Display in Focus: Ancient Myth and Transformation

Hello!

It’s Polly again. Now I’ll tell you a bit about how I created the Ancient Myth & Transformation display.

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Behind the scenes! – cleaning the display case before objects are installed

 

This display is situated in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. Because of this, I wanted to discuss a subject that related to the museum and its collections.

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Entrance to the museum

I started looking at various aspects of gender and sexuality in the ancient world, and found myths to be an interesting expression of this in Greek culture. I eventually came across the myth of Narcissus, and after reading various adaptions of the story, I felt that exploring this myth would be a great way of seeing how a past culture viewed LGBTQ+ relationships and ideas about the body.

I wrote my own summary of the myth (which is included in the display):

“Ovid’s Metamorphoses tells us of a vain young man who was desired by men and women for his extraordinary beauty. He scorned this affection and was cursed by the gods for his arrogance and vanity. Upon seeing his reflection for the first time he fell in love with it, not realising it was himself. The divine curse led him to be so charmed that he could not move or look away. He lamented and gazed at his reflection forevermore, eventually transforming into a beautiful flower”.

The theme in the story that interested me the most was the aspect of self-discovery and transformation. The story has traditionally been read as a cautionary tale against pride and egotism, however some may see his transformation into a flower as a peaceful end to a long period of suffering.

The story also contains an aspect of LGBTQ+ history, as it shows us that the ancient Greeks were comfortable with the concept of sexuality being driven by attraction and desire, and not necessarily by gender. LGBTQ+ themes were present in the story, but were not a key part of the tale, showing that LGBTQ+ identities may not have been as political or socially significant as they were in some past cultures. I also felt this was an important concept to highlight as it relates to current topical discussion, with LGBTQ+ identities and relationships still being challenged and contested in some communities and areas of the world today…

 

To add colour to the display, I chose a specimen from the herbarium and used this to focus on the myth surrounding the narcissus plant itself. I wanted to include this to explore a slightly different element of the theme of Narcissus, as well as take the chance to use the intriguing herbarium collections that the university holds. An additional idea was to put a live narcissus plant next to the display, as it would add a sensory element to the exhibit and be a physical example of transformation in action: as the flower grows and wilts it goes through various transformations, with each new form being a product of its environment and its physical nature, and each change being unique and special to that individual plant. However, this idea was short lived due to complications with collections care and pest control!

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Narcissus specimen from the herbarium collections

 

Working with the wonderful curators at the Ure Museum, I identified items in their collection which would work well with the theme of transformation. I decided to choose ancient Greek artefacts which depicted figures using mirrors, and accompanied these with an ancient Egyptian mirror. This focus on mirrors aims to encourage people to think about physical image and the body, and how this can be transformed. I also included a modern mirror in the display, and ask visitors to look into it and think about the theme of transformation in relation to themselves – such as choosing outfits, ageing, or achieving lifetime goals.

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Artefacts in situ before they were installed into the ‘About & Out: Transformation’ display

 

To add an interactive element to the display, I created an activity sheet which asks people to be creative and transform a blank image into an individual. When you visit the display, take the time to have a go yourself – and let us know how you got on by contacting us via email, or add a pic to social media using the hashtag #aboutandout.

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Transform me! activity sheet

Feel free to contact me at museumgeeks@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments about this exhibit. I’d love to hear from you!

See you soon,

Polly (Museum Geek)

 

P.S – If you’d like to learn more about the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, take a look at their website (https://www.reading.ac.uk/Ure/index.php) or plan a visit. It’s well worth a trip!

 

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Display In Focus: Love & Desire – Part 2

Jonathan again, here to conclude on the construction of the Love & Desire display.

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Labels had been missing when the objects for the display were first installed, so getting them in was the top priority afterward. Label writing is also one of the strangest, trickiest aspects of any museum project; all your ideas as a curator and educator have to be condensed down into a few lines that should easily readable to your audience. For example: Right now I’m writing with a presumption that readers will be at least moderately literate with at least some enthusiasm for either museum curation or LGBTQ+ subjects. My sentences are long and complex, at times with multiple subjects linked through uncertain uses of conjunction and punctuation. These were some of the chief complaints I received about my draft labels, so I had to rush to fix them.

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How the objects had been previously arranged affected how the labels themselves were written up, which in then affected how I arranged the objects. Strange loop, no? One may recall from the previous blog post that originally, the label holders had been placed together, and Satan Took a Bride was placed near the top. The display case was packed, but when the labels were slipped in, it became apparent that it made for a bit of an unclear reading. Plus, given the sentiment by others that perhaps I had one book too many, and the choice was made to remove Heart, Have You No Wisdom? and put the Mills & Boon label in its place. Thus I had a square around a square, the label surrounded by its subject. This also freed up enough space for the Violet Winspear label to be placed in the centre but still be placed clearly closer to its own subject matter and material.

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Unfortunately at the time, there simply weren’t enough large label holders for my purposes – worse still my smaller labels were too large for small label holders. This was not impossible to revise through careful editing of sentences, and removing unnecessary spacing, though I could have also considered the ages old trick of editing font size. I mean, I didn’t, but it was still a possible solution, and the others that I did use managed to free up enough of the large holders.

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One of the peculiar concerns that nagged me throughout the arrangement of the display was how I would intend people to move through it, and how they would be introduced. Strictly speaking there are two methods of entry into the Staircase Hall that are technically accessible to the public, but the one that would have been most preferable to my aims – emerging by the painting of Pandora at the start – was also the least likely to be used as it’s not the main entrance and intended for staff access. However, the route from the entrance lets one meet the latter half of the material in terms of chronology first, thus I was going to have to accept a probable on compromise the flow of the ‘narrative’ as such – going from the late 19th century to the late 20th century – owing to the space syntax of the room. At the very least though, I could position our exhibition sign on an easel to be the first thing one saw if they looked into the room (the entrance being in a right-hand corner), which is what I did.

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It was slowly but surely all coming together, with only one particular complication left. The thing for which I was most enthused, both for how silly it is but also how peculiar the questions it raises are. In the upper left, one can see the Museum’s painting of ‘Pandora’, depicting the mythological woman from greek myth in the moments prior to her creation. Since I was going for a look into things such as sexuality and identity are depicted, it seemed like a wasted opportunity if I did not somehow make use of the naked woman hung on the wall. There are however a lot of concerns that go into any kind of tampering with such a piece, namely about potential harm. The painting itself is behind glass, but tape could potentially leave a smear or we might scratch it in installation, neither of which is a good thing to do in general, nevermind when you’re a student. Fortunately, a solution was devised whereby our little addition would be over the painting, but not strictly on it, thus sparing it from any harm.

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So it was that Pandora came to be censored, but only above the waist – that’s where the artist actually put in the details after all. Never mind that her crotch is still exposed, and there’s some men hard at work in the back in seemingly nothing at all. If the standard by which Pandora has been covered up should seem strange, good: That’s the point.

 

That is Love & Desire, and I hope its creation has proven interesting to read about. Thanks for your time,

Jonathan

Display in Focus: Identity & Self-expression

Hi!

I’m Aainaa, one of members of the Museum Geeks team. I’m here to give some background information and behind-the-scenes look of the ‘Identity & Self-expression’ display.

Firstly, the display is one of two that are located at the Museum of English Rural Life, just by the London Road campus of Uni.

17274411_10212239452571534_927751548_nBehind the scenes action shot!

This display focuses on the personal aspects of queer theory in terms of personal and social identity, particularly surrounding sexuality and gender roles. The aim of the display, as part of the exhibition, is to make people more aware of the issues surrounding normative sexuality and the complexity of identity, while challenging gender norms.

Through this display, I hope to provoke thought in visitors and allow people to have an open discussion and debate around the topics presented in the display and throughout the exhibition as a whole.

17274223_10212239453611560_586164488_nAfter almost everything was laid out

Because of the large wall space of the display case, I had decided early on to incorporate the art collection and other objects that would be effective in grabbing people’s attentions. Because of this, I had to carefully consider the design plan for this display.

case designMy rough design plan sketched out

Along with the art collection, I had also identified items from the MERL Archive and Special collections, Typography’s Ephemera collection, and the Ladybird collection. These were used to showcase the concept of gender norms and heteronormativity.

20170224_154518A piece from the Ephemera collection that didn’t make the cut

In addition to these, I was also able to incorporate contemporary collections through collaborating with Ellie Wilsden, a third year UoR Art student, as well as using some objects that belong to the Museum Geeks team in the display, to further illustrate the idea of ‘self-expression’ and ‘identity’. These items included a number of things, from baby clothes, to sunglasses, and from lipstick tubes to hair dye.

17274481_10212239453131548_1735749384_nPutting on some finishing touches on the objects from the Museum Geeks team

There is also an interactive element to accompany this display, whereby visitors are invited to ‘label’ and ‘express’ themselves by using blank labels and pens that have been provided just by the display case. Along with these are some badges designed by Ellie Wilsden, that have been made available for grabs for a 50p donation.

C6zrfDXXUAIxQ2FThese badges are designed by art student Ellie Wilsden (visit her blog at https://elliewilsdenart.wordpress.com/)

If you’re interested in this subject matter, want to look at interesting objects, or just want some badges and labels for your collection, I encourage you to visit this display at the Museum of English Rural Life.

Take a photo of your label, your badges, or yourself, and tag it with #AboutandOut for us to see!

For any questions, comments, suggestions or feedback, please feel free to contact us via email at museumgeeks@gmail.com!

Big thanks,

Aainaa (Museum Geek)

Display In Focus: Love & Desire

Greetings!

Writing this post is Jonathan, one of the students on the project. I’m the one in the grey jumper at the back of this image here.

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Part of the purpose of this blog is to provide some insight as to how we in the group constructed the overall exhibition, and to that end, here’s a rundown of how my own display was put together.

Part 1: What Was I Even Going To Talk About?

So, we laid out pretty early in that we wanted the general abstract of the exhibition to have a LGBTQ+ theme and confront various issues on identity, particularly owing to the historical connection with the University such a topic presented. However, for the sake of management, and providing each student an opportunity to showcase their own skills, it was decided we would delegate amongst ourselves an individual theme and display that each of us could develop of our own accord. A trickier process than it might seem at first glance, as it required asking just what sort of topics we wanted to approach, how we wished to approached them, and most particularly whether or not there was enough material to support have. That latter point is what I first ran up against.

See, the initial idea I sought to develop was representation of LGBTQ+ figures in fiction. Then it was noted that we had to use material from the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life and/or the University archives, and it dawned on me that I may not be able to find so much. The uncertainty lasted for weeks, until one day we were given a tour through the archives on the MERL site, and inspiration appeared before us.

mills and boon book

So alright, ‘Representation’ in the sense of specific characters and stories wasn’t going to pan out. But a dissection of the imagery of culture, and how  it relates to given identities and desires? That could be done with what we had.

Part 2: Location, Location, Location

With a rough idea of the direction of my display in mind, next came the task of deciding where I was going to have it, what was going to go in it, and how it would all be arranged. The first part was decided to be the Staircase Hall in the MERL, featuring four cases – one tall standing case, and three table height display cases. Prior to my own display, the Staircase Hall had been host to Wintertide, a display that explored the concept of winter throughout the world.

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Before any work could be done to put my display in place, Wintertide and all its material had to be put away. This was done in February at the first opportunity; unfortunately as I hadn’t trimmed down the list of objects I wanted quickly enough for submission – lesson learned, one will invariably want more than can actually be used – objects for the Love & Desire display couldn’t actually be put in. However, planning could be done now that the cases were empty, to get a better idea of how it would all fit.

Part 3: Installation, Installation, Installation

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This was a first effort to figure out how the case containing Mills & Boon related material – the material that perhaps most touches on ‘Love & Desire’ in the whole display – might actually be able to hold it all. With the leaflets only a little bigger than the books I sought to use, it quickly made apparent I was going to run out of space for the ten books I was hoping to use,  alongside material on Violet Winspear, if I laid them flat.

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Human beings live in three dimensions however, and I began to consider how I might ply this to make the most of the space. This is what the planning looked like with the leaflets…

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While this is how it appeared in my crudely drawn draft. Usage of vertical space would reduce the necessary horizontal space, while still showing off the covers – the primary reason for the books being in the case,  as they showcased romantic and sexual fantasies – at a reasonable enough angle. It was a cunning plan…

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Almost foiled by the simple fact there weren’t enough stands. The result was to attempt a mix where some would stand, others would lie flat, and hope the mixed arrangement looked interesting enough to make up for the inconsistency. While I didn’t have labels put together at this time, I used holders to get a rough sense of where they would occupy the space, also providing an opportunity to better understand what the labels would actually need to summarise around them.

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Meanwhile, attempting to install in the standing case presented two previously unconsidered issues. Firstly, just how well the sunlight would shine directly down on the case, refracted by the suspended levels, obscuring some of the images. Secondly was that the ‘green’ edge of one of the suspended levels could in fact cut across any images that were too ‘high’ beneath them. Unfortunately there was no real way of solving either issue; only mitigate them by careful positioning and deciding what I wanted prioritise clarity for, based on a presumption of where a viewer might stand.

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Then there was this. A letter from the Conservative government of 1987, to inform the public in the midst of panic regarding HIV/AIDS. A sobering piece, in the midst in what was looking likely to be more lighthearted and/or curious poking at the peculiar nature of old expectations and social standards. There were questions about whether or not it really belonged; if perhaps its placement in contrast would induce a kind of whiplash in the experience of a viewer that would dissuade them from continued engagement. The suggestion was made to move it to another of the displays where it might be better placed, but in the end I felt that perhaps such harsh contrast was necessary, and indeed could be highlighted through the object’s isolation at the very top of the case.

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A less emotive, and much more spatial issue emerged in dealing with the Victorian children’s literature. Had to enough space for label holders, but also couldn’t have century old books brushing up against each other. The solution was to again use a bit of vertical space, in this case (metaphorically and literally) resting the books on towers of foam blocks, providing clearance.

For the fourth and final case… that was actually left to Jordan and Ffion, as perhaps four cases was one too many for myself. So with that out of the way, all the major material for my display was in place…

To Be Continued.

Display in Focus: History & Equality

Hello!

I’m Polly, part of the Museum Geeks team. I’ll tell you a bit about how I created the History & Equality display.

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Behind the scenes! – I’m installing the main label into the History & Equality case.

A key part of LGBTQ+ history in Britain is the Wolfenden Report and its effect on the decriminalisation of homosexuality. I thought this was important to include in our exhibition, as it was such a significant part of the progression of gay rights in England and Wales in the 20th century.

Coincidentally, Lord Wolfenden who worked to produce the report was also Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading 1950–1964, so this topic highlights a thought-provoking aspect of the University’s history.

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‘Lord Wolfenden Official University Portrait’ by Brenda Bury, 1963.

I used UMASCS to research the Wolfenden Report, and spent a lot of time in the Reading Room at MERL. During my research I came across a range of interesting materials, including handwritten letters, newspaper articles, and even a copy of the report itself. Most of the material I discovered is now currently on show in the Out: LGBTQ+ Equality’ section of the History & Equality display.

Throughout the curation process we all had to make difficult decisions about what to include and what to discard. The label below didn’t make the final cut to be included in the Out: LGBTQ+ Equality’ display:

Sexuality and the law

In England, male homosexuality had been outlawed since the Buggery Act of 1533. This was reinforced in 1885 when the Criminal Law Amendment Act made any homosexual activity between men illegal, including actions conducted in private.

Men across the country were victimised, leading to a number of high profile prosecutions, such as that of writer Oscar Wilde, and cryptographer Alan Turing.

By the end of 1954 there were 1,069 men in prison for homosexual acts in England and Wales. Upon entering imprisonment, each man was interviewed and offered ‘treatment’. Over 80% of these men rejected medical intervention, with many prison doctors skeptical that their treatments were an effective solution

It was discarded as it doesn’t directly relate to any objects in the display case. However, it does cover important facts to consider when thinking about the society that the Wolfenden Report was born from.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I would of course encourage you to visit the display (situated in the Archaeology foyer at Whiteknights Campus). Additionally, if you enjoy reading, I would recommend ‘Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain’ by Patrick Higgins. It gives a thorough background on the issues covered in the Wolfenden Report Display, including contextual information from the 1950’s and 60’s.

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Higgins, P. 1996. Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Post-war Britain. London: Fourth Estate.

 

When visiting the History and Equality display make sure to keep an eye out for the ‘About: Equality for all’ display case. This other display features MERL collections and community curated objects, and discusses equality with a focus on gender, and issues in the workplace. It aims to complement the ‘Out: LGBTQ+ Equality display by showcasing significant activities which have pioneered and championed equal opportunities for all – and includes current positive activities at the University of Reading.

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Behind the scenes! – preparing labels for the display, with the ‘About: Equality for all’ display behind us.

As a project group we are keen to encourage discussion and share ideas, so feel free to contact us to contact us at museumgeeks@gmail.com for more info – and stay updated on the blog!

See you soon,

Polly  (Museum Geek)

Welcome to our exhibition!

Our exhibition team comprises of 5 students completing a Museum Studies course at the University of Reading. This exhibition is part of our final year project, and is completely designed, developed and curated by ourselves. Our aim is to use objects to discuss themes and concepts, and create displays to encourage discussion.

2017 is the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Because of this, we decided it was important to use our exhibition as a platform to explore ideas about LGBTQ+ and gender. We started to find stories hidden within the University of Reading’s varied collections, and looked at materials from MERL, Special Collections archives, University Art Collections, Typography Collections, The Ure Museum, and the Herbarium.

We made the most of working with the brilliant staff at University Museums and Special Collections Services (UMASCS), and found that the Special Collections archives were full of surprises…

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This ‘festive’ book is from the extensive Mills and Boon collection that UMASCS holds. A few Mills and Boon books have been used in our exhibition to explore ideas about sexuality in literature, in our ‘Love and Desire’ display.

After discussing various strategies, we decided to split our exhibition up into 5 different displays. Each display covers a different theme, to allow us to explore as many ideas and stories as possible. The titles we chose were: ‘History & Equality’, ‘Culture & Society’, ‘Identity & Self Expression’, ‘Love & Desire’, and ‘Ancient Myth & Transformation’.MC3DDExhibition location map (1)

We then each picked a topic to curate individually. The next post will tell you a bit more about the ‘History and Equality’ display – and keep coming back to the blog to find out how other displays in the exhibition were created.

As a project group we are keen to encourage discussion and share ideas, so feel free to contact us to contact us at museumgeeks@gmail.com for more info – and stay updated on this blog!

See you soon,

Museum Studies Geeks