Hearing from the participants: Irina Marin

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This is a great blog post about being involved in the process of Research in Translation by Dr Irina Marin http://fearacrossborders.blogspot.co.uk/, the author of the ‘Book of Riots’ which is now on display in the School of Museum Studies. Irina describes her experiences of the project and getting to grips with “translating” her research in new ways, which has resulted in a fantastic display exploring how the “messiness” of riots is dissected, analysed and communicated to the public in much more simplistic ways, ultimately blaming particular groups for causing the riot. It is a challenging subject but Irina’s approach has helped retain the complexity of the historical situations whilst presenting them in an accessible, and striking, format.

You can come and see Irina’s Book of Riots, along with all the other brilliant displays, at the School of Museum Studies, the exhibition is on until early February next year.

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Reflections: Developing the project briefs

I wanted to quickly reflect on the process of developing the project briefs from the perspective of a project “manager” rather than a participant. The process was very different because rather than focus on developing one display, we oversaw the development of all 12 displays within the (imagined) framework of an entire exhibition. Having not been involved in a similar experience before (although as a book reviews editor for a journal I am often commenting on the creative efforts of others) it was an eye opening, even challenging experience. With my lack of experience in developing an exhibition I often felt as though I did not have the “authority” to comment on the efforts of others, it seemed unfair somehow. Fortunately working with Serena in a collaborative process dispelled some of those doubts, and as the shape of the exhibition started to coalesce around some exciting themes and emerging ideas, the process began to make more and more sense.

One thing I did appreciate was the ability to have an overview of each participant’s ideas from their conception, to initial ideas after the first workshop, to more developed ideas after the second workshop, then crystallised in the project brief. I always wondered if the participants struggled a bit working on their displays in isolation (albeit with their mentors) and whether we needed a third workshop to develop the ideas around the exhibition itself. We could have then worked with the participants to place the displays around the building, and iron out any issues with position and location before the installation. Theming the displays around the building might also have worked slightly better if the participants came together a third time, there might also have been some additional collaborations in the space. It is something to bear in mind if we do it again (!) and prevent some of the unknowns of the installation process taking us by surprise.

Preparing all the materials for printing was one of the most challenging aspects of the entire exhibition for me, I felt as though there was a lot riding on getting it right – and there was! Unfortunately this was also one of the most rushed stages of the project, which led to quite a few mistakes. I am assured that this happens in museums too so this made me feel better. Again, I could have been better prepared for this stage if I had known far more about what it entailed. A third workshop where some of the practical elements were worked out – the size of the panels, images and types of materials needed – again would have been helpful.

Watching the development of the displays through the project briefs was a fascinating process and I hope it was not too onerous for the participants. It was interesting to see that some of the initial ideas laid down in the first workshop remained fairly constant throughout the project, whilst other ideas changed quite radically. In my next post I want to reflect on the installation of the exhibition but also provide some images of the exhibition itself, which will be much more interesting than my musings!

Reflections on Research in Translation: Workshop 2

It has taken me a while to return to the blog after the excitement (and hard work) of Workshop 2, project development and exhibition installation. I meant to reflect separately on each of these stages but life seems to be running ahead of me at the moment and I am desperately trying to catch up! However, now I have some time to think about what Research in Translation has meant overall I will endeavour to post my reflections about each of these three stages. First, I start with the second workshop which was held way back in January.

Research key words

Workshop 2

Workshop 2 of Research in Translation was held at the School of Museum Studies on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 January. It was set up as a “design masterclass”, with the participants working closely with Dr Suzanne MacLeod (School of Museum Studies), designers Peter Higgins (Land Design Studio) and Stephen Greenberg (Metaphor), and their mentors to develop their display ideas. I remember it being a very intense two days, at the end of which the participants’ ideas for their displays had begun to take real shape. I have their initial design ideas spread out in front of me over the floor and it will be interesting to compare those initial ideas with the finished displays here in the School.

The first day was a chance for participants to introduce themselves to Suzanne and to Peter, to describe their research focus and capture their display ideas in a couple of sentences. I did a presentation on the importance of thinking about audiences when developing an exhibition or display, thinking about the visitor experience in terms of participation (who is the audience), experience (the learning experience) and engagement (an active audience). Peter Higgins talked to the group about ‘designing narrative environments’, drawing on his expertise from backgrounds as diverse as film, television and architecture to design museum spaces, exhibitions and displays. These included the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, which was shaped like the ship’s hull and gives a snapshot of the vessel 10 minutes before it sank, ‘International Baroque’ at the V&A, London, Pompei and Herculaneum at the British Museum, and Ice Station Antarctica at the Natural History Museum, London, which invited children to take on the role of a research scientist in Antarctica. Peter’s top tips (as I have written them down) were “Be brave”, “enjoy it and believe it” and your ideas are important, it does not have to be perfect in the execution. I think we can say that our participants stuck to these tips throughout, at least I hope they enjoyed it, they were certainly brave enough to see the project out to the end! Suzanne provided an insightful look into ‘design for use’, focusing on the Imperial War Museum North, which was purposefully designed to be challenging, difficult and disorientating as a visitor experience. Important findings from the project carried out with staff from the museum included the importance of managing the visitor experience as visitors move through the space e.g. by facilitating emotional, physical and cognitive experiences, designing structures to facilitate visitor engagement – what kind of engagement do we want visitors to have? – and thinking about what changes could be made to help visitors use the space differently.

At the end of the first day, my notes refer to a certain amount of confusion amongst some of the participants over their ideas, but with most having a growing sense of focus over what to concentrate on. This set the scene for the second day, which would include a greater focus on working through their ideas with their mentors and the two designers. Stephen Greenberg from Metaphor initially described his experiences in ‘Design that tells stories’; unlike Peter, he came from an architectural background in which he practised for 20 years before going into museum design, a discipline that was, at the time, still in its infancy. He talked about the importance of story, and the importance of audience, the tension between the museum as the building containing works of art or is the museum a work of art in itself. He showed us examples of his work including the renovated Cast Court at the V&A in London and the exhibition Surreal Things. I noted down the importance of symbols, colour and eyelines. Emptiness can be just as powerful as presence. “Making the ordinary extraordinary” and the importance of the threshold of the museum for giving visitors a sense of orientation. The interplay between the two designers was a fun element of the day, although they have very different ways of working there was a sense that they respected each other’s work hugely and shared a sense of having no limits except their own imaginations.

The rest of the day was devoted to developing display ideas in the ‘Studio’ time and to report back to the rest of the group towards the end of the day. I have the notes I made from each participants’ report back to the group and I am going to detail them here partly as a reminder but also as part evidence of how these ideas changed (or did not change) between the workshop and the final exhibition.

Workshop 2 ideas

Rebecca – research starts with discovery and questions, exploration, mystery, the “lost box” in the corner, filing cabinet, copies of photographs for visitors to take away, add questions on post-its, building an archive of questions, take away what they find but keep a record, print out photos but keep a record of what people take away, heavier copies stay in box, table, couple of people working at the same time, memo pad telling you what it is about, sit down at a table with a box of photos, make it look like a study desk, shabby, underwhelming, bit of old rubbish, low tech process of research

Janine – 20th century newspapers versus 19th c, “kill or cure”, discovered in 19th c compared to now, mat to leave dirt and dust behind you, OCD and microbes, image on back case, ECT machine, treatments and cures, Doctor’s set up, Patient names and phobias, pick treatment, pills, hand sanitiser, gloves, creates a barrier, clinical, info sheet to take away, something to read which need to put gloves on, glass case, very pure

Jennifer – exploring concepts of home through historical and contemporary experience, letters, interviews, highlight words, migration to Northern Ireland, duality and parallels in experience, except historical letter, new migrants experience, glass box – 2 opened sides, 2 covered sides, contemplative, reflective (static in case), object relates to narrative (could be in letter), images at base of display, artwork, contemporary / historical, if valuable does not need case (replica) more powerful, solid blocks of colour?, object could link contemporary and historical, food e.g. old wrappings, E Europe, glass jars, pickling, cherry jam, graphics low down = hard to read, throw out case – tables, panels, objects on table

Rosie – communal making is powerful, scrapbooks are great, everyday epherema is important (messages), options, display case of scrapbooks, TV showing images from inside, pamphlet for more info, magazine layout in production on wall / table, content out of magazines (link), village hall aesthetic, chairs and table, sitting down in a social way, chairs and tables stacked in corner, physical engagement with scrapbooks, facsimile for people to read, transforming viewpoint for audience (scrapbook as concentina), contemporary magazine writing about the scapbook, issue not addressing rural life, scarpbook as flat plan with gaps, intervene to add captions or could use highlighter pens, activity space for people to look in their pockets to contribute, stick into something communal effort like scrapbook, not magazine but would look stunning, not pacing like a magazine but would have different affect, randomness lovely, social impact of everyday things

Emma – temporary shrine behind memorial, link to Leicester war memorial, immediacy to remember straight away, recreate temporary shrine from 1917 – unexpected, alone on wall, handwritten lists, dried flowers, visual display of shrine evolving into war memorial – postcard images e.g. ceremony, unveiling, photo of original shrine and make copy, power of super grahpics – fill the space with an image, next to toilets, shocking on everyday level, visual axis important as could be in a busy space – meant to be seen

Irina – Book of riots, more than one event, a selection of riots (need to research these), mediated / filtered is how we know about the past, dual structure report of event and actual confusion of event, how to convey confusion – embed audio file into the book (like children’s books) – tabs in margins give information about the riots, page = spin and gloss, no direct link to past, confused reality on ground, could start recently and go back, contemporary riots e.g. UK riots in Summer, 3-4 riots, Giant Red Top e.g. the Sun, giant newspaper book, printed on heavy fabric, frayed edges, lead books open on one page covered with gesso, watercolour and pencil drawing on top, series of 3-4 books open on one page, easier for sound files if wired in old encyclopaedias – glue down page on top

Sophie – linguistic diversity and endangerment focus (message), experience of the whistling language = exciting, contextualise people find ways throughout history to communicate, endangered and what can we do about it, digital tablet and app?, interactive app where people pick the topics they are interested in, want an element of play, experential, relate to the individual, get people thinking, modular so can add in more, could do museum of language, need focus, beware of sound pollution, hairdryer with sound in it, 3 sides, box with speakers in, big print of the gorge, 2 men whilstling across the gorge to each other, old ladies whistling to each other – film, split screen, too noisy?

Hannah – The Box of Delights, cabinet of curiosities (archaeological), books and toys over the centuries defy categorisation – miscellany, toy box as the model, image at the back of 19th century toy box arranged as shelves, objects e.g. composite, specific toys at front, objects as well as images, small crudely made objects often attributed to children, Eye Spy activity, the more you look the more you see, people could make own composites e.g. paper doll, velcro / moveable parts, aesthetic = bricolage, collage

Elaine – women in 19th century prison, series of triangles along the corrdor area – person looking down will see mug shots of prisoners one way, other way will see letters giving another view of prison life, see different views depending on which way you look, step inbetween the two see the two images together

Tyr – focus on the story of chickens, the lens of disease, staircase, little cupboards which physically open, picture on front and the disease inside, “descent of the chicken”, types of chicken in their environment, Thailand, broiler chicken deformed (KFC), fighting cocks (bones with evidence of fighting), Punic funerary monuments, Romans moved infectious diseases around the world, special breeds, romantic views of chickens, drawers need to be large enough to fit on the stairs, timeline / hierarchical story, fix drawers to wall, simple light boxes, women still part of the story but where?

Sam – focus = girl teen film and how music video aesthetics makes things that are everyday fun and into spectacle, postcard = see more, film in two sections, trailer film emphasises banality of events as spectacle, Hollywood voiceover, images flat and not pleasing aesthetically – clip from film showing transformation, by magic of music video aesthetics

Cynthia – Following the Traces, process through time, graphic design and text, animation / cartoon telling story of manuscript, marginalia in edges of text, medieval text in background, hint at in back, digital image 1190, 1200, 1230 – stimulate vellum, print onto it?, graffitti wall, rest is a commentary, medieval and bored (marginalia), iPad watch it – drawing cartoon, draw it / do it, draw and upload to Twitter, (may be too much), pre-printed colour in sheets which people could tear off and take home, brass rubbing, take art home, rubber stamps & ink pad, project pattern onto paper and draw over it

It is amazing how many of the display ideas were fully formed by the end of Workshop 2, with only a few tweaks needed to get them into their final form. Other ideas were quite radically changed (or returned back to original conceptions) by the time the first exhibition display drafts were produced. It was an exciting two days that showed the great potential when working with experts who are open to sharing and discussing ideas, as well as drawing on the decades of research into museum design and audience engagement that has been carried out in the School. I came away from the two days feeling very excited and keen to progress to the next stage – although I in reality had very little to do with it as it was up to the participants to develop their first design brief.