Wednesday, 29 May 2013

When a junk isn't junk

Recent collections work for the project has had a nautical theme with boats, balers and anchors all being catalogued and conserved. The boats range from coracles from Wales, Ireland and India to a beautifully painted model junk from China, and each has its accessories, be they paddles, sails, balers or flags.

As someone with relatively little knowledge of boat anatomy, I am learning new boat building techniques daily now. I never cease to be amazed by how many different construction methods can be found in just one small corner of the Pitt Rivers.

Inside the Chinese junk were what turned out to be 70 bundles of cord (around 100 metres in all) made from hair - we don't know if the cord was associated with the junk and if so, what it might have been used for.

Chinese junk (PRM 1886.1.375 .1) and chord found inside

This brilliant anchor and chain from Mansinam in West Papua, Indonesia is definitely one of the longest objects I’ve ever catalogued at well over 12 metres long. The links are all made from plaited rattan and, despite the fact that they are well over 100 years old, they are still robust.
Anchor and rattan chain, 19th century (PRM 1898.56.7)

The coracles are made with a basketry frame covered with either hide or bitumen covered calico. This one has a baler, paddle and salmon club or “knocker” for dispatching the freshly caught fish. They are manoeuvred using a single paddle in a figure of eight movement. This method means they make little movement in the water and so do not frighten the fish.

Coracle from Carmarthen in Wales (PRM 1907.71.1)

Once processed, the boats will return to display in the upper perimeter of the Court (ground floor) of the Museum, where they will be positioned and lit in a way that renders them much more visible than before.

What will we be working on next?

Sian (VERVE Curatorial Assistant)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

A bright start to VERVE's events programme

The end of April saw one of VERVE's busiest weeks in terms of events so far...proving a lot of hard work to make them a success but also a lot of fun too!

A Friday night hosting a group of suited and booted finance managers from the Saïd Business School - introducing them to some of the histories and highlights of the Museum - was followed by a weekend shifting gear to focus on family groups - a nice illustration of the variety of audiences VERVE aims to involve.

We loaded up the van with bells, bunting and biscuits and made our way to Oxford Castle for our first outreach event at Folk Weekend Oxford. It was a beautiful setting in the gardens of the old prison in glorious sunshine. To fit with both the folk theme and the music and performance focus of VERVE in our first year, we offered families the chance to get hands on by making their own morris dancer's knee bell pads or handling some of our global instrument collections - from a Turkish drum to a Chilean rainstick to a West African kora

The Pitt Rivers tent at Oxford Castle Gardens

Children chose different coloured ribbons to decorate their knee pads, in the
same way that Morris dancers have distinguishable 'team' patterns and colours.

A Pitt Rivers volunteer demonstrates the silky sound of the kora

Visitors guess how to play some our
instruments and where they're from

Visitors could also watch and listen to demonstrations by our two special guests: Anna Casserley, who introduced vthe Cornish tradition of hand-whittling 'May whistles' from willow branches, and Michael Wright, a renowned authority on the mysterious Jew's harp - an ancient mouth instrument with a surprisingly futuristic sound. We have an extensive collection in the Museum.

We have a busy summer schedule of tent outings so this was a fantastic way to start  - more than 450 people of all ages had a taste of Pitt Rivers in the tent, including many people who had not been to, or even heard of, the Museum before.

Jew's harp expert Michael Wright demonstrates the instrument 
Iron and steel Jew's harp, China PRM 1932.89.248

A few days later we hosted our first Twilight Takeover event, an initiative to work with young people to help them organize and curate a social evening at the Museum. The many weeks of careful planning paid off - more than 200 people came to experience the Museum with atmospheric lighting, music, bellydancing and contemporary dance choreographed by Rosie Kay. The 'Mask Parlour' was particularly popular, buzzing with industry and imagination. It just goes to show, we are all kids at heart! In addition, we were amazed and impressed by those who came with their own masks - everything from carnival ones to Venetian ones to horror ones.

Guess who? Masked guests at the Masquerade event

Videographer Dan Keeble made this wonderful short film of the night (3 mins) and the student organizers will write a fuller account for this blog soon.

Then, with just enough time to draw breath, we hosted our second Skills in the Making workshop in partnership with NSEAD. Artists Caroline Broadhead and Julie Westbury came from London to deliver a full-day session for 16 Oxfordshire art teachers. Participants were asked to bring a few items such as scissors and a sketchbook and a camera to record both their own work and that of other people. The theme was the 'Performing Objects' and people were asked to think about creating a piece that would in some way change the body's appearance, conceal it, restrict its movement or impact on the wearer's 'personal space'. In this the Museum's Body Arts collections were an obvious inspiration.

After the artists showed a powerpoint of their own work and approaches, the participants were let loose with a variety of materials including flexible furniture cane, coloured thread, wax paper, plastic bands, plastic fibres, foil and newspaper. Soon, a plethora of inventive accessories started taking shape, from rings and ruffs, to head-dresses and hats. Julie and Caroline encouraged everyone to think in new ways - "what if you turned it this way?" or "what sort of sound does it make when you move in it?" Many pieces were items that restricted the senses, such as vision, touch or even breathing. Each person explained their pieces to the rest of the group and many reported how uneasy this stifling of the senses made them feel - the voluntary denial of interaction with one's environment.

An alternative fascinator

The wearer said her brain tried to
'fill in the gaps' in her stripy vision

A punky hand ornament, reminiscent of
some of the Museum's knuckledusters

Dubbed an 'isolation bridle' and inspired by cane-work,
this contraption was designed to keep the wearer's
hands in the correct position when making
quills - a mediative, repetitive action.

This striking cone visor started off as a finger
ornament, then increased in scale!

By the end of the day there had been an impressive array of sculptural forms made and everyone took interest in each other's work and discovering new ways of working. Feedback from the teachers was positive. One noted, "a good opportunity to make some work for myself and nice to chat to others about how we can use and recycle everyday objects." After the success of our two Skills in the Making workshops we will be meeting with NSEAD and OAT (Oxfordshire Art Teachers) network to see how we can take the partnership forward. 

So, in little over a week, VERVE has involved more than 750 people from all backgrounds and interests, built relationships with all sorts of new groups, and constructed outreach and workshop models we can take forward into the future. All good stuff, and now the team can put its feet up for a little while before our big summer programme starts - watch this space..!