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

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

Tony Vaccaro: From Shadow to Light📍Getty Images Gallery, London

Last week I was exploring London and stumbled across this little gem whilst walking in the autumnal sunshine. The Getty Images Gallery is London’s largest photographic archive, holds one of the greatest collections of photos in the world. For context, Getty Images, the head US company founded in 1995 by Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein, has a collection of 80 million photographs and more than 50,000 hours of film stock.

The current exhibition on display at the London gallery is Tony Vaccaro: From Shadow to Light. This is Vaccaro’s first exhibition in the UK in over half a century and includes photographs taken during his time serving in World War II, living in post-war Europe alongside those he took of celebrities, artists and creators for global media.

Born Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro in Pennsylvania, December 1922, “Tony” Vacarro, is an Italian-American photographer who is well-known for his photographs taken during the Second World War when he served in the US Army. Against orders from army officials, he smuggled his beloved camera into battle. He would strategically position his camera lens through a torn button hole on his jacket to take images. He would also salute with one hand whilst secretly pressing press the shutter with the other to capture an image!

During ‘down time’, Vaccaro would take photographs of his fellow Infantry members which led to numerous reprimands but after an Army Major expressed an interest in his work, Tony was allowed to continue with his photography; under one condition – gun first, camera second. During this time, he produced almost 8,000 photos and went to extreme lengths to produce his images stating: “When I was not on a night mission, I processed my films in four army helmets and hung the wet negatives from tree branches to dry.” Many of his photos were destroyed or seized by authorities so only 25% of them still survive.

Unfortunately the lighting in the exhibition meant that there were reflections on all glass surfaces so the photographs I took (below) aren’t very good but I have found the best online links to the photographs which are included in the photo caption:

Firing Line in the Hurtgen Forest, Germany, 1945

Upon being honourably discharged from his position in 1945, Tony decided to stay in Europe rather than move back home to the US to begin a careers a professional photographer. During this time, he captured life in post-war Europe; covering issues across Germany and Western Europe.

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Kiss of Liberation, St. Briac Sur Mer, France 1944 – “Sargeant Gene Costanzo kneels to kiss a little girl during spontaneous celebrations in the main square of the town of St. Briac, France, August 14, 1944.” – Tony Vaccaro

With post-war America came a new age of popular magazines and celebrity; which Vaccaro took full advantage of. He travelled the world for 30 years, taking some of the most recognisable photographs of the 20th century; working with public figures from Sophia Loren and Pablo Picasso to Georgia O’Keefe and Hubert de Givenchy.

Top left: Picasso, Mougins, France, 1966. Bottom left: Marimekko Umbrella, (Tony ended up marrying the model at the bottom of this image)
Top right: Georgia O’Keefe with Cheese, New Mexico, 1960, Bottom right: Sophia Loren, actress, New York City, NY 1959.

The exhibition was curated by Shawn Waldron, a Curator at Getty Images, who worked alongside Tony Vaccaro’s studio to create this wonderful exhibition which showcases some of the finest photography I’ve ever seen. The humility and connection Vaccaro captures in his images is really special and his personal relationship with subjects is very apparent. The exhibition has just been extended for another month so you can catch it until 28th October. I’d recommend you make a detour if you’re in Central London before it closes.

Happy Museum Musings.

Em xo