Archived blog for an exhibition at the University of Leicester, School of Museum Studies
Thursday, 28 January 2010
Hi everyone, and welcome to my blog. I'm going to be charting the development of "Wounded Souls", an exhibition in the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. The School has just moved to its new building, complete with exhibition spaces, and this year's MA students are the first to take advantage of the space as part of the course.
To give a quick history of how we've arrived here, we were asked to come up with proposals for an exhibition on the theme of "War and Conflict". Each group gave a five minute pitch to all the department staff and students, and a vote took place to find the winning projects. "Wounded Souls", proposed by the "Pollock"group, was one of the winners. They proposed an exhibition that aims to raise awareness of the psychological traumas that result from war. It is aimed at an audience aged 18-30, to match the ages for recruitment into the armed forces. Now that the proposal is going into full development some of the ideas will almost certainly evolve, and I'll be trying to track that evolution as I keep a record of our development process.
We've Got How Long?
Monday, 2 February 2010
Today was the first meeting for our exhibition team, and it was really to try and get some rough timescales worked out. The exhibition is due to be installed on the 11th of February - that's now only 10 days away so we can't hang around. Unfortunately due to a timetable clash I was unable to attend the meeting, but Polly, my fellow Project Manager, has filled me in.
As well as agreeing that we don't have much time at all we had a few big questions to work out. Of the three winning exhibitions, none were planned to be installed in the foyer of the School of Museum Studies. This is a prime spot for getting noticed, and as the space is up for grabs it made sense to think about whether our design would work in that space. In the end the group decided that as the narrative of Wounded Souls is very linear, and the cases in the foyer do not have a clear route for the visitor, we're better off where we planned for all along. The cases the exhibition was designed might be tucked away behind the main office but do have an advantage in being laid out in way that suggests a very obvious route for the visitor.
The group also considered ways to introduce more voices into the exhibition narrative. The 5 minute pitch was, of course, limited and proposed that the story of a single soldier should be told over the four cases. This would chart the transition of a soldier from being enthusiastic and full of a sense of adventure to being disillusioned and, quite probably, damaged by service and wanting to get out.
By telling the story of one person in some detail the audience can really connect with that person. However, the disadvantage of this approach is that it neglects so many other perspectives, such as the role of women in the forces. Ideas tabled for solving this problem were to include other stories in the supporting material for the main story, or perhaps keeping the soldier generic and ambiguous, so it doesn't exclude anybody. This also led to a discussion about whether a nationality should be given to our, so far anonymous, soldier. Again there are pros and cons - but in the end we decided to stay neutral with regard to nationality. Our challenge over the next two weeks is to find a balance in keeping our story compelling, but also keeping our exhibition broad enough that nobody is excluded.
With so much to do at this early stage each part of the exhibition team has to get going, whether choosing and researching objects, interpreting those objects, getting detailed designs together or working out the challenges of the installation. The most immediate job has to be deciding what objects we would like to use - and if they're not available we need time to rethink. The pressure's also on for designing graphics as there's a 5 day turn around for getting them produced.
Work starts in earnest tomorrow!
A Psychological Journey
Friday, 5 February 2010
OK, so it's quite a grandiose title for a blog entry, but today our interpretation team decided on a subtitle for our exhibition. We're now working on (drum roll...) Wounded Souls: Civillian to Soldier to Wounded Soul, a Psychological Journey. I can also give you a little bit more information about what's going in each of our cases.
1) The Illusion (where you buy in to the illusion of the military as a great adventure)
2) The Reality of War (does what it says on the tin)
3) Coming Home (not as straight forward as it sounds if you come home with psychological baggage to try and fit into your life)
4) Road to Recovery
Today's meetings showed one thing very strongly - it's all very well having separate teams for object research, interpretation, design and installation, but they are really very interdependent. Each of the teams met individually for an hour today, then we rejoined and fed back to the whole group. The interpretation team were limited because they didn't know what objects the research team intended to use, the research team didn't know exactly how much research to do on what for interpretation and the design team really needed to know what both had in mind to make any concrete decisions. The installation team, meanwhile, can do very little until we've chosen the media, objects, what graphics we want and where (not to mention any fancy lighting effects, media installations...) Luckily we're a small enough group that we can all sit round a table to figure out our differences.
We finally have our object list, which at least removes one of the variables! Another thing that clearly came out of today's meeting is that we all agree that we're telling the soldiers' stories, and not the objects' stories. With our pretty well defined narrative we aim to firm up some of the design and interpretation ideas tomorrow - and perhaps we'll even give the installation team a few clues about what they're up against. Hopefully I'll have some exiting sketches of our exhibition design to wow you with.
The Morals of Authenticity
Thursday, 11 February 2010
Yesterday and today have been a flurry of emails, meetings and more emails as we draw closer to having to finalise a few decisions. Tomorrow our design team will be meeting up with the graphic design company, and hoping that their prices don't blow their ideas out of the water - if our guesstimates of prices are wrong we could end up with an exhibition that looks very different to the one we've all been imagining!
One of the biggest challenges we've been working on in the last couple of days has been to work within the rules of copyright law for any photographs we display. Much as we'd like to use any picture we find from trawling the internet, or looking in books, we can't. Some of the sums of money involved are staggering, although the pictures we'd like to use usually come in around the fairly modest £50 mark per picture - it's still a very large chunk of our budget to spend if there's an alternative. One option we've been investigating is to source our own family pictures of service personnel in their uniform. This avoids the copyright issue, but begs another question.
We're putting on an exhibition that looks at the mental effects of war on members of the armed forces. So, one of our ideas was to show service personnel and use these images to represent men and women who've suffered as a result of conflict, including notable characters such as war poets. However, as we're not able to choose the photos we'd like ideally, we're using all the family photos we can get our hands on instead. However, many of these pictures are of service men and women who have never been to war. So, the question is, should we be putting up these images as representative of people who've been to war and suffered the consequences? They're not authentic, and we could just as well take photos of actors dressed up in uniform and use them. The counter argument is that mental trauma is invisible, and if we use anonymous soldiers our visitors can't know that they're not authentic, unless we tell them through our interpretive text.
So, what's our solution? We're still going to use the photos sources from our families, our budget means we either do that or don't include any pictures. That would mean changing our concept quite radically. In addition we're being very careful with our wording, it would be misleading to suggest that everybody in the photos suffers from mental trauma as a result of war. Instead we will have to stress that the images are representative.
Overall the project's shaping up nicely, after meeting the design company tomorrow we can have a bit of a break over the weekend before the hard work of the installation really kicks off.
Design at a distance
Sunday, 14 February 2010
The deadline for getting our material to the graphics company is looming, and as its the weekend we're having to make decisions from the comfort of all our respective homes. I'm not sure I've ever sent so many emails in such a short period of time! Many of the emails exchanged were an attempt to decide where our priorities lay, as until our meeting with the graphics supplier on Friday we had hardly any idea what the costs would be. Unsurprisingly we can't do everything. We were also trying to finalise a design style for our text panels, we have a lot of ideas, but not much space. Hopefully we've come up with an answer to our problem that everybody agrees with.
However, the single job I've spent the most time on this weekend was colouring in soldiers for the background of one of our cases. We were trying to find a way of showing graphically the idea that 40% of soldiers return from conflict with psychological trauma of some sort, here's what we came up with:
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Perhaps the most telling thing in this blog over the last few days has been the lack of posts - it's been very hectic, but I think we're almost there. Our materials for installation should arrive tomorrow and we can get everything in - I'll be taking photos and putting them up here.
We had a minor crisis yesterday when we realised that we hadn't included VAT in the quote for our graphics, which we had already spent 80% of our budget on. For those of you who haven't already done the maths, adding the VAT onto that pushed us up to 94% of our budget. That didn't leave many pennies to spend on anything else. Luckily we were able to negotiate with our suppliers and rethink the materials that we're using, and just about squeeze what we want out of the budget we have. It's certainly a lesson I'll remember in future!
As tomorrow should be very eventful I'm going to sign off for now, and save myself up for a bumper post, complete with installation pictures.
Installed finally - well, nearly
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Thursday and Friday were the big days - finally we got to install our creation! I've now added a photo album (see buttons at the top of the page) which show what we got up to.
Our group got off to the earliest start of all the group and got a lot of attention from excited staff as a result. The first bit of excitement was the delivery of our graphics. I think we were all pleasantly surprised by just how good they looked, and how much of a difference they made to our cases. The company also gave a much appreciated lesson in applying vinyl lettering to the wall. Installing our graphics provided the first challenge of the day. Our budget was somewhat compromised when we realised that we needed to add 17.5% to our quote for VAT, so we had to make some changes to our order. One of those changes was to use a thinner, more flimsy material for our printed case backings. The new material was not rigid enough to keep itself upright, but luckily the installation team can do some impressive things with paper clips, including temporarily holding exhibitions together. On day one of our exhibition we worked to get the case backings and vinyl lettering installed - all of this we managed to get done despite the fabric backing for case 4 proving stubborn. Between us we also knotted a lot of paper clips onto fishing wire for case 4, but I'm sure you'll agree from the photos it was well worth it.
As well as managing the physical aspects of the installation we were still running around doing last minute jobs. By the end of the day we finalised our "exhibition catalogue" which contains a bit of information about our objects for anybody that wants extra information. We also had to produce an e-flyer for the opening night of our exhibitions:
I arrived part way through Friday, after ordering posters for the exhibition entrance and exit (which look very good incidentally). When I arrived I was pointed towards Richard Sandell's twitter feed which said, "Students are installing their exhibitions - creative, inventive, surprising. Can't wait 2C them finished next week." I was also greeted by an enthusiastic installation team who had spent the morning putting all our objects in the cases, which were looking fantastic.
We had a few jobs left to do, case 4 was waiting for a few finishing touches, and I think has been voted everybody's favourite case in the exhibition. Case 3 also looked a bit bare at the bottom so we made a last minute addition. The theme of the case is "coming home" and we had both civilian clothes and military clothes to demonstrate the transition. The backing image in the case shows graphically 40% of soldiers who are blacked out to represent the number of soldiers who return from conflict with mental trauma. The photos we added to the case showed soldiers in uniform in family groups, but some of them had their faces blacked out. Again we were trying to reinforce the invisibility of psychiatric concerns. It was amazing how the addition of three photos drew the case together.
At the end of the day we glued our text panels to the wall, using some very pungent glue. Our installation should have been finished by the end of Friday, but unfortunately we have to wait until Monday for somebody from university maintenance to come and hang the artwork for our exhibition. Despite that the installation team did a great job in getting everything installed in the time we had, and to a very high standard. Thanks should go to the whole team for their creative use of paper clips, white-tak and masking tape.
I'll post some more pictures of the completed exhibition on Monday after the artworks have been installed - until then take a look at the gallery so far.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Monday night was our grand opening, and it was a great success. You don't just have to take my word for it, Richard Sandell, our head of department, posted this on twitter: "Congratulations to all our students on a very very classy & beautifully organised private view. And the exhibitions look fabulous too!" It was great to see people in the exhibition space and exploring our hard work, it was the icing on the cake after a fun but challenging journey to get the exhibition completed.
I've put a few more photos up, including some of the opening (thanks to everybody that let me take photos of them!) And, thanks to you for reading the blog.