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  • Natural Creativity: Sex and Trickery opens at the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 18 October 2016

    ‘Natural Creativity: Sex and Trickery’ is our new exhibition – opening tomorrow 19th October –  at the Grant Museum. It explores the myriad of elaborate shapes, sizes and crafty behavioural tactics some animals have evolved in order to survive, reproduce and pass on their genes.

    Through intricate drawings by the artist Clara Lacy, ‘Natural Creativity’ asks the question, why is the natural world so colourful and varied? Lacy has drawn species with highly unusual sexual behaviours or mechanisms for determining sex. It is commonly assumed that animals are born either male or female then reproduce as adults, but things can get much more interesting. Some species change sex over their lifetime, become a grandmother before giving birth, or trick others into thinking they belong to the opposite sex.

    Ocellated wrasse (C) Clara Lacy.

    Ocellated wrasse (C) Clara Lacy.
    The ocellated wrasse has an unusual mating system – different males use different strategies in the attempt to pass on their genes. The genetics of these strategies is being researched at UCL. “Nesting males” are brightly coloured and work to court females, defend nests and care for their young. These males attract the most females, but other males have evolved different routes to mating success.
    Small males become “Sneakers”. They surreptitiously approach Nesting males and females while they are mating, and then release their own sperm into the water.
    Medium-sized “Satellite males” cooperate with a Nesting male, helping them chase Sneakers from the nest. This means that they are tolerated by Nesting males, and spawn while the Nesting male is mating.

    (more…)

    Skullpture at the Grant Museum opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 26 May 2016

    For our newest exhibition – Skullpture at the Grant Museum – twelve sculpture students from UCL’s Slade School of Fine Art have been invited to develop works in response to the Museum’s collections, science and history.

    The new artworks – which relate to death and decay, extinction, cloning, and animal behaviour – have been placed among the Museum’s own skeletons, skulls and specimens preserved in fluid. The exhibition engages with animal and human encounters and transforms the historic zoological museum in ways that will leave visitors questioning whether some of the installations are playful or serious.

    Dead as a Dodo © Will Spratley. A collection of rubber-chicken like dodo models, strung up as if in a butcher's window.

    Dead as a Dodo © Will Spratley. A collection of rubber-chicken like dodo models, strung up as if in a butcher’s window.

    (more…)

    Look Again…UV Been Mistaken: A Case of Collection Mis-labelling

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 4 February 2016

    This is a guest blog by Felicity Winkley, one of the student engagers who work with UCL Museums. To find out more about the student engagers project please visit their website. 

    Last term, the UCL Student Engagers used objects from across the UCL collections to curate a six week exhibition at the North Lodge, called Stress: Approaches to the First World War.

    The project, as we’ve discussed previously on our own blog, was an interdisciplinary, co-curated effort, approaching the topic of the First World War through four interpretive themes: physical stress, mental stress, cultural or societal stress, and stress on the landscape.

    One of the objects we chose to highlight the mental stresses caused by the conflict and, by association, the improvements in the way mental health was approached by the end of the war, was a ‘strobe machine’. As part of the physiology collections, catalogued alongside objects like an auditory acuity tester and a set of keys for tapping multiple-choice responses, it was assumed that this light had similarly been used in psychiatric experiments to test participant responses. From our point of view, it also helped that it looked good.

    Physio-40: labelled ‘Strobe Machine’

    Physio-40: labelled ‘Strobe Machine’

    For several weeks of the exhibition’s run, the object was a successful talking point. (more…)

    Revolution under a King: French Prints 1789-92

    By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 15 January 2016

    Louis Seize lightbox print

    Detail from the light box outside UCL Art Museum of Jean-Michel Moreau after Noël Le Mire, Louis Seize: Bonnett des Jacobins Donne au roi, le 6 Juin 1792, Copper Engraving, UCL Art Museum

    Our exhibition Revolution under a King opened with the start of term at UCL on Monday 11 January. The exhibition features a selection of prints from the early, highly volatile years of the French Revolution, curated by Emeritus Professor David Bindman and Dr Richard Taws, in collaboration between UCL Art Museum and UCL History of Art. Is already attracting visitor numbers that we have grown to be accustomed to since the Museum’s refurbishment – on average 80 visitors per day and on average visitors can be found spending between 30-45min in the museum. It has been wonderful working on this exhibition, as it really highlights the complexity of curatorial practice with researchers, which is highly collaborative and unites multiple, sometimes competing, agendas. I’m really pleased with the outcome.

    (more…)

    Glass delusions from the ancient Egyptian world

    By Alice E Stevenson, on 4 November 2015

    This post is part of a series exploring the exhibition Glass Delusions at the Grant Museum of  Zoology.

    We often visualize ancient Egypt in sandy hues against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, or the watery Nile framed by green vegetation. Yet there was a much wider palette of colours used in the adornment of palaces, temples and decorative objects. The Egypt world was brightly, sometime garishly, vibrant with colour. Glass was one of the luxury materials that came to be used for decoration during the period Egyptologists call the New Kingdom, around 1500 BC.

    Armana glass rods on display in Glass Delusions at the Grant Museum of Zoology. 18th Dynasty, Amarna, UC22911 - UC22920

    Armana glass rods on display in Glass Delusions at the Grant Museum of Zoology.
    18th Dynasty, Amarna, From the Petrie Museum collection (UC22911 – UC22920)

    (more…)

    How to make a diamond

    By Jack Ashby, on 28 October 2015

    This is a guest post from our artist in residence Eleanor Morgan. It is part of a series exploring the exhibition Glass Delusions at the Grant Museum of  Zoology.

    Diamonds made from the dead creatures of the River Thames (c) David Dobson

    Diamonds made from the dead creatures of the River Thames (c) David Dobson

    This year, on Thursday the 30th of July, I made a diamond. Only a few weeks before, this diamond had been floating around the River Thames in the form of dead plants and animals. It had taken a few hours, high pressure and temperature and most importantly a lot of help from UCL chemists and geologists to transform the dead creatures of the River Thames into tiny diamonds. These can now be seen at the Grant Museum as part of my exhibition Glass Delusions, along with a booklet ‘How to make a diamond’ which describes the process. (more…)

    Rock Room Slade School Takeover – Part 3

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 5 May 2015

    One of the art works from the  Slade event in the Rock Room.

    One of the works from a previous Rock Room Slade event.

    This Friday (May 8th) between 1 – 5pm the Rock Room will host its annual Slade School takeover. This is the third instalment of the joint UCL Museums and Slade School of Fine Art project (see a blog on the last one here) which has seen staff and students from the Slade install art works that include sculpture, painting and various mixed media (including cheese, fish and other foodstuffs) into the Rock Room.

    As with past years I have no idea what the artists will be bringing to display in the Museum. (more…)

    What kind of animal is a Yoshi?

    By Mark Carnall, on 15 April 2015

    Our current exhibition Strange Creatures: The Art of Unknown Animals features images, specimens and objects all related to how animals are represented through time. The exhibition is centered around George Stubbs’ painting of a kangaroo, an iconic image despite the fact that he never saw a kangaroo first hand. From dodgy taxidermy, dinosaur toys, glass models and wildly inaccurate images of animals which were claimed to have been studied from life, the exhibition explores how we make sense of a newly discovered animal species from first encounters with living animals through to reconstructions made from written accounts and sketches. Initial encounters with kangaroos drew comparisons with more familiar mammals such as jerboas, greyhounds, mice and deer, the creature so strange to European explorers it didn’t fit within existing classifications.

    What happens if we start from an animal that we only know from a reconstruction? In the past (and today) mermaids, unicorns, giants, cyclopses, goatsuckers and deathworms have all been speculatively described either due to pervasive myths, hoaxes, delusions or confusion with other animals. To help with the process of working out how we identify animals we know from reconstructions alone, let’s see if we can work out how we’d classify a well known fictional animal, Nintendo character Mario’s companion and steed Yoshi*, this one acquired in a Happy Meal and currently on display in our exhibition.

    (more…)

    Adventures in disposal: Sawdust & Threads

    By Subhadra Das, on 17 February 2015

    Today sees the opening of Sawdust & Threads: an exhibition, residency and art installation which will be based at UCL’s North Lodge on Gower Street for one week until Monday 23rd February 2015.

    Sawdust & Threads exhibition in the UCL North Lodge on Gower Street

    Sawdust & Threads exhibition in the UCL North Lodge on Gower Street

    Sawdust & Threads is an exhibition that takes objects disposed of from museum collections as its material. After drawing the objects, artist Caroline Wright will carefully deconstruct them, reducing them to their component parts. UCL Museums & Collections is one of three museums – along with Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and the Polar Museum in Cambridge – collaborating with Caroline by contributing objects to this Arts Council Funded project. Her drawings will be on display in the North Lodge, and Caroline will be deconstructing the objects from UCL’s Teaching & Research and Ethnography collections in the North Lodge and at the Institute of Making from today.

    (more…)

    One Day in the City Festival

    By Helen R Cobby, on 12 June 2014

    One Day in the City Festival at UCL

    Balloons in the south cloisters UCLOne Day in the City Festival taking place on Friday 13th June brings together a celebration of literature, art, music and culture in London. The framework is broad. Nick Shepley, the founder and organiser of the festival, and Teaching Fellow in English Literature at UCL, acknowledges this and says he has not tried to narrow it down to specific themes: “It is about opening out and trying to bring people to something that is a simple celebration of the city, its literature and art, and its cultural richness.” These are areas people work on everyday across various departments at UCL with their own audiences. Nick wants to harness this, and “break down the potential separation of audiences with the One Day festival, encouraging a wider demographic to come along.”

    The festival’s centre will be in the UCL South Cloisters, decorated with a fun and artistic skyline created through lighting and architectural constructions. There will also be a multitude of balloons lining the Cloisters and leading the way to various events. These events will include a debate about taboo language with Inda Knight (journalist and author), Will Self (novelist) and Tim Clare (poet), a Caribbean carnival and seminars on topics related to creativity in London. In the UCL Art Museum there will be a talk by one of the Slade students, Helena Hunter, a poetry workshop and live performances as well as Slade students distributing prints of their work. For a full list, see the One Day website here.

    'Fonte' by Maxima Smith

    ‘Fonte’ by Maxima Smith

    The UCL Art Museum is located in the South Cloisters, so it will be at the hub of the festival’s activities. The remit of ‘One Day’ also links the artwork in the current exhibition at UCL Art Museum to the festival. This exhibition, called ‘Second Person Looking Out’, is the result of this year’s annual UCL Art Museum and Slade collaboration. It features an eclectic range of artwork from time-based media pieces to bronze sculpture and slate engravings. Have a look at my previous blog posts, reviewing the exhibition and talking to Ling the co-Curator, to find out more. (more…)