Monday 22 April 2013

First day of the project

The first day of months of planning and I felt both excited and nervous to be embarking on this project in conjunction with The Priest's House Museum. The enormity had hit me over the weekend when I was asked to do a radio interview and I actually described what I was doing to an audience who had no prior experience of me or my work, so I arrived at the museum hoping that everything I had stated I would happen on day one, would be achievable.
My mission today was to clear The Georgian Parlour of all artefacts, which I realise sounds odd in the context of a museum, but in order to experiment with all my ideas this week, I needed to start with a 'blank canvas'. James Webb, deputy curator, assigned curatorial volunteers Mike and Eileen Carter to work with me, both for their extensive working knowledge of the time period and as they were part of the team that assisted in the restoration of the room and setting of the display in the early '90's.

So this was the arrangement at the start of the day and I realised that I was asking a lot to have the room cleared but Mike, Eileen and James were more than happy to help and humour this artist's unorthodox plans. One of the unexpected pleasures of the day has been learning some curatorial skills of how to handle artefacts, how to safely move them for storage and having the privilege to view the fabulous new store rooms, complete with lift!

One of the biggest jobs of the day, was to carefully remove the two mannequins, store one upstairs in the attic (with some very strange looks from the visitors while we were carrying the 'body' up the narrow stairs) and to 'de-robe' the second and re-dress the replica costume on to a new display mannequin.

Eileen kindly spent a long time explaining the history of the garments, how she made them and their significance to Mrs King, whose life they help to narrate.
At the end of a long day of curation, I was left to arrange the few items I had requested be left behind and I spent the remainder of the day watching the visitors navigate the space. In the original setting, a barrier had been put in place to prevent handling the precious objects, but one of my principal ideas had been to remove it and let the audience enter the room and move around freely. It was therefore interesting to note that in the newly open space, every visitor made straight for the window at the back of the room. Whether this is a human compulsion to orient ourselves to the outside of a building and its surroundings or because there are beautiful gardens beyond to view, I couldn't ascertain but all of the visitors were direct in their mission, to go up to the glass and peer out into the world beyond.

So here is how I left the room at the end of the day, ready for tomorrow's experiments where the wonderful Deirdre Ashton will be singing the collection in the room. I hope you return to this blog tomorrow to hear all about it.

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