08 January 2014

Writing project briefs

Next session of the "museums course" (actual title: Developing practice for makers through museums) is still more than two weeks away but I want to get on with the homework - which could be a lengthy process. It is to write a draft brief - whether or not we've actually finalised the museum we're aiming to work with or from (though we should have by now).

Well I haven't, despite having an obvious candidate, the Transport Museum (or more precisely, its shop). The rebel in me wants to do something less obvious (and to get away from the Travel Lines, make a chance for something new to develop) - so as a preliminary to this, I'll be working on the first point ("identity..."), visiting a few museums for a rekky, checking out the lie of the land, what's in the building and in the collection and thinking about how this relates to any work I might want to do or develop.
The Old Clock Room at the Clockmakers Museum
Small or local ones seem less intimidating than the behemoths - like the Transport Museum - and London has many of both sorts. Consider the British Dental Association Museum - mission statement: "The museum aims to bring out the relevance of the past, present and future of dentistry, to inspire and educate existing and new audiences and to influence the perception of the science, practice and social impact of dentistry." - or the Clockmakers' Museum - "The Clockmakers’ Collection was begun in 1814 and is therefore the oldest collection specifically of clocks and watches in the world. It has been on permanent public display (also in Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London EC2P 2EJ) since 1874."
Photomonth exhibition at Vestry House Museum, Nov 2012
Not far away from my home is Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow - "Explore life during past and present Waltham Forest through our fascinating displays on domestic life, local history, fashion and toys and games. See our Victorian parlour and enter our police cell!" - trickier to get to (but strangely fascinating), the Royal Air Force Museum in Colindale, which "tells the story of the Royal Air Force through its people and collections. Our collections in London include some very early aircraft designs through to the latest modern day jets and military aircraft"; its "interactive and fun activities" includes a "3D Cinema and our emotive and uplifting sound and light show Our Finest Hour".
Fenton House, Hampstead
And other spaces, not just museums - Fenton House, a National Trust property comes to mind, with its musical instruments and 17th-century embroideries. Wouldn't it be interesting to use the archives of a shop, Liberty's say, as the starting point for "something"...? "Maggs beneath the Covers" at Maggs Bros, an antiquarian bookseller, was a wonderful exhibition (some pix are here) -
not least for the chance to see inside the building, to be among those marvellous old books and bookcases and rooms ... and here's a video about an opium-collection exhibition there recently ("an entire museum" in itself), which (at around the 3-minute mark) draws a parallel with the importance of tea drinking ...
... and the collection is displayed like in a 19th century ethnographical museum, eg the Pitt Rivers ... But I digress!

On the other hand, wouldn't it be interesting to look at an individual's collection, an ordinary person, and winkle out its stories, organise the objects and stories in some way, and present that ... perhaps just in the space of a few hours, perhaps just to interested friends? Pop-up shops, one-day-only exhibitions, these are all the rage at the moment - why not a pop-up life?? (I am intrigued by, but perhaps not motivated to act upon this sneaking fascination,  the many manifestations and histories of ordinary objects in people's lives...)
Collecting a life (via)
So - plenty of possibilities! too many! What is it I'm looking for -- something of great interest ... but often you don't know it's of Great Interest ... sometimes it grows on you. There's a spark and when you start to work, it unfolds itself... it resonates ... it may even become an obsession ... whatever "it" is...

Apart from this mythic "object of wonder", there are other aspects to identifying the museum/collection:
-background: how the museum is perceived and how you perceive it
-how/why your own work is relevant to this museum
-objectives: why and how would you want to respond to the museum? what aspect are you interested in - collections, visitors, volunteers, other areas, what spaces? (a museum is more than just the objects in it!)
Research, last century (via)
And there's the small matter of research - about the museum, of course, and about your tentative project. Which will lead to the sharpening of the proposal. And eventually, it is hoped, to actually making the work!

Step 2 of homework: create a draft brief. This is what I'm not - quite - ready to do, why I'm thinking about "more research is needed" and delving into things like opium collections on the internet.

Consider, along these lines, the exhibition proposals of Peter Liversidge - I encountered them at the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh in the summer and wrote about them here. More are available at various places on the internet, eg this one from 2006, which with a little squinting you might be able to read -
He straightforwardly sets out what is to happen, where, when, how, involving whom. (Interestingly, no mention of why.) Over the years he's made the art of the proposal into an art form in itself, tapped out on the old typewriter on his kitchen table.

At the other end of the spectrum is the detailed proposal - far removed from a draft brief! - needed for funding applications, of which horror stories abound. Some people are good at writing these - there's definitely an art to it.

Step 3 of the homework - perhaps having some ideas and keeping the draft brief open - this is probably, in the two weeks remaining, how my eventual draft brief will develop. Or maybe those few excursions to museums and "spaces" will actually spark something? We live in hope, but must do more than hope: we must act.


Olga Norris said...

Jings! This is where I ask whether living in London is such an advantage given the enormity of your choice! A pin might help -?
Given your interest in memory, perhaps the museum of childhood in Bethnal Green -? Anyway, I look forward to seeing your progress.

By the way, isn't the grammar of the exercise a bit weird? Also for some reason I keep reading 'draft' brief as daft!

Vicki Miller said...

Wouldn't I be revelling in having all these museums to visit. My hubby is a train builder and is always interested in old things related. the transport museum would suit him down to the ground. We do have a few museums in australia, but of course we haven't existed for very long as far as these things go

Sandy said...

I'm with Olga, I was going to suggest a project to edit the instructor's Power Point... or a study of things such as when a question is a question and where to put question marks.
Which leads to the question - is there a museum about editing? Or a museum connected with your career at the British Medical Journal?

ilanaDesign said...

oopsie, I completely forgot we had any homework!! Oh lord, I'm so unprepared for a draft but I suppose I have time!