Choco Story📍Brussels

Happy Monday!

One of the best museums I’ve ever visited is the Choco Story in Brussels, telling the history of chocolate from cocoa bean to shop chocolate and everything in-between. Opened in May 2014, the Museum is the collaborative effort of 2 families who wish to promote quality Belgian chocolate through this educational, fun public museum.

Upon arrival, visitors are given a choclate shaped guide (above) which can be used to listen to audio around the museum using scanning QR code type technology. The first room is set in Amazonian as the cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin. The room focusses on the cocoa bean: where it is found, what it looks like and introduces you to King Pakal, the corn god, who was found in a tomb in Mexico. Did you know? Cocoa was used over 5500 years ago and back then, the beans were as valuable as blood!

The next section takes us to Mexico where we are introduced to the value and different uses of cocoa beans. In the past, cocoa beans were used as currency due to their high value; for example 1 bean = 1 tomato, 10 beans = 1 rabbit. This really does embody the phrase that money grows on trees! Some brilliant objects included a molcajete (a chocolate grinder made from volcanic stone), beautifally decorated jicaro bowls and molinillo, wooden/corn cobs used to froth chocolate drinks.

Next up, we travelled to Spain where objects included sugar pliers, chocolate instruments and ingredients used in the spanish hot chocoate recipe. Then to France where a collection of intricate and beautiful drinking cups were on display. Artefacts including Mancerina cups, trembling cups and chocolate pots made from china, copper and silver showcased how chocolate cups have changed over time to ensure an enjoyable drinking experience across Europe.

From France, the musuem moves into the Tropics where visitors learn more about the history of chocolate and the topics of cocoa trading, exportation and sustainability. A large gallery wall with an accompanying film explores chocolate from growth to shop. The museum also higlights Cacao Trace – a fairtrade, mutually-beneficial programme that builds upon the farmers’ local knowledge and expertise and empowers them to be more productive and sustainable.

From here we travel to Europe where the story moves on to look at chocolate through the 1800’s. With an array of chocolate making equipment on display you get a great insight into how much technology and engineering has moved on since the 19th century.

The final country we visit is Belgium – a great finale seeing as the country produces arguably the best chocolate in the world! There is a brilliant collection of chooclate moulds used for all kinds of occassions as well as old, extremely rare vending machines that were used as ‘savings boxes’ by children throughout the 1920’s.

To top it all off, there are two interactive chocolate stations – one where you can watch chocolate being made by a chocolatier, the other where you can taste different types of chocolate. A delicious final touch to a fantastic museum exploring one of the most popular foods in the world. The whole musuem is a brilliant sensory experience – with smell buttons, tasting stations and audiovisual spots dotted throughout each exhibit.

If you Visit Brussels, Choco Story is an absolute MUST! Although a little difficult to find – it is inbetween Mannekin Pis and The Square (the entrance is in an archway along the street connecting the two). Not only is Choco Story beautifully displayed, it is an absolute gem filled with interactive stations and sensory delights.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

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Artist Rooms: Jenny Holzer📍Tate Modern

Happy Monday!

Last week I visited the Tate Modern for the first time (I know, I know!) I went to visit Artist Rooms: Jenny Holzer which did not disappoint. Jenny Holzer is an American artist, feminist and activist who uses words and text to create emotionally charged artwork in a variety of forms. Her projections, embroidery, neon lighting, plaques and posters are all included in the Artist Rooms series, currently on display at Tate Modern.

Truisms, created between 1977 – 1979, displays 300 phrases, cliches and common sayings on large posters. The alphabetised text includes phrases like “A positive attitude makes all the difference in the world”, “Being honest is not always the kindest way” and “Raise boys and girls the same”. Holzer pasted the posters around New York City and later went on to print the phrases onto objects including condoms, cups and bracelets. In 1892, the texts were and displayed across advertising hoarding in Times Square.

Another room showcases the toll that war and conflict can inflict on people’s lives. I’ve Just Been Shot (2017) is a sleeping bag with a first person testimony from a veteran British military nurse, embroidered onto the front. The US military surplus bag is slumped in the corner of the room representing a body that would’ve slept inside. Alongside this, They left me (2017), an electronic sign displays accounts from Syrian refugees which were collected by Save the Children and Human Rights Watch.

BLUE PURPLE TILT (2007) consists of seven LED signs which are leant against the gallery wall. Messages from her past works – such as ‘ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE’ and ‘I CAN MAKE WOMEN’S BREASTS WEEP’ – scroll up the purple neon signs in light blue text.

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Jenny Holzer’s Artist Room is on display at Tate Modern until 5th July 2019. If you enjoy neon lights & hard-hitting quotes as much as I do I advise you visit before it closes!

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

Mind the Gut 📍Medical 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

📍Medical 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

SEMFed Study Trip 2019: 📍Copenhagen, Denmark

Hej alle (hello all),

Back in 2015, when I was in my first museum role, I joined the South and East Museums Federation (SEMFed) as a way to network and attend events with other local museum professionals. The group organises study days throughout the year – of which I have attended 2 in Windsor and St Albans. The Federation also organises an annual Study Trip abroad. Each year SEMFed awards the Martin Howe Bursary to 2 Members who have not attended a Study Trip before. I was lucky to be a recipient of the bursary and join the group’s trip to Copenhagen, Denmark.

NB: This post will just be a quick overview of the trip as I would like give each museum their own individual posts as each one was so different and eye-opening that this round-up won’t do them the justice they deserve!

Day 1: Myself and my sister arrived in Copenhagen a day earlier than most and set about hitting up some of the main sights including The Little Mermaid and Nyhavn Canal. (FYI, the Little Mermaid is really very little and mildly disappointing!) We walked past some beautiful buildings, ventured through the city centre and stuffed our faces with top notch burgers from Friends & Brgrs.

Day 2: I was up bright and early ready to visit the first museum of the Study Trip: The Workers Museum (Arbejdermuseet). The Museum is located in the second oldest Workers Assembly Building in the world which was purchased by the labour movement in around 1879. The space has been a museum since 1973 and is on the Danish UNESCO list. The Museum has a variety of galleries that allow visitors to explore life of Danish people through time; from the Sørensen Family who moved to Copenhagen in 1885 to the working children of the 1930’s. Alongside this, we got a private tour of the special exhibition Clever Hands which explores craftsmanship in Denmark through film, sound and object handling.

On our walk to lunch we stopped off at Rosenborg Castle – a 400-year-old Renaissance castle built by Christian IV which holds The Royal Danish Collection.

In the afternoon we visited the Botanical Garden & Geological Museum (part of the Natural History Museum). We started off by getting warmed up in the Palm House which is located in the Botanical Gardens. The House, made from cast iron and glass, was built in 1872-74 and is based on the Crystal Palace in London. We then attended a lecture by Team Leader for Audiences and Schools, Anne Katrine Gjerløff, who explained more about the Museum’s redevelopment plans and the organisation’s recent restructure.

Day 3: On the third day of the trip we started by visiting the Medical Museion. Founded in 1907 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Danish Medical Association, the Museum was a public organisation until it successfully merged with the University of Copenhagen in 1918. The institution is primarily dedicated to the history of health and disease with a special interest in biomedicine. During our visit, the Head of Collections, Bente Vinge Pedersen took us on tour of the 2 special exhibitions currently on display: The Body Collected  and Mind the Gut. 

After a quick lunch break we began our visit to The National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet). The Museum holds the largest and most important cultural, social and historical collection in Denmark; spanning multiple time periods, themes and collections from ancient times to the present day. On our visit we were shown around by Mette Boritz, Exhibitions Manager who showed us around some of her favourite parts of the Museum. The tour included exploring the new (highly controversial) Vikings exhibition, Meet the Rollers, a display aimed at young people based around TV’s famous Ramasjang Rollers and Life in Denmark, 2000 – 2020.

Day 4: On our final day of our trip, my sister and I returned to The Medical Museum as I wanted to explore the exhibitions in more detail. After this, we visited the Design Museum which is free to under 26’s = BONUS! We got to see the permanent exhibitions: The Danish Chair: An International Affair, Danish Design Now and 20th Century as well as the special exhibition Creme De La Creme which showcases some of the Museum’s oldest pieces that are rarely on display.

I am so grateful to SEMFed for awarding me with the Martin Howe bursary to enable me to attend the study trip and I’m excited to meet up with the lovely group again for future events and study days. Look out for my future posts where I’ll address each museum in more depth.

Happy museum musings,

Em xo

I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyria📍The 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

Ladies of Quality and Distinction📍Foundling Museum, London

Hey all, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you had a wonderful festive season and are enjoying your 2019 so far.

This week I visited the magnificent Ladies of Quality & Distinction exhibition at the fantastic Foundling Museum in London. The exhibition, part of a vast programme of displays marking 100 years of the Representation of the People’s Act 1918 in the UK, reveals stories about the incredible women that established, worked at and lived in the hospital. Like much of history, the role of women has been excluded from the Hospital’s narratives, until now. The exhibition, curated by Kathleen Palmer, highlights the vital role that women played as nurses, teachers, cooks, artists, carers and supporters of the institution.

Highlight objects and stories:

1. ) Frances Flint (1839? – 1944?)

Frances Flint was, according to the 1891 census records, a foster mother who took care of some of the children from the Foundling Hospital. Records also suggest that Frances may have been illegitimate, much like the foundling children she fostered. This photograph shows Frances with children, may be some of those that she had in her care.

fullsizeoutput_d19Frances Flint, archive photograph, c.1900, courtesy Coram.

2.) Servant’s register, 1925

This servant’s register records the reasons that staff at the Hospital gave for leaving. It also includes brief descriptions of the work the women carried out in their roles. This kind of register would have been used to give character references for new jobs.

s6%vt39+qpslibqjlmp9qaŠ Coram, 1925

3.) Instructions to Wet Nurses, 1861

Jane Fisher was given these notes when she took foundling, John Harvey, into her care in 1861. It sets out the allowance that Fisher will be issued to look after the child as well as outlining the expectations of the Inspector.

fgxtebcgq62jc6usfe+dzqInstructions to Wet Nurses, 4th February 1861, Coram/City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

4.) Letter written by Hannah Johnson, 1812

On 1st April 1812, as she entered her 20th year of service as the Foundling Hospital, Hannah Johnson wrote to the Governors of the Hospital requesting a (well deserved) pay rise. She was successful and her wages were increased to match those of the Steward, who headed the Boy’s Wing.

mkhhszwtqi+n7s8glxnclqLetter, Hannah Johnson, 1st April 1812, Š Coram

5.) Blanche Thetford (1758 – 1833)

Blanche Thetford lived at Foundling Hospital and although she was “incurably blind in both eyes” she was incredibly talented in needlework. Whilst at the Hospital she trained in music alongside another blind girl named Mercy Draper and became an incredibly talented musician. Aged 21, the Hospital employed Blanche as a singer in the Chapel, paying her 6 guineas a year to do so. As well as being a singer, she was given 10 guineas a year for “the care and assiduity of teaching music” to younger foundlings. In 1813, she was gifted ÂŁ25 (the equivalent of £1,721.93 in 2019), on top of a silver teapot for her teaching work. Blanche lived at the Foundling Hospital her whole life and when she died in 1833, aged 77, she was buried in the Hospital’s Chapel.

fullsizeoutput_d2cFoundling Hospital: The Chapel, 1808, John Bluck, after Pugin & Rowlandson. Aquatint, hand-coloured.

The exhibition shines a light on some of the marvellous, hard working and life changing women who played a vital role in the running of the Foundling Hospital and the care of the children living there between 1741 – 1951. It closes on the 20th January so you only have a few more days to view it so hurry if you don’t want to miss out on these stories.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo