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  • Archive for May, 2013

    Tomb Raiders: Ancient Egypt in Modern Art

    By Edmund Connolly, on 17 May 2013

     Guest blogger: Kholood Al-Fahad

    How can Ancient art be brought to life by contemporary art? Is there a connection between ancient and new?

    Tomb Raiders is the place were such questions should have an answer.

    Florence's temporal balloons

    Florence’s temporal balloons


    Grant Museum wins Museums and Heritage Award Culture Pros Pick

    By Mark Carnall, on 16 May 2013

    Team Grant receiving their Museums and Heritage Award

    Team Grant receiving their Museums and Heritage Award

    Rarely are the Grant Museum team allowed out. At the end of a typical day we’re stuffed back into our respective cases until the next morning when zoologising begins at dawn. Last night was an exception however as the team headed down to the illustrious premises of 8 Northumberland for the 11th Museums and Heritage Awards, the Oscars of the museum world if you will.

    We were shortlisted for the Culture Pros Pick Award for the most inspiring museum or heritage visitor attraction. Over 500 nominations were received and the five museums that received the most nominations were put through to a public vote. This is the first time one of the Museums and Heritage Awards has been voted for by the public and we were suitably edge-of-our-seats with anticipation for most of last night. Our fellow nominees were Amlwch Copper Bins, Dorking Museum & Heritage Centre, Museum of London, and Stow Maries Aerodrome.

    However, if you read the title of this post then you may already gathered that we won it! To prove it, here’s Scary Monkey with the award, complete with our grubby fingerprints from last night: (more…)

    Rhino May Day 2013

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 15 May 2013

    On the 1st May last week, something incredibly exciting happened. Save the Rhino International deemed UCL worthy enough (for the second year running I might add), to host the unfathomably important Rhino May Day- the must-be-at yearly event for rhino conservationists and enthusiasts. It is essentially for discussing the issues facing the rhino’s continued existence on the planet, from large-scale issues such as poaching for rhino horn, down to programme specific problems ‘in the field’. The purpose of the charity Save the Rhino is to fundraise in order to provide support for 17 rhino programmes in Africa and Asia, and Rhino May Day was an opportunity to find out how some of these projects were getting along. It also provided an important tangent into the auctioning of rhino horns and a lesson on how to take a full grown white rhino for a walk. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty-Three

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 13 May 2013

    Scary MonkeyThough an ever popular species with visitors to the Grant Museum, this week’s Specimen of the Week elicits some interesting reactions ranging from immediate recognition, through outlandish phylogenetic inaccuracies (mainly from children, but it’s fine either way), through to bog standard raised eyebrows. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Art Research in a Science Museum?

    By Mark Carnall, on 10 May 2013

    It seems to be a week for thinking about Art vs. Science this week. Of course the whole idea or art vs. science is a fallacy but increasingly I meet artists and scientists who want to live up to the stereotype of being in either camp and rejecting outright the other one. As a university museum we work very hard to ensure that our collections support the research of the academic community not just here at UCL and it isn’t just science researchers who are ‘allowed’ in.

    Natural history and art have a shared history and for a long time were the same thing. Trace the origins of an interest in the natural world and biology back to its roots and description, observation, inspiration and illustration are natural history. You couldn’t prise the ‘art’ or the ‘science’ bits out of it without undermining the whole endeavor. This tradition continues today, if we think about the Wildlife photographer of the year, the imagery employed by conservation agencies, the latest Wellcome collection exhibition, the works of Mark Dion or even the plates and graphs from  scientific journal papers they can be considered both art and science. Particularly, with the pervasive use of the Internet, visual media is increasingly how we communicate our ideas, agendas and passions. Be it a powerful image that sums up the plight of Orang Utans, a meme that causes us to chuckle over a tea break or the sheer beauty of what is called ‘data porn’, that is, a nice infographic that shows rather than tells the story.

    So on any given day at the Grant Museum we could have visiting scientific researchers who may be measuring the dimensions of a skull or looking for the differences between fossils. Alternatively we could have an artist creating an installation for our Foyer and we’re excited to see the reactions to the museum for our upcoming sculpture season collaboration with the Slade School of Fine Arts. Rarely is there a day where we don’t have an art group or individual artists sketching or photographing specimens on display. All of the above are equally valid uses of museum collections and this post follows a day out for one of our specimens down to the Royal College of Art. (more…)

    Rearranging the natural world

    By Dean W Veall, on 9 May 2013

    Isomorphological forms

    Isomorphological forms

    Here at the Grant Museum we display our objects taxonomically (and have done since Grant founded the collection in 1828), objects are grouped together to reflect their evolutionary relationship to each other. This method of viewing the natural world has been with us since the Swedish naturalist Carl Linneaus introduced his work that classified the natural world, Systema naturalis, in the 18th Century. This method of classification has changed over time to reflect and accommodate current thinking in science, but primarily the principle has remained unchanged, grouping animals based on shared characteristics.

    Artist researcher Gemma Anderson and a group of the public took another view of our collection based on her concept of Isomorphology.


    Culture Vulture: Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind at the British Museum

    By Mark Carnall, on 8 May 2013

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    This is the second of our Culture Vulture exhibition reviews (the first is here) As I mentioned in an earlier article about whether a degree in museum studies was worth it it’s very important for museum professionals in all kinds of roles to not just act as guardians of material culture but also to go out and consume it. Visiting exhibitions is a great way to ummm ‘borrow’ ideas in exhibition design and if an exhibition is doing its job well then you’ll come away with a mind full of new thoughts and ideas.

    I’ve been along to Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind at the British Museum and was excited to see how the museum would interpret a narrative which is equal parts natural history, archaeology and art history. When it comes to academia it seems that humans love to find ways of boxing in disciplines and practices rather than accept that they are all interconnected. This can be seen in the names of departments, museums and the conferences that we attend but in my opinion it’s cross disciplinary interactions that can be the most interesting. Two big camps, traditionally pitched as antagonists are ‘Art’ and ‘Science’. Does Ice Age Art cater for both of these audiences or has one group (you have to carry a card) had more of a say? (more…)

    Would zoologists survive an apocalypse?

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 May 2013

    Could knowledge of this water-holding burrowing frog save your life?

    Could knowledge of this water-holding burrowing frog save your life in the desert?

    It is a well known fact – based on on numerous scientifically accurate feature films – that in the event of the end of the world some people will survive the initial devastation only to find themselves barely surviving in some post-apocalyptic hell. Here I’m exploring whether zoologists would fare better than the average survivor. If the answer is yes, perhaps university biology admissions tutors can add a slide to their recruitment presentations to highlight this additional benefit in what is already the best subject in the world.

    I spent this weekend on a survivalist course deep in the Dorset wilderness for an old friend’s stag do. As kids, along with his two brothers, we had spent our time building shelters in the woods, making fires, distilling mud, firing bows and arrows and generally acting as if the world had already been taken over by luminous slime mould from the future. As teens and students (and occasionally still) we spent our holidays walking in the mountains and not really engaging much with humanity. Wildlife and wild-living have stuck with us all: the stag is now an ecologist, I run a zoology museum (and spend a couple of months a year living in a tent in outback Australia) and his brothers are biology and geography teachers. As a result we are all pretty cocky when it comes to hanging around in woodland areas. This weekend’s course made us all question our ability to actually survive.

    Should a virus/aliens/a powerful strain of concrete decay/zombies/frozen dinosaurs/Simon Cowell/nuclear war cause us to abandon human dwellings, shelter, water and food are the priorities. Would my academic and professional experiences as a zoologist make me Dennis Quaid? (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Eighty-Two

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 6 May 2013

    Scary MonkeyThe sun is here!! Wow, I had genuinely forgotten what being warm outdoors felt like. Other than the sweaty sort of warmth that comes from running for buses. Being rather more reptilian than the average Homo sapiens I am very much a hot weather person. My DNA decided at an early stage of my life to go against the grain of our hominid evolutionary path, the result of which is that I am a shockingly inefficient endotherm. Over the years I have spent any moment I am able, out of the UK, inserting myself wherever possible into a country with greater levels of UV. One of my favourite placements was at the Florida Museum of Natural History where I worked on a shark exhibition. Whilst there I saw and fell head over heels in love with a certain species that unquestionably warrants the use of words such as ‘beautiful’, ‘awe-inspiring’ and ‘breath taking’. We happen to have a foetus of this species in the collection, which makes for a good excuse to tell you all about this magnificent animal. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


    Diamonds are Forever

    By Edmund Connolly, on 1 May 2013

    by  Chris Webb

    Although a James Bond reference may be a tenuous link to the Petrie Museum, it is the literal, or rather chronological, duration of the shiny, super-hard compressed allotropes of carbon that had us titillated at the recent timekeeper event. On the evening of the 25th April, we welcomed back our resident Timekeeper Cathy Haynes who was joined by the Creative Director of the Institute of Making, Zoe Laughlin. The Institute is a multidisciplinary research club for those interested in the made world, and incidentally, our neighbours at UCL. The objective: to examine the material world of time and decay, and gain a better understanding of the way the world views time.