Museum visit & Biology block

  My visit to the Auckland Museum and also the biology block at the University of Auckland with Tessa was inspirational and thought provoking. It was great to do both in one day, as the museum was formal, while the biology block was appealingly informal in their display, it had a very accessible feel about it. In the museum I walked through the plant section and then the animal/vertebrates part. The plant section had lost of ‘real’ plant examples with very formal types signs and information. These plants were displayed behind glass and so felt very inaccessible. There were also some ‘drawings’ and large photo’s showing where certain plants fitted within the larger scale of the hierachy. I then decided to also walk through the animal parts, as I felt that this display so far did not give me what I was looking for. I first walked through the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ gallery part, where I encountered ‘my bottled’ animals, also trays of animal groups and life animals ‘living’ in small boxes (this was a bit unsettling, even though many of these are pests, eg cockroaches). The bottles were arranged on narrow shelves so you could see them form either sides. Most had recognizable animals or parts in them, there were a few surprises though, such as a small stuffed Bart Simpson. This made me smile and am sure the curators added these to engage the younger audience, and possible create a series of questions for the parents from these youngsters. The display of the bottles had me thinking of my own current experimentation with the wine bottle and my plant bits in them. The link between my bottle images and these bottles is very direct and obvious. The preservation aspect of these bottles, as well as the liquid in the bottles (formaldehyde in their case, but simple water in mine), the slightly mad garden witch/artist collecting these specimen (formally trained scientist in the case of the museum) and quantity of them. Collecting and preserving for posterity, but also for research is also a practice that is used with plants. These thoughts, ideas and influences I took along to the biology block, which was my next stop. In this building there were 2 things to look at, one was a work by Christine Hellyar and then the display cabinets of all the animals along the corridor and in a couple of class rooms. The work by Christine Hellyar was very intrigueing and also very fitting to be displayed here. As this work was shown in 2 sets of narrow cabinets and the shelves were filled with dyed cloth, napkins, muka and crochet blankets, on which items were displayed such as shelf fungus and little bows. The work was a curious, but interesting mix of manmade and nature. Much of the man made items were richly died red (since seeing this I learned from watching here video that richly died tape cloth was given a higher status) in one set of cabinets, while left white in the other. The work (Tessa thought) was part of the ‘Mrs Cooks Kete’ series (am to date unable to find more detailed info on this work). This work really resonated with me:

  • the simplicity of the objects used to create a cabinet of curiosity,
  • the ‘curious’ combination of man made and natural
  • the rich colours of the dyed work
  • the display method used

It created questions in my head about whether these were really things a woman on a discovery mission would have collected. I loved it. (I had been waiting for a DVD to arrive form the library on Christine Hellyar and after seeing this work I am eager to see it, as am sure will get plenty of inspiration form it) The display cabinets along the corridor and in the class rooms were also like a cabinet of curiosity, as there was no formal structure to the display:

  • there were labels, but some were typed, others hand written
  • no formal order in the arrangement of the items
  • display structures were painted odd colours, some pink, some purple, almost as if they had rumaged through a cupboard and found some left over paint, the little name tags also matched the colours of each structure.
  • there was handwritten sheets of paper
  • at times there was more than one the same animal or part
  • there were samples missing from their little allocated shelves, creating a curiosity of what had happened to these (which professor’s house was it now living in?)
  • behind some little shelves there were identical shaped ‘shadows’ of the animal part, while in other instances these ‘shadow’s were odd shaped clouds.

These collections were a collection with a personal touch to them, creating a invite to inspect and view. It would be interesting to see this type of display in a museum, would this attract more interest? As it is less formal ad possibly stuffy. These visits have been really good food for though for my practice and where to from here for me and my arts practice. I love collecting, gathering, preserving and sharing small treasures from nature. Sharing not only the importance of nature in our lives, but hopefully also creating some understanding and though behind what we can do as people to help nature. This whole display method does require quantity to have an impact and one thought I got from this day was to concentrate each 3 months heavily on one aspect of my cabinet of curiousity. This way my practice would have the ability to go deeper each 3 month period into an aspect, which would result in a many deeply researched parts of a collection. If that is the avenue I end up taking then my bottles will certainly an aspect of this final cabinet.

Posted by Elle Anderson

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