day 2 of installation was a bit more stressful than the first. I think the realisation has hit that this is actually my exhibition. A physical representation of things, ideas and research that I’m interested in and fascinated by. The objects being installed range from Luna imagery to a drawer full of tropical flies. And they all look stunning. But I’m still really worried about my labels. Lots of people stopped to have a look today and asked questions about what the objects were and they had a personal interpretation filled with plenty of Claire’s brand of enthusiasm for each object. The only problem being I don’t seem to be able to distil my enthusiasm into label form. It’s the age old problem in museums. It would be great to have an enthusiastic knowledgeable curator next to each object, providing their unique interpretation to the visitor. But that just isn’t viable.
Over the past 6 months, I have been pondering the multitude of objects within UCL Museums and Collections in order to create an exhibition which focuses on the impact digital technology is having/had/will have on culture and society.
Here’s the official blurb:
Digital Frontiers: Smart, Connected and Participatory explores how emerging technologies are changing the way we access and experience culture and asks questions about the nature of art and technology. New digital applications are shaping our daily lives; the way we live, work, and study, but is digital technology really new? Digital Frontiers unravels digital culture, illustrates the power of emerging applications and poses questions about technology and culture in the past and in the present.
It’s been hard work and brilliant fun in equal measure.
Selecting objects was great. At first I was getting drawn to the most unusual, weird, gorgeous, amazing objects, but it soon became clear that I was creating a Claire’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Unfortunately that was not the theme of the exhibition, so with the help of some of the fantastic UCL collection curators I began an incredibly steep learning curve of researching individual objects, themes and narratives. This was fascinating but tough at the same time particularly when it came to the Science collections. I love scientific objects and research, but I’m not a scientist, so lots of concepts were completely lost on me. So many awesome objects, but for the most part I didn’t have a clue what they were for! Throughout the process I have become obsessed with Light Bulbs and early calculators! We got there in the end though and yesterday was the 1 day of Installation in the Octagon Gallery!
We have started with the Historical Science collections, as most of the exhibition objects are scientific, focusing on smart and connected technology. I have to give a massive thank you to Nick Booth, the Geology & Historical Sciences curator, who has put up with endless emails, face to face meetings, and more emails mostly about me getting confused between light bulbs and Thermionic Valves. Also massive thanks to Susie Chan, exhibition officer extraordinaire, for keeping the exhibition planning on track, and for not letting me get distracted. Susie, who not only has fashion sense to die for and can run crazy distances (I’m also a fitness freak but Susie is in a completely different league!) also has the ability to run a tight exhibition schedule and make the whole process quite chilled out.
It was really great to start to pull the exhibition together in its physical form as for the most part it’s been either in my head, or abstract discussions and ideas and interpretation noted down on my laptop. It’s really quite strange to see it taking shape in the exhibition space. Yesterday was the first opportunity to see the objects in their exhibition context, how they looked next to other objects, how they looked in the cases, and the panicked realisation that my labels do not do the objects justice. I’m now seriously considering doing a Tate and removing the labels and letting the objects speak for themselves…
Roll on day 2.
Yesterday I paid a visit to the Science Museum to try and make sense of all the ideas, objects and themes that are pinging around my head in relation to the new exhibition I’m creating. I originally went to look at the narrative structures the Science Museum uses when talking about telecommunications and how they deal with a historical thread in different themes. But after looking at lots and lots of labels and text panels, my brain started to melt.
One of the aims of ‘my’ exhibition is to explore the difference between art and technology, and to ask questions about what is art and what is data. Can art be data and can data be art? With this in mind, I stumbled into the Listening Post installation by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin.
It’s a mesmerising experience, classed as a ‘dynamic portrait’ of online communication. The installation displays uncensored fragments of text, sampled in real-time, from public internet chatrooms, which are accompanied by the rhythm of computer-synthesized voices reading – or as some put it “singing” – the words that flicker over the screens. It’s really quite beautiful and you do get lost listening to it. It really does challenge the visitor to think differently about data.
I’m really looking forward to delving deeper into this idea about the different between art and data, or lack thereof, using UCL Art Museum collections as a base for discussion. I’d be interested to know if anyone has any other beautiful examples of installations that blur the boundaries between art and data.
Alternative Title: I first realised I hated Nick when… I became the Exhibition Curator!
Over the next 6 months, I have a new role! I am now the Exhibition Curator of an awesome new space part of UCL Museums and Collections, the Octagon Gallery. In my head, my new title is Grand high priestess of Curatorial Temporary Exhibition Land. I’m on a major power trip. I have access to all the curatorial knowledge and all of the collections available at UCL. That is a lot of objects!
The theme of the exhibition is the vague ‘Frontiers’. I’ve narrowed that down to the stuff I’m interested in, and so it doesn’t stray too far away from my PhD Research… It’s going to focus on Digital and the impact that is having/had/will have on culture and society. However if you think every museum exhibition is about dinosaurs. Yes that’s what it’s about dinosaurs (and perhaps even dinosaurs in space).
I’m really excited to get started, it’s going to be a steep learning curve and a challenge to juggle my PhD write up, exhibition and all the other projects I’m working on.
I’m going to blog the entire process, so will be regularly posting the exhibition’s progress, experiences, successes and, critically, failures in trying to create an exhibition, which not only uses all digital interpretation,but focuses on digital content, and includes digital immersive visitor experiences. The challenge is on! On here, I’ll be talking about the personal experiences, the nitty gritty stuff, what i love, what I find impossible, what random object I want to steal…, on the UCLDH blog I’ll be talking in a bit more of a academic professional tone about the exhibition process and visitor experiences, and on the UCL Museums blog, I’ll probably be having arguments with curators. There have already been insults thrown and its only day 1… it’s all Nick Booth’s fault. You will also get to hear from other people involved in on the exhibition, from the collection specific curators, to the exhibition officer, to the conservators. So we’ve got every perspective covered!
First up on the to-do list is to create a massive list of objects! better get cracking.
A tannoy announcement in Marks and Spencer pricked my ears last week ‘Marks in Time, It’s your heritage’. I think that’s fantastic. I’ve grown up with Marks and Sparks, it’s always been there, and i trust it. My I even worked there a long time ago. What I found interesting is that they have made a really big deal of their 125year anniversary. And it seems the public have embraced it too. And now there’s an exhibition. It aims to celebrate the role M&S has played in British cultural history from the beginning and looking towards what M&S will have to offer in the future. And there’s a website!! Full of lovely images and interesting facts, for example Marks and Spencer’s employees in 1941 raised £5000 to buy a spitfire for the war effort. I like it. Its nice to think that shops like Marks and Spencer realise they do play a large role in people’s lives and it has a responsibility to share its archives and its history with the public. Well done M&S!
Details of how to visit the exhibition can be found here…