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  • The Grant Museum’s Third Birthday

    By Jack Ashby, on 14 March 2014

    History is a funny thing – we can create a boundary in time, hit reset, and restart the clock whenever we like. We did exactly that three years ago tomorrow, when the Grant Museum 2.0 reopened in our current location on 15th March 2011. In truth we are one of the oldest natural history collections in the country – founded in 1828 (or possibly 1827), but it took a while to become more than just a mass of specimens, and only became a Museum with a capital M in 1997. Reset has been hit a number of times in the past 186 years, but here we celebrate the latest counter ticking round to Three.

    The year in numbers
    20624 visitors during normal opening hours (up 25% on last year)
    15999 participants in our events (up 60% on last year)
    5141 school and FE students in museum classes
    2454 university students in museum classes
    216 objects accessioned
    138 blog posts
    16 loans
    12 Underwhelming Fossil Fish
    1 most inspiring museum in the UK
    0 objects acquired

    Silverware
    We may be a dusty Victorian collection in an Edwardian library (more…)

    Reflections on Time-Based Media Exhibition at UCL Art Museum

    By Helen R Cobby, on 27 February 2014

    1 – 5pm Monday to Friday, until Friday 28th March

    I am unique and so is everyone else (video still)This exhibition gathers together some of the most prolific time-based work from UCL Art Museum’s growing collection, which centre around the dependence upon and manipulation of technology with respect to time. The artists exhibiting are graduates from the Slade School and have each been awarded the annual William Coldstream Memorial Prize that selects outstanding achievements over the whole academic year. This accounts for the diverse collections of artwork on display, illustrating the eclectic variety of contemporary time-based media works.

    It is a refreshing and new type of exhibition for the UCL Art Museum, completely immersed in technology, conceptual installations and time-based media techniques. You will be greeted by many television screens that allow for a sense of unity to the works and for you to make comparisons between the way some of the themes are expressed. The screens are also placed with enough distance for each piece to be absorbed in contemplative isolation. Intriguing sounds also drift around the gallery, enticing you to follow your senses and discover and explore their source.  (more…)

    Darwin (or) Bust opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2014

    Charles Darwin would be 205 today. Happy birthday to him. To mark the occasion our Darwin (or) Bust exhibition opens today, showing Darwin as you are unlikely to have seen him before. Darwins have been created out of ants, light, crochet, DNA, his own writings, chocolate and other unusual media, all imagined and made by members of UCL’s Institute of Making.

    The Museum’s historic plaster bust of Darwin was moved from UCL’s Darwin Building when our collection was relocated in 2011. The remaining inhabitants of the Darwin Building were sorry to lose him, and so asked the Institute of Making to help them make a new one, from 3D laser scanning. We already had the 3D data as our very own Mona Hess had scanned him for her PhD on scanning in museums, and an idea blossomed…

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    Rather than just print off a new Darwin bust for the departments of Structural and Molecular Biology and Genetics, Evolution and Environment in the Darwin Building, we all decided to see what happened if we tapped the minds around us at UCL; asking the members of the Institute of Making how they would reinterpret the 3D data to make a new Darwin for the 21st Century. This multi-venue exhibition is the result. A previous post explains the origins of the exhibition more fully.

    The project somewhat snowballed. (more…)

    Collecting: Knowledge in Motion

    By Mark Carnall, on 7 February 2014

    Guest post by Claire Dwyer one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    What do crocodile skin handbags, ‘Agatha Christie’s picnic basket’, an overstuffed Bosc’s monitor lizard, a fourteenth century Jewish prayer book and a cabinet of keys have in common? All can be found in the latest exhibition in the Octagon Gallery, which opened on January 21st 2014. Collecting: Knowledge in Motion is the outcome of a collaboration by a group of UCL academics who responded to a call to curate an exhibition which reflected the theme of ‘movement’. As one of the academics who curated the exhibition in this guest blog post I offer some personal reflections. Other members of the team will offer their own comments in subsequent posts.

    (more…)

    The Great Darwin BUST UP

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 November 2013

    There are lots of good things about working in a university museum. The best is that there are thousands of people around us whose job it is to have ideas and then come up with a way of realising these ideas. In the museums we know a lot of academics from different fields who we can put in touch with each other when we spot complementary ideas to combine into exciting cross-disciplinary projects.

    A few weeks ago some of our colleagues from UCL’s Institute of Making arrived with someone from Structural and Molecular Biology saying that they wanted to 3D scan our plaster bust of Charles Darwin to create a copy to go in the Darwin Building where UCL’s biologists live (and where the Grant Museum used to be housed). From there a project spiraled into something very exciting.

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    The bust has a bit of history – it is part of the Grant Museum’s collection, and as such when we moved into our current home in 2011 we took him with us (you might have spotted him peeking out a window on Gower Street). The biologists in the Darwin Building were very sorry to see him go. This project will create a new Darwin for them, and will also result in an unusual exhibition, through a competition. (more…)

    The Press Photography of Red Vienna 1929 – 1938: An interview

    By Helen R Cobby, on 8 November 2013

    Helen Cobby interviews the researchers of the Red Vienna project, Eva Branscome and Catalina Mejia, before their Pop-Up Display and Lecture on Tuesday 12th November.

    This photo is a wire photo: It shows the Nazis using the Karl-Marx-Hof as a politically laden backdrop to their feeding station for the starving Viennese

    This photo is a wire photo: It shows the Nazis using the Karl-Marx-Hof as a politically laden backdrop to their feeding station for the starving Viennese

    This event is based round American press photographs depicting social housing estates during the turbulent inter-war years in Vienna. The photographs record three specific epochs within this time frame, from the building of the social houses to the take-over of Austria by the Nazis. The interview below includes Eva’s and Catalina’s thoughts about the development of their project, the active role of the photographs in the manipulation of historical events, as well as the importance of new photographic technologies emerging at the time and new relations between image and caption that this brings. (more…)

    Europe’s First Kangaroo and the Grant Museum: Save our Stubbs

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 September 2013

    James Cook’s landing in Australia in 1770 changed the political, social and natural world. With regards to the latter, the animals the expedition discovered, described and exported have had profound effects on people’s experience and understanding of zoology.

    Whilst I believe that the descriptions of Cook’s party’s early encounters with kangaroos were ridiculous, it was these encounters that began Europe’s relationship with Australasian wildlife.

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    A few marsupials in the Americas (opossums) were already known by this point, but a whole continent with entire ecosystems based around them, and including 6 foot kangaroos questions the very nature of mammals. What else could be left unknown? American opossums, with their pouches, would have been interesting discoveries among scientific communities, but they must have been nothing compared to the sensation of the kangaroo in the eyes of the public. (more…)

    Time, Flies and the Origins of Crowdsourcing

    By Mark Carnall, on 12 July 2013

    Aside from jelly beans, the current Octagon Exhibition, Digital Frontiers, is dominated by objects from the Grant Museum of Zoology. Well, at least in terms of numbers because we’ve loaned this entomology drawer containing over 250 fly specimens. My colleague Nick Booth wrote about his experience of installing the objects from the collections he curates (and his experience was far more leg work than moving this single drawer was) and researching this drawer of flies in order to loan it revealed a lot of interesting information about this otherwise niche collection of insects: in natural history museums entomology collections are normally measured in the millions.

    Fly specimens in drawer labelled 'From Small cabinet 3'  from the Grant Museum entomology collections

    Fly specimens in drawer labelled ‘From Small cabinet 3′ from the Grant Museum entomology collections

    (more…)

    Curating the Octagon Exhibition

    By Claire S Ross, on 14 June 2013

    colourfull case object numbers scattered on the floor

    Trying to find the correct object numbers

    Most of the last couple of weeks I have been busy installing the new Octagon Gallery Exhibition, ‘Digital Frontiers: Smart, Connected and Participatory’. It’s been a brilliant experience and I have learnt a lot so I thought I’d talk a bit about the process of creating an exhibition from a first time curator!

    The exhibition opened at the beginning of June 2013.   But it all first started when I applied to exhibit in the new Octagon space.  UCL Museums invited proposals on a theme (in this instance the theme was ‘frontiers’) from across the UCL community.  The proposals were judged by a panel and my application on the theme of ‘Digital Frontiers’ was successful.   The proposal focused on key research areas from UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH) and the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA).  It felt quite strange deciding on a theme without being fully aware of all the potential objects, but it paved the way for an exciting challenge to see how I could fit as many of UCL’s 18 disparate collections into my exhibition theme.

    The first full meeting happened in January when I got together with all the curators and collections managers from the different UCL Museums and Collections and I explained my broad themes and plans for the exhibition.  We had an initial brain storm and I was bit overwhelmed with all the information on objects that could potentially fit the exhibition concept.  I then had one to one meetings with all the individual curators to discuss exhibition ideas and view possible objects, before going away and coming up with a really long list of potential objects.
    (more…)

    Sculpture Season opens today

    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. (more…)