The Museum Of Everything

A production of The School of History of Art for the University of Edinburgh’s Innovative Learning Week.

Last Day Report

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The last day of the Museum of Everything did brisk trade in the morning, with plenty of new additions to the collection, some of them very fine indeed. Then at 1pm we held a roundtable discussion with a mixture of masters and undergraduate students and staff- the latter included Andrew Patrizio, Professor of Scottish Visual Culture, Jill Burke, a senior lecturer in art history specialising in Italian Renaissance art, Claudia Hopkins who manages the online journal Art in Translation, and Frances Fowle, who is both a senior lecturer in art history and a curator at the national Galleries of Scotland. Richard Williams chaired. Here is what we talked about.


Did anyone have a favourite object?


‘The Money’ (CH and FF). They referred to a $5.00 bill stuck horizontally to a file card, with no other text, one of the week’s earliest interventions. When we looked for it to see it in more detail, we realised the bill had been stolen, replaced by ‘IOU’ scrawled coyly in orange. Why did they like it? ‘You can’t do anything in a museum without money. Money is everything.’ (FF) what else? ‘the Flag’ (CH) – a badly drawn saltire, located in an impromptu cluster of Scotland-themed interventions. ‘The egg’ (AP) a truly surrealist amalgam of eggshell and apple charger cable. ‘Le Corbusier’s Glasses’, a cartoon representation of the architect’s eyewear. We noted that in the recent BBC4 documentary on hi-tech architecture, every single one of the architects interviewed sported these glasses. It must be an RIBA requirement. ‘The bus tickets’ or in fact any of the everyday objects (there were a lot of these; visitors quite often just emptied their pockets and stuck the results on a card). There were a few other suggestions, but I’ve forgotten what they were.




This I thought might require the most work, and AP reflected on his (evidently very rich) experience with students in an analogous curatorial project, where students had to devise and exhibition from scratch using copies of images. But here, a lot of the basic work had been done: without any central direction, various ‘schools’ had emerged: Everyday Objects, Philosophy and Wit, Drawings (especially drawings of the Museum itself), Flags and Corporate Logos, Relief Sculptures, Hot Men, and Food. That would be a preliminary list, with additions and revisions possible. We were all agreed that there was hardly any Art. One reason was certainly the additional work involved in representing art – finding a good reproduction, for example, or being competent enough to draw it. But there was also as Jackie Spicer, a Phd student, pointed out, a genuine interest in seeing what would happen to ordinary objects when they were displayed on the wall. A bus ticket or receipt could be transformed, in a way that art could not. The ordinary and everyday held the most appeal.


Pedagogy. Or was the project any use in teaching?


As the chief curator, I noted a range of behaviours and practices that you wouldn’t get in an ordinary class. A much better quality of conversation with students on a more equal basis; a different quality imagination, with more reference to objects and ideas outside the academic field; a willingness to subject art and art history to playful scrutiny; a willingness to accept process rather than product. All of this I suggested was worth cultivating in terms of skills. That wasn’t to say that things didn’t have to be learned, but that traditional approaches might be complemented with more ludic activities. Other thoughts? Collaboration is critical in the culture field – this might be a way to do it. Space is important in facilitating a different mode of education. As is time: a short, concentrated period on a topic might be better than a thin course spread over ten weeks.


What happens next?


We agreed to have another showing of the museum at a time and place to be agreed, using the existing museum as a starting point. Students would be given the task of installing it to their design, and adding to it as appropriate. Future iterations might focus on image only, or text. Or there could be (RW) a week-long project to build a ‘palace of culture’ out of a ‘ton of Lego’.


ILW being what it is, traffic through the museum was never exactly heavy. But fifty or so people must have visited, and the breakdown took longer than expected, a good 3 hours before everything was packed up. Remarkably everything survived, with the exception of the cardboard museum facade produced by Gregor M on day one. It sprang from the wall and disintegrated.


Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Written by rwilliam

February 23, 2014 at 5:24 pm

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