Elee Kirk

Children, Nature, Museums

Exhibitions Archive

Monday

8

June 2015

0

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Notice Visitors, Create Joyful Gallery

Written by , Posted in Children, Exhibitions, Natural history, Visitors

A while back, I discovered that Derby Museum and Art Gallery was about to open a new natural history gallery. This was exciting to me for three reasons: firstly, because I ‘collect’ natural history galleries by visiting as many as I can; secondly, because Derby is very easy for me to get to; and thirdly, because the new gallery had the incredible name of ‘Notice Nature Feel Joy’. This I had to see.

Notice Nature Feel Joy gallery

Notice Nature Feel Joy gallery

Last week, with my sister, Alice, in tow, I managed to get to the new gallery. It’s a lovely space: calm, bright and clutter-free, and full of natural materials (including, of course, the natural history collections). Alice said that it made her feel like she was in a forest.

We were also lucky enough to speak to Andrea Hadley-Johnson, who led the project to put the gallery together. When I asked where the concept came from, she explained that from the outset, the museum didn’t have a particular plan, or even a name for the gallery. All of this came from work carried out with visitors and volunteers to find out what they wanted from such a gallery, what objects they wanted to see, and what nature meant to them. (more…)

Sunday

26

April 2015

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Finding the Familiar in the Unfamiliar, Or, Reece in Space

Written by , Posted in Children, Exhibitions, Meaning, Photography

Boy wearing an astronaut suit

Reece at the National Space Centre

Last weekend I visited Leicester’s National Space Centre with my seven year old nephew, Reece. As a researcher, I have an annoying tendency of carrying out experiments on my poor nephews. I decided a little while ago that I’d like to start visiting museums with families that I know, and, just as I did during my doctoral research, giving the children cameras to record their visits. The main difference from my PhD research would be that this time I would actually get to join in with the visit. So this was my first attempt at this new project. It was also Reece’s first visit to the Space Centre.

In spite of being related to me, Reece’s family don’t visit many museums, preferring more energetic and outdoor activities. Over the past few years I’ve taken my nephews to an animatronic dinosaur exhibition, to Thinktank, the Birmingham Science Museum, and to the Transport Museum in Coventry. Reece also told me that they’ve been to the Sea Life Centre. This is probably more museum visiting than many children manage, but still not enough to make these comfortable and familiar places to be. It also became clear that Reece doesn’t have a strong personal interest in space as a topic, so the actual theme of this centre didn’t give him any hooks upon which to hang his understanding of where he was and what was supposed to happen there. What all of this meant that the really interesting thing about our visit to the Space Centre was the number of ways in which Reece connected this unfamiliar, over-stimulating, and confusing place to things that were familiar and comprehensible to him. (more…)

Sunday

7

October 2012

2

COMMENTS

Seeing Voices in the Museum

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions, Taxidermy, Text panels

Human beings are incredibly social animals. This manifests itself in a whole host of ways—from our desire to share ideas and conversation, to our tendency to see agency and intention in inanimate objects (‘my computer hates me’), to our ability to form relationships with everything from people, to cats, to cars. If museums are clever, they can make use of this inherent sociability to create some really compelling exhibitions.

This was revealed to me particularly on a recent visit to Manchester Museum, where I was delighted to have a good chunk of time in which to explore the new Living Worlds gallery, which reopened last year. I had been wanting to go ever since seeing the old gallery in 2010 and hearing that the redesign was going to be carried out in association with a fashion design company (catwalk show producers Villa Eugenie). I’d heard good things about the new gallery since it opened, and had been looking for an excuse to travel up to Manchester and see it for myself. (more…)

Sunday

16

September 2012

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Evolution galleries: Humans and other animals

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions

I’ve been interested in human evolution ever since spending time learning about it during my Human Sciences degree in the late nineties, so whenever I’m in a museum with a human evolution gallery, my antennae start quivering. I’ve visited a couple in the USA over the past few years — one in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and, last year, in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I just love the idea of looking back at our ancestors, and also of being reminded that over the past few million years other species of humans and hominids have existed, often in parallel with each other.

I’m used to seeing these galleries, or even the single human evolution cases in some museums, presenting the various human species on their own, or maybe alongside a few other primates. The museums nip off a single twig of the evolutionary tree, usually starting with modern humans evolving from something like an australopithecus, and maybe hinting that these evolved from an earlier primate species. (more…)

Tuesday

11

September 2012

0

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Lost in Science

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions

Yesterday I was in London for a meeting, and managed to carve out a couple of hours to visit the Science Museum. Given that I spent eight years of my life working in science museums, and that I now research museums, it was a shock to realise that it’s probably been over half a decade since I’ve visited the UK’s largest and most famous museum of science.

In spite of the fact that I inevitably get lost there, my first mistake was failing to pick up a map as I came in. (more…)

Thursday

9

August 2012

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Shelves of Zebras

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions, Taxidermy

This lovely display of zebras can be found at the Natural History Museum’s outpost at Tring. It’s a delightful museum, built around the collections of Walter Rothschild, a classic British eccentric aristocrat. There are pictures of Rothschild riding around on giant tortoises, with a lettuce leaf held out on a stick to encourage them to walk, and another of him in a carriage pulled by zebras (I don’t know if any of the ones in the picture pulled his carriage…).

Rothschild decided aged seven that he would run a zoological museum. This makes me feel a certain affinity towards him, as I too had childhood yearnings towards museums (more…)

Sunday

22

July 2012

2

COMMENTS

Welcome to the gallery of the real

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions, Taxidermy, Visitors

Some time last year I was in a natural history gallery with a Natural History Museum educator from the USA. I asked her, “What question do children most commonly ask in your museum?”, already anticipating that the answer would be, “Is it real?”. I was right, of course, with children’s favoured question number two, on both sides of the pond, being, “Did you kill it?”.

The world over, young children seem to be totally baffled by taxidermy. A couple of months ago I visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History with my two nephews, aged seven and four. They spent most of the visit trying to get their heads around the relationship between ‘real’, ‘alive’ and ‘dead’. “But when are we going to see the real ones?”, they kept asking. And they weren’t convinced by my patient, rational response that these were real, they were just the skins of dead animals that someone had stuffed to make them look alive. To the boys, ‘real’ meant ‘alive’ (more…)

Saturday

14

July 2012

8

COMMENTS

Small town museums, or museums of small towns?

Written by , Posted in Exhibitions, Museum history

Today we escaped the hustle and bustle of big city (ok, Leicester) life, and headed down to the pretty little town of Market Harborough, in search of charity bookshops, cake and the wonders of its local museum. Harborough Museum was full of visitors having a great time – kids (ok, and some grown-ups) dressing up and exploring baskets of toys, and lots of people reading finding out about local life and the history of the town. But it did make me wonder: why do small town museums focus almost universally on their local area? (more…)