…to meet a guy. This particular ‘Guy’ was a French fashion photographer with an impressive list of credentials including French Vogue, Chanel and Versace. The venue was Somerset House, the arts and cultural centre home to Kings College London, the Courtauld Gallery and, at the time of my visit, London Fashion Week. In fact my friend and I inadvertently stumbled upon a pop-up fashion event the day we visited. We didn’t get the memo and there may be a few people photo-shopping a duffle coat and woolly hat out of their otherwise very glamorous photographs.
Guy Bourdin: Image Maker, an exhibition of over 100 colour prints documenting his illustrious career from the 1950s to 1980s, was the perfect exhibition to coincide with London Fashion Week. However the exhibition was more than an accessory to fashion week and more than just a photographic display of clothes and shoes. Bourdin is renowned for his visual storytelling, for a creating a narrative by portraying just a single moment in time. The fashion product fits the narrative but does not own it.
This photograph is from the ‘Walking Legs’ series, which Bourdin shot as part of an advertising campaign for the shoe designer Charles Jourdan. With a pair of shoes and mannequin legs Bourdin asks the viewer to consider a story, to construct their own story. Who is wearing the shoes? Where is she going? Where has she come from? The colour and type of shoe, the position of the feet and legs, the background content, all clues Bourdin has included to help answer these questions. Contemporary art is often criticised for asking too much of the viewer, you have to be culturally conditioned in order to understand what the artist is asking of you. This is not a criticism to be levelled at Bourdin. He provides the viewer with the tools to question and answer, to let your imagination run wild. Isn’t that how art should be?
The £9 entrance fee definitely gives you your money’s worth. The exhibition is extensive and the subject matter provides a balanced contrast of the surreal and the sinister, the sexual and the serene, assuring the viewer is never bored whilst providing something for everyone.
My personal favourite, again from the Charles Jourdan campaign. Initially I was drawn to the colours, the way they ‘pop’ in contrast to the dark shale, black railway track and silhouetted trees, but then I was intrigued by the way it can’t easily be categorised. It’s sinister from the way the legs are tied and positioned on the track, leaving the viewer straining for the sight of a distant train. There’s sexual suggestion from the binding of the legs and the way the figures are cut out of shot just above the knee. And it’s surreal – how can there be three legs? Is it two people tied together? Where is the fourth leg?
The exhibition is almost over, ending on the 15th March, but if you have time walk into the gallery and meet Guy for yourself. It’s simple, just open your eyes to the stories on display…
The exhibition that I chose for my marketing plan is the Harmonious Society as part of the Asia Triennial Manchester (2014). This exhibition displays artwork from an artistically underrepresented part of the world. The exhibition is displayed across six venues including the CFCCA, ArtWork, the John Rylands Library, MOSI, the National Football Museum and Manchester Cathedral. Each of the venues had a different target audience so it was a challenge to tailor a marketing plan for the whole exhibition. I decided to pick MOSI as the venue for my marketing plan because I wished to center my event and marketing plan towards families and students.
The aim of the marketing plan was to promote the Harmonious Society exhibition as an attraction to increase footfall at MOSI but also to promote Chinese art and the Asia Triennial. Due to budget constraints, the predominant focus was on local visitors around the Greater Manchester, South Lancashire/North Cheshire area. Marketing Activity and events were at key holiday periods to attract working people and their families.
The timeline of activities of my marketing plan began with exhibition and event scheduling which included working out the date of the exhibition duration. For this example, it was the 27th September- 23rd November 2014. Scheduling also included organising when events would occur. To attract families and students I suggested an event with the artists Luxury Logico and their light installations.
After working out when the exhibition and events would occur, the MOSI website was updated appearing on the homepage and in the What’s On Tab. There was information about the Harmonious Society exhibition and the events that would be taking place during the exhibition duration. There was also links to a Harmonious Society facebook and twitter page.
Social Media is something that must be considered when marketing exhibitions today as it promotes action. It is public, easily accessible and highly visible. The exhibition had its own Twitter and Facebook page with information relaying back to the MOSI information page. Posts made by the Facebook page were monitored on how many likes, promoted by other Facebook users by sharing and therefore could be spread across a wide target audience area. The Twitter account of the Harmonious Society exhibition can follow and be followed by relevant organisations and people and posts can be tweeted and retweeted. Press was informed about the opening day. Invites were sent to VIPS, members of Arts Council, Taipei Cultural Division, Tang Contemporary Art, Salford University. When promoting the exhibition, MOSI has 6,000 named people on a direct mail database. Information about the event was sent to all of these people. I selected direct mail due to it being a family orientated target audience.
The next step would be to hire volunteers. This was done in conjunction with the other venues and would be promoted through social media and websites. Furthermore, universities were informed to ask students if they would be interested in volunteering. Training would be done in small groups and volunteers were asked to flyer in key areas: Deansgate, Piccadilly, around the University campus and other areas of Greater Manchester. Volunteers would wear t-shirts also promoting the exhibition.
At the Opening Day Special Event, Press, VIPs as mentioned prior, and completion winners would be invited to see the exhibition with talks from the curators and artists about their work. Volunteers were on hand to guide VIPS to the exhibition.
The main event occurred during the October half term to coincide with children being off school with families and to attract students that would visit the already occurring Manchester Science Festival. Luxury Logico gave a hands-on workshops with volunteers to create miniature reclaimed light art works to teach young and old about sustainability. The hands-on approach to these events attracted families with children at half term. These miniature artworks were part of a social media campaign under the hashtag harmonioussocietylight. People who created miniature light artworks were encouraged to post photos under this hashtag to promote reclaimed light. Volunteers carried out these workshops during school trip visits until the end of the festival.
Social Media was one of the easiest ways to measure success of the marketing plan. This was done through counting website hits, Facebook likes and shares and Twitter retweets and favourites. This was compared to a simple survey of those visiting the exhibition made by volunteers. For the proposed event, volunteers marked down how many attended workshops and also how many used the harmonioussocietylight hashtag on twitter.
Human remains pose many issues for the museums and institutions which hold them. For some the problematic nature of this stems from how they were obtained. Many human remains retained in collections come from 18th and 19th Century excursions and were brought back to Britain as exotic treasures without much concern over whom they belong to (McBrien 2014). Current changes over the last decade have meant that these remains now have a chance of repatriation. However, this would mean that all educational and scientific information held by the material would be lost (Department for Culture, Media and Sport 2005). This therefore forms the basis of the current debate surrounding human remains in museums.
This topic brought about many ethical issues and thought-provoking ideas during our discussion surrounding the ownership of human remains. The whole notion of ownership over human remains is rather a complex one, as museums physically hold the material yet spiritually it is connected to the cultural group to which it belongs. Yet the educational value cannot be underestimated. Considering that with the growth and development of analytical scientific techniques in research on human material, invaluable information about loss and past cultures will be gone. It is a rather difficult issue for the museums to deal with.
The overarching opinion on this matter within our group seemed to lie in the researching of human remains, for the gaining of their educational value, with the technologies available. Followed by a repatriation of the remains to the cultural groups who have spiritual and religious connections to them and can lay them to rest. However in many cases this is not an easy option for the museums in question to take, and is not so clear cut – with some remains holding particular scientific significance resulting in a huge loss for the scientific community. Although moral issues then arise from the culturally linked groups and leads to unrest, and a great feeling of spiritual and religious loss. They feel most strongly that they must lay the remains of their ancestors to rest, so that they can be at peace. The need for repatriation then seems to become paramount. However this almost seems to go against the mission statements set out by museums – that their collections should remain intact for the benefit of present and future generations (White 2014). Highlighting that there is not necessarily a black or white answer regarding what is the correct process for the remains situated in museums, with a lot of grey area and opinionated decisions. Therefore communication with as many different groups is essential to creating a properly informed decision.
Quite a pivotal quote brought up by my presentation came from Director of the National Museums Liverpool, Dr David Fleming, as he asked “How would you feel if your great-grandmother’s remains were lying in a box on a shelf in a museum?” (BBC News 2009). This takes the issue to a more personal level by placing visitors in the place of the cultural groups, while they are still immersed in a world fueled by scientific discovery and progression. Other institutions like the Pitt River’s Museum are less open with their public and instead are much more internal with their opinions on repatriation, but on the whole they stick more with their mission statement and aim to hold the remains in their collection so that they can be studied with new technologies and used to educated future generation (White 2014).
To conclude, it can be seen that human remains do pose many ethical issues for the museums and institutions which hold them due to the sensitivity of their nature. It therefore is ultimately down to the museum itself as to what should be done regarding this material. The importance of communication however cannot be stressed enough, as in order to gain an informed decision surrounding the remains of a once living human; it is paramount to be aware of the opinions of the wider public and all other groups of people to whom this issue affects.
BBC News, 2009. Museum Return Aboriginal Remains. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/8047223.stm
Department for Culture, Media and Pport, 2005. Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums. Supported by: Museums, Libraries and Archives Council; Museums Association; Welsh Assembly Government; Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
McBrien, M. 2014. Ethical Debate: Human Remains. Museums Association
White, K. 2014. Human Remains in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford. http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/human.html.
The Koh-i-Noor Diamond and the Icelandic Manuscripts: A blog about a presentation on restitution By Steven Luke Skelley
I decided to investigate two very contrasting originator claims for my presentation on restitution. After much book surfing and procrastination I finally settled on the Koh-i-Noor Diamond and the Icelandic Manuscripts as case studies. These cases leaped out of the pages at me. I was hooked by the history and political intrigue that surrounds both.
The Koh-i-Noor, or mountain of light diamond has a very murky history and is currently owned by the British Monarchy as part of the Crown Jewels. The diamond was originally mined in India, yet over the centuries has also resided in Persia and Pakistan. India and Pakistan have both made several for repatriation since the 1970s. However, there’s currently no valid legal case, international support or even political appetite to pursue any claims against the British Monarchy at present.
On the other hand, the Icelandic Manuscripts were successfully repatriated to their native Iceland. These expansive medieval documents tell of Scandinavian culture, Norse mythology, historical poetry and epic sagas. Written in Icelandic, these books and parchments are the cornerstone of written history for the north people. The restitution of these documents found popular support internationally and perhaps most importantly in Norway itself, where they resided at Copenhagen University from the 18th Century. There was in addition, a stronger legal argument and less complicated back story that aided the case for restitution.
I chose the diamond and the manuscripts for the presentation for their stark contrasts, besides their enchanting history. Contrasts lay in the unsuccessful claims over Koh-i-Noor against the successful restitution of the Icelandic Manuscripts. There is a contrast in the materiality of both objects, the eternal diamond against the delicate parchment. Moreover, contrast can be found in the perceived value of each object.
Out of this research and subsequent discussions the notion of value resonated with me. Both objects are bestowed with immeasurable monetary and cultural value. During the repatriation of the Icelandic manuscripts, Norway flew her flags at half-mast in mourning. Similarly, when England flew her flags at half-mast for the Queen Mother’s funeral, the immortal Koh-i-Noor sat on top of her coffin looking out at a world still in love with diamonds.
Koh-i-Noor has outlived more distinguished owners than it has facets. It is partly coveted because of its intrinsic value as a diamond, an eternal object of vast monetary worth. However, the diamond is further coveted because of its romanticism. If it ever made the open market the Russian oligarchs, American brokers and Chinese industrialists would have a feeding frenzy in Christie’s. The recent sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery is testament to the value placed upon pretty stones with a romantic back story.
Although Koh-i-Noor layers its value in mystery, history, ceremony and its material rarity, it is still only a lump of shiny coal. It is not even in use at present, as we currently have no Queen-Consort to wear it. Although several suggestions were made during the presentation that Prince Philip should at least try it.
Even though the diamond is fabulous, I would argue that the Icelandic Manuscripts are infinitely more valuable than the diamond. They are more valuable because they are the cultural story of the northern people. There are many diamonds but only one stack of Icelandic manuscripts. Their uniqueness, creativity and continued interpretation make them worthy of their place on the UNESCO special preservation registry. I hope the wider economic markets never get chance to bid for them at auction. The hedge funds should stick to the diamonds instead.
Steven Luke Skelley
Images in descending order:
1: The Koh-i-noor diamond, set in the Maltese Cross at the front of the crown made for Britain’s late Queen Mother Elizabeth. (2012) Photograph: AP The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9531629/Indian-family-launch-court-action-for-return-of-Koh-i-Noor-diamond.html
2: A 13th-century illuminated Icelandic Saga manuscript. (2008) Photograph: Bob Krist/Corbis. www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/oct/03/
3: Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor Jewels. (2011) Photograph: Gordon/Bloomberg. http://www.bloomberg.com/photo/christie-s-auction-of-elizabeth-taylor-jewels-/131911.html
As my presentation had two criteria to fulfil which was the discussion of two cases relating to object restitution and the ethics of displaying human remains in UK museums, I immediately set out to do sufficient research in order for me to establish my case studies and relevant areas of discussion. I ordered my presentation by each study I was going to discuss. The first study, being the Parthenon Marbles, was perhaps the most famous of my cases relating to restitution so in that sense it was something of a challenge for me to concisely sum up the argument for and against the return of the objects to Greece. Given the time limit of my presentation, I chose to include the simplest to understand rationale for both the arguments relating to the marbles. I also included an opinion poll, which was in favour of the marbles being returned to Greece. In terms of my second case study relating to restitution, which was the Koh-i-Noor diamond, I found that this example was far more uncomplicated than the Parthenon marbles. The key areas of discussion, which included the long and diverse history of the diamond, helped the understanding of the case and explored the claims of multiple countries over a single object, and the argument about who is the rightful owner of the diamond is, if any.
The second part of my presentation focused on the ethics of the ethics of displaying human remains in UK museums. As the general feeling towards the displaying human remains is in favour of their display, I decided to focus on the opposing sentiment ‘against’ for the first couple of slides, and then in one slide I addressed the most popular ‘for’ argument. The points against that I focused on were the issues of whether human remains were objectified in museums and were seen as sources of information. I supported this argument with the case study of Lindow Man: a bog body found in 1984 in Cheshire. The second point against the display of human remains was whether they were too distressing for people to view in museums. A point that was made in the presentation was that for some of the younger audience the display of human remains, whether a body or simply a skeleton, would perhaps be their first encounter with the reality of death. The negative reactions of some of the public regarding the display of Egyptian mummies in Manchester Museum were addressed. In response to this, the precautions that some museums had taken in terms of the removal of human remains altogether were also highlighted. The last issue against the display of human remains was that of consent. For this, I used the case study of Charles Byrne otherwise known as the ‘Irish Giant’. Against his wishes, his body was sold to the surgeon John Hunter, where his body still resides in the Hunterian museum today.
The last slide, which was the counter claim to the previous against points, looked at the medical advancements that can be had with the study of human remains. The case was also made that the display of human remains allows the public to see human life in its truest form without the superficial differences that can divide the living such as beauty, fat, scars, and ugliness. They can be good sources of information for us to understand how we lived, worked and suffered in the past – something that can help us to understand the world we live in and our health today.
I concluded the presentation by talking about that although the display of human remains in museums do help us to understand the past in a much more stark approach, we also have to be careful of distancing ourselves too much from the truth; that human remains are not simply objects to be studied, but are past lives to be respected.
A question that was brought up in the question-and-answer session afterwards was of any similar cases to Charles Byrne in terms of people being exhibited as ‘freak shows’, and upon their deaths being installed in museums for further enjoyment for the public. I answered the question with the case of Saartjie Baartman, who was one of at least two Khoikhoi women who were exhibited as freak show attractions in nineteenth century Europe. Like Byrne, her remains after her death were exhibited in a museum in France until the later calls for the repatriation of her body to South Africa saw her being moved to her original place of birth. Overall, my presentation examined the main ethical issues surrounding museums and drew on past cases so that we can build on these foundations and experiences in the future.
Manchester Talking Statues
The Manchester Talking Statues are part of a project that comprises 35 public statues in London and Manchester. The project was launched on 12th August 2014 and was curated by Colette Hiller, artistic director of the public interventions company Sing London, in collaboration with the University of Leicester with funding from the NESTA Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.
The fundamental question upon which the whole project is based is: “If statues could talk, what stories would they tell?” The statues were selected in accordance to their connection to the city, in order to promote public art in Manchester, to generate a more conscious way of seeing in the viewer, to deepen the public’s knowledge about historical events and the connections between famous personalities and the city. The monologues the statues tell were written and performed by a group of well known writers and actors and engage the visitor both physically and emotionally by using a wide range of devices, such as change in rhythm and tenses, figures of speech and anecdotes, sensory details and sound effects.
The public can listen to the story by scanning a QR code with their smartphone, typing a link into the web browser or by tapping a near field communication (NFC) chip that can be found on the statue’s plaque. In this way, an audio file disguised as a phone call is downloaded onto the device, and, by accepting the call, people can listen to the 2-3 minutes monologue. After having heard the story, visitors can tap on the “Read more” button that appears on their smartphone’s screen, which redirects them to the Talking Statues website, where more details about the statue and about the writer or actor involved can be found.
The technology implemented is very easy to use and accessible to everyone, making the project suitable for a non-specialist audience, particularly local, due to the strong links between the statues, or the characters they represent, and the city in which they are located. In fact, the seven Manchester statues are all strongly connected to the city. Five of them represent famous characters, namely L.S. Lowry, Queen Victoria, John Barbirolli, Abraham Lincoln, and Alan Turing. The sixth is an Italian 19th century marble statue of a reading girl sited at the Manchester Central Library. The last statue to have found a voice is Stan the T-Rex displayed at the Manchester Museum. Part of the Talking Statues project involved co-creation with the public, who were asked for their contribution by taking part in a writing competition to give Stan a voice. This enabled them to actively participate in the project, creating a sense of shared ownership and identity between the community and the object.
The project’s aim is to generate more awareness of public art in Manchester and a more conscious way of seeing in the spectator, as well as to deepen the public’s knowledge about certain events and understand the connections between famous personalities and the city. The project involves the viewers’ active role in the construction of meanings and interpretations, and engage them both from the intellectual and physical points of view. By travelling from one part of the city to another to find the statues, people may discover hidden spots or engage with the place in a more profound way, making the city’s historical heritage part of their everyday lives.
The statues are used to convey a message and tell a story; overall, there’s little reference to the object’s own biography. The monologues contain references to the area of the city in which they are placed, thus suggesting new ways of engaging with the surrounding environment, bringing people to also interact physically with the statue.
The monologues aim to create a sense of empathy between the statue and the viewer. The statues tell their own stories from a personal and emotional point of view referring back to the part of history in which they played their role without giving too much detail or telling it from an objective and didactic perspective. The hints provided by the monologue raise questions in the viewer, who is likely to want to find out more about the person the statue represents, the circumstances that brought them close to Manchester or that brought the statue to be where it is and why it was chosen to be part of this project.
As a History with Integrated Masters student, picking a placement that would involve research appears to be the natural progression from academia out into the world of work. I worked with Community Arts North West (CAN), a Manchester based arts development organisation, on a digital arts and communities research project, and was tasked to investigate available digital media resources and conduct research on the issue of the digital divide. As a second-generation immigrant, I was drawn, on a more personal level, to CAN’s mission to help marginalized communities achieve their full potential through creative arts projects. Since it seemed natural to move from one research project to another, I donned my detective hat and proceeded to put my research skills to the test.
As you are currently reading this blog post, you will more than likely have easy access to the Internet. Imagine for a moment what it would be like without access to the Internet, or a computer, or to your friends on Facebook… It’s hard to imagine life without a computer, right? Consider for a moment that there are people that are leading lives while still remaining offline. I assume you will likely be a fellow student (and on the chance that you aren’t, this anecdote doesn’t work as well, so please pretend, for a moment, that you are…). You will more than likely have grown up alongside the growth of the Internet. You are a digital native, and you will more than likely have seen digital immigrants baffled by the projector, or any other type of technology. Maybe it was your lecturer’s confusion that you just recalled, or on a different note, you too are a second-generation immigrant and you will (possibly) have a parent that remains offline while you handle the increasing amount of governmental services that have moved online. From bills to job applications, the Internet is vastly expanding in uses, yet there are still people unsure how to work a computer. This is the digital divide. In this highly connected world of the 21st Century, people are being left behind.
The digital divide is however not just a question of access. As I was also tasked to create lists of locally available digital media resources, to my surprise, I realised they were not hard to find at all. As a History student and long time Mancunian who was not musically inclined, I was amazed to unearth this other world right under my eyes. I found studios and other creative projects that helped showcase the talent and culture that our city was nurturing within its own community. However, when resources were so available, why does this divide still exist? This was where my research was put to use. By delving into theory and its applications in other countries, it was then easy to see that previous attempts to bridge the digital divide had focused on the wrong solutions. Marginalized communities required the confidence to begin their initialisation into the digital arts world. Though awareness of resources had to be created first, enthusiasm has to be nurtured. With the growth of the Internet and the arts into the digital venue, there is no better time than now to encourage a mutual dialogue of respect between those who choose to remain offline and those who have lived their lives alongside the growth of the Internet. The project to bring marginalized communities online begins with projects like CAN’s Do I.T. training course, but continues when digital natives, like ourselves, nurture the online community into becoming one of positive encouragement.