Haidy Geismar, UCL
Last term I taught parallel undergraduate and Masters seminars exploring the creation of knowledge systems in museums and the effects of shifts towards the digital on the organization of knowledge and museum epistemologies. All the students had to create a project that digitally presented a series of objects, drawn from across UCL Museums and Collections and created a new digital collection environment. The project aimed not to create an online exhibition but to think about the potentials, and limitations, of digital representation and modes of organization for creating knowledge about both specific objects and from the collecting together of different objects. The undergraduates had to digitally collect 5 objects using an open source platform supported and hosted by UCL (My Portfolio, built on Mahara). The Postgraduates had to collect 8 objects and were allowed to experiment and choose any software platform that they wanted. The project was a really interesting way to unpack the process of collecting, the dominance of certain ways of knowing over others in digital space, and the capacity of digital technologies to develop new ways of thinking about collections. Below are the series of Postgraduate projects sites, all of them contain a curator’s comment which explains the form and nature of the collection and explores the nature of digital collecting. I learnt things about UCL collections, discovered objects I never knew existed (including a cowboy boot in the Ethnography collections) and really came to appreciate the limits and benefits of different platforms as interpretive frameworks for understanding material culture and materiality.
A handful of the best undergraduate projects are linked to here: Elise Boileau created an entire biography of a victorian lady bell maker made up from objects from her personal collection. Ana Morales experimented with the digital representation of different sensory orders for objects. Edith Dormandy experimented with the representational differences between handwritten and typed text, and Benjamin Leggett explored the quality of sound in UCL’s Ethnography Collections.
Below is also a portfolio of the Master’s project, click through to see each one.
Charting Colour by Tyson McVey
Charting Colour is an anthropology project disguised as an online catalogue and exhibition. What you are visiting is an attempt to objectify how colour is organised across UCL collections and what happens when objects are re-framed, catalogued and displayed as something else. Using the theme of colour Charting Colour explores the nature of a digital museum or gallery catalogue and questions the institutional power frameworks surrounding this Colour is something we often take for granted. It is something intangible, yet very real. Colour is ambiguous, at once constant yet changing depending on how it is presented and understood. Colour is based on perception; it is individual yet in the digital plane we attempt to universalise it. This project uses these ideas to examine the nature of curating an exhibition and questioning the role of the object within the digital exhibition. By taking works from catalogues and labelling them as ‘systems’, as catalogue entries based on ‘charts’ and then reframing them as artworks, the original function of each object is somehow shifted to a new function. From historical, social and for research purposes within UCL disciplines objects are compared with each other and take on aesthetic functions in this new catalogue. I have asked myself some of the following questions in framing this project – What existing powers does the curator hold? Does the digital catalogue give the curator and visitor new freedom? What happens to an object when it is presented using existing museum and gallery catalogue framework in the digital scape? What happens to an object if you remove its original historical context or original meaning and label it as something else? Can an object or image originally meant to be something else become an entirely different object as it is framed so within a catalogue? As an objects shifts between different institutional frameworks of display is it possible to change the way the visitor perceives the object itself? How much is the catalogue itself framed by how the curator presents it?
Project Unknown By Toyin Agbetu
Almost every object in our collection is a fragment that has somehow been severed from its originating roots – its ‘personal’ ethnographic story is either incomplete or unknown. During the planning of this project three distinct categories emerged as useful themes under which to identify 'unknown' objects. “unknown” - No idea on form, function or material “misidentified” - Recognise similarity with other objects but insufficient data on detail “known unknown” - We only know with certainity some of the form, function and material attributes It was the original mission of this project to add visual symbols to help graphically signify an items ‘known’ status. This would have worked similar to the certification system used by the British Board of Film Certification in order to allow audiences to identify at a glance the tone/content of the media artefact they were about to engage with.
A collection of collections by Lian Xao
A collection of nine objects surrounding the theme of Death. All objects are held by UCL Museums and Collections. Even though the size of collection is not big, it consists different forms of objects, and different dimensions of the theme "Death".
This is not just a pipe by Myriam Perrot
This collection is composed of ten ethnographic objects that I picked up during the time I was volunteering at the ethnographic collections of UCL, located in the department of anthropology. The main task I was asked to fulfil remained the same over the last few weeks. I was expected to make sure each object was in the right place and had the correct accession number corresponding to the one of the database. Accomplishing this task I observed my body producing the same movements over and over again. Putting some gloves on, opening a cabinet, taking a drawer out, taking the objects out, unpacking, re-packing, putting the drawer back, closing the cabinet, putting the key back to its box, throwing the gloves in the bin. It is whilst involved in such process that I once stopped for a longer moment over a drawer. I took interest in a pipe and started off considering the existing knowledge available on this object. As it is the case with a substantial part of the objects composing the collections, the current knowledge we have of the pipe (as made visible on the online catalogue of the ethnographic collections) is very limited. I therefore took up to explore what type of knowledge could one create out of first hand experience. Looking at the pipe became more than just focusing on the crystallised far away society it would represent. Rather I asked myself ‘how do we get to the pipe?’ and thus turned my attention onto a series of objects that acted as intermediaries between the object and me.
A Jar of Moles by Laura Bradshaw Heap
This collection has been created using Pinterest and WordPress. The Pinterest board, The Digital Cabinet of Curiosity: When is a mole not a mole? acts as the first point of contact for the viewer. Streams of images are mixed and presented together on the surface appearing to be a hodgepodge of objects on exhibition. On further inspection each of these images is linked to a selection of tags, which connect each ‘pin’ to other related ‘pins’ on this board, and throughout Pinterest. Each pin is then linked to a related page on this WordPress blog; jarofmoles.wordpress.com, which provides further information on the object presented, including additional contextual information from a variety of sources. The tags appear on each WordPress post additionally, allowing the viewer to search within the WordPress blog for related content. Finally those objects that exist physically within collections are linked, where possible, enabling the viewer to view the available information provided by the holding institution. Each pin and blog post is connected to each other, no post is standalone.
Fragments by Jasmine Popper
What is a fragment? // What is a ‘whole’ object? Any object could be described as a fragment - a part of a wider network of materials, ideas or things. This idea is particularly pertinent considering objects found in museums and collections, with artefacts torn from their original contexts replaced into institutional frameworks of display and (culture) specific narratives of significance. But what of the material fragments of once physically ‘whole’ objects, and further, those whose original spatial, ideological or temporal context remains unknown? This is a collection of the fragments of a collection. It is an exhibition of the material bits and pieces that both constitute and fall from objects, exposing both the treatment and temporalities of physical things. It is about acts of collecting, knowledge-making and conservation, and the fragments chosen reflect concerns of materiality, speculation and the transferral of information from physical object to knowledge. The fragments displayed here were found in UCL’s Ethnographic collection. Conceived as a teaching collection in the early 20th Century this is arguably a fragmented collection in itself, having been divorced from any catalogue of meaningful contextual description about the objects that it contains. The objects within it span donations primarily from academics, and includes many material fragments - some objects which presumably arrived in pieces, and others which have and continue to fall from the artefacts, through temporal degradation and perhaps more violent human impact. Fragments are shown to be revealing in connection to individual objects as well as to the act of object collecting and conservation itself. They come to reveal the history of the object both in and out of the collection and demonstrate a view to preservation for the future. As some of the fragments shown here have been otherwise left un-catalogued, this exhibition offers an insight into elements of collections traditionally unseen or disregarded for display.
The Fractured Collection by James Hayle
The Fractured Collection features eight of the cracked, broken and missing artefacts of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. This online collection invites the public to actively participate and engage through the mode of crowd sourcing to re-piece these objects digitally back together. Our main objective is to create a learning environment, encouraged through this dynamic framework; building knowledge through the process of investigation, research, creativity and construction. For every object currently on the site we have provided: multi-angled high definition photographs, dimensions, time periods, locations and basic descriptions where available.* Keywords, a search bar and gallery are all tools available to locate your desired object.
UCL's Enlightenment Gallery of Objects and Ideas by Ioanna Manoussaki-Adamo Poulou
This collection came into being as a result of the discussions that developed during the seminar of the Anthropology course From Analogue to Digital: Knowledge in the Museum, in the autumn of 2014. It is an ‘Enlightenment Gallery’ of the objects that the curators of the different collections and museums of UCL chose in order to represent the totality of objects in their care and talk about the significance of these collections and the challenges faced when working with them. At first glance, it looks like a digital cabinet of curiosities, a collection of seemingly unrelated objects apart from the fact that they reside within the same institution and now within the same digital space. However they are tied together by the idea that an object can say as much about the time and place that it originates from as well as the value systems of it’s current location and when one listens closely, similar discourses on materiality and history, provenance and resonance become apparent.
Digital Vitrines by Carys Wilkins
All of the postcards in this collection are fictional objects, created for the purpose of this project. The digital collection makes the postcard, (the reproduction or readymade), the REAL object as ‘authentic’ as the ‘original’ object in UCL Museums and Collections, which inspired this virtual collection. The concept for this project which I have called ‘Digital Vitrines’, stemmed from an interest in the idea of the souvenir, in particular the postcard and the perceived (lack of) value of the reproduction. The project involved making a selection of a total of eight objects from across UCL Museums and Collections. These were chosen as representative of a selection from an imagined UCL Museums and Collections ‘Highlight Collection’, taking inspiration from the ‘Top 10 Objects’ concept used by the University’s three Museums – the Art Museum, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and the Grant Museum of Zoology – on their respective websites. ‘To photograph is to confer knowledge’ (Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977), p.28) In my collection, all of the objects taken from UCL Museums and Collections were chosen as imagined ‘highlight’ objects owing to the inclusion of a photographic representation in the UCL online catalogue, as well as use of those images elsewhere on the UCL Museums and Collections web pages. Therefore, as Susan Sontag infers in her 1977 text On Photography, does the inclusion of an image in the online museum catalogue for some objects and not others confer importance, privileging some objects above others? Alternatively, does the absence of images for some objects, instead reflect the (limited) resources of the UCL Museums and Collections, which may have delayed the incorporation of images for all its online public facing records.
The Museum of Unthings by Alex Young
Without people, there would be no museums. And for The Museum of Unthings, this is literally the case. The Museum of Unthings is an ever evolving online museum that aims to encourage the telling of alternative narratives about objects from UCL’s Museums and Collections by providing a collaborative forum where visitors aren’t simply passive viewers but active participants shaping the museum’s trajectory. Visitors to the museum are encouraged to add items, or unthings, to the museums collection by uploading a visual representation of an object from any one of UCL’s Museums and Collections, writing a description and classifying the object through tagging. The museum is a celebration of subjectivity and a reminder that there is never just one side to any story.