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

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📍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

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+qpslibqjlmp9qa© 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, © 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 £25 (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

 

Masterpieces of Taxidermy 📍Museum für 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 für 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 für 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

📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament pt. 2

Hi all, happy Friday!

A few weeks back I shared a post about my BTS visit to Vote and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition at Westminster Palace, London. It was really fascinating and for me, made a real change to the stereotypical displays that have been curated to celebrate the 100 years of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women the right to vote in the UK. Many of the exhibitions I have visited have focused on the ‘popular’ suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davidson; displaying the same medals, banners and badges time and again. Whilst Vote and Vote did acknowledge these women and exhibit some similar objects, the curators were blessed with having the Parliamentary Archives to work from meaning a different set of political activists, specialist objects and original stories could be showcased which I was very relieved about!

Favourite objects:

The Great Pilgrimage was one of the largest peaceful suffrage demonstrations, with 50,000 women attending the rally in Hyde Park, London. This map shows routes taken by ‘pilgrims’ travelling across the country to London.

fullsizeoutput_aafThe Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage, July 1913. LSE Libray, 10/54/097.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons. Astor chose this plain outfit, similar to a man’s suit, for the HOC so that she would be judged by what she said and not what she wore.

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Nancy Astor’s Parliamentary Suit, 1919. Wool cloth suit (jacket and skirt), silk blouse and matching hat. (On loan from Plymouth City Council, Museum Galleries Archive).

On 28th October 1908, suffragettes from the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) visited the Ladies’ Gallery whilst male MP’s were discussing women’s suffrage.  Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves to grilles. A third woman, Violet Tillard lowered the ‘proclamation’ banner through the grilles so it could be seen in the chamber. Male suffragettes threw leaflets form their gallery. Matters and Fox couldn’t easily be unchained so the grilles were removed with them still attached. Alongside the banner were a metal grille and bolt clippers that were related to protests that day. A purchase order for the bolt clipper’s stated “In 1908, a “Porter’s easy bolt clipper” was obtained through H.M Office of Works to cut the chains with which the suffragettes might secure themselves to portions of the building”.

Left: Proclamation Banner, 28th October 1908. The Women’s Freedom League ‘proclamation’ was written by WFL founder Teresa Billington Greig. Copies were pasted up all over London. This one was pasted onto cloth and mounted on sticks for use in the Ladies’ Gallery protest. Parliamentary Archives: HC/SA/SJ/3/1

Favourite suffragette stories:

The exhibition told stories about suffragettes that have often been left out of suffrage narratives, highlighting women that contributed majorly to the fight for the vote but didn’t have the forename Emily or surname Pankhurst!

  • Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh was one of several South Asian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain. She played a major role in the Women’s Tax Resistance League, as well as being heavily involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union. Although Sophia’s primary focus as a British subject and goddaughter of Queen Victoria was women’s rights in England, she and her fellow suffragettes also promoted similar activities in the colonies. She was proud of her Indian heritage, but was not bound by allegiance to a single nation and sought to support the women’s cause in a number of countries.

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  • Paralysed from the waist down caused by contracting polio as a chid, Rosa May Billinghurst was a disabled suffragette who famously campaigned and protested in her hand tricycle; earning her the nickname ‘cripple suffragette’. She was involved in many of the protests lead by the WSPU and founded the Greenwich branch of the Party in 1910. As its first secretary she took part in the ‘Black Friday‘ demonstrations. Her disability did not hold her back, nor did it hold back the male police officers. They would often throw her out of her tricycle, leaving her on the ground, unable to get up. Throughout her activism, Rosa was sent to prison three times & force fed by prison guards like many other suffragettes.

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Favourite quotes:

I was so incredibly happy and inspired by this exhibition as it gave a refreshing insight into the suffrage movement; exposing hidden objects and stories that had been left out of many other displays. I left the exhibition feeling truly inspired knowing how much change can come from campaigning, protesting and fighting for what you believe in. I can openly say I would be a suffragist rather than a suffragette (I’m very scared about breaking the law or getting into trouble!) but this exhibition showed how both are necessary for change. Taking a stand, writing to MP’s, attending marches and vocalising your thoughts can support change. Nothing ever happens overnight, these women fought for decades for the first step but women’s continued fight went from no women > some women  > all women being allowed to vote in the UK. Women’s voice in Parliament has changed the way women can engage with politics, the decisions that are made in the House of Commons and the rights we have as an equal sex. I am forever grateful to the women who fought and continue to fight for change and equality in the UK and around the world and will aspire to be more involved in politics in the future. We women are a force to be reckoned with and we will not stop fighting for equal rights!

Keep fighting the good fight & showcasing women in exhibitions!

Happy Museum Musings,

Em xo