12 hours in the Museum knitting – why – I hear you ask? Dean Veall here and another installment of Museum Events. As part of the Strange Creatures: The art of unknown animals exhibition events series we decided to run an event that took inspiration from co-curator Sarah Wade’s research, and the display of artist Ruth Marshall’s knitted skin of a Thylacine. We set the knitters of London the challenge of knitting some of the strange creatures from our collection. Visitors could bring their own knitting needles to ‘stitch one purl one’ for an hour over lunch or come after work and join in over a glass of wine.
Dean Veall here. Following on from the first blog in the series, Why do museums bother running events?, I’ thought I would work backward highlighting some of our events from the last year presenting them as case studies in an effort to better understand why we here at Team Grant bother running events. Many of our readers are fellow museum peoplpe and I thought our blog would be perfect space to share some of our practice, the lessons I’ve learnt as a practitioner in museum event programming as well as a more permenant record of the event.
The seminar day was the penultimate event of the series accompanying our Strange Creatures exhibition. Throughout the series we offered visitors the opportunity to engage with some of the themes of the exhibition through various different event formats from our open mic night Animal Showoff and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo film night, to straight up lecture, DINOSAURS! of Victorian London. The seminar was a foray into a programmed series of talks that offered a more academic take on the world of animal representation. It included perspectives of art from the historical to the contemporary with some zoology thrown in for good measure.
Sometimes a specimen can tell you a little. Sometimes it can tell you a lot. There has been much written on this blog about the perils and pitfalls of museum documentation. Sometimes there is no information with a specimen – no accession record, no acquisition information, no species name and (occasionally) no specimen. Objects get lost and misplaced. Historical records are incomplete or indecipherable. Specimen labels become separated from their object.
Alternatively, some specimens may have (dare I say it) too much information which may include multiple numbers, several differing records, erroneous taxonomic information or questionable identifications.
Caring for a collection entails many things but first and foremost is to identify the collection itself – through all possible means including the consolidation of any (and all) associated information. When luck prevails, one may find a scrap (literally) of information which ties it all together – a word or two which allows a specimen to be given a name, a record, a life!
Recently while going through the bird drawers, I came across an unaccessioned skull and mandible together with its associated information (unclear object number, outdated taxonomic name) including a small piece of paper with two words: “El Turco”. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…
I’m writing this second review in the predictably punned “Book Worm” occasional series whilst in the desert town of Alice Springs. As I like to match my reading with my surroundings, I’m reviewing Kangaroo by John Simons, published in December as part of Reaktion’s Animal Series.
What this book seems to attempt to do is tackle the kangaroo from a variety of angles – biological, ecolgical, historical and anthropological. It is extremely generously illustrated (on nearly every page). There is sometimes, however, no obvious connection between the image and the neighbouring text which can make things a bit confusing, particularly when he is describing a specific visual scene without providing the appropriate image. (more…)
Seeing is believing, right? I’ve often looked at historic animal paintings and wondered “how come artists back in the day couldn’t draw animals?”. We’ve all seen images of animals that are extremely inaccurate, and our recent “Strange Creatures” event had works from UCL Art Museum pop-up in the Grant which included a poorly represented lion, simply because the artist had never seen one. This lack of first-hand inspiration is one reason that the paintings are unrealistic; artists were relying on written accounts by those who had seen the critters.
But reading these descriptions, another massive source of error is that those eye-witnesses are slaves to prior knowledge. When coming across new forms, unlike anything they’d seen before, many attempted to fit models of animals they already knew on top of what they saw. This is perfectly understandable, but in the end often unhelpful. It’s an interesting example of the brain over-riding the visual system and seeing what it thinks it should see.
I’m reading Captain Cook’s account of his first voyage to the South Seas, on the Endeavour, which includes the first descriptions of kangaroos that he came across when he landed on the east coast of Australia, and he was particularly guilty of this: (more…)