Following Workshop 1, we asked participants to write a summary of their thoughts and reflections on Workshop 1. We will be posting these up over the next few days. Enjoy!
Beginning the Research Translation Journey by Janine Hatter
For me, Research in Translation got off to a mysterious start. While the majority of the group met in central Birmingham, I ventured alone to find Museum Collections Centre – mistake number 1! I found the building easily enough, but the entrance itself alluded me. It had been described almost like a secret lair with which you need a password and indeed it seemed like Aladdin’s Cave – impossible to find. But, having found the group and been let in through a security door, our training to exhibit our research treasures was underway…
Day 1 started with a talk on Rebecca Bridgman’s experiences of curating the Islamic Calligraphy exhibition, with tips on how to juxtapose old and new objects, develop a human narrative and how to incorporate family trails. This was followed by an exploration of Aladdin’s Cave itself; we were let loose to wander around the Museum’s stores and explore the rare and unusual objects not on display.
After lunch, came Katie Hall’s workshop on how to write exhibition panels and object display labels. As a Literature student I thought I was on safe ground – mistake number 2! I had underestimated the care and detail needed to write clear, effective and easy to understand material for a wide audience; so what I thought would be one of my strengths quickly became the most challenging aspect of curating a museum exhibition. Day 1 was rounded off by us interpreting ethnographic photographs with Adam Jaffer, so we could experience the questions and dilemmas our own exhibition audience might go through to understand their perspective. Why are these objects together? What do they tells us about the subject and our own perceptions? And what point are they trying to make? – These are questions we need our displays to answer.
For Day 2 we met at another Cave of Wonders – Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. This time Andy Horn taught us how to have an eye-catching gateway piece to draw people into the exhibition and not to block the audience’s view of the exhibition as they move around. We then explored the History galleries with Henrietta Lockhart and learnt how interpretation is key. Having thought that museums would be objective in their displays (mistake number 3!), my preconception was quickly corrected – museums are more biased than people realise, but they aim to let the objects speak for themselves, rather than interpreting them for the audience. Finally, we visited the Digital Prototyping Hall of the University of Birmingham, where we got to play with the newly-developed touch tables that have revolutionized museum exhibitions. These tables have opened up visitor interactions and developed different levels of knowledge – people can now delve deeper into an object’s information if they so wish. Overall, these two days exposed us to the inner workings of museums and how their visitors think, leaving us to ponder how we can translate our own research into something fun, accessible and relevant to our audience.
To begin thinking about our own research we were asked to provide 3 key words; mine were phobia, anxiety and society. For me, these three ideas triangulate to make up the main thrust of my research: phobias produce specific anxieties in individuals, but society’s constructs have a strong influence over what people fear and how they can overcome them. Thus, in my exhibition I want each aspect to be represented. My main concern for my display is that it will be a static collection of generic representations of traditional phobias (such as spiders, germs and small spaces), and so I am looking forward to working with the designers in Workshop 2 to develop my ideas into a moving, interactive exhibition. Engaging with the process as a whole will hopefully enliven the audience’s experience, while not losing the essence that diagnoses of phobias have increased significantly since the nineteenth century in direct correlation to society’s expansion and development of new technologies, scientific advancements and environmental changes.
Overall, my appreciation for the curator’s role has broadened now I understand the complexities of label writing, placing objects together for significant effect and light levels. I look forward to developing these skills myself to create an exhibition that is meaningful for its audience and can hopefully facilitate knowledge exchange.