I first met Liz in August 2014, when she came to Bury Art Museum for the International Summer School. The more we chatted the more I learnt of her passion for collecting. As well as being one of Manchester’s exciting emerging visual artists, Liz also holds the Guinness World Record for the largest Spice Girl collection!
Her work as a visual artist has from time to time included objects which explore colour, so in October last year I invited Liz for a tour of the museum collections here at Bury, and we started cooking up an exhibition idea.
Liz was interested in using our historical collections to complement her current practice which involves creating environments of colours and light. The contemporary design of the museum space on the lower ground floor of Bury Art Museum is perfect for Liz’s work, its contemporary white cube design offers no distractions.
Choosing objects from our historical collections purely on the basis of colour and not for their stories, historic value, local interest or craftsmanship allows the objects to be reinterpreted, encouraging the viewer to look at them anew. By displaying them in this way the objects become colours, shapes and forms. Because of this curatorial approach none of the objects are interpreted in the traditional sense, inviting the viewer to view them as objects of beauty which respond to the space and Liz’s light intervention.
For more information about Liz and her practice see:
Colour Collect runs until 27 February 2016
Artist Pamela Schilderman piece Needle, is now on display in a space just to the left of the museum stairwell. Pamela has a long association with Bury Art Museum, first exhibiting here in ‘Paperworks Show’ 2006 and again in 2010 in ‘Paperworks3’. Her work with paper links well with the history of Bury and it papermaking industries.
According to Pamela Needle as painting being liberated from its flat conventional frame, its composition open to fluidity, each colour tracing its historic origins – a symphony of dyes, watercolour and oils all sourced from mans’ environment. The holes, made by hand with a fine needle dipped in various natural pigments, allow the outside space to invade, to conjure up the effect that the work is breathing, alive as if even though it seems still, there is a sense of it growing imperceptibly, belonging to the space filling the space. Not disguised but transformed, the toilet paper is converted from something of little monetary value; raised from the status of the everyday into a beautiful three-dimensional painting. The medium’s inherent fragility, its translucency filtering light, exudes an intimacy, a suggestive silence which invites the viewer.
Bury’s Papermaking Industry
Bury was a major centre for paper manufacturing in Britain; and until relatively recent times had brought much wealth and prosperity to the town. Bury’s first paper mill was built in 1674 on the banks of the River Irwell. By 1793, Bury contained eight of the fourteen paper mills operating in Lancashire. Cotton and Chlorine bleaching from the local textile industry helped to foster further development as these techniques were applied to paper making during the latter part of the century. Technological development, including the introduction of the Foudrinier machine around 1817 allowed paper to be produced in a continuous process on a truly industrial scale.
Today there remain no more than a handful of the mills which once placed Bury among the most important paper making centres in Europe. Large paper manufacturing companies like Bibby and Baron, Ramsbottom’s Trinity Paper Mills, and the East Lancashire Paper Mills, produced much of the nation’s paper requirement until quite recent times. Much of the world’s paper-making machinery was also manufactured in Bury. Today, many of its surviving mills concentrate on processing recycled fibres, and the town is regaining some of its past pre-eminence in paper manufacture, with the Fort Sterling factory at Ramsbottom having recently invested £70 million in paper-making processing.
The East Lancashire Paper Mill was founded by the Seddon family on 29 March 1860, along the banks of the Irwell. In Radcliffe the East Lancs paper Mill together with its subsidiaries, was a major employer of Radcliffe’s population, but finally closed its doors in 2001.Radcliffe Paper Mill was formed during the First World War, when it took over from a paper mill and a pipe plant. It originally produced paper suitable for roofing felt, to cater for a national shortage. After World War II the mill employed over 600 people and produced 70,000 tons of paper annually. British Plaster Board Industries (BPB) took over the company in 1961. Both of the paper factories have since been demolished.
Porritt and Spencer made felts, roller cloths and machine blankets for the papermaking industry. The company began in 1808 as Chadwick and Porritt, and was based in Bury. They prospered, enlarged the Bury premises and adding a works at Edenfield named Dearden Clough Mill. In 1829 Mr Chadwick retired, and the firm became known as J and J Porritt, after Joseph and James, two of the Porritt brothers. In 1851, Joseph, James and their brother Samuel combined forces and built a new works near Ramsbottom called Stubbins Vale Mill. In 1914, the three Porritt brothers were re-united and formed Porritts and Spencer Limited, bringing the firm J H Spencer and Sons Limited, who were then based at Mossfield Mills, Bury into a new company.
By the mid-1920’s almost one thousand people were employed at the works, and business was booming, with goods being exported worldwide. In 1929, a Canadian ‘arm’ to the operation was set up. In 1968, Porritt and Spencer were taken over by the Scapa Group. The Stubbin Vale Mills were also occupied by another company in the Scapa Group, Unaform Limited.
There are a small number of paper mills still in existence today but not nearly on the scale of the past.
The Act of Seeing Charming Things
(Some thoughts on museum display and interpretation)
Museums are seen as storage spaces for our cultural heritage, and many, have been solely considered as spaces for exhibitions about the locality in which they sit. However, by simply fulfilling this function, museums cannot possibly satisfy the demands emanating from our 21st century society. Museums now have to perpetuate a comprehensive view of how we humans understand the world surrounding us. At the same time museums have to investigate ways on which to draw new knowledge and means of expression from things and collections gathered there, and to present the fruits of such research. Bury Museum sees itself as a place of experiment, a place that aims to stimulate a contemporary dialogue with our collections by various means of expression through the practice of innovative display and interpretation techniques.
Historic objects accumulated by the museum are most certainly our heritage from the past, However, at the same time, they constitute a resource which we actively use in order to face the future. Bury Museum uses its collections in many different ways not just as display items. In a society facing its limits in obtaining natural resources and energy supplies, it is no exaggeration to state that the task of redesigning accumulated extant objects is an urgent issue confronting humankind. Aware of this current situation , Bury Museum utilises its collections in many different ways, we work closely with our university partners at Manchester Metropolitan University and Salford University and contribute to the training future designers, photographers, artists and creative thinkers. We also work with artists to explore new meanings for, and new ways of displaying, the collections.
You may feel that there is something different about the way things are exhibited in Bury Museum when compared to other museums. The way we exhibit may seem different from what one usually see in a museum. And that is exactly our aim. We deliberately do not adopt an evident way of exhibiting based on such criteria as chronology or classification, and since the museum redesign in 2005 we did not have any intent to show the objects systematically. Indeed, there are many visitors who feel confused by the exhibitions in the Museum spaces. Some may declare that not only is there no defined route in viewing them but also there is a distinct lack of interpretation about individual objects. It is clear that Bury Museum’s exhibitions do not follow ordinary exhibition methods this is partly because Bury Museum is different from general museums both in its design concept and its social mission, as a museum. We see ourselves as an innovative and experimental museum questioning society about new curatorial methods and activities through the exhibition projects we run.
If we reflect on the traditional opinion of what the majority of people feel a museum should be then Bury Museum in many ways must seem incomprehensible. However, we feel there are many museums in the UK coexisting and following the traditional path, in that their exhibition concepts are more or less similar. The reasons are easy to understand – many museum professionals and the viewing public are bound by a set view on museums; they think that museums should be a certain way, with a certain type of exhibition. We feel it is not acceptable that all museums should look the same and follow a certain path. We want to take risks to strain our brains and produce a museum of originality and to push forward curatorial practice.
Can visitors satisfy their curiosity by simply walking along a predetermined exhibition route, mapped out with large ugly overly designed graphics telling them in minute detail what to think? It is the current museological practice that exhibitions should be easy to understand but is understanding the supreme reward of a museum experience? Is that it, is that all you get? What is there to be appreciated beyond this? Is the experience of visiting a museum something only to be experienced intellectually through signs and words? Most museums, it seems, see this as the most important approach. If you look closely at many museum displays you sometimes see an exhibition label that not only laboriously lays out in the greatest detail every drop of information about that object but it sometimes actually obscures it!
We argue that this isn’t the only way to appreciate objects and learn from them. In our internet driven world the museum viewer has all the answers at their finger tips about how old an object is and what it is made from, once you have learnt this from an object doesn’t it make you curiously cold and unsatisfied? Isn’t it instantly forgettable? We believe that if museums are all a certain way then they rapidly become uniform and trite and eventually tiresome.
Bury Museum believes in a more original approach, one that encourages the viewer to grasp the object with their eyes, we want them to drink it in and experience its beauty first and then experience the emotions and memories that it provokes in them. Our exhibitions aim to utilise these emotions and mobilise one’s senses. By carrying out this original approach to museum display we argue that our viewers will become culturally richer from their visit. On the whole we feel the common practice of over interpreting an object spoils the aesthetic enjoyment of a display and creates visual impurities so we deliberately to not display in the traditional sense of object / label, any written information about a certain display that we do provide can be found in a discreet wall dispenser if the viewer has a inclination to want to delve further.
By exhibiting charming things in a beautiful way we can contribute to stimulating creativity through the act of seeing. We invite you to wonder freely around the museum and encounter the objects as you will.
If asked, how would you describe the colour white to someone?
This is the predicament scientists & explorers were faced with in the 19th c.
Although colour charts for use in taxonomic descriptions of plants and animals had been published from the last years of the seventeenth century it was Abraham Gottlob Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours wrote in 1814 that comprehensively described & categorised colours by using examples from the vegetable, animal and mineral worlds, examples which westerners would have been familiar with.
Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours was so important that the naturalist Charles Darwin took it on his voyage aboard HMS Beagle in 1831. Darwin took it in order to identify and record the colours of specimens, such as fish or the eyes of birds that would become faded or be lost by preservatives. Patrick Syme (1774-1845) an Edinburgh flower painter and teacher of art, was introduced to Werner’s work through Robert Jameson, one of Werner’s favorite pupils. Syme set about writing a second edition published in 1821 of Werner’s work. It was this revised version that Darwin took on his voyage.
The latest museum exhibition that I have just installed focuses on Werner’s categorisation of the colour white, and looks at its many subtle variations. In the display case there is a pressed white Geranium flower which Werner used to illustrate Purplish White, sculptural made from Carrara marble which Werner referred to as Snow White, an owl and a small lidded pot made from white porcelain are other examples that Werner used.
On the 11th of October 2013 as part of Bury Light Night ‘Breakdowns’ the audio visual piece created by artist Paul Wolinski (Polinski) will be projected onto the White case, in effect transforming the display into a blank canvas for the evening. ‘Breakdowns’ was first screened at the Future Everything event in Manchester 2012. Paul is also the founding member of acclaimed instrumental rock band 65daysofstatic.
For more see: NOISEfestival.com/user/Polinki
Just finished installing a new museum display – Clas·si·fi·ca·tion. The display looks at how other aspects of the world around us and our everyday lives are classified. It explores certain classification systems that are used in the medical and animal world and the systems used by museums & libraries to categorise their collections, it features objects from our medical & natural history collections.
The Pop-Up Curiosity Cabinets are here!
I have just installed four Curiosity Cabinets in the Museum, they will be around for the summer.
The cabinets are crammed with weird and wonderful objects from the museum’s collections, such as Scrimshaw, a Billy & Charlie, Chinese lotus shoes, minerals, Fossils, exotic shells, a fossilised rat, stuffed baby chicks and much more.
I was interested in how wealthy europeans in the past displayed their unusual and interesting objects – in a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, which was usually a room or a piece of furniture. A Cabinet of Curiosities was a way for collectors in the past to show other people how rich and cultured they were and they were often packed full of curios. This approach allowed me to pick objects from across the oldest of our collection groups and display them at random with very little written interpretation.
Bury’s oldest collections were formed privately by three wealthy local men and when Bury Museum opened in 1907 they donated them so everyone could see them. Dr. J.B. Kerr of Manchester Road and his two brothers (Mr. W.B. Kerr and Dr. J. L. Kerr) offered the geological collection amassed by their father. Alderman Duxbury presented a large collection of birds and a small collection of eggs to the museum collection and Mr. Jonathan Blunt donated a wide variety of ethnographic objects from all over the inhabited world, as well as a collection of butterflies.
Co-oP Exhibition Installation
I thought I was slightly obsessed with organising things neatly as a display technique until I came across 2 black and white photos in the museum collection. Taken in the 1920s the photos show local co-op shop windows; the displays in the photos were part of a ‘Shop Window’ competition organised by the staff of local stores. One photo shows a display of men’s white card collars and the other a display of umbrellas. Both of the shop windows show lots of the same items grouped together for maximum impact. I have decided to pay homage to the co-op windows of the past and base the new exhibition in the museum on them, here are some installation shots.
Behind the scenes of an exhibition change over
I have just dismantled the fabulous Inter Alia exhibition in our large museum case and it has been replaced by The Philips’s of The Park, an exhibition which looks at a prominent local family from Prestwich. Here are some shots of the exhibition being installed. As you can see the large oil painting of Robert Needham Philips needed all hands to the pump to get it into the case because of its size and weight. I have decided to use quotes to introduce each section of the exhibition, they are made from vinyl and are tricky to put up, but I got there in the end! I was also able to satisfy my desire to do a table setting, although I’m still holding out for the opportunity to create a fantasy dinner party table, 20 foot long and 3 feet wide with fantastical objects at each place setting!
Exhibition Change Over
Here are some behind the scenes photos of the Inter Alia exhibition being taken down.
Here are a couple of the Inter Alia case installations – to see more come and visit us!
The students working on the Inter Alia installations had no pre-conceived notions of what the objects they chose were, how old they were, and quite often what they would have been used for. They saw them as colours, shapes and things of beauty. Some students delved further and enquired about the stories behind the objects but most of them built their own stories.
Inter Alia – ‘Trey LaTrash Pop Psychic’ by Ian Robert Slater.
Ian Robert Slater’s display case installation – ‘Trey LaTrash: Pop Psychic’ made use of our 1950’s pink fridge and a 1930’s shop counter mannequin from our co-operative collection. The installation recreates a day in the surreal Pop Psychic life of New York artist & underground club DJ Tray LaTrash. Ian also took inspiration from the 2013 Spring/Summer fashion collections. He took quotes from interviews about the New York club scene which appeared in JUKE Magazine and printed them on material & hung it across the back of the display case.
Inter Alia – ‘Insanity Hare’ by Safia Yaqub
Safia Yaqub’s case installation- ‘Insanity Hare’ was based on the character the March Hare from the story of Alice in Wonderland – except in Safia’s piece the hare was a real person who lived in our world and who suffered from psychosis, and because of this was sectioned and confined to a mental hospital. Insanity Hare shows the March Hare’s space and living quarters inside the mental hospital. The piece was inspired by the Prestwich Hospital (formerly Prestwich Asylum) objects in the museum collection, the museums taxidermy specimens as well as fur and animals used in the fashion industry. Several artists and fashion designers also inspired the piece such as Polly Morgan, Cai Guo-Qiang and Claire Morgan; Celine, Fendi and Miu Miu from their 2012 collections as well as Vivienne Westwood’s & Comme Des Garcon’s surrealistic and unhinged approach to fashion throughout the ages. As a recognised character from many people’s childhoods, Safia felt that ‘Insanity Hare’ showed the March Hare’s tale as more contemporary, real and dark.