Behind the scenes @ Acme Museum Services
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The mystery of hidden magic lantern slides revealed by Gypsy Romany Traveller elders. A project I worked on 7 years ago in Sussex using oral history excerpts and a slideshow.
Top: Hookjaw from 1976 Action comic.
Middle: Alan and Zara characters as developed by Hamish and Asia
Bottom: Comic bubble ‘translation’ of 3000 year old hieroglyphics by Hamish
It’s a museum label Jim, but not as we know it
One of my love/hate jobs in museums are exhibit labels. I can spend ages writing a short, snappy text label. Then I get depressed as I observe visitors drifting by my mini-masterpieces not reading any labels in the gallery. I also start banging my head when I read surveys that say only 30% of museum visitors in fact bother to read anything at all.
So what to do? Traditional museum management love the got-to-have-a-text-label-for-all-display-exhibits. This can mean writing lots of text for a huge 3D book! However, I have been thinking for years why not approach museum text labels like the structure of a comic or a graphic novel?
Writing a script for a comic takes some serious editing skills to grab the readers attention. And you are often working in a team with a an artist making your words into a wow scene as seen in the classic Hookjaw from Action, see gory picture above (script by Ken Armstrong, art by Ramon Sola). Taking those comic elements I have managed a wee experiment with my latest exhibition “The Story of British Comics So Far: Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz!” at the Lightbox in Woking.
As this is an exhibition about comics all the labels have to be in cartoon bubbles! And why not get some foamboard ‘guides’ to show visitors the highlights of each display section? Enter my characters Grandad Alan and his granddaughter Zara. They are brought to life by the amazing Asia Alfasi, see pictures above.
And if you have 3 ancient loan exhibits of early sequential comic art why not ‘translate’ them as a comic? See my example that I designed with Comic Life software of the 3000 year old Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic stone from the Petrie Museum. My casual observations at the Lightbox is that visitors of all ages spend more time reading these speech bubbles than the traditional museum yawn square box versions.
Some simple interactive approaches for Cowdray Heritage Trust, see wee article below.
How do you grow your low-tech interactives?
This summer I advised Cowdray Heritage Trust on developing some ways of engaging family audiences at the Cowdray Ruins in West Sussex. Ever heard of this place? Well google and you will be amazed by the political history that this place used to to be fizzing brightly like a firework. Visitors included Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, a butler who became notorious as Guy Fawkes, the top 17th century British chef Robert May and later the artists Constable and rival Turner.
Alas, during a fire in the 18th century the main buildings and wow art collection all went up in flames. All remaining today are the tall walls, some chimney stacks and a tower with a view. So how do you get family groups to stop, pause and look around? There is a very good audio tour guide but I liked the quote from one of the volunteers who remarked “walking in the footsteps” of the famous celebs and not so famous staff.
So how about walking in the footsteps of the builder of this Tudor palace? Get some giant Lego-type bricks and ask visitors to build some walls. How about a bit of hide-and-seek and see if visitors can spot anybody up on the walls? Could that be Queen Bess? Or a shifty servant up to no good? Get local artist Traci Moss to loan her collection of 5 recycled Bob sculptures and place them in strategic places. Then give visitors a mini Bob trail leaflet and stickers. Bob’s your Royal! See the pics above for this wee experiment. We will see if these interactive ideas will grow next year.
Behind the scenes photos of Lightbox team, Bowerwood set builders, Paul Gravett and I installing the exhibition “The Story of British Comics So Far…Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz!”. Install at the Lightbox in Woking between 25 July to 5 August 2016. Planning, script, layout design and loan negotiation (with museums and private collectors) took 18 months. Exhibition is now open until 31 December 2016.
A bit of cut and sticky tape to get a real feel for my exhibition layout for “The Story of British Comics So Far: Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz!” at the Lightbox.
Some sticky-tape, toy soldiers and recycled boxes. Hey presto! A comics exhibition emerges.
You can use the best CAD designs to design an exhibition but really the best way to get a feel for a new layout is to make a model. Some architects spend thousands of pounds on amazing scale models built by skilled hands.
A great example is at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in which as part of planning a new gallery they commissioned a model maker to make a scale model of the new building and then over 4 years he made mini versions of the 2000 artworks “which have been moved around by the curators to see how effective different hangings are” (quote from Guardian 23 April 2016).
Me, I just grab some plastic toy soldiers and start mucking about with a ruler and old food packaging that I can cut with a scalpel and bend with sticky tape. Photo above is my latest rough and ready model for the Lightbox in Woking. At this stage I was working out a brief for the set builders for “The Story of British Comics So Far: Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz!”. Doing it this way, like the team in San Francisco, made me consider sightlines. Lets see it become a reality on 6 August.
Time please on the Tingwall Orkney ferry MV Shapinsay
“Time built itself up again, not as an ancient storied house, but as a drift of butterflies.” How do we present TIME?
In museums and heritage sites there is a big focus on timelines. This helps visitors to see quickly the sequential history of a site or person. And at the moment schools love them as a useful tool. I and colleagues developed such a timeline to present the highlights of a First World War training camp in Sussex.
But… after dotting around different historic sites in Orkney, like somebody in a battered flying police box, visiting a 2000 year old fort then to a 300 year old dovecote and yomping down the road to a 7000 year old historic site, did it matter about the correct order of time?
Perhaps we should think about our attitude to time like the Orkney writer George MacKay Brown in a more loose way to help us discover more stories at our own personal pace? And allow us to discover things ‘off the beaten track’ rather than follow rigid instructions down a straight path? In his novel ‘Greenvoe’ one of Mackay Brown’s older characters recovers her memory as in the amazing quote above…
On a very windy ‘lambing snow’ visit to Orkney I came across Skara Brae. This is the best preserved collection of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. What impressed me with my curators woolly hat on was the amount of interpretation on this site. I think Historic Scotland has done a lot of thinking.
Inside the wee exhibition site were a unique style of labels that were so honest that explained the ‘experts’ did not really know much about who had lived here 5000 years ago. What was even better was the outside timeline.
As you go outside you notice this curious sign on the old wall (see above) and then as you walk down the path to the prehistoric site you notice stone markers with important dates carved on them (see below photo). You then realise, with a chuckle, you are looking at a timeline! I found it a very clever way to have this minimal information as you walked and not bombarded by colourful graphics. Great introduction to the site and making you become a time traveller in the wilds of Orkney.
An example of the amazing outdoor timeline that Historic Scotand have developed at the prehistoric site of Skara Brae, Orkney. Visitors start in 20th century with important dates such as Neil Armstrong and co landing on the Moon. Then the stone timelines count down major historic world events, as you follow the path, counting down to 5000 years ago when Skara Brae was a living village.
Hey presto! On a freezing windy day, last week, the Mayor of Worthing (left) and Chairman of Adur District Council (right) ‘opened’ the #WW1 information panel at Buckingham Park the site of Shoreham Army Camp 100 years ago. I am in the background catching the dustsheet parachute before it flies into the bowling green. The things we do as curators. We were never warned about this at college!
The new information panel I helped to create about the hidden history of WW1 Shoreham Army Camp next to the South Downs in West Sussex. Job done.
Legacy in the Park - It’s a Long Way To Tipperary
After organising some amazing #WW1 Shoreham Army Camp events and workshops last year with the team from Worthing Museum I thought that we would wrap up by October 2015. Especially as the funders Heritage Lottery Fund are strict about deadlines.
I was especially proud of the touring pop-up displays that I designed the exhibition kit for. Normally with temporary displays they last 6 to 12 months then after the tour everything gets dispersed or recycled.
But due to local demand after our WW1 walking tour I had the unique opportunity to help create a permanent outdoor information panel for Buckingham Park at Shoreham-by-Sea. We used info and graphics that we used in the touring exhibition and made sure it was an introduction to this hidden WW1 story and to encourage people to use the project website to find out more. The panel has just been installed by the amazing Adur and Worthing Parks dept. See more background info on the blog shorehamww1camp.org
At the drawing board. Working out the possible layout for the Lightbox comics exhibition ‘The story of British comics so far…Cor! By Gum! Zarajaz!’
At the drawing board
In my freelance bit working out the layout for the comics exhibition to be held at the Lightbox in Woking end of August. Title so far is ‘The Story of British Comics so far… Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz!’ However, whenever you think you have a unique exhibition, suddenly 2 other venues, thinking the same way, announce they are putting on similar exhibitions.
An example: I have just seen that the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow are doing a ‘Comics and Culture’ exhibition from March. Small world. But I think it will be different themes from what I and the team at Woking hope to do: what is a comic? nostalgia and the future of comics. The other problem in an exhibition like this is searching for copyright permissions for PR or printing a leaflet. Some of the older comics we hope to show such as 2000AD have such a complicated history of different owners. But on lighter side thinking how to design simple interactives for under 5year olds in this exhibition as well as for adults.
21th century laptop with 20th century bureau desk. Perfect for each other and the Dalek.
Testing testing 1,2,3,4
Just starting up this blog so testing it all. Using a laptop on my grandad’s fold down old bureau. Not a precious antique - just a really, really useful bit of family furniture that is so versatile. It was one of those items that was supposed to be dumped but fortunately family wisdom kicked in and saved it. I gather it was used by my grandad to calculate the receipts from the milk round he did in a battered Morris MInor van around North East Scotland.