Narrative Remains

Narrative Remains by Artist Karen Ingham

Reading about and discussing the Hunterian Museum reminded me of my many visits there while living in London last year. Although the museum seems to have  lost much of its glory if I see the images of the building before it was partly destroyed in 1941, the collection is still an inspiring one. The museum was never busy and I found it a wonderful environment to ponder the many strangely beautiful and extremely visceral specimens, both human and animal. I particularly enjoyed the installation by Karen Ingham titled ‘Narrative Remains’ which revealed the human stories behind some of the displayed specimens. These very personal stories enabled the visitor to interact with the display on a level beyond the anatomical and encouraged the viewer to reflect on their own mortality. Through initiating an interaction between the display and the past, Ingham was able to enrich the interaction between the same display and the visitor and so emphasized the relevance of the specimens in a contemporary context. The Hunterian Museum continues to invite artists working in a variety of media to reinterpret and react on their collections which is a valuable tool to make their collections more relevant and accessible to visitors today. If you are interested you can read about these exhibitions and collaborations here.

RH

Small Town Identity

My hometown of Chico in California is a little agricultural town which is known for two things: the Sierra Nevada Brewery, and for being on Playboy’s top party colleges back in the 90’s. However, the locals and Chico State school board would like to leverage the lesser known facts –Chico produces most of the Western world’s rice, almonds and walnuts– to make our town a tourist destination.

The existing museums in Chico are relatively unknown outside of Chico but are regular destinations for local school field trips. The Bidwell Mansion the oldest home in Chico, which was owned by the founders of the city, seems to be nothing more than just a strange pink house near the college that can be seen from the busiest street in town. Our 5th graders probably know more about it than our adults.

Bidwell Mansion

The Sierra Nevada Brewery has received so much attention in recent years that their brew-house restaurant was updated less than a decade ago to include a glass wall in the waiting area which allows patrons to view the beer as it is being made.

This became such a popular feature and tour times have been in high demand, prompting the renovation of the brewery. It now includes a beautifully done two story wing made entirely of glass and wood in the Art Nouveu style where brew techniques can be viewed through glass walls and explanatory plaques are placed intermittently to allow the guest to embark on a self-guided tour. Most people use them to further their knowledge as they wait for the guided tour to begin, which is referred to with drunken wonderment as the equivalent of going on a “big kid’s tour” of the Willy Wanka Chocolate Factory, complete with platforms that extend out over the vats, allowing you to be completely immersed in the room.

Sierra Nevada Interior Tour

 

Although a museum addition wasn’t originally intended by the brewery, they stepped up to the demand of their patrons, and the Sierra Nevada Brewery is now known as the main destination for tourists and families coming to town to check out the college. What were the small agriculture and city oriented museums to do?

In a bold step, the city of Chico built a brand-new, state of the art natural history museum, called the Gateway Science Museum, in an abandoned lot next to the Bidwell Mansion to serve as an extension of Chico State. The juxtaposition of the old Victorian house sharing a parking lot with the brightly colored Modernistic Gateway Science Museum is a bit striking, making both stand out from the street, rejuvenating the centralized area only a few blocks from the oldest church in town, the Bidwell Presbyterian Church, and the entrance to the closed off Chico State campus. Still focused on school aged children, the Gateway Science Museum opened last Spring in time for summer camp to begin, and two of the kids I worked with last year as a youth leader claimed it was “Very cool.” (Which is actually a pretty big compliment if you’ve ever spent any time with bored 6th graders.)

Gateway Science Museum

Although this new museum is very well known now in the community, a bigger effort by the city is still somewhat under-wraps. Previously, I hadn’t known that other than the Bidwell Mansion, Gateway Science Museum and Chico Museum (whose existence is usually only noted by those stumbling down the street at early hours after the bars have closed because of it’s lack of advertisement or even signage in front of the building) there are 3 other museums in the city: an outdoor animal refuge, old rice factory and another piece of historic architecture. In an effort to demonstrate the history of Chico as more than just the partying college and home of good beer, the Gateway Science Museum was created to complete the museum circuit and renovations on the 5 existing facilities are underway. Instead of acting as 6 independent museums competing for attention, the City of Chico is hoping that visitors will appreciate a much broader, multi-locational museum experience with combined efforts, events and a single fee.

However, this was all made known to me through someone who is apart of the planning committee, and therefore, it’ll be interesting to see if they are actually able to advertise in the way needed to make sure this idea is successful. The Sierra Nevada Brewery museum is a hard act to follow, but hopefully this new focus on Chico’s history will lead to an grouping of sites which will be interesting to more than just school children needing time out of the classroom.

Kadie Yale

Not So Fast

I read this article  – ‘Not So Fast’ by John Freeman a few weeks ago and considering our ongoing discussions about the use of new media and specifically the internet by museums I think it is very relevant. Though it doesn’t discuss the museum context as such it looks at the increasing speed of communication and impersonal nature of social interactions. These two elements, communication and social interaction are vital for any museum so I found it interesting to apply the thought process presented in this article to the discussion around internet use in and beyond the walls of the museum. There is one statement that I found particularly profound: “Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources.” This is surely true if we consider the amount of time and money various businesses and institutions spend on fighting for it! And yes, it does seem to be in short supply as we waste it continually on unimportant information. The little attention we have left is then spread thinly over too many things leading to shallow understanding and a lack of reflection. I believe that museums (and other cultural institutions) are the places where this resource can be cultivated and replenished. Far from needing to keep up with the speed with which we function these days, museums should be places where we can slow down and think.  This is not to say that the internet should not be used at all. I think it has the potential to be used in ways that can encourage reflection and ultimately restore our ability to focus and learn rather than deplete it.

RH

Objects as Characters

Before taking this class, I always thought exhibitions were based around objects and never thought of the larger story they were used to tell.  Once Tim mentioned that exhibitions always started out as stories and that objects were just one means of telling it, I began to view exhibitions in a different light. I became more critical of the importance and inclusion of certain objects.  Why was this vase included, and not a different one?… What role did it play in the narrative?… What was it trying to tell me?…  All these questions constantly circle in my mind and honestly, have made my exhibition viewing process much more enjoyable. On that note, I stumbled on a review of the new permanent exhibition at the Museum of the American Indian in NYC called “Infinity of Nations“. The review stresses the same idea of objects as characters in an exhibition. I recommend reading it, it’s very interesting to see how much larger and lively issues are addressed through the use of inanimate things.

Ryan Massey

Corning Museum of Glass

I actually meant to post this a while ago after attending a glass conference at CMoG in mid October and talking about that in class today reminded me.  I went in knowing the renovations were done by RAA in 2001, and was pretty curious to see what kind of innovations would await.  One of the sections of the exhibition space is actually called the ” glass innovation center” if I recall correctly.  Anyway, the architecture and exhibition designs for the educational areas and the glass studio were striking, as expected, especially given the level of audience participation in the glass making shows (which are really cool!)

I had to spend pretty much all of my time in lectures and in the glass galleries though, and was really intrigued by the layout of the exposed study collection.  The vitrine case-exhibition style is essentially the same as the regular gallery, just more packed (and sometimes equally packed!) with objects.  Sure, there are only accession numbers for this segment of the museum (with unfortunately no visible console or book for looking them up), but other than that there was sometimes very little difference between the study collection and the displayed collection.  The shelves for the display collection itself often went up over my head in the 20th century modern section (and I’m not really short, so this was a weird problem to be having). I had to resort to taking wobbly pictures, arms fully outstretched over my head and just hope it would get the right angle since I couldn’t see it.  This is kind of a disaster when your formal analysis topic is on the top shelf, but I imagine it’s not the best for the casual visitor either.

All that aside, Corning has an impressive, large collection, and even with the presence of the study collection, most of their objects are still stored in an offsite facility near the airport.  I’m not sure if the study collection rotates different objects, but given the breadth of the collection (and it grows every year!), it makes me wonder: how feasible is it for large and growing institutions like the Corning Museum to incorporate these aspects of back of house fully into the front of house?

michelle jackson

The Met’s Digital Conversion

Midterms have been upon us for the last few weeks, and sometimes you just realize that your head is on backwards during those times. Two days before my 5 page comparison paper between two objects at the Metropolitan Museum, I realized that not only had none of my pictures turned out well enough to find them reliable, but my notes had mysterious vanished into the abyss of my desk.

I freaked out, much to the amusement of my roommate who decided to watch with a grin for a few minutes before asking why I didn’t just look up the objects on the Met website.

As a way of turning their collection “inside out,” the Metropolitan Museum has been working on putting objects on display virtually. Although in this way, you aren’t able to actually pick up the object and view it from all angles, it gives the general public the ability to zoom up as close as they want on the object in dramatic detail.

Although I’m not the biggest advocate of putting technology absolutely everywhere possible, and think that museums need to think long and hard about their collections and audiences before making drastic changes, I think the Met’s digital conversion is an amazing step in the right direction of intertwining the past, present and future museum experiences. Now viewers from around the world are able to connect with art in a way that they were not able to previously, all from the comforts of their own home. The objects do not risk being damaged through being viewed digitally by thousands of people. And honestly, it’s just plain fun. I can just imagine the hours that could be spent by our tech-savvy youth zooming in reallyreallyreally close and then back out again, seeing every detail in the photo.

On top of the photo aspect, each of the objects’ information, provenance and descriptions are available. That way, the viewer is able to get a full museum experience and gain deeper knowledge about the object which may not be made as available in person.

Kadie Yale

Xaviera Simmons: junctures

OFF/SITE: Xaviera Simmons: junctures (transmissions to) at the Goethe-Institut Wyoming Building

Although this show is now over, it was a great show to experience after our discussion on technology a couple of Mondays ago.   About being private, yet someone public.

“Over five weeks of junctures (transmissions to), Xaviera Simmons will engage invited writers, academics, musicians, astrologers and others in a series of “micro-residencies,” embracing the collaborative and multi-genre nature of the OFF/SITE project. Participants including artist Brendan Fernandes, filmmaker Sophie Hamacher, landscape architect and surfer Benjamin Landers, singer/songwriter Austin McCutchen, and historian and singer Teresa Mora will join Simmons in a closed, site-specific wooden studio structure within the Wyoming Building. The studio will be equipped with a slide projector, digital projector, microphone, amplification system and commercial-grade copy machine; the gallery will serve as home to several live finches for the duration of the project. In the gallery, the artist and her collaborators will create an ever-changing installation of photocopies, projections, staged readings, sound recordings and ephemera reflecting the conversations and activity within the studio.”

Racini A.