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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for May, 2011

Not So Lost Cities

Debbie J Challis31 May 2011

Statellite Map of Tanis

The use of ‘space archaeology’, a pioneering approach using satellite technology and infra-red surveying, in finding previously undiscovered monuments and towns from the ancient past in Egypt was illustrated on BBC1 last night (Egypt’s Lost Cities, BBC1, 30 May 2011). And very exciting it all was too as the group dashed from site to site, came up against problems with permits to dig, then got support from the supreme authority, dashed around some more sites, got other archaeologists to dig for them (with varying results) and then were embroiled in a democratic revolution.

I need someone who will love me

Emma-Louise Nicholls29 May 2011

V.58 Pristiophoridae. Close-upDear humans,

My name is V.58 Pristiophoridae. You can call me V.58, like Johnny 5. You know- from Short Circuit? Anyway, I’m a sawshark. Not a sawfish, no no, a sawshark. My head is separate from my pectoral fins and I have a moustache half way down my snout. That’s how you can tell. I can’t put a photo up here of my friends in the wild because they are so rare and I can’t afford to pay royalties to the people who have any. If you do an internet search, 98% of what you’ll be looking at will be sawfish.

Australian fieldwork: a pocket guide

Jack Ashby27 May 2011

I’m writing from the Kimberley region of north-western Australia, where I’m spending a month or so trapping animals with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). This is how I spend my holidays, or at least as many of them as I can. This is my third trip to Oz over the past year, and I’ve spent about seven of the last 13 months doing fieldwork here.

This has caused several people to ask me why I keep coming back to Australia; it’s a big world out there and there are plenty of mammals to chase around the rest of the globe. Why I don’t I go somewhere else? (more…)

Life on Campus

Mark Carnall25 May 2011

There’s definitely an ebb and flow to university life that impacts the work of UCL’s Museums and Collections. During the teaching terms it is not uncommon to see curators carrying and trollying material about campus. Over the summer break, freed from the constraints of having to lecture students our academic staff switch to research mode and the number of researchers visiting the collections shoots up from undergraduates undertaking dissertation research through to professors working on papers, books and hypotheses. However, this isn’t my favourite time of the year. (more…)

The Life in a Day of a Museum Assistant Part II

Emma-Louise Nicholls23 May 2011

A light at the end of the tunnel
After six months of waiting for a museum job to at the very least be advertised, never mind getting an interview (during which time I made ends meet by working my fingers to the bone in a restaurant for an amount worth less than peanuts), the most delightful twist of fate guided me along the serendipitously lined pavement back to the Grant Museum at which I had volunteered a few years ago. My intention was to surround myself with, and absorb information from, a particular collection of specimens in order to prepare for a job interview at another museum. Upon walking through the door I was leapt upon by Jack, the learning and access manager, who told me of a position at the Grant Museum that had come up that very morning. A few weeks later I strode into my new kingdom, as an adult; full-time, useful to society, in the real world, working in a real museum and being paid real money. (more…)

Flaxman, Flaxman, Flaxman…. and more Flaxman!!!… and Le Corbusier

Nina Pearlman20 May 2011

John Flaxman

was known throughout Europe for his innovative drawing style and for his sculptures. His work was copied and appropriated by many of his peers at the time, and influenced numerous artists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Flaxman’s pursuit of the pure outline was what appealed in particular to the modernist  appetite. And yet…

Although celebrated and much in demand, and – in today’s journalistic speak – a great British export – Flaxman remains largely unknown to many: artists and non-artists alike. Equally unknown is his work as Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy, a position he took up 200 years ago. Last year we dedicated an exhibition to Flaxman’s preparatory sketches in which he worked through his ideas for three dimensional sculptures. They reveal his almost obsessive dedication to a the creation of a modern school of sculpture.

Since we hold an unrivalled collection of works by this Neo Classical powerhouse, including his illustrations for Homer’s Iliad, we are always delighted to see others revisit Flaxman .

On Wednesday 25th May, Jan Birksted from the Bartlett School of Architecture will be flagging up the Flaxman-Le Corbusier connection as our guest curator in our new Lunchtime Pop-Up Display series.


Jan points out that Le Corbusier made his illustrations for the Iliad over Flaxman’s illustrations. And as Jan says ‘In so doing, he established his originality and his modernity by writing the margin – Not a single sign of Life. Homer is assassinated.

Flaxman’s fame is also well established outside UCL.  Earlier this year Flaxman’s innovations in sculpture were featured on prime time television in the BBC’s  compelling documentary ‘Romancing the Stone: The Golden Ages of British Sculpture’. In the second episode, titled Mavericks of Empire, the presenter Alastair Stooke looked at ‘mavericks who bucked the prevailing trends, such as John Flaxman, Francis Chantrey and Alfred Gilbert’. The segment on Flaxman was filmed in our very own Flaxman Gallery!


Another little known fact, that we are always happy to flag up again and again, is that the Flaxman Gallery was featured in Chris Nolan’s award winning film Inception starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Michael Caine! You can read all about this experience on the Film London Website.


We hope to see you on the 25th May at Jan’s Pop-Up in the Strang Print Room. Please do share your comments with us here. And, if you would like to work with us, come see us, or write to us!

The Life in a Day of a Museum Assistant Part I

Emma-Louise Nicholls20 May 2011

As the newest member of ‘Team Grant’, I thought I’d share a brief synopsis of how I went from dreaming the dream, to living it.

In the beginning…
At age five (according to my parents) I announced that I wanted to be a “fossil person” and “work in a museum”. Although (I found out sometime later) my parents thought it was ‘just a phase’ that I would ‘inevitably grow out of’, they were untiringly supportive. They went with me to Tring Museum (our nearest museum of natural history) and took me to the zoo on my birthday every year whilst simultaneously doing a rather splendid job of imitating someone who was genuinely interested as I rattled off fact after fact about the various species. They drove me to events run by the Young Archaeologist’s Club (no-one had realised the as yet untapped genius behind a Young Palaeontologist’s Club) and were even light on punishment when I dug a hole in the centre of their lawn looking for dinosaur bones. (more…)

And now, a word from our sponsors: teaching and art at UCL Art Collections

Subhadra Das18 May 2011

A student views works on display at UCL Art Collections

A student views works on display at UCL Art Collections

Like the rest of UCL Museums & Collections, the primary audience for UCL Art Collections is UCL students and staff. Objects from the collections are a source of inspiration to students at the Slade School of Art, and are regularly used for teaching by lecturers from  departments from the usual suspects – History and History of Art – to English, Geography and Science and Technology Studies.


That’s why, this week, we asked some of the people who have recently worked with the collections to share their views. (more…)

Where is the wild?

Jack Ashby12 May 2011

The wilderness can feel pretty wild, but this has been farmed for decades. Is it still natural?

The wilderness can feel pretty wild, but this has been farmed for decades. Is it still natural?

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 15

For the past 14 weeks I’ve been writing the account of the five months I spent on ecological fieldwork in Outback Australia. This is the final post for that trip. I visited many of the world’s major ecosystem types – rainforest and desert, alpine and coral reef, moorland and woodland, heath and kelp forest, monsoonal woodland and swamp. I trapped, tracked, handled, spot-lit, sampled and photographed some of my most favourite animals. Not wanting to boast, but I had a frankly awesome time.

A few weeks back I wrote about what makes an animal wild. To finish this series I’d like to ask a similar question of the landscape. Over the course of those five months I barely went inside, or even saw a building for that matter. Sleeping in a tent, cooking on a fire, drinking from a stream and washing in a bucket certainly should make you feel like you’re living relatively wild. At least with respect to my London life. (more…)

Can we talk about jewellery?

Celine West11 May 2011

Conversation is an art, so they say. How to start a good one with someone you don’t know but want to? How to get going and increase momentum to the point where your partner in art starts butting in, can’t help it, has something they just have to say right now? “The thing is,” they say, “the thing is…” There we’ll leave them for now, in midflow, poised at the point of launching their urgent thoughts at you, about to spin you and them in a whirl of ideas and words.

We’re calling our new outreach experience “The thing is…” I’ve posted before about how we’re working with some excellent designers to create a space in which to engage people in conversations about an object. Recently I’ve been working with our curators to select objects around which we can have conversations with people.

First up is a bead necklace from Petrie’s Palestinian Collection, similar to the one pictured here.

Carnelian necklace, Institute of Archaeology Collections EVI.22/38











I have a lot to learn about the necklace we’ll be taking out to meet people. Some basics: it is from a tomb at Tell Fara, a site on the Wadi Gazzeh along the southern boundary of the region of Palestine known as Philistia. It was excavated by Petrie’s team in the 1920s. It is from the early Iron Age, making it over 3000 years old. Aesthetically it is eye-catching, made with beautiful carnelian beads.

There will be a lot more to say about this object and its history and my hope is that we will entice people into conversations around it. Conversations, debates, discussions about the history of the region where it was found and the history of its provenance, the history of personal adornment, being buried with your jewellery…the thing is, there is never just one way to look at anything, even a simple string of beads.