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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📍Brussels, Belgium: Day 1

Hallo from Belgium!

I’ve wanted to pop over to Belgium for ages & I’m so glad I’ve finally got to tick it off my travel bucket list. Over 3 days I managed to fit in museums & attractions, a trip to Bruges and a whole lotta waffles! I purchased a 48 hour Brussels Card for €53 which gave me entry to over 40 attractions as well as unlimited Hop On Hop Off bus access which meant I could visit places all across Brussels.

Day 1: I decided to follow the Blue Line as the weather was lovely and I wanted to get to the attractions that were outside whilst the sun was out. Starting at Central Station I stayed on until Stop 3 – hopping off at The Atomium. The most visited attraction in the Belgian capital stands at 355 feet and consists of 9 large silver spheres some of which hold exhibitions including the permanent ‘Atomium: From Symbol to Icon”.

After taking lots of photos, I walked 2 minutes to the Planetarium of the Royal Observatory of Belgium which was free using my Card. Unfortunately I couldn’t access the museum as it was (understandably) written in French or Flemish – the 2 native languages. This again made me think about inaccessibility for international visitors in small museums – many of which fail to provide resources for international visitors. Things such as translated interpretation, subtitled videos or audio guides can support engagement and accessibility – something I am looking into for a Museum Scholar paper.

I instead went to Mini-Europe – the best place I visited during my trip! Yes, it may sound totally geeky but I don’t care; it was AMAZING! Around 80 cities and 350 buildings have been recreated at a scale of 1:25, showcasing some of the recognisable sights in Europe. Interactive buttons at each county play National Anthems whilst a comprehensive & useful guide book is provided to visitors in the language of their choice. It was so fun finding places & monuments that I’ve seen in real life on a teeny tiny scale – they’re all so well built and instantly recognisable. Although it wasn’t free it was discounted with the Brussels Card which was great.

The rest of my day was spent exploring Brussels on the open top bus & taking in sights such as Koekelberg Basilica, the Royal Residence of Laken and Grand-Place. After that I stuffed my face with fish soup and waffles because hey, it’s Brussels after all!

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

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

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 SchemeI 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

📍Charles Bridge Museum, Prague

Ahoj, greetings from the Charles Bridge Museum!

This small, local history museum is located in the Baroque building of the Military Order of the Crusaders of the Red Star which was established by Saint Agnes of Bohemia in 1252. The Crusaders have been the keepers of the bridge since time immemorial.

Construction of the Charles Bridge began at 5:31am on 9th July 1357 – according to Czech legend, Charles IV laid the Bridge’s first stone himself! The start time of the construction was hugely significant to the Holy Roman Emperor as he was a strong believer in numerology. The specific time/date: 1357 9, 7 5:31 forms what is known as a palindrome – a word, number or phrase which reads the same backward as it does forward. This, according to believers, made the Bridge a ‘numerical bridge’ which would instill it with more strength. The numbers can be seen above the museum’s entry sign:

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An array of different materials have been used to reconstruct the bridge over the years after the Bridge has been damaged or wrecked by conflict and natural disasters. Displays in the museum showcase scaled down examples of the layers which include sandstone, cemented stone, granite pavement and waterproofing components.

On the upper floor there are recreated scenes showcasing scenes of the Bridge’s construction. Whilst under ground, a large segmented reconstruction the bridge gives a better understanding about the scale of the Gothic bridge and its layered materials.

Alongside these displays, the museum exhibits some beautiful local history artefacts. My favourites are a painted sculpture of Saint John of Nepomuk and a processional sun monstrance.

Left: John of Nepomuk (c. 1345 – 20th March 1393), Saint of the Czech Republic was drowned in the Vltava River after he refused to divulge the secrets of the Queen of Bohemia’s that she revealed in confessionals. Because of the nature of his death, John of Nepomuk is known as the protector from floods and drowning.  Right: A processional sun monstrance with an embossed depiction of St. Barbora, 2nd half of the 18th century.

Although small, this museum gives a great insight into the famous Charles Bridge and its history. I would also recommend taking a River Cruise from underneath the Museum to spend an hour taking in the beautiful views of the Vltava River.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo