Sunday, 18 May 2014
The Tableaux Vivants of Manchester Museum
On a recent day trip to Manchester, I visited the Manchester Museum, the museum of the University of Manchester. It happened to be directly opposite the building I was in - right opposite Kilburn Building (blocky, red-bricked Computer Science building) and University Place (building which looks like a big tin can). I was unexpectedly ejected from a campus eatery at 2.30pm, and by this point I required a little break from the non-stop RUINS THEORISING going on, and how fortuitious to have a museum right there...
The ground floor has a temporary gallery space which currently has an exhibition called "From the War of Nature", which uses tableaux vivants to tell various stories of different animal communities fighting for survival in nature. This temporary show has no scientific labels and the stories were painted in broad and rather general strokes, which seemed odd to me even if the taxidermy was beautiful. I actually almost stopped at this point, but fortunately I decided I might as well continue on to the second floor...
Things looked a lot more exciting upstairs, which began with some local archaeology of Manchester, including a collection of roman artefacts...
It was followed by what appears to be a rather comprehensive Ancient Egyptian collection, one of the most comprehensive in the UK - with apparently around 16000 objects in their Egyptology collection, including objects from prehistoric Egypt (c. 10,000 BC) to the Byzantine era (up to around AD 600).
I suppose one thing that endeared me to this museum was the presence of these screens everywhere, which featured actual interviews with people working with the artefacts, and some screens featuring young visitors' reflections on the artefacts, drawing a connection between the artefacts and our daily life. This made the temporary exhibition downstairs make more sense - since I understood that the museum was designed to be as accessible as possible and more of an educational experience, a kind of space which wouldn't really portray Natural History and Science as something technical and complex, but instead as something to inspire the imagination.
Next up was the most curious hall ever - more tableaux vivants which seemed almost like art installations, based on very broad issues and themes such as EXPERIENCE.... PEACE.... etc.
On the sides, they were flanked with thoughtful quotations by people working at University of Manchester who were deeply involved in researching those areas. For example, in a section about British Wildlife, they had an interview from a guy who worked in a wildlife protection group, and they had him telling a beatific story about how he went camping once and woke up alone in the middle of the English countryside and watched a bird flapping off into the sunrise in a sort of reverie, feeling the interconnectedness of life and the simple beauty of nature. I have to admit that this kind of naive earnestness in the video presentations veered rather dangerously on the romantic and trite - but in the end I still feel the intentions and sentiments behind it all were generally good.
An installation of cranes???
Floating stuffed dodos and eggs???
Blaschka Glass Models!
It says here that Manchester Museum has over 22000 type specimens. Also, to put things into perspective, Manchester Museum apparently has around 4 million specimens. Natural History Museum in London has over 28 million specimens. Still, these are collections that have involved the life's work of so many different individuals over the years.
OAK MARBLE GALLS!!!
Silk-button Spangle Galls!!!
Need I explain how excited I am to see a plant gall section?
Fire Salamander in the vivarium, just arrived! (living animal section)
There are too many photos so I will end here for now. With such a vast collection including a section dedicated to "Museumology" and "collections", where I saw a section on Egyptian fakes and its no surprise that later when I checked it up, I found out that Mark Dion's "Bureau for the Centre for the Study of Surrealism and Its Legacy" was actually put together from Manchester Museum's vast collections - which, as with any huge collection, is bound to be full of eccentricities and overlooked corners full of strange items, unusable models, fakes, and other items.