Call for photos of intriguing museum display structures

Jes Fernie, Independent Curator, History Rising Project,

We’d like you to send us your photos of museum display structures from across the world.  These could be from your local museum, trips abroad or from your academic research.

We are interested in vitrines, plinths, shelves and general display mechanisms, rather than museum collections.  They could tell a pathetic story of desperation (the spider plant in a regional museum used to disguise ill-maintained vitrines); a humorous dictat (a carefully positioned sign on a piano which says ‘Do not put anything on this piano’); or simply a display structure that shows off a collection in an intelligent and beguiling way.

The initiative is part of the History Rising programme by artist Marjolijn Dijkman and curator Jes Fernie.  

Please send jpegs with museum details to: jes@jesfernie.com

History Rising is a subversive and engaging study of museum display in Wisbech, East Anglia. Viewers and participants are invited to reconsider their view of history by looking at the mechanisms museums put in place to create a sense of order and hierarchy within their collections. 

By distancing museum objects from their support structures History Rising forms a critique of the assumptions that are made about how things are positioned, who chooses to display them, and how the social, political and aesthetic choices that are made in the process dictate the language of display.

New work by Marjolijn Dijkman is installed in two public museums (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery and Wisbech & Fenland Museum) and an artist run space (OUTPOST). Dijkman’s sculptures propose strange and fantastical juxtapositions, alleviate objects from the weight of history and create links with modernism, the heritage industry and the aesthetics of sci-fi.

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On the Enclosure of Time

Marjolijn Dijkman, Wisbech & Fenland Museum, 1 Nov 2013 – 2 Feb 2014

International Dutch artist Marjolijn Dijkman has made a significant body of new work for one of Britain’s oldest museums, the Wisbech & Fenland Museum in East Anglia. When she first visited the Wisbech & Fenland Museum in 2011 Dijkman was immediately taken with the display structures: the wooden and glass vitrines that have remained unmoved for 166 years; the labeling system and the various shelves used to support museum objects.  Each of these elements contain within them their own systems of hierarchy, hinting at what is deemed to be important and what is not.

‘The Present is Now Appearing’, 7 layers of 6mm glass, afzelia wood

During a two year research period, Dijkman visited a large number of public and private museums in East Anglia – from the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker in Brentwood to the Gordon Boswell Romany Museum in Spalding – looking at the way objects are displayed, which stories are prioritised and who chooses to tell them.

As the visitor moves from the main museum space in the Wisbech & Fenland Museum into the Hudson Room, the change in atmosphere is immediately apparent.  From the relatively dark surroundings of the museum space, with its packed vitrines and eclectic ethnographic and natural history collections, you are greeted with a light and airy space with no labels and a selection of strange sculptural objects. The carpet from the museum area has been extended into the Hudson Room; a devise instigated by the artist to create a sense of continuity between museum space and the neutral white cube environment beyond.

The chain at the top of the steps of the Hudson Room (called Please Don’t Touch) is taken from the design of the chain that binds the hands of the slave in the Thomas Clarkson display in the main museum space.  This chain alludes to the type of barriers often found in museums to demarcate space and time, and discourage visitors from touching exhibits. The chain here is broken and although it is called ‘Please Don’t Touch’, it is manifestly not doing its job; we can walk past it with little chance of being challenged by a museum guard.

Each sculpture in On the Enclosure of Time references a museum display structure.  The objects have gone missing. Has the artist forgotten to install the collection? In What we know of them (Shelves of the World), museum shelving systems have been positioned on the wall in a way that is reminiscent of fungal growth seeping out of a tree trunk. These reference the shelves in the Wisbech & Fenland Museum which display the Waterhouse Hawkins models of extinct dinosaurs.

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The little red wooden wedges positioned on the floor are a play on a commonly used museum display system which stops wheels turning in agricultural or transport exhibits, known as ‘chocks’.  There is a suggestion here that we consider the controlling mechanisms of museums: wheels become trapped in time, unable to create a vital relationship with the present, forever repeating the past.

Furniture in museums is often displayed in such a way that deters visitors from sitting on chairs and sofas. The pink, green and yellow sculptures in the exhibition entitled Treasure, Trade and the Exotic allude to the diagonally placed pieces of string that are often attached to museum furniture to deter use.  Here they are transformed into sculptural objects with vibrant colour codes. One of these works is placed underneath a vitrine in the same way that many items in the main museum space are placed underneath display structures. Space is often at a premium in museums as time forms layers of accreted objects, signage and display paraphernalia.

 

The titles of individual works in the exhibition are taken from museum labels, many of which have a very particular form of didactic expression verging on the surreal.  About 40 Million and 195 – 140 Million are both impossible to imagine and strangely specific; The Beginning and the End is bombastic with ominous overtones; The Present is Now Appearing sounds like a metaphysical tract. The title of the exhibition On the Enclosure of Time references the ambition of many museums to encapsulate time in an effort to present an overarching worldview that is fixed and definite.  Dijkman’s sculptures ask us to look again, to re-consider the parameters of our knowledge base and how it is presented to us.

Marjolijn Dijkman is an artist who lives and works in Brussels and Rotterdam.  Her work has been shown in galleries and public spaces across the world, including The Hague, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Tongin-si (Korea), Marrakech, Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), Tblisi (Georgia) and Berkely (USA).

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