Posts Tagged ‘Imperial War Museum’

Conflict brought right up to date

In Museums on March 8, 2018 at 12:58 pm

The war in Syria started on 15 March 2011.  There are more hours of content on YouTube about the war than there have been hours of the actual conflict itself. It might not all be great film content, but it’s certainly evidence of a bewildering and confusing war that continues to make headlines.

Between 15 March and 28 May 2018 Imperial War Museum North is inviting visitors to actively and intimately think about how to make sense of what we hear from Syria – in the news, in print, online. Taking evidence from specific events during the battle of Aleppo in late 2016, the interactive audio experience asks us whether confusion is being used as a weapon to stop the international community from acting. Who controls the fog of war?

This is particularly fitting in IWM North – a building that is designed to confuse and bewilder us. The architecture of the main museum gallery deliberately places visitors in a space where they cannot see all of the room at once . The curves and shards of the walls obscure the entrances and disorient us into a state of mild unease. It’s supposed to be that way, reflecting the notion that when one is in a conflict, one cannot step back, reflect or view situations objectively.

I’ve often thought it makes for a confused visitor experience. But once visitors ‘get’ it, they think it’s rather clever.

When the Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917 its task was to document the story of the First World War raging in Europe and around the (then) British Empire.

Today people might tend to think of the IWM as an historical institution that looks back,  telling us stories of conflicts past. With this installation – and with their accompanying exhibition which I’ve reviewed for Northern Soul – they are demonstrating their relevance to the modern day and that they still have the skills to collect and interpret wars in our lifetime.

Programming about contemporary conflict reminds us of the value of museums, collecting things and presenting them to the public, not only to document our world, but also to help us reflect on our part in it.


What does your facebook status tell us about you?

In Museums on November 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Have you played with the facebook app What would I say? It’s a creative and non-intrusive way of looking back at your status updates from the past. And it’s pretty good fun too.

Once you’ve given the website your facebook login and password – which doesn’t appear to then result in your identity being stolen – it trundles through your previous updates and splices words and phrases randomly, creating new potential updates for you, often with hilarious effect.

Recent ones thrown up for me included:

“I curated an exhibition for a peculiar range of objects from London for the secret service”

“Audioguide by yours truly. Take part in tray 1. Who puts jam in your honour?”

“Imperial War and bailey’s, would they fancy being interviewed for Glastonbury tickets later?”

“Ah, the British Museum or heritage sector too, but it sucks to the material girl”

“Well, think of a word, so sheepish and went freelance”

Looking back at these reveals that I probably talk about myself and museums too much in facebook status updates and ask a lot of questions. And that I like jam and Madonna.

Roman Halter (1927-2012)

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

It is with great sadness that I read recently of the passing of Roman Halter.

I first met Roman at the Imperial War Museum, where his personal story is told in The Holocaust Exhibition. After I left the Museum, we continued to write to each other and occasionally meet up for coffee to chat about a variety of subjects, notably museums, architecture and where to get good food in north London.

When working with people in a museum context who have survived something as disturbing and life-changing as the Holocaust, it is sometimes easy to pigeon-hole them. They can perhaps be seen as Holocaust survivors and nothing else. Roman was one of the first survivors I met who really helped me to understand that although people may have lived through and witnessed terrible events as young people, they also have gone on to lead rich, diverse and fulfilling lives afterwards. The Holocuast is only part of a survivor’s life. And it happened 60 years ago – so much more has happened since then.

Roman is remebered today as a survivor of the Holocaust, yes, but also as an architect, a designer and an artist. And as a father and grandfather. It is perhaps fitting that the legacy he leaves behind is a physical one – there are countless Halter stained-glass windows around the world today and I am very proud to have one of his paintings hanging in my study as I write – and an historical one in terms of his personal story during the Second World War. I hope that his story is not forgotten, and that his art continues to inspire people to create beautiful things as well.

Indeed, it is at sad times like these that I am reminded of the power that museums and collecting institutions have in preserving the experiences and memories of people who have lived through periods which have shaped our world. Oral histories, personal possessions and documentary evidence all ensure that we won’t forget stories like this and we won’t forget people like Roman.

On the subject of collecting stories, Roman was kind enough to take part in my ongoing research project into the nature of happiness – a world away from museums, but still a project based around collecting stories. I visited him at his home in 2008 and we chatted for a few hours about his life and experiences in relation to happiness. You can read the interview on this website here. In April 2009 he also sent me a hand-written note with some further thoughts on happiness.

The interview was picked up by The Telegraph, who quoted my conversation with Roman in his obituary, which you can also read here to get a fuller picture of his life.

Spring awakening

In Museums on April 11, 2011 at 7:58 am

The annual museum and gallery exhibition calendar is well established now. The summer blockbuster is a favourite set piece for the nationals and this year is no exception. As per norm the National Portrait Gallery will have the portrait award and the Natural History Museum is doing another massive exhibition about dinosaurs.

But for a long time I’ve been a fan on an exhibition in the Spring. Often, less bombastic or sensational than its summer counterpart, the Spring Exhibition tends to be more discursive. It asks questions or provokes debate. Exhibitions at this time of year are often simpler and more reflective than the showy shows of the summer and can be quite inspirational.

Some that have caught my eye right now are:

Women War Artists, which opened at the Imperial War Museum last week, looks to be an interesting reflection on female artists working in wartime.

Foundling Voices opens this week at the Foundling Museum. Based on their ongoing oral history research, this exhibition seeks to bring the actual voices of people who grew up in the Foundling Hospital to the public. There’s going to be a rap competition – can’t wait to see that.

I’ll probably make a visit to Manchester to the People’s History Museum to see On The March, an exhibition about banners used protests and marches. I imagine it will be full of intriguing objects with strong stories.

And, of course, I’m hugely looking forward to the next exhibition at the Museum in Docklands – Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story. You can even follow the captain on twitter!

In addition to the temporary exhibitions there are some new museums and galleries about to open for the first time as well. The Riverside Museum in Glasgow and the Hepworth Wakefield are both set to open this Spring. And tomorrow I’m off to the opening of the David Chipperfield-designed Turner Contemporary in Margate.

There’s so much going on, I might just take a month off work and go visit museums!

Overhauling the Imperial War Museum

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on November 5, 2010 at 9:09 am

There are plans afoot to change the way visitors interact with the collection at the Imperial War Museum, London.

The IWM are currently in a master planning process with Foster + Partners, who are providing the museum with ideas about how to redevelop the public galleries at the Lambeth Road site. The aim is to reopen the First World War galleries (which were last udpated in the early 90s) in time for the national commemoration of the start of the conflict in 2014. They’d then work on the Second World War and other galleries over the following years.

There’s a piece about the plans on Museum [Insider].

What’s next for museum education?

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on November 4, 2010 at 8:28 am

The way education services in museums are run has changed enormously over time. From clipboards and photocopied worksheets to interactive whiteboards and sophisticated mechanisms for measuring learning. As a sector we are able to articulate what we want people to learn when they interact with a museum – at the museum, on their computer or in their school – and we have the tools to plan how to achieve this.

We’ve also made huge leaps and bounds in terms of access to museums and their collections, widening audiences and encouraging a new generation of museum visitors.

Like an impatient schoolchild, the education sector doesn’t like to sit still for long. It always wants to move on and find new ways of working.

So I asked myself, and a few others, what we think the future is for museum education. What’s next on the agenda?

I spoke to Samantha Heywood (Director of Learning and Interpretation at the Imperial War Museum), Gillian Wolfe (Director of Learning at Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Viv Golding (a lecturer and museum learning expert at the Univesity of Leicester’s Department of Museum Studies) and asked them what they thought was coming next.

Their answers make for interesting reading, in a features article on Museum [Insider].

Two exhibitions in one weekend

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2010 at 11:32 am

My word, that was a double exhibition-visiting weekend just gone.

On Saturday I went back to my old stomping ground of the Imperial War Museum to see the Ministry of Food exhibition. I was pretty excited about going, not least because of the excellent blog which had been putting out great messages about the show in the run up to the opening.

The show is, as always at the IWM, perfectly put together with excellent attention to detail. The design of exhibitions always seems to ‘work’ at the IWM, with beautifully constructed sets and amazing props. But I wasn’t really a fan of the interpretive hierarchy this time. Someone has clearly decided to do away with traditional long panels introducing each section of the show – which is an admirable and a brave step – but the complete absence of narrative left me a bit lost. I came out having seen many of the usual suspects I expected and having learned a few facts, but I didn’t get a sense of what the IWM wanted to tell me about food during the Second World War.

I must say I’m getting a bit tired of the visitor route in the upstairs exhibition gallery with its angular architecture and glimpses of what’s to come through the walls. It worked for a while, but I’m sure someone can come up with something new now.

Sunday was Tate Britain for the Henry Moore exhibition. It only opened last week, so it was pretty busy, but I must say I was utterly delighted with the show. I love Moore anyway, but I had gone into the space with a sense of dread. TB have in the past managed to completely ruin some artists for me with their preachy and unintelligble language and their snooty attitude to art, but this was a pure delight. Aside from the sensitive and well-paced design of the space and settings of the art works, someone has managed to get hold of the panel text and make it actually make sense this time. I came out knowing and appreciating much more about Henry Moore and even bought the catalogue – a rare measure of success for me!

Have you seen either of these exhibitions? Do let me know if you agree/disagree.

Getting to grips with multimedia

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2009 at 10:05 am

I’ve been working with the British Museum of late, writing their new multimedia guide to the permanent collection – it’s like a traditional museum audio-guide, but it has a screen as well so you can show images and have visitors click on little interactives and games. It’s been great fun, but a bit of a learning curve for me as I was previously used to writing pure audio. I find that the more gudies I take, the better my writing becomes. I’ve really enjoyed making little interactives – click on the screen to find out more about ……

Recently I’ve taken some good tours. The Imperial War Museum multimedia tour is great and has loads of content on there for families especially. And the tour for the Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery was brilliant – it really got me looking closely at the paintings and comaring them to works in other museums being shown to me on my screen. One of the golden rules of audio writing for museums is don’t write about what you can’t see, but with this you can!

I’m now working on a tour of the Parthenon galleries at the British Museum for visually impaired visitors, which is a real challenge, but great fun. I’m having to come up with as many different ways of saying – the object infront of you is made of pale grey marble. It all goes live in December, once it’s been translated into nine languages!