It’s taken me a month to get to this gem of a temporary exhibition but gosh darn it, it was worth the wait! Imagine if a museum asked visitors what they wanted to display . . . if they just put out a theme and then said ‘go on then, bring us stuff’. I mean that would be chaos, that would be insane, that would be A FLIPPING BRILLIANT IDEA WELLCOME COLLECTION – YOU UTTER LEGENDS.
In Spring 2017 Wellcome Collection asked the public to bring objects that tell personal stories of their relationship with nature. A fabulous team of seven people, all of whom work with nature in different ways, then selected items that provide a portrait of the modern day relationship between people and nature in the 21st-century grouping under four themes – Change, Imagine, Sustain and Ritual.
It’s brilliant because each object has a personal story, told by its donor. These stories aren’t just presented in text format (although you can pick up a booklet with them all in transcript form) they are told BY THE ACTUAL PEOPLE. You can hear their lovely voices explaining why, what, how. It’s just very personal, emotional and you can feel yourself developing connections with this objects. I’m also of the opinion that human are innately nosey and when you see an item that you think, ‘why the devil is that there’; you cannot just walk past it, you need to find out why. I’m convinced that massively reducing the amount of text and relying on the interaction of visitors physically picking up and ear piece to listen to a story must increase dwell time.
It’s the incorporation of the personal perspective that I am really going to take away with me. Yes museums can show wonderful, beautiful, incredible items, but sometimes without the personal stories associated it’s just ‘stuff’. Obviously finding personal stories for historic collections is difficult to impossible with no contemporary sources available – but I would argue that there are always ways around. Could someone carry out an experimental archaeological project to bring them a deeper understanding of an object, does the curator have a modern day story to tell about the item that is part of the objects personal timeline, all be it not dating from the time of its use.
Star item for me was the cat made of cat hair. Everything about it was brilliant. From its bemused googly eyed expression, to the fact it had been placed as if it was wandering out of the case. I genuinely laughed out loud to the almost apologetic reasoning of its donor, 17 year-old Merle, “some people might think it’s a bit strange, which I guess it is. But it’s quite cute. A bit disgusting maybe . . . I guess everything is a part of nature. There could be fleas in there”.
There is one downside to this exhibition . . . it doesn’t actually display the museum collection. It’s not increasing access to ‘museum stuff’ as doesn’t get anything out of stores. But the joy of a temporary exhibition is that it can make waves in a small space of time, create conversations and involve people. This is some excellent curating, taking personal stories and objects and arranging them into groups in an aesthetically pleasing manner for the education and pleasure of visitors.
‘A Museum of Modern Nature’ is running at the Wellcome Collection in London from the 22 June – 8 October. You can also read a bit more about the permanent Wellcome Collection exhibitions here.