X Close

UCL Culture Blog

Home

News and musings from the UCL Culture team

Menu

Art Research in a Science Museum?

Mark Carnall10 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…)

Diamonds are Forever

Edmund Connolly1 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.

(more…)

A “humerus” way to spend the holidays…

Alice M Salmon19 April 2013

Firstly, I need to apologise for the lack of immediacy in writing a blog about the year 8 “spring school” that I ran on behalf of UCL’s Museums and Collections last week. With my teenage years a distant memory, a bit of R and R was required to recover from the energy of 38 constantly excited 13 year olds.

Reconstructing the look of a plague doctor

Reconstructing the look of a plague doctor

That aside, it was certainly a week to remember! Participants witnessed a barber surgeon in action, analysed animal poo, and created their own alien dissection, all in the name of education.  They discussed the ethics of human display, philosophised over what makes us human, and took great pleasure in analysing the “worth” of a dismembered foot that had been consumed with dry gangrene. (more…)

Moving Forward: Cultural Heritage Fellowship 2012/13

Edmund Connolly9 April 2013

It is hard to believe we will be playing proud host to our group of 9 Fellows in just a few months’ time. Time has flown and our Fellows have been busy developing their Community Engagement projects using the case studies and skills that were showcased during the weeks spent in the UK at UCL and a group of host museums. Following on from our last post I will now profile out Egyptian Fellows: Sayed Ahmed and Mohamed M. Mokhtar, who both work at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo.

Sayed Ahmed CHF 2012/13

Sayed Ahmed CHF 2012/13

(more…)

Kings and Queens and the case of the pink hippo?

Edmund Connolly15 March 2013

Guest Blogger, Christopher Webb

On Tuesday the 26th February the Petrie Museum played host to a celebration of LGBT history month. The evening, ‘Every good thing’, saw Egyptologist John J Johnston in conversation, as he discussed items chosen from the Petrie’s collection of over 80,000 artefacts from ancient Egypt and Sudan, including figurines, mummy portraits and ceramic. Our special guests from the LGBT community carefully selected their personal choice of object and reflected on what it tells them about life, love and sexuality in the ancient world. The goal of the evening was to further our knowledge and insight into the LGBT experience in the ancient world.

 

Our first guest, comedian, writer and actor Tom Allen, chose a terracotta head of Alexander the Great, from Memphis. UC49881 (more…)

QR codes and “Tales of Things” at the Petrie Museum

Edmund Connolly13 March 2013

guest blogger Andie Byrnes

I was at an object-handling session on the 5th March 2013 and as I had arrived early I took the opportunity get out my phone and play with the QR codes set up next to selected objects.  A project called “Tales of Things” has been rolled out at a number of museums, and the Petrie is contributing. The “Tales of Things” project has been set up to explore the relationships that people form with objects.  So when you see a QR code in the Petrie with the words “Tales of Things” above it, you will know that it is part of the project, and you can participate.

QR Codes

QR Codes

QR (“Quick Response”) codes are two-dimensional bar codes.  Unlike the vertical row barcodes so familiar on books, CDs and groceries scanned through supermarket tills, QR codes are combinations of vertical and horizontal lines arranged in patterns contained within squares.  The one on the left links to an article in the Petrie Museum’s blog. The two major benefits of them are that a) QR codes can be generated by anyone using a standard web application and b) they can be scanned by users from print or screen by smart-phones and tablet computers.
(more…)

Animals of Ancient Egypt, in WC1???

Edmund Connolly23 October 2012

This year saw another lively and successful Bloomsbury festival with collections, performances, and art installations being opened up for anyone to visit and enjoy. In the melee of such a diverse bunch, the Petrie Museum was mentioned in Time Out for its soundscape interactive which offered visitors the “chance to ‘listen’ to animals from ancient Egypt“. This event for families encouraged children to explore the environment of Egypt, using digital technology, interwoven with the 80,000 piece collection and a hands on chance to make your own animal, based on the sounds and objects experienced. The interactive website follows a team of Egyptian hunters on the Nile facing crocodiles, hippos and lions, using the weapons found within the Petrie Museum to try and be victorious.

 

An Ancient and Modern hippo

 

his was a nice, light-hearted event that allowed a younger audience to engage, interact and add to an archaeology collection. As well as this, the event encouraged a new thought process, to think of environment; reallocating the objects within their context of use. Users are posed questions of conservation, such as why are animal carcasses not found, and are then apply their knowledge immediately to draw their own conclusions. Digital Humanities is an ever thrown about term in the museum sector, and the Petrie is certainly a leading figure in this arena. Apps using augmented reality, 3D models and even gesture recognition are creating a whole new way to interact with the collection.

 

Aside from the digital aspects I am really pleased to see children, and adults, willing to make their own objects for the museum, emulating the ancient models (as above). This may initially seem a little trivial, and certainly our plethora of violently green elephants and pink lions do add a little neon vibrancy to the collection, but the fundamental behind such an activity is the concept of ownership and use of the collection. I consider it an excellent practice to encourage visitors, and workers within the museum to not only look at a collection, but to use it for new purposes. At UCL this is often through the medium of research at school, undergraduate and postgraduate level, but it can also be by creating new pieces, even technologies. I have only been at the museum since 2010 (when I started as a Masters student of the IOA), but a few of my favourite projects such as the Comic Book Workshop in collaboration with Camden University, and Magic Assembly: Magic Assemblage exhibition in collaborations with Central St Martins (UAL), encouraged young students to create new work using the collection as inspiration. I am not suggesting new work is necessarily in a position to replace the old, but as a way of drawing a link between a somewhat alien and separate past and our current environment and sentiments.

 

Getting plastered

Rachael Sparks18 October 2012

Term started a few weeks ago; new students, fresh with the mud of PrimTech on their boots have finally managed to locate their various lecture rooms and labs, and now the serious work of becoming an archaeologist can begin. For the Institute of Archaeology Collections, this means that our objects are once again in high demand for teaching.

Clay slingshots from Arpachiyah in Iraq, a cheap but effective weapon in the right hands. Hundreds of these were discovered, only going to show that sometimes neighbours are after more than a cup of sugar

(more…)

Exchanging Knowledge through the Cultural Heritage Fellowship programme

Edmund Connolly15 October 2012

guest blogger: Tonya Nelson (Petrie Museum Manager)

This year UCL Museums and Public Engagement entered into an exciting partnership with the British Council to develop and deliver a Fellowship programme for museum professionals from the Middle East and North Africa on the topic of community engagement.  While in the UK museums are increasingly creating platforms for their communities to advise and consult on the use of collections, create exhibitions and host their own programmes in museum spaces, little of this type of participation occurs in museums in the Middle East or North Africa.  Eight Fellows coming from Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria, Palestine, and Lebanon were selected for the programme and attended an intensive 2 week training programme in the UK.  However, the idea behind the Fellowship programme is not simply to teach the Fellows about community engagement practices in the UK.  The Fellowship also seeks to share knowledge and ideas.  The hope is that the UK museums supporting the Fellowship will learn about the practices of museums in other countries, build relationships with museum practitioners and institutions abroad and develop a better understanding of how they might serve Middle East/North African communities living in their communities.  To that end, I will write a series of blogs this year profiling the Fellows and the innovative work that they are doing in their home institutions.  In this blog, I will profile the work of Fellows Carla Mardini from Lebanon and Tamara Musha’sha’ from Palestine.

(more…)

The emergence of Empathy

Edmund Connolly21 August 2012

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Bonhoeffer

 

Although I may be hedging my bets by opening my first ever blog post with a quotation, I consider it suitably apt for the topic of creating empathy within the museum space. I recently met Roman Krznaric (founder of the School of Life) who has created the Museum of Empathy model, a space which, rather than just educating its visitors, encourages them to empathise with the denoted culture. This may be a case of understanding the labour and wage paid to go into the cup of coffee you drink, to facing the cruelties of enduring a hurricane.

I must admit, at first I was not entirely sold on the idea, I failed to see why a museum needed to impose empathy on its visitors. Empathy is a very intimate, personal reaction, for a third party to dictate to me that I should be feeling empathy at a certain point in time jars painfully with all my British stiff upperlip-ness. For me, museums are places of education, beauty and self discovery, but it is precisely for these reasons that empathy is rendered so important a facet of the museum culture. Museums have become the medium of choice to discuss contemporary, community and even future issues that relate directly to the viewing public. They are no longer silent halls where times new roman boards dictate the meaning, dating or interpretation of objects; Museums are alive, changing and inspiring thought, but can they help one to empathise with the civilizations they define? (more…)