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  • UCL and Bright Club at the Green Man Festival

    By Meg J Dobson, on 2 September 2014

    10 UCL researchers, 2 Public Engagement staff members, one Welsh festival. What could go wrong?

    Armed with wet wipes, cereal bars and boxed wine, the ‘fun bus’ set off from UCL one Thursday afternoon, destination: the Green Man festival in Brecon, Wales, to present two performances of Bright Club*in the Omni tent of Einstein’s Garden**. The cheery smiles and getting-to- know-each-other chat faded to an apprehensive (maybe even regretful?) silence as we left the sunny skies of London behind and proceeded to drive into what was essentially a massive rain cloud. Rain drummed, nay pounded, the car and all we could see were dark threatening clouds on all sides. Putting up tents was going to be great fun in this.

    Image of the Omni tent at the Green Man festival

    The Omni tent where Bright Club was performed

    (more…)

    Animals and their super senses

    By Dean W Veall, on 26 August 2014

    Guest blogger Dr. Helen Czerski

    Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) LDUCZ-Z2589

    Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) LDUCZ-Z2589

    Peering up the nose of a hyena is not generally on the “to do” list of most people.  As a physicist  it’s also not the sort of thing you are trained to do, either.   Fortunately for me, this hyena was long-dead – I was only faced with a skull that had just been borrowed from its display case in the Grant Museum of Zoology.   And its nose was well-worth ogling.

    (more…)

    We’ve Added 600 New Labels, But Can we Label Everything?

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 August 2014

    The answer to that question is no, we can’t label everything. We’ve just installed 600 new labels in the Museum, as a result of visitor feedback. But have we got the balance right?

    Some of the 600 new labels being unpacked

    Some of the 600 new
    labels being unpacked

    There are about 6000 animal specimens on display in the Grant Museum (which, incidentally, is more than is on display at the Natural History Museum), including about 2300 in the Micrarium. The room is only about 250m², and this means our displays are very densely packed. We are hugely keen on specimens at the Grant – providing close access to real objects is one of our biggest selling points. For this reason (and also because we don’t have a lot of storage space), we put as much out on display as is logistically possible.

    Drawbacks of dense displays

    As much as people tell us they think of the Grant Museum as a room crammed with amazing rare things creating with an atmosphere that promotes exploration, filling every spare gap with objects does have its downsides. Some people think that displays should give each object its own space to breathe, allowing people to concentrate on them, but we’ve made the decision to go in a different direction. Plenty of other museums use this sparse display philosophy – but if you want to be immersed in a real and different celebration of objects, come to the Grant Museum.

    The major drawback of jam-packed cabinets is that there isn’t a lot of room for labeling. (more…)

    War, Love and Coal: New Exhibition from UCL Museum Studies Students

    By Mark Carnall, on 8 May 2014

    Image of Voices of War Postcard

    Every year Museum Studies Masters students have to create an exhibition as part of their course. This is a guest post by Maya Makker and Sarah McKeon two of the curators of this year’s exhibition Voices of War: UCL in World War One opening in the Institute of Archaeology.

    This term, the UCL Museum Studies students have been developing an exhibition entitled “Voices of War: UCL in World War One”. We decided to ask the question: What was the involvement of UCL students and alumni in the First World War? Our goal was to profile UCL affiliates and use objects to tell their World War One stories. From the onset, one of our primary objectives for the exhibition was to include the voices of women who lived through the war. As we began researching, our content team quickly realised that numerous women at UCL made significant contributions to the war effort in an array of capacities. One such woman was Marie Stopes—scientist, activist, and UCL alumnus.

    (more…)

    When Two Tribes Go To War. Art & Science ‘curatorship’

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 April 2014

    The University of Cambridge museums and collections are currently running a project Curating Cambridge: our city, our stories, our stuff. Part of that project is looking at the art & science of curation asking curators what they think is meant by curation. My colleague Nick Booth has previously written about the problems with the word curator now becoming almost meaningless through overuse. I was inspired to write about the differences between “Art and Science” curation for the Art & Science of Curation website.

    When two tribes go to war, they communicate with each other, even if it is only through war cries and violence. However, when it comes to the two tribes of art and science curators, they occupy completely different niches. Even though both sets of professionals have a lot in common- they work in museums (many of which are public), they will have had training in general and fundamental principles of museums and they all work in the museum sector. (more…)

    Angels, fairies and dragons revisited: Did putti fly like bumblebees?

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 April 2014

    In 2011 our 15th Annual Robert Grant Lecture was given by UCL’s Professor Roger Wotton. It was called Zoology and mythology: looking at angels, fairies and dragons and explored the biological plausibility of these creatures based on their representations in art. Prof Wotton dissected (not literally, obviously) the anatomy that would be required for angels, fairies and dragons to fly. The lecture was amusing and illuminating – and we wrote about it at the time.

    Now, on his blog, Roger has returned to the subject to investigate something he couldn’t fit into the lecture – putti. Putti are the porky little naked boys with tiny wings. Many people might (inaccurately) call them cherubs. In his whimsical yet biological account, Wotton says…

    It is only possible to speculate on how putti fly, although their naked, often chubby bodies indicate that the generation of sufficient temperature is not a problem. (more…)

    Curating, collections and two postcard albums

    By Mark Carnall, on 25 April 2014

    Guest post by Stefanie van Gemert (Dutch and Comparative Literature) one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    In this time of new media, we are all curators. We pin our interests on digital gallery walls and make collages out of faces on ‘the Book’. Tweeting and status-updating, we display our collections of Instagrams. I find this idea of self-styling through collecting fascinating. And this is only one of the many reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed working as co-curator on the current Octagon Exhibition Collecting – Knowledge in Motion (#uclkimotion) with Prof Margot Finn and Dr Kate Smith (History), Dr Claire Dwyer (Geography) and Dr Ulrich Tiedau (Dutch department).

    What Moves Collections

    Our curatorial team applied for a bid called ‘Movement’ in Spring 2013. We were invited to explore the many collections at UCL and to display our findings in the new Octagon space. The Octagon Exhibitions are meant to show interdisciplinary research at UCL. As Claire explained in her previous blog: our bid spoke of our mutual interests in material cultures, in colonial heritage and global migration.  But when we saw UCL’s vast collections, our ideas took a different direction. What is on display in the UCL Museums is only the shiny tip of a glorious iceberg of objects, stored in the basements of our campus. We felt spoilt for choice, quickly becoming enchanted by stories of movement related to the objects and collections at UCL.

    (more…)

    Is it ever acceptable for museums to lie?

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 April 2014

    I ask this question to our Museum Studies Masters students every year, and last month put it to our new Bachelor of Arts and Sciences students. Despite the difference in the age, background and interests of these two groups, the reaction is the same – anger and horror. I am playing devil’s advocate in these debates, but my own opinion is yes, there are circumstances when everyone benefits from museums lying.

    The lectures I discuss this in focus on object interpretation, and I use a tiger skull as a prop for discussing how to decide what information to include in labels. The choice of a tiger isn’t important – I just need something to use as an example I can attached real facts about natural history and conservation to, but I spend the two hours talking about tigers.

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    At the end of the lecture I reveal that the skull is in fact from a lion. Everything else I told them about tigers is true. Did it matter that I lied? (more…)

    Why Twitter is good for museums – making discoveries

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 April 2014

    Using Twitter as a way of building a community of support, engaging people in content and shedding light on life behind the scenes in museums (that we don’t just dust stuff) is too obviously demonstrated by the real world to be spending too much time discussing. Not to mention the power to market events and exhibitions quickly and cheaply – assuming don’t over-use social media as a marketing tool.

    On Monday I conducted two pieces of “research” on our collection which sprung up out of the blue and would have been very difficult to solve without turning to our Twitter followers to tap their collective brain to find a quick answer. Both of them were on specimens that begin with “H” and end with “Bill”. Weird.

    Tweeting Turtles

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    (more…)

    Museum Week: Behind The Art

    By Helen R Cobby, on 27 March 2014

    'Under Milk Wood' by Paula Rego, 1954, Oil on canvas

    ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Paula Rego, 1954, Oil on canvas

    It’s Museum Week, which is proving to be a brilliant opportunity to get to know new galleries, explore a museum’s history and join in with celebrating the wonderful work that museums do – not to mention the art they have and the imaginative spaces they create!

    There has been a different theme each day – and today it’s ‘Behind The Art’. Here at UCL Art Museum we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to rediscover some of the many female artists that studied at The Slade next door and whose work is part of the UCL Art Museum collections. We’re thinking Gwen John, Winifred Knights and Paula Rego.  (more…)