By Jack Ashby, on 5 June 2013
Today at the Grant Museum, not only have we flung the doors open to the public (as we do six days a week), but we have opened the doors to the Museum – and the museum cabinets – to thirteen emerging artists, inviting them to rethink our collection. Today, Sculpture Season begins.
We’re consistently thinking how to use our collections in different ways, and while the team here is a creative one (otherwise – boast boast – we wouldn’t keep winning awards) we can definitely benefit from completely different eyes and minds looking at our collection.
Sculpture Season does just that – thirteen sculpture students from the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL were invited to create works in response to the Museum’s spaces, specimens, science and history. The results are fantastic. Alongside the Museum’s historic skeletons, skulls and specimens preserved in jars, the new works engage with animal/human encounters through re-animated flesh, tunnelling rats and mice, giant worms and body bags.
The artists have created music technologies, phantom occupations of the Museum’s iPad apps, hand-knitted internal organs and explorations of the excessive masculinity of giant deer antlers. Specimens have been re-ordered, re-labelled and re-imagined.
It’s definitely been very exciting for me to be encouraged to think of the collection in the directions the artists have been pursuing. That said, I wont deny that inviting a large group of undergraduate students to take over the Museum hasn’t had its nerve-wracking moments. I don’t really subscribe to the idea that some people are “scientists” and some people are “artists” – I think there is more choice in it than that, and habits are a real factor. While I’ve co-curated a fair few art exhibitions now, I’ve spent a long time thinking of the collection scientifically, and there is a certain way scientific museums do things. This project is a real collaboration between the (often deeply connected) worlds of science and art. We’ve had to think carefully about when to do things like an art gallery would, and when to do things like a natural history museum would. It’s not always been a straightforward decision.
There is a real variety of media and subjects, so it’s very hard to compare them, but art is all about the personal, and my favourite, if I were pushed, is James Trundle’s triptych of rodent-made sculptures. Rats and mice were allowed to burrow through oasis, and he then cast the resulting tunnels and impressions in plaster and wax. One is made by mice, one by rats, and one, delightfully, is a collaboration between the two.
Everyone at the Grant Museum would like to thank Melanie Jackson, Head of Undergraduate Sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art, and her colleagues, as well as all the artists, for all the work they put into the show.
Sculpture Season runs until 31st August.
UPDATE 6/6/13: Here’s a news article with images of some of the works.
Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology.