and those with a Chinese heritage.

Above: Cherish vessels including 1983,0420.1, 1939,0522.2, 1947,0712.419 and 1966,0223.4

To finish off this special tour, Curator Yu-Ping Luk chose some beautiful art pieces to explore with us. She showed us some Chinese paintings and manuscripts that had been found and excavated from a cave in northwest China at the beginning of the 20thcentury. The artefacts were perfectly preserved due to the conditions in the cave can now be displayed  Yu-Ping Luk also highlighted a temple wall painting entitled “Three Bodhisattvas”. Donated in 1927, the wall painting was preserved at the British Museum and is now displayed in the new gallery for visitors to admire.

Above: Three Bodhisattvas, temple wall painting from Hebei, Xingdang xian (1927,0518,0.8)

The last piece we were shown was an example of contemporary collecting; a topic that has been very prominent in museum conversations this year. Peacock, 2012 (2013,3005.1) by Caroline Yi Cheng is a ceramic sculpture in the form of a linen robe, covered in intricate ‘peacock blue’ coloured porcelain butterflies.

The curators answered questions regarding access, colonisation and using technology within displays which all opened up conversations about how museum organisations make decisions about audience engagement, object repatriation and modernisation. I hope to continue discussing these in the future with Museum Detox members and other sector professionals fighting for change.

Keep fighting the good fight and happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

Masterpieces of Taxidermy đź“ŤMuseum fĂĽr Naturkunde, Berlin

Hi all,

There are lots of fantastic museums around the magnificent capital of Germany; particularly in Museum Island. But if you venture about 20 minutes outside of MuseumInsel, you will find Museum fĂĽr Naturkunde. The Museum is integrated within the Leibniz Association – famously one of the most important research institutions in the world for biological and geological evolution and biodiversity. Over 800,000 visitors get to experience the wonder of this spectacular natural history museum and I feel very lucky to have visited this year. Natural History collections are my absolute favourites because I love seeing how nature has developed throughout history, the similarities and differences between species and the ways that biology, geology and taxonomy can be explored in museums.

My favourite gallery by far was named “Masterpieces of Taxidermy”; where unique specimens are displayed and the museum gives a great insight into the inner workings of a natural history museum. The gallery displayed a huge range of taxidermy specimens alongside highlights of preparation cases which showcased how different species are prepared for display or storage. The Museum fĂĽr Naturkunde is a leader in the field of taxidermy preparation with professionals at the museum developing innovative methods, sharing best practice through workshops and setting high standards for other institutions.

The gallery, as the name suggests, exhibits examples of masterful taxidermy prepared in Berlin. Bobby the Gorilla who had died at Berlin Zoo in 1935 is still regarded one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Prepared by German taxidermists Karl Kaestner and Gerhard Schröder, Bobby is still a highlight specimen for visitors 80 years on!

Another spectacular display is the model of a Dodo, an extinct flightless bird that was native to the island of Mauritius. Taxidermists’ used biological model building to reconstruct the Dodo, a technique traditionally used specifically for extinct species. The model was created by Karl Kästner in 1949 who used basic information collected from other skeletons, observations and drawings to recreate the realistic model. The body was  created using clay and plaster whilst the feathers were a mixture of chicken, duck, sawn and ostrich feathers.

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Personally, my favourite set of displays explored the preparation of a Dickhornschaf: a Bighorned Sheep. The cases showed the full process from reconstruction and stuffing to design, make-up and display:

I think its really important for museums to be as open, transparent and educational in every aspect that we can. Opening up access through displays and interpretation enables visitors to gain a better understanding into museum practice and the activities involved in running the spaces they come to visit. When we visit museums I think it is usual to absorb what is on display without really thinking in depth about how displays have been curated, how taxidermy artefacts are preserved and the work that goes on behind the scenes. “Masterpieces of Taxidermy” really opens up the field of taxidermy and gives a world class insight into how natural history specimens are prepared for our learning and entertainment. The gallery is a real showstopper in this marvellous Natural History Museum.

My next blog post will explore some of my object highlights from the Museum so keep an eye out!

Until next time, happy museum musings!

Em xo

đź“ŤVoice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, Westminster Hall

Hi all, happy Friday!

In light of the progressive movement in American politics this week regarding the historical milestones made by women in the midterm elections, I thought I would share an insight into the wonderful Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition I visited last month. đź—Łđź—ł  When I left the British Museum earlier this year, I was kindly gifted membership to the Women’s Library as part of my leaving present (alongside tickets to see my idol, Stacey Dooley and an array of feminist goodies!). The Women’s Library LSE, based at London School of Economics, holds 500 archive collections and a significant museum collection of over 5000 objects, much of which dates from the late 19th century.

My first Women’s Library event was a trip to Westminster to visit the ‘Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition. The tour was lead by Mari Takayanagi, Joint Project Manager of Vote 100 and a fellow Women’s Library member. The major exhibition displayed at Westminster Hall was created to give visitors a better understanding of the campaign for votes for women in the UK and the representation of women in UK Parliament and politics.

The exhibition was split into 4 main sections: The Ventilator, The Cage, The Tomb and The Chamber. All 4 settings were significant in the ways that women could engage with and influence UK politics; from being secret observers in the 19th century to being active and present Member’s of Parliament in the present day.

  1. The Ventilator, 1818-1834:

The opening section of the exhibition introduced the octagonal structure known as The Ventilator which was originally designed to ventilate the Chamber in the House of Commons. 200 years ago, before it was acceptable for women to be actively involved in politics, a group of feisty, politically-minded middle class women found a secret attic space above the Ventilator and would clamber inside to listen to the debates going on below. This not only gave women a space to socialise but also the chance to listen to political discussions and gain an insight into policy-making like never before.

A partial recreation of the Ventilator was on display in the exhibition – visitors were invited to put their heads into the small window spaces and listen to reenactments of Parliamentary debates like the women of the 19th century would have done. 
  1. The Cage, 1834 – 1918:

In 1834, a large fire demolished the original Westminster building leading to a new Palace being built between 1840 – 1876. The new Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built ‘Ladies Gallery’ which meant that women could officially listen and watch debates in the Houses of Common rather than hiding in the Ventilator. The Ladies Gallery was nicknamed ‘The Cage’ because it had large, heavy metal grilles covering the windows, both restricting the women’s view and ensuring they didn’t ‘distract’ men in the Public Gallery. In the 20th century the space became known for protests by suffragettes campaigning for change and the metal grilles were eventually removed in 1917.

A reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery in the exhibition gave a sense of the rules, space and views that women would have experienced whilst listening to parliamentary debates from their newly designated area. The cream paneling represents where the heavy grilles would have been. 
  1. The Tomb, 1918 – 1963:

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. When she joined as a MP there were no spaces reserved solely for women except for the Ladies’ Members’ Room. During the 20th century, more women were elected into Parliament resulting in women from Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties sharing the small Members’ Room. The cramped space soon became known as ‘The Tomb’.

Left: Quote from Ellen Wilkinson, 1928. Right: Barbara Castle, Margaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams. 
  1. The Chamber, 1963 – Present Day:

As women’s voices and voting rights in the UK have increased, so has their role in Parliament and there have now been 491 female Members of Parliament in Britain; all of which were displayed on a large celebration wall in the final part of the exhibition.

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Visitors were invited to watch videos and listen to oral histories, collected from The British Library, of current female MP’s talking about their political role and their continuing fights for equality. The space highlights both how far we’ve come in terms of female representation in Parliament and voting patterns versus how far we’ve still got to go (a third of UK women didn’t vote in the 2017 UK General Election!) The exhibition ended with a pledging station where visitors could reflect on their place in politics and decide how they could get more involved in UK Parliament in the future.

As usual, I will follow this post up with another blog highlighting my favourite objects from the exhibition so keep an eye out for fabulous feminist content related to Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo