A Modern Building on a Human Scale: MA Seminar Presentation and Discussion of The Yale University Art Gallery’s Louis I. Kahn Building
What does the term “gallery space” invoke? A room stacked floor to ceiling with objects from faraway places? An ornate temple-like space? Or perhaps a plain, white room with high ceilings, showcasing a single painting. In our first week as students of museums, any initial ideas we may have had of these spaces were shaken up, and we were introduced to a wide range of architecture each reflecting many ideas and agendas. For many early institutions, such as the British Museum in London, architects harkened back to Greek and Roman structures, building Neo-classical temples with grand entries, soaring columns, and illustrative friezes. This type of museum tells the visitor that, like the Greeks and Romans, this institution is rational and has a historical awareness.
Museum theory is constantly being revised, and in the twentieth century had arrived at a modern aesthetic. These modernist museums were the antithesis of the Neo-Classical building; they drew from the Machine Age, functional and paring away unnecessary ornamentation. The “white cube gallery” was considered the optimal way to view art, with no distractions for the visitor. However, the theory intended by architects can translate differently to visitors. This was what I wanted to explore when tasked with presenting a museum space to our seminar group. I chose to look at a building that I know very well, so well that I may have lost some perspective on it. I worked within the Louis I. Kahn Building at the Yale University Art Gallery for nearly seven years and wanted to apply the theories that we are learning to try to understand where it fits into the dialogue that architects have had for centuries around art galleries.
The Louis I. Kahn Building was designed by its namesake and completed in 1953. This was Kahn’s first notable commissioned project, and he was tasked with creating a public art museum in the private Yale University. At this point, Kahn would have been aware of the challenges in designing a modernist building that was also approachable. Perhaps it was an attempt to solve this dilemma that led Kahn to develop human scale architecture for this museum. Many elements of the gallery mirror the proportions of an average male; the bricks could fit in the palm of one’s hand, the planks of the wood floor are scaled to the size of human feet, and the ceilings are low for a modernist gallery. Kahn designed “pogo walls”, movable walls that allow curators to tailor each space based on the exhibitions. Also notable is the geometric tetrahedron ceiling, which brings continuity to every floor, balancing the ever-changing wall configurations.
(Photo: Elizabeth Felicella)
Several visitors to the Louis I. Kahn building have remarked that it is a cold modern building, and an unfortunate departure from the gothic revival architecture running through the rest of Yale’s campus. However many, myself included, instead find the building inviting. The human scale helps visitors to feel comfortable. As well, the movable walls yield a great deal of aesthetic power to those that work in the space. It is unpretentious architecture that acknowledges changing tastes and needs.
The discussion that followed my presentation made me question certain assumptions I had about the building. I was asked, “Did visitors find the ceiling distracting from the art work?” This is a really valid point; I have always enjoyed the sweeping drama of the ceiling, but gave pause that it could visually confuse the aesthetic of a painting. We discussed some of the challenges of human-scale architecture, such as the low ceiling limiting object size. I also received a question that was very familiar from working in the gallery, “is there a gift shop or café?” The gallery has neither primarily to make it feel accessible, with no pressure to spend money while visiting. In addition, being a downtown museum, there are already several shops and cafes close by. However, our seminar leader made an observation that turned that idea completely around. She said, “So, this is truly a temple solely for viewing.” The use of the word “temple” immediately invoked the Neo-Classical buildings that gave little thought to user-friendliness. Could this human-scale, modern cube building actually have more in common with monumental Neo-Classical galleries? Discussions, questions, and ideas such as these arise often in our seminar group, and help us to challenge our pre-existing notions of museum space. Our seminars are quickly becoming forums of new interpretations and provocative discourse.
Caitlin Zaccaro – Art Gallery and Museum Studies MA candidate at the University of Manchester.
“What is xtremuseology?”
Xtremuseology is a student-oriented initiative by the Centre for Museology, Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery at the University of Manchester that aims to encourage students to think critically about practices, behaviours and conventions of museums, galleries and other cultural and heritage environments.
“What does it involve?”
It involves participating in fun activities that aim to intervene with, enhance or disrupt and so reveal cultural conventions and their characteristics and boundaries. See the flashmob at the Whitworth Art Gallery that xtremuseologists did few years ago.
“Is this only for museum studies students?” No! Any University of Manchester (and beyond!) students are welcome to get xtremuseological!
“What am I expected to do?” Our motto is: “Turn up – have fun – share and reflect”! It’s as simple as that!
“Fab! Anything else that I need to know?” Yes, one more thing: xtremuseological events may be filmed/photographed and shared on social media, including this blog. If you participate in the events, we’ll assume that you are happy to be filmed.
“Who should I contact if I have any questions?” You can email firstname.lastname@example.org (Programme Director, MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies, University of Manchester) or email@example.com (Student Coordinator, Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery) or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter
My name Is Samira Mahmood. I am a student at the University of Manchester, currently undertaking a master’s degree in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response. I aim to become involved with a charitable organisation focused on responding to violent conflict and rebuilding conflict affected communities. My placement, Musicians without Borders use music to support individuals and communities devastated by war and armed conflict. They design and deliver creative music programmes internationally, providing innovative ways to reduce the effects of war-related stress and trauma, and to connect divided communities. In the UK, we primarily work with refugees and asylum seekers affected by war trauma. My placement with Musician without Borders, being a tight-knit organisation, allowed me to get involved first-hand in the planning, preparation and implementation of one their charity projects; Rainbow Haven.
MwB UK run another project with Freedom From Torture NW called Stone Flowers which is currently in its third year. It is a music workshop for refugee and asylum seeker torture survivors. MwB aims at overcoming the experience of trauma and their difficulty in trust, being more open and connecting with others through the participation of music. During one of their recording sessions I wrote a news piece on this project for the organisations website. They were recording a song written by Mirielle, a refugee participant, her song ‘Je Pleure’ (lyrics) was a reflection of her experience and the loss of leaving her children back home. She spoke about how much she missed her family, how proud and happy she was able to sing and hoped that she could one day show people back home, and express to them how she has been feeling. The song reflected both her feelings and how much she wanted them to reach her loved ones. To watch her singing about something so close to her heart, and see her emotional reaction whilst recording was very moving. Those that have worked with the group shared their experience of how far these singers have come; I spoke with the creative producer of Stone Flowers; Aidan Jolly:
“This year Stone Flowers has developed out of its shell; more singing, more songs, and songs that are more sensitive and personal, for example Mirielle’s song about leaving her children. This is something they would not have approached in previous years. It is moving how people are being more open and expressive with their pain through song. It is very meaningful.”
Serge Tebu, a Stone Flowers music facilitator and refugee said:
“There are a lot of talented singers within this group, and they all enjoy working together. Throwing meaning out there in their songs, so that they can be heard and working incredibly hard for their performances helps characterise and build on this bond we have with one another.”
What I have seen so far from this project, is that MwB has created a new way for survivors to voice their experiences. MwB works towards building positive emotional connections between refugees, asylum seekers and others that don’t necessarily share the same language. Writing a news piece on Stone Flowers has given me a better understanding of the sensitivity surrounding refugees and their confidence to trust and participate in such courageous activities. This has been useful, towards the Rainbow Haven project that has just begun.
Rhian Williams – Association of Greater Manchester Authorities – MA International Disaster Management
Would you know what to do if your house floods? Who would you call if you caught a pandemic flu? My placement aimed to give the public a response to questions like these.
I’m currently completing my MA in International Disaster Management, which has looked at ways to prepare for and respond to different natural and manmade disasters. As part of the UK’s plan to make the United Kingdom more resilient to any disaster which may occur, they created the Civil Contingencies Act in 2004, bringing together local authorities and emergency services to put in place plans in order to manage these situations better. By doing this, the government created Civil Contingency and Resilience Units (CCRU) across the UK. In this placement I have been working with the Greater Manchester CCRU, especially with the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) who brings together the ten boroughs within Greater Manchester (Salford, Rochdale, Stockport etc).
Within the Civil Contingencies Act of 2004, each CCRU had to provide the public with a document showing the possible risks (a Community Risk Register) in the area, most of which was provided from the government. The document that is currently available in Greater Manchester consists of a chart with numbers and figures, giving lists and lists of people who respond should the risk occur. At the moment it is pretty unreadable and provides little insight to the public about what they can do or who to turn to. Lincolnshire CCRU published a bright, easy-to-read document giving the public a clearer idea of what the risks’ impact could be, what the local authorities are doing, and what the public themselves can do to reduce the likelihood or the impact. My work placement has involved creating pages for a public facing document for Greater Manchester. In particular I have looked at the risks households and business face in relation to flood risk, and an influenza type pandemic.
This placement has been really valuable in giving me the experience of working in a communications role, and trying to adapt my writing from a more theoretical academic perspective, to an easy to read public document style. I even had the chance to interact with other experts, such as from Public Health England, the Environment Agency, and the Highways Agency. The pages I wrote were sent out to these experts who were able to give me constructive feedback. I even did a presentation in front of them to encourage other agencies to take on future students.
My ICP work placement was with In Place Of War, an innovative research project and arts organisation based at the University of Manchester. I undertook the placement as a 15-credit module as part of my MA in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response.
I chose In Place Of War and the role of Digital and Events Assistant as it combined my interest in responses to conflict with an active interest in the arts that was otherwise not getting much exercise in my other MA studies. The role involved maintaining and curating content on the online digital platform www.inplaceofwar.net and engaging with Artists across the world, operating in places of war, conflict or revolution!
In Place Of War invites artists around the world to connect with each other, share their work and discover new art forms through the digital platform. It promotes the use of Creative Commons licensing as a way to facilitate collaboration and spread innovative practice through the cross-pollination of ideas and art forms. The Platform: www.inplaceofwar.net is host to a huge variety of art and artists, as well as community organisations and grassroots movements.
A particular favourite of mine was an official British Army War Artist: George Butler. George paints in watercolour and has captured images of soldiers and civilians from conflicts across the world. His depiction of the ‘Arab Spring’ is particularly effective and evocative. More of George’s work can be seen on the platform at: http://www.inplaceofwar.net/users/13
In Place Of War works with cultural organisations such as the Imperial War Museum North, who hosted an event with Emmanuel Jal, a South Sudanese musician, and former child soldier:http://www.inplaceofwar.net/emmanuel-jal-at-imperial-war-museum-north
In Place Of War will also marking the centenary of the First World War, and has applied to be a partner of www.1914.org, a network of local, regional, national and international cultural and educational organizations led by the Imperial War Museum.
There is a wealth of art to ‘Discover’ on the platform and it can be explored geographically through an interactive world map, or by Theme, Person or Organisation. Each artefact on the platform, be it picture, video, music or text can be tagged with ‘themes’ varying from ‘Abstract’ to ‘Zimbabwe’ via ‘Social Change’, ‘Citizen journalism’ and ‘Hip Hop’. There is also a facility to collect and curate your own virtual exhibition of the works you have liked and want to share with others.
The interactive element of the platform is in development, but the intention is that artists will connect and collaborate on projects, and it is hoped that there will be a space to advertise opportunities and commissions.
As well as the research element and online platform, In Place Of War helps to promote Artists at International music festivals. This summer, featured IPOW artists will be performing at Shambala www.shambalafestival.org and Green Man www.greenman.net festivals. Follow @inplaceofwar, @ShambalaFest & @GreenManFest for more details throughout the summer.
An article published by the UNHCR recently estimated that there are “7.6 million” (UNHCR: 2012, 2) people who have been displaced from their homes because of conflict and civil unrest. Out of this 7.6 million people only just over 1% are hosted by the UK. The refugees are usually not really supported by the government however; there are a variety of smaller non-governmental organizations around the UK that recognise the trauma, loss and hard ship these people go through.
This is where the organization that I am currently doing my placement at comes in. MWB were established in 2010 as an independent charity, to support individuals that have been affected by war and armed conflict through music. In the UK MWB runs a variety of projects aimed predominantly at refugees and asylum seekers such as a project called Stone Flowers (which supports people who have been through torture in their home countries by giving them the opportunity to tell their story through music) They arrange recitals, Music for Health workshops with refugees/asylum seekers and refugee awareness workshops. Whilst doing my placement at MWB I had the opportunity to have a great insight and first-hand experience into how a charity organization runs behind the scenes. My supervisor Lis Murphy (UK director of MWB) and Nick Jones (UK finance and development manager) were always very patient, friendly and helpful explaining things clearly. I had the opportunity to learn how to apply for funds and assist with the planning of a project, time tabling, coordinating, recruiting volunteers, advertising, drawing up contracts and a lot of other small details that make the biggest difference. The project is known as Rainbow Haven Singing project. It is a music workshop that is held for the refugees and asylum seekers that attend the rainbow haven centre in Salford and East Manchester. The projects aims to bring people together from many different communities such as Eritrea, South Sudan, North Sudan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Congo and many more places to find a common ground through music. The participants are asked to choose the music from their countries or any music that they enjoy really and then the music coordinators teach the rest of the group how to sing it. (Currently there is a list of about seven songs that the participants are learning and will perform on the 20th of June for refugee week. (Malaika (Swahili) by Miriam Makeba, Aicha (French & Arabic) by Khaled. Etc) It is amazing to witness how music has the power to cross social, cultural, language, political and geographical borders. As the project has progressed I have got to witness how the participants have come out of their shells each week and levels of confidence have risen. To be part of planning something and see it grow it a really amazing opportunity than would not have happened otherwise.
I really enjoyed the placement, not only was it a humbling experience witnessing people’s stories but it taught me a lot about the issues refugees face on a daily basis because of the stereotype image portrayed by the media and the different ways the charity sectors try tackling these hurdles whether it is directly or indirectly. I am grateful for the opportunity and cannot think of any down side.
- Musicians Without Borders. (2014).MWB. Available: http://www.musicianswithoutborders.org/#projects. Last accessed 21/05/2014.
- UNHCR. (2012). Displacement: The New 21st Century Challenge. Available: http://www.unhcr.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/UNHCR_Global_Trends_2012.pdf. Last accessed 21/05/2014.
I initially chose to complete a semester-long work placement with Insight Film Festival because the Festival had specified that they were eager to take on students with additional languages. This was what essentially attracted me to Insight since it seemed that it would be relevant to my subject area, given that I am studying MA Translation and Interpreting Studies and have a BA degree in Modern Foreign Languages. I seized the opportunity to work with Insight in the hope that I would be able to utilize my language skills and that Insight could somehow benefit from to my particular area of expertise. When I learned that my title would be as a Festival Assistant I was apprehensive as to how much I would actually be using my language skills during the placement, but nevertheless I felt optimistic that at least I could gain some concrete work experience that would boost my CV and enable me to develop some skills that may be looked upon favourably by prospective employers. Looking back, going into the work placement I had absolutely no idea as to how beneficial the experience would actually come to be and how much I would walk away with just a few months down the line.
Let me begin by explaining a little about the Insight Festival itself. Insight is a bi-annual film festival which aims to encourage young filmmakers from all over the world to create films which discuss the controversial topic of ‘faith’. The festival views faith to be at the forefront of contemporary life and a vital aspect of the human experience, and it welcomes filmmakers from every belief system including those who follow no particular religion at all.
In my first meeting with the Insight team it became clear that they were interested in internationalising the festival and in attracting the attention of audiences and filmmakers from other parts of the world. They discussed with me the idea of building a multilingual website, and eager to use my particular skill set to their advantage, asked whether I would be willing to translate their entire official website into another language. Although in the field of translation it is not the norm to translate into a language that is not your native tongue, it seemed to be an offer I could not refuse and I instantly agreed to it and offered my strongest language, Spanish. I recognised that the task of translating the website, despite being extremely time consuming and a massive commitment, would work wonders for my CV and I would be able to show it to potential employers as proof of my translation experience and my linguistic capabilities. It would also give me a taste of life as a freelance worker since I would be working on the translation from home. This was important to me as freelance work is the career path that I am likely to follow given that the majority of translators are freelancers.
As I began working on the translation I realised what a challenge it would be. I had to juggle university essays with the task of translating extensive chunks of text from the main website, into a language that is not my own and which therefore naturally would take up a lot of time. This challenged my time management skills requiring strict timetables, and I soon realised the necessity of self-motivation and autonomy in a freelance career.
Translating the website was one of the greatest challenges and one that really tested my language skills, however, the benefits of the project far outweigh any of the difficulties I faced. I now have an example of my work published on a professional website and it gives me a great sense of accomplishment to know that people can use my version of the website and that I could be helping Insight to reach more people and expand their audience.
Visit www.insightfestival.co.uk, to view my translation.