John Olsen – The You Beaut Country at Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW)

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Enjoy reading the following post by Imogen!

Thanks yet again to Bec for sharing her blog space with me. This, even more so than my previous posts, will be entirely biased as I am a huge fan of John Olsen’s work, and was very eager and excited to visit his new retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). To me, Olsen’s work is immediately recognizable and quintessentially Australian both in its style, aesthetic, and through the exploration/celebration of the natural environment. This is despite the fact that much of his work was inspired by his time spent in Spain.

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Based on past experiences of major exhibitions at AGNSW, I was expecting the exhibition to be very busy and crowded. To my delight, however, the exhibition space was almost empty when we arrived (tip – Wednesday afternoons are a great time to visit, as the Gallery is open late on this day. I think most people were saving their visit for later in the evening to attend the special events). This might seem an odd thing to dwell on, however, I find the busyness of an exhibition space, particularly for art exhibitions, to be a really influential factor in how I am able to experience and enjoy the display.

The display itself was laid out chronologically and included works from all of the different themes and physical forms that make up Olsen’s catalogue. While I say that his work is immediately recognizable, the aesthetic of his work, including the colours and forms used, did vary quite significantly over the course of his career (which is continuing, Olsen continues to paint at age 89). This was reflected well in the exhibition. He has also worked in various formats, which is something I wasn’t fully aware of prior to seeing this exhibition. On display was his more widely known works on paper and large-scale paintings, as well as pottery work and two of nine tapestries designed by Olsen. Prior to visiting the exhibition, I had seen pottery and crockery pieces decorated with Olsen’s designs for sale in the Gallery shop in association with the exhibition and assumed they were a somewhat gimmicky tie-in. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to realized that such pieces had actually been made by Olsen throughout his career and make up an important part of his body of work.

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There are two artworks in particular I would like to discuss. The first is Olsen’s Five Bells (1963) (pictured below), which is probably my favourite piece of Australian art I have ever come across. It is a part of the AGNSW permanent collection, and I let out an audible gasp when I saw it on display in the exhibition. Like most of his paintings, Five Bells is quite a large-scale piece and has a dominant presence in the room given the vibrancy and depth of the colours used. Given this nature of the works being displayed, I was glad to see the generous spacing used in the layout of the artworks in each of the rooms.

In my experience, there has been a recent tendency towards displaying as many works on the wall space as physically possible, but the approach to this exhibition was fitting and refreshing. Five Bells mirrors earlier pieces that reflected the presence of the sun and territorial landscapes – this time in a marine setting as Olsen worked from Watson’s Bay. The work was inspired in part by Australian Kenneth Slessor’s 1939 poem Five Bells, which reflects on the death of the poet’s friend Joe Lynch in a ferry mishap on the harbour. The poem has inspired many creative endeavours in all formats, and it’s interesting to consider these works in relation to one another and it’s interesting to consider these works in relation to one another.

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The other work I wanted to mention, Summer in the You Beaut Country, was one that obviously inspired the title of the exhibition and was quite heavily advertised in the lead up to the exhibition’s opening. This painting, another large-scale piece, was commissioned for Olsen to paint and is a ceiling piece, meaning viewers can best view it by lying down underneath it and looking up. In a video interview playing elsewhere in the exhibition, Olsen explained that he felt it made perfect sense to depict the sun as a ceiling painting given this is how we normally see the sun.

While it’s an intriguing concept, I found it interesting that he didn’t feel the need to paint the sun from this perspective in the majority of his other works. While it was fun to be able to experience a piece in a slightly different way in such a formal setting (see picture of me demonstrating how the painting was viewed), I did feel the display would have benefitted from more explanation on how the painting was supposed to be viewed, as only myself and one other visitor laid down to view it while I was there. Others looked at me very strangely while I did it and largely ignored the painting – a shame when it was this piece that inspired the exhibition as a whole. The chairs chosen could also have been more thoughtfully considered – they were very uncomfortable and did not allow viewers to lie flat, meaning that it was impossible to view the whole painting at once, and viewers had to change seats at least four times to get a good view. Obviously, this was enough to put most people off.

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To end on a more positive note, I cannot speak highly enough of this exhibition both in regards to the approach to the display and the extensive overview it provides of Olsen’s body of work. It was great to see so many works from private collections on loan, being shared with a wider audience. You can see The You Beaut Country at the AGNSW until June 12.

This post was written by Imogen Kennard-King: Imogenkennard.king@gmail.com.

As always Imogen, it’s a pleasure sharing your work! I cannot wait to see this exhibition for myself! To finish, here are some more of Imogen’s photographs from the exhibition.

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Sydney Festival’s Another Day in Paradise at Campbelltown Arts Centre

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the content on this page may contain images and references to deceased persons.

 

I am very excited to share with you a blog post from the wonderful Katharine Cousins! Enjoy reading about this incredibly powerful exhibition.

Hello I’m Katharine, a Museum Studies graduate and genealogy lover!

I had the pleasure of visiting Another Day in Paradise at Campbelltown Arts Centre early last month. It was one of those exhibitions that had quite a buzz surrounding it. After chatting to family and friends, I was encouraged to see it for myself. I decided to visit with a friend, one whom had limited experience with the arts but was still keen to visit due to her law background. I myself do not have an art history background but love to classify myself as an appreciator of art.

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One of many self-portraits by Myuran Sukumaran

Exhibited in conjunction with the Sydney Festival, Another Day in Paradise was curated by Myuran Sukumaran’s mentor Ben Quilty and Director of the Arts Centre, Michael Dagostino. The exhibition focuses on the artistic works of Myuran Sukumaran, one of the nine convicted drug smugglers in Bali, Indonesia. Along with Andrew Chan, Myuran spent ten years or 3665 days in Kerobokan Prison, before his execution in April 2015. During this time, Sukumaran developed a passion for art, using his paintings as ‘a means of communicating with the world and [as] a redemptive practice’ (Ben Quilty, Curatorial Statement, Exhibition Catalogue 2017).

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The numerous artworks Myuran Sukumaran completed during the last 48 hours of his life

The exhibition was displayed in all but one room of the Arts Centre. Walking into the white walled foyer, you are immediately faced with a large scale self-portrait of Myuran. The image is not only used to guide you into the complex, but also to create impact on your arrival. It reminds visitors that not only is this exhibition about the art and the tragic story of the Bali 9, but it also represents the personal journey of the artist as he developed his art and dealt with the consequences of his past actions. Following from this lone portrait, each section of the exhibition devoted to Myuran’s work flows by periods of time. It begins with an explanation of the Bali 9, accompanied by portraits of each member and ends with his last work; an Indonesian flag.

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The last of Myuran’s works at 12.25 am, the Indonesian Flag (top). The back of the flag (bottom) features the nine signatures and messages of foreign and local prisoners, eight of whom were executed alongside him

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AK-47, 2015. Crosses, hearts and guns preoccupied Myuran as his death drew near

Each artwork is confronting in its own way – some portraits are smudged, some unfinished. On one wall hangs a sole painting, an AK-47 (Gun (Large) 2014), the rifle Myuran discovered was used for the executions.

However, the artwork which affected me the most was one of the last displayed in the exhibition, the portrait of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi, 23 January 2015). The man who ultimately decided Myuran’s fate. The work is hung with the back of the painting facing the audience. This is to highlight Myuran’s simple but powerful message; ‘People can change’. It’s a message which has stayed with me.

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According to his lawyer, Julian McMahon, Myuran created his best paintings after writing his message, ‘People Can Change’

In addition to Myuran’s work, five contemporary artists were chosen to look at the themes of justice, transformation and punishment. These works were dispersed evenly throughout the rooms. The artists had used a variety of forms and media to convey their messages. All artworks were interesting and provoking, but I want to focus on two different works.

Aside from Sukumaran’s work, I was particularly moved by the work of Taloi Havini, entitled Tsomi, wan bel (Sorry, win-win situation), 2017, which was presented alongside Sukumaran’s ‘Prison Life’ works. Havini introduces audiences to the idea of reconciliation and restorative justice, presenting the traditional ceremony of Wan bel (win-win situation) practiced in Northern Bougainville.

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Still from Havini’s website, Tsomi, wan bel (Sorry, win-win situation), http://www.taloihavini.com/

These ceremonies are pre-arranged social gatherings which bring offenders and victims together. They are watched over by an adjudicator, permitting perpetrators to publicly admit the wrong committed before proclaiming sorrow to the effected individual, group or community. Watching the ceremony, I was moved and confronted by the situation. Each individual looks directly down the camera and therefore at you. It was intimate. Although unable to understand what is being said, you are witness to every action, every emotion and every vulnerability of all involved. For many, like my friend, watching this exchange for almost ten minutes was too confronting and uncomfortable. We stayed for roughly half the presentation before she wished to move on with the exhibition. So we left the idea of restorative justice back with Sukumaran’s contrasting depiction of prison life and Western law and justice.

Whilst the additional contemporary works added layers of meaning to Myuran’s work, I believe there can be a divide between artistic vision and audience understanding. I do understand that meaning is mostly in the eye of the beholder and open to interpretation. However, the average audience is not always able to read the artworks through aesthetics. On entering the exhibition, I observed most visitors throughout the space did not carry or read the exhibition catalogue or handout. Like many galleries, the design and presented information is minimal and relies on the catalogue to convey necessary information about artists, titles and interpretation. The catalogue was particularly important for audiences, allowing them to gain insights into Quilty’s personal relationship with Sukumaran as well as the exhibition themes. For example, as a general observer, the implications of restorative justice within the ceremony in Tsomi cannot be understood.

This brings me to my friend with a law background. Walking through the exhibition, she was able to connect well with Sukumaran’s works. She spent long periods looking at Sukumaran’s portraiture and commented on various elements of his work. However, when the commissioned contemporary artworks were displayed, even with the trusty catalogue in hand, she was more likely to view the art with confusion.

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Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s piece, The Days (2016). We later found out more information about the artwork through external sources

One example of this confusion came when we viewed Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s piece, The Days (2016). After gazing at the work for some time, I heard my friend say, ‘I don’t get it.’ Whilst I was able to interpret elements to the piece for her, I didn’t have an adequate answer for its overall meaning. The questions continued… ‘I don’t get the bird.’ ‘But why is the light there?’ We looked at the artist statement in the catalogue, the majority of which spoke of Rahman’s personal connection to Myuran and the Sukumaran’s. We continued to ponder. After some time, they eventually said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to understand, let’s forget it.’ It was only after we left that I was able to gain insight into the significance of the piece through other media. This highlighted to me a growing need to make art more accessible to those audiences outside of the visual arts world. As it is an exhibition connected with the Sydney Festival and one that wants to challenge public views on punishment, human rights and rehabilitation, it can’t just connect with artists or art lovers. If a ‘regular’ everyday viewer cannot fully understand an artwork’s intended meaning, then how are Art Centres, Galleries and Museums able to achieve their desire to challenge communities and individuals? Whilst I believe art can communicate messages, there needs to be more consideration regarding communication devices to attract new audiences… and get them to come back for more.

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Unfinished self-portrait of Myuran during his last 72 hours, left resting on the exhibition floor to represent his unfinished story, 25 April 2015

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Example of Myuran’s smudged self-portraits, 2015

Aside from my criticism with communication and the contemporary art within the exhibition, overall I feel privileged to have gone. Not only did I get to see the art of a figure which dominated the news during a good portion of my life, but it also did personally affect me. Most particularly it challenged how I viewed the rehabilitation of prisoners and how our justice system operates, juggling the ideas of justice and punishment. This was the main aim of the exhibition, and so I can only encourage others to come out to the Campbelltown Arts Centre to visit. If nothing else, Myuran’s story and artistic work should be discussed in as many households as possible. The exhibition runs until March 26, don’t be the one who wished to go and didn’t.

This post was written by Katharine Cousins. Her email is: kcousins29@gmail.com.

A huge thank you to Katharine for her review. What an amazing exhibition tackling such difficult and emotional content. I hope to visit and see it for myself!

Versailles: Treasures from the Palace at the National Gallery of Australia

Time for another incredible guest post by Imogen! 

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Hello lovely readers! Bec has kindly allowed me contribute another guest post, this time sharing my thoughts and feelings on the ‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’ exhibition currently showing at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra. I visited the exhibition earlier this month, and while I expected it to be very busy and crowded on a Saturday morning, the crowds were very manageable, and we were very grateful to be in the air-conditioned gallery on an incredibly hot day.

I was lucky enough to visit the Palace of Versailles in 2009 on a school trip to France, where we spent a day touring the palace and exploring and picnicking in the surrounding gardens. I was keen to compare what I remembered from this visit to how the palace was represented in the form of an exhibition. My main memories from my own visit as a 16-year-old were lots of gold, the sheer enormity of the palace itself and everything in it, and the gardens, so I was curious how these elements could be communicated in a gallery space, to an audience that may not have seen the ‘real thing’ themselves.

I was apprehensive that the curatorial approach of this exhibition would be to attempt to recreate the palace in the exhibition space, in terms of the aesthetic and scale, which in my opinion would have been an impossible and fruitless task. However, upon entering the exhibition space I was relieved to see that this was not the case. The exhibition really did include the ‘treasures’ of Versailles, in that it was a display of a hugely eclectic mix of all different kinds of objects from the palace. These ranged from gold gilt gates and fences, statues and sculptures, artworks, tapestries, crockery, works on paper and furniture.

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Seeing these objects in the gallery space really made them stand out in terms of the sheer size needed to fill the large spaces at the palace, which gave a great indication of the enormous scale of the place that was being represented. One of my favourite objects for this reason were the woven tapestry wall hangings and rugs. They were absolutely enormous and incredibly detailed. I was surprised to see that these pieces were in excellent condition (most were made in the 16 and 1700’s). I learnt that this was because the king’s that reigned from Versailles would commission vast numbers to be created (the rug pictured was one of 93 made at the request of King Louis XIV), however they were never actually used, and were kept in storage.

While I noticed other visitors to the exhibition were also in visible awe of the scale of the objects, which reflected the size of the palace itself, I was surprised to see how many visitors stopped to view the numerous screens displaying slideshows of images from the palace. Despite all the incredible objects on display, the digital images definitely received the most viewing time from most visitors which I found very interesting.

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Despite all the huge tapestries, paintings and pieces of furniture on display, it was actually a small room of works on paper that I enjoyed the most, because for me they best communicated what life was like at Versailles, and the extravagance and enormity it is synonymous with. One small room of the exhibition space (which, unfortunately was the one room visitors didn’t actually have to walk through, so it may have been missed by many) contained about two dozen framed works on paper, mainly etchings and hand drawings. These works all depicted the ‘divertissements’ at Versailles, the extravagant, incredibly over the top celebrations hosted by the King. While I was familiar with these events and they have been depicted in films, these etchings made to commemorate them represented them to me in a new and meaningful way, and truly made me understand their scale.

The etching pictured here by Jean Lepautre (1676, the photo really does not do it justice) shows the fifth day of a two-month long celebration at Versailles, which culminated in an enormous fireworks display. I was really glad these works were included in the exhibition, as for me they were the one element that portrayed Versailles in a new light.

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To end on something pretty, I can’t help but mention one of the most stunning objects in the exhibition – Marie Antoinette’s harp, made in 1775 by Jean-Henri Nadermann. This was truly stunning and caught my eye from across the room. It was gilded all over and covered with glittering glass and pearl beads. I have no idea if she was much of a harp player or if it was ever actually used, but it was stunning none the less – I can’t imagine living in a palace where every object was as extravagant as this one.

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As is always the case with exhibitions of this kind, visitors must leave via the gift shop filled with tie-in products to purchase. I decided that this iteration of the giftshop must have been an in-joke from the curators and organisers, as it was filled with the kind of frivolous objects the residents of Versailles (with more money than they knew what to do with) would have purchased and never used. The objects in this gift shop were some of the most tenuously connected to the exhibition I’ve ever seen, however any exhibition sponsored by Moet and Chandon and Dom Perignon with a giftshop filled with champagne can be taken with a grain of salt and a smile.

The exhibition is showing exclusively at the National Gallery of Canberra until the 17th of April 2017.

This post was written by Imogen Kennard-King. Her email is: Imogenkennard.king@gmail.com.

As always, Imogen, it has been a pleasure! 

 

 

May Gibbs at the State Library of New South Wales

The following blog post will contain two perspectives. I am going to start the post reflecting on the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie anniversary display and the talk at the State Library of New South Wales. Imogen will then write her thoughts on the talk.

Me:

To celebrate the centenary of May Gibbs Gum-Nut babies, the State Library of New South Wales has curated a small display of sketches and organized a lunch time talk with Robert Holden. For those of you reading who did not grow up in Australia, the Gum-Nut babies by May Gibbs is a series of children’s books that follow the adventures of cute little gum-nut (Eucalyptus nuts) characters. They are well-known and well-loved in Australia.

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I remember the books from when I was little so I was very excited to see some of the early sketches. I am hesitant in calling it an exhibition considering it was small and consisted of artworks hung along a corridor. There wasn’t really an atmosphere created. The introductory panel is great in providing a summary of the gum-nut babies and Gibbs’ life. They are not original sketches which raises very interesting debates over how authentic is the display.

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I really liked this one sketch (pictured below) of a dog with gum-nut babies dancing around. The display had four of these prints showing how the images developed from black and white sketches to colour prints. Besides from the gum-nut babies, Gibbs was very active in the Suffragette movement in England. A copy of her sketch for The Common Cause journal is also on display.

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What I really encourage visitors to do is walk through to the Amaze Gallery. Right now, there is a great collection of ephemera on display relating to the 1879 International Exhibition in Sydney. There is a great map showing the ground of the exhibition and the various stall holders. The books reminded me of the ones I worked with at the Queensland Parliament Library!

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At the back of the Amaze Gallery are some original works by May Gibbs. There is a cute collection of gum-nut babies calendars and some original prints. I enjoyed seeing these more than the prints in the commemorative display.

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After seeing these displays I was ready for the lunch time talk. Robert Holden is an expert on Australian children’s books. He presented on his work with the Mitchell Library (within the State Library of New South Wales) and what he uncovered in their collection. This included a lot of May Gibbs postcards that were sent to soldiers fighting during World War I. According to his research, they were very treasured objects, often kept with personal letters and diaries.

It was also interesting to hear the contrast between May Gibbs and Norman Lindsay (who wrote the Magic Pudding). Especially considering Lindsay’s work was published in many different countries whereas Gibbs only really found an audience in Australia. It would be great to hold another talk on May Gibbs focusing on her time with the Suffragette Movement. Understandably, Holden ran out of time to cover even just one her books let alone more of her life! It just seems like a very interesting period of her life that would challenge this image of her solely as a children’s author.

Imogen is virtually an expert herself on May Gibbs so I cannot wait to read her thoughts on the talk.

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Imogen:

While I’m not exactly an expert, I’m certainly a big fan and great admirer of May Gibbs and her work. I, like most Australians, grew up with her books and have loved them and their uniquely Australian aesthetic and narratives since then. I developed a greater appreciation for Gibbs’ work after I completed a class during the Museum and Heritage Masters program called ‘Backstage at the Mitchell Library’.

In this class, the students were given a truly behind the scenes experience of the Mitchell Library (a part of the State Library of NSW, and more of an archive than a library in the traditional sense) as we were able to choose any object from the library’s collection to research, study and write about over the course of the semester. I chose the original manuscript works of May Gibbs, which are stored in the Mitchell Library’s archive, on behalf of the Northcott Society and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance – the two charities that have owned the copyright to her work since her death.

Throughout this process I learnt so much about Gibbs herself and her work, as well as gaining an understanding of the way she is represented in and understood by society. One of the most fascinating aspects of my research was discovering May Gibbs’ involvement in the suffragette movement in England, and how she used her artistic skills to engage in this social upheaval. As Bec mentioned this was discussed in the talk by Robert Holden, however I can’t help but be dismayed by how often this important and political aspect of her life is so often ignored and downplayed in both critical discussions of her work and in the formation of a perception and representation of the author/artist.

I have encountered this systematic underplaying of the political aspect of her life many times, and am always surprised by the traction it receives. During the audience Q and A at the talk, one audience member announced that Gibbs was categorically A-political, and that her connection to movements such as the suffragettes was purely to document facts, rather than to choose a political side or have a voice of her own. I can’t help but disagree with this view, as in my opinion any woman choosing to work for pro-suffrage publications and involving herself in war efforts and public heath campaigns (Gibbs did all of the above and more) is truly interested and engaged in social and political events. To argue that she is A-political seems to suggest she had no opinions or motivations of her own, other than writing children’s stories.

Despite my own research, I learnt more still about May Gibbs at the library talk, which was presented in such a fascinating and engaging way. It is always a pleasure to hear someone discuss their passion in an engaging, articulate and knowledgable way. For anyone who is interested in this topic and missed the talk, I would strongly encourage you to find a copy of Robert Holden’s commissioned biography of Gibbs ‘More Than a Fairytale’ – it is the foremost text available on the topic and includes some beautiful copies of her original illustrations.

Thanks to Bec for coming with me to the talk!

This post was co-written by Imogen Kennard-King. Her email is: Imogenkennard.king@gmail.com.

Guest Post – Port Macquarie Historical Museum

I am very excited to share with you another guest post from the wonderful Imogen!

Hello again! The lovely Bec has invited me to write another guest post here on Curate Your Own Adventure. I’ve found blogging about my museum and heritage experiences a great opportunity to contemplate what I’ve seen and discuss my thoughts with others.

Earlier in December I visited Port Macquarie (a coastal town 4 hours north of Sydney) with a group of friends for a pre-Christmas getaway. I hadn’t even thought about looking for a museum to visit while I was there, but was excited to happen upon the Port Macquarie Historical Museum on the Saturday morning. I returned with a friend later in the day and we made our way through the exhibition spaces together. On arrival, we were greeted by two very helpful and enthusiastic volunteers. I had quickly checked the museum’s website before visiting, which mentioned that the museum was larger than appears and recommended allowing around an hour for a visit. This was definitely a worthwhile recommendation as the exhibition space was much bigger than it appeared from outside and seemed to go on forever! The museum is housed in an historic building, which has been recognised by the National Trust for its heritage significance, and was the original general store when the town was settled.

Given the scale of the museum I’ll choose just a few of the displays to focus on. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first display related to the local Indigenous population and their history, with a number of stone and wooden tools displayed alongside a large amount of interpretive text. Accompanying these tools were photographs by Thomas Dick (1877-1927), a local photographer and historian who had an interesting relationship with the local Indigenous population. The Thomas Dick photography collection includes a large number of photographs of Aboriginal people in staged reenactments, in an attempt to create ‘authentic’ pre-contact images, in the 1920’s. It was nice to see the names of some of the subjects of the photographs acknowledged in the display, while the photographs prompted me to think about the ethics and motivations behind this photographic project and how non-Indigenous approaches to interpreting Indigenous histories have evolved over time.

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Another element of the display that was both fascinating and beautiful was the display of fashion. Throughout the whole museum I was amazed by the size and breadth of the museum’s fashion collection, and was pleased to see how well it had been taken care of in terms of conservation and care in display techniques. Most of the vintage fashion pieces were stored in a large chest of drawers, which visitors could open to see each piece and read about its history. Not only did this display allow the pieces to be shown as they would have been kept by their original owners, but it also ensured the delicate pieces were protected from the light and other environmental factors. When the drawers were open, a protective layer of glass ensured further preventative conservation whilst also allowing these significant objects to be accessible to visitors. I’ve included a few images of the dresses that were displayed in this way, as well as one of stunning black satin dress from the 1870’s, that was in fact displayed in a room of its own. It was completely closed off from the rest of the museum except for a window visitors could open to view the dress, again protecting it from light. These conservation efforts seem to be working as all of the dresses seemed to be in remarkably good condition. I was also excited to see that the museum has done some collaborative work with the Australian Dress Register to conserve and catalogue their collection.

Here are some links to their entries on the Australian Dress Register:

http://australiandressregister.org/garment/267/

http://australiandressregister.org/garment/33/

http://australiandressregister.org/garment/268/

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One more small display I couldn’t help but quickly mention (I can’t stress enough how much I’m skipping over here, this museum is huge!) was of the old dentist’s office and instruments. The display was eerily life-like and seeing all the instruments laid out, some of which might be uncomfortably familiar, gave me shivers.

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I had a truly enjoyable time visiting the Port Macquarie Historical Museum, and would encourage anyone to visit and discover all the other great bits I didn’t get a chance to talk about here, including the huge old well, all of the interpretive information on the town’s role as a penal settlement and the display upstairs which recreated period bedrooms, children’s rooms and a dining room. Thanks again to Bec for letting me share my thoughts again!

This post was written by Imogen Kennard-King. Her email is: Imogenkennard.king@gmail.com.

Thank you again Imogen for such a wonderful contribution to the blog! I cannot wait to visit the Port Macquerie Historical Museum and see their Australian Dress Registered clothing and dental tools! If you would like to contribute a blog post please contact me at: curateyouradventure@gmail.com. 

Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives

Enjoy reading!

Hi, my name is Ziggy Potts and, as a fellow Museum and Heritage Studies student, Rebecca has kindly allowed me to review the new Egyptian Mummies exhibition currently on at the Powerhouse Museum. Whilst this is, in no ways does this review address all aspects, it reflects some of the things that made an impression on me and my overall experience.

The new summer blockbuster Egyptian Mummies exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum is a collaborative effort with the British Museum. It showcases 6 mummies from the British Museum collection, using new scientific research methodologies to discover more about the lives of these people, their health and the processes of mummification. Each of the showcased mummies has been carefully chosen in order to reveal various aspects of the mummification process, religious belief and family life.

Of the six displayed only two, Tamut and the young child from Hawara, have been previously displayed as part of the Ancient lives, new discoveries exhibition at the British Museum from 2014 to 2015. Whereas previously, only x-rays and physical unwrapping of mummies could be used to learn more about their lives, new CT scans allow for individual profiles to be developed, including their height, likely age, geographic area, when they lived and their social standing. Overall, these profiles not only shed light on the evolution of the process of mummification but also the various roles each god had in the process. For instance, whilst Anubis is the most important funerary god, Bes was a household god responsible for protecting a family from evil spirits and Taweret in protecting women in pregnancy and childbirth.

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The exhibition itself starts in a dark room where a short video is presented giving context to the exhibition, including the six mummies on display and the important discoveries new medical technology like CT scans have had on learning more about Ancient Egypt, the people, religion and way of life. From here, the layout is a mix between linear progression and open plan. You head down a dark corridor to a series of open plan rooms, with two or so areas dedicated to each individual. I found this layout to be quite useful, as each area focused on a specific part of each sarchophagus, be it the actual wrapped mummy, the inner coffin where the body was placed or the larger decorative sarcophagus itself. Around this focal point placed in the centre of the room, the walls showcased various funerary depictions, amulets, family life and the function and significance of a number of gods as part of these facets of life.

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Within each defined area, there were digital interactives with touch controls where the visitor could move their finger in a circular motion to rotate and unwrap a digital representation of the physical mummy on display. This gave more information for how the individual profile was developed, including their height, age based on fusion of bone, as well as any identifiable health issues. I found this especially interesting as I previously had no idea how widespread dental decay and abscesses were in Ancient Egypt.Another interesting point was learning (in a fair amount of detail considering the limitations of exhibition panels) how interconnected the actual processes of mummification were with religion and how the developed and changed through the centuries. For example, the incision made to remove the internal organs was often covered with a metal plate decorated with the eye of

Another interesting point was learning (in a fair amount of detail considering the limitations of exhibition panels) how interconnected the actual processes of mummification were with religion and how the developed and changed through the centuries. For example, the incision made to remove the internal organs was often covered with a metal plate decorated with the eye of wedjat, a symbol of protection and restoration to ensure the body remained whole for use in the afterlife. The removed organs, which included the stomach, intestines, liver and lungs were then placed in separate canopic jars capped with representations of the four sons of Horus; Imsety, Duamutef, Hapi, Qebehsenuef. This was done to magically protect the organs of the deceased so they could still make use of them in the afterlife. Into the Graeco-Roman period, however, the organs were increasingly kept in the bodies and the outer coffin decorations increasingly reflective of Roman culture, illustrating increasing Romanisation within Egypt.

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Similarly, the exhibition highlighted the use of the cartonnage from the 9th to 8th centuries BCE, as a cheaper alternative to wooden coffins. This was a highly decorative wrapping of plaster, linen and glue. Firstly, a mud and straw core was used as a mould, followed by a layer of plaster and several wrappings of linen. Another layer of plaster was then applied for decoration whilst, the mud and straw mould was removed via an opening in the back, through which the mummy was placed inside. Even though it does take a fair while to move throughout the exhibition (it took me 2 hours), the presented information was very comprehensive and, as I moved through the exhibition, reference to previous information not only reinforced but complemented what I had already read to create a comprehensive and self-reflexive learning experience.

Other technology such as Visible -induced Infrared Luminesence and Infrared Reflectography, both use light reflection to determine the dyes and paints used in decoration. This facilitated digital reconstruction of the various scenes depicted and thereby explain the varying religious significance of the depicted figures throughout and their function within the ancient Egyptian rituals of mummification. This can also be seen in the use of CT scan data to 3D print various amulets placed in and on the body, each then presented individually as to their significance within the process. For instance, a scarab amulet was placed over the chest and inscribed with a spell to prevent the owners heart from revealing misdeeds to the gods in the hall of judgement.

Overall, I found the exhibition highly informative with a layout that clearly divided the space between the 6 mummies with an important balance reached between the use of digital interactives and the information. The former added to but did not detract from the information or general experience.

One note though: If you don’t seek such an intense learning experience or do not have the time, the gift shop does offer a complete book on the exhibition, including all images presented in the exhibition with the accompanying information for only $30.

This post was written by Ziggy Potts. His email is: zpot4628@uni.sydney.edu.au.

A huge thanks to Ziggy for his interesting post on the Egyptian Mummies exhibition. I saw the exhibition a couple of days ago now and wanted to add my own thoughts which are below.

My two cents:

I saw the exhibition the other day so thought I’d add on to this post. I’m going to touch on two components of the exhibition: the smelling boxes and ethics of display. In England, earlier this year, we visited the Ashmolean to see their exhibition Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas. It was a great display on sea voyages equipped with a smelling box. You opened a little door and guessed what you were smelling. This included wine, oil, and I can’t remember the other. Ancient Lives had a couple of similar interactives that complemented the digital components that Ziggy spoke about. As opposed to having each individual smell separate, they were lumped in together. Onion, herbs and spices all in the one box. I made the mistake of smelling the contents and leaving the station with a headache. Way too strong! Cool, but way too intense.

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Onto the ethics of display. It amazes me that the mummies are human remains yet are often not displayed with dignity and respect. Sure there are a whole raft of issues as to why, but it still saddens me. This exhibition was the first serious attempt at displaying mummies respectfully and still generating intrigue and mystery. The fact that each individual mummy, when known, is named and provided with a biography is fantastic!

In no way did this type of display wreck a traditional display of mummies. Sure, they were still on display and taken from their final burying point. However, the lessons they can teach and the insight they can share with the public on life in ancient Egypt is truly remarkable. Treating their remains as significant and not cramming them all into a room for people to gawk at is a valiant attempt at taking ethics seriously. According to Christine Quigley, in her work on Modern Mummies, people should first and foremost be aware that they are viewing human remains.

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Planting Dreams – Guest Post

It is time for another fantastic guest post! As always, happy reading.

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Hello! I’m Rachelle, a Museum & Heritage Studies student and long-time floral enthusiast. When I learned that the State Library of New South Wales was combining two of my favourite things and mounting the exhibition ‘Planting Dreams’, I was immediately enthused. I came to the exhibition expecting to indulge both my love of history and all things botanic, but what I found was a thoughtful, inclusive and comprehensive mapping of the natural world in relation to Australia’s social history.

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As I said, the exhibition was highly comprehensive and covered a broad range of topics, so I’ll keep my synopsis brief and give the highlights. The most significant aspect of Planting Dreams, for me, was the interweaving of Indigenous viewpoints and stories of colonial tension. At no point did this feel ‘tacked on’, but rather thoughtfully integrated into the exhibition despite the focus on colonial Australian history. Additionally, the scope of the exhibition was impressive, managing to integrate personal relationships with nature, the role of plants during wartime, the impact of digital technologies on our interaction with the natural world, poetry and art, and colonialism. One aspect that was completely absent from the exhibition, which I felt should have been included, was sustainability and conservation.

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In relation to digital technology, Planting Dreams integrated a number of multi-media aspects, perhaps as a way to reference the influence of new media on gardening today. Beautiful scenes from spectacular gardens across Australia were shown in large scale on flat screens, and audio devices were located throughout the gallery that, when pulled from the wall and placed against the ear, played sound grabs from interviews with curators, historians, and Indigenous people.

Although these technologies were integrated well into the exhibition, they could have been used more effectively and creatively. While the digital screens added depth to the photographs it would have been nice to see movement on the screens, such as rustling leaves or a running stream, and hear nature sounds, like birds calling or water trickling. I think it was a missed opportunity that could have added a whole new immersive dimension to the exhibition.

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In contrast, an aspect of the exhibition that was executed wonderfully was the opportunity it provided for visitors to engage on different levels depending on their level of interest and the time available to them, while still covering the main themes. The text throughout ranged from short quotes in very large front to text which became incrementally longer, with greater detail, so that visitors could choose how much information they wanted to consume. There was also thinking activities for children peppered throughout the displays. Different learning styles and preferences were accommodated, including tactile learners.

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The main activity in the exhibition was a ‘garden’ collectively created by visitors. Individuals were invited to sit at a table with craft supplies and follow the instructions to make a paper flower and help the garden grow. This space is time-lapse photographed to document the flowering of the garden over time, so when this is released see if you can spot me sit down, attempt to follow the instructions and make a flower, then give up half way through and move on.

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Overall, Planting Dreams was a beautiful exploration of how humans interact in different ways to the natural world around us and how botanic history can in many ways be synonymous with our social history.

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This post was written by Rachelle Ayoub. Her email is: rachelle-ayoub@hotmail.com.

Thank you to Rachelle for a wonderful and engaging post! It sounds like a fascinating exhibition that covers so many interesting themes. After reading your review, I am excited to see how these themes interact and intertwine with each other in the exhibition space. Planting Dreams closes 15 January 2017.

Just to remind everyone, if you would like to write for Curate Your Own Adventure send through a quick summary of where you’d like to review and why to curateyouradventure@gmail.com.