Copenhagen – Geological Museum

Tucked inside the Royal Botanic Gardens in Copenhagen is the Geological Museum. Our motivation for visiting was to see the exhibition Flora Danica – a display of hand-drawn and coloured botanical prints. These were showcased alongside contemporary interpretations by Danish artists.

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It was a very small exhibition, which isn’t a criticism. In fact, it was compact and communicated a lot of information without inducing fatigue. The exhibition’s name comes from a Danish encyclopedia of plants published in the 18th century. There were a couple of highlights that I would like to mention.

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My favourite part of the exhibition was a small display on the process from drawing to engraving. Firstly, a plant would be collected. Then it could be hand-drawn. Next came engraving this illustration into a sheet of copper that could be repeatedly utilised to reproduce the image. Beneath the thematic panel were beautiful old wooden display cases containing an array of objects that showcased this entire process. From left to right was the plant, drawing, engraving, and reproduction. It was displayed very nicely and complemented the panel text.

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Another great design element was the glass case of copper plates. These plates were never published. No one knows why exactly they were excluded from the final publication. According to the text panel, the plates have been locked away for over 130 years and this is the first time they have been placed on display. Having them displayed vertically in a glass case has allowed visitors the opportunity to see both sides of the plate.

One last thing about the exhibition, although containing very little text, it was great to see a reference to medicine. Just inside the front door was a panel containing an image of Professor Ole Borch from Copenhagen University. It depicted him and his students learning about medicinal plants. The information above the image explained how Flora Danica was published for, first and foremost, medical practitioners. Therefore, every plant in the book was believed to have therapeutic value.

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Overall, the exhibition was quaint – minimalistic and rustic. I recommend you combine this exhibition with a stroll through the Botanic Gardens and the Botanisk Have.

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Reykjavík – Þingvellir National Park

Whilst we did visit Þingvellir National Park yesterday, I was waiting until after our second visit to write a post. This natural and cultural World Heritage Site is where you can see the North American and Eurasian Plates slowly separating. The result of this process is spectacular.

Between 930 and 1798 AD, Þingvellir was home to the open air parliamentary assembly that would gather in the space yearly. Here they would set laws and settle civil disputes. On top of this, the park is in an active volcanic area. According to UNESCO: “The National Park is enclosed by a varied belt of mountains on three sides, featuring grass-covered lava fields, and Lake Þingvallavatn lies at its southern end. This outstanding scenery gives the area its unparalleled value.”

Similar to other heritage sites I’ve reviewed, I am going to go through the criteria it’s been listed under and why.

Criterion (iii) – to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.

It has been listed under this criteria as the landscape is a reflection of medieval Norse/Germanic culture. There is evidence of this settlement within the park including the assembly ground and booths.

Criterion (vi) – to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria).

It is regarded as a “shrine for the Icelandic identity”. This is because it has a strong connection to medieval Norse/German governance, appears in many 12th century Icelandic sagas, and was a focal point during the fight for independence during the 19th century.

We’ve visited the park on both a Golden Circle and Game of Thrones tour. During the former, we had a lovely view over the park. There were a few signs along the viewing platform, but, the main form of interpretation was found in the visitor centre. There was a short film and some information on the park that allowed for a sense of its history and significance. Apart from the centre we also joined our guide on a quick overview tour.

Today we visited the park to see something much more specific. I am a massive Game of Thrones fan. I did know that quite a bit of the series has been filmed in Iceland. What I didn’t know is that there were scenes filmed in Þingvellir. More specifically, the scenes filmed on the journey to the Eyrie. When The Hound and Arya, and Sansa and Little Finger, visit Lysa Arryn they walk through a canyon and the Bloody Gate. These were the scenes  filmed in the park. It is one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen in my life.

If you are visiting I would recommend that you read a bit about the park beforehand so you can appreciate it in full. We were so lucky to see the landscape both with and without snow. A picture paints a thousand words so to finish this post here are some of my favourite photographs that can only slightly capture the beauty.

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Reykjavík – The National Museum of Iceland

Before delving into this review I wanted to quickly talk about the amazing night we had chasing the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Seeing this natural phenomenon has been at the top of my to-do list for a while. We booked a tour with the knowledge that the lights are very temperamental. Luckily for us, the lights were on and were actually quite intense. It was such a beautiful experience and the absolute highlight of the entire trip!

Moving on now to the National Museum of Iceland. I am always a little wary of national museums. I think they are fascinating to visit in that they display a highly curated and usually politically-charged image of a country. They are usually one of two things – a grand narrative or a collection of different stories. I would say the National Museum of Iceland fits nicely into the former category. Both, in my opinion, are problematic. On one hand, a grand narrative often neglects stories. On the other hand, including many stories can leave me feeling very confused. Whilst not normally a fan of national museums, I really wanted to see how Iceland presented their history. I also hoped to learn a thing or two along the way.

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The museum is spread over two floors. It’s a mish-mash of chronological and thematic displays which was quite disorientating. To provide more structure to our visit, we followed the recommended highlight objects on our brochure. In total there are seven highlight objects distributed throughout both levels of the museum.

1. The Blue and White

According to the object label, this flag symbolises Icelandic history in the 20th century. Iceland was under Danish control until approximately 1944. Before they were granted their own flag in 1915, Iceland had to fly the Danish flag (pictured below). The Icelandic flag has a red border around the white cross representing volcanic fire.

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2. Skautbúningur Costume from 1860

I was very excited to see a textile as a highlight object. This dress signifies a change in traditional festive costumes for women. It was designed by Sigurdur Gudmundsson and introduced in 1859.

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3. Pór or Christ?

An interesting religious object, the meaning of which has been debated. It either represents the Norse god pór (Thor) or Christ. The confusion comes from the fact the figure is holding something that looks similar to both a hammer and a cross. Between 800 and 1000 AD Pagan worship co-existed with Christian worship in Iceland.

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4. Christ the King

I couldn’t quite gauge why this object was so significant from the object label. It is essentially a cross that was displayed in a Catholic Church around 1200 AD. I am assuming its significance comes from the fact it survived the Reformation unlike many other Catholic objects.

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5. The Valpjófsstadur Door

If I have learned anything from this museum it’s that the role of religion has been almost central to the history of the country. This door, carved in Iceland, depicts the medieval tale of Chevalier au Lion. It would have once stood as the entrance door to a medieval church. Its significance comes from the fact it is the only surviving carved wooden door from this time period in Iceland.

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6. Gudbrandur’s Bible

This Bible was the first book printed in Iceland that was widely distributed. Around 500 copies were printed. It continued to be utilised up until the nineteenth-century. It still has its original binding which is pretty special.

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7. Drinking Horn

This horn was carved by farmer Brynjólfur Jónsson of Skard in 1598 AD. Jónsson is generally considered to be the first Icelandic craftsman nationally recognised for his works. The horn is only one of three surviving objects created by Jónsson and can shed light on the life of farmers in 16th century Iceland.

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From an exhibition design perspective, I was very impressed by the display cabinets that were equipped with motion sensor lights. This act of preventative conservation would benefit the objects on display by reducing their time in direct light during quiet periods.

It was very interesting to see how the identity of Iceland had been curated in the museum. The heavy focus on nation building and religion were particularly intriguing. I thought the section on the 1703 census was curated well with a short video accompanying a variety of objects that aided in telling the story. In summary, this census was the first ever taken of an entire country.

For the next few days we will be leaving the city and exploring some of the beautiful landscapes Iceland has to offer. Hopefully I will have time to write a post on the World Heritage Site Thingvellir Þingvellir!

 

Reykjavík – The Settlement Exhibition

Our first full day in Reykjavík was filled with seeing the sights, buying some sweaters, and visiting museums. On our agenda was the Settlement Exhibition, a museum showcasing archaeological ruins excavated in 2001. Whilst digging around Adalstraeti, a street in downtown Reykjavík, some of the oldest remnants of human habitation in the city were discovered. The star attraction is a longhouse dating from the tenth century and a building dating back to circa 871. Rather than moving the ruins to another location, the museum was built around the site and will continue to preserve the ruins.

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The entire museum is housed in one room. In the centre is the longhouse surrounded by stories and objects displaying Viking life in Reykjavík. A beautiful panorama image runs the entire circumference of the exhibition. Similar to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, I was amazed at the integration of digital technology. Whilst there were thematic panels and object labels, they were relatively short and only gave a brief overview of the history. For those wanting further information, technology came to the rescue.

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My favourite part of the exhibition was the reconstruction of the longhouse. After viewing the entirety of the ruins, visitors can enter into a small darkened side room. Inside is a touch screen and a projected image of the ruins. By moving a circle around what looks like a maze, you are able to transform the image on the screen. The ruins turn into a fully reconstructed house that you can explore. This was quite fun to play around with especially since it complemented the ruins and gave them new life.

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Another piece of digital technology that was great were two touch screens near the end of the exhibition. They basically provided a lot more information on the Vikings including a timeline of their arrival into Iceland and a summary of their practices and customs. I felt it was pitched at just the right level – the information was not too basic yet not too comprehensive.

Finally, and also near the end of the exhibition, there was a huge digital touch board. On the screen was a picture of the longhouse. Sections of the longhouse were highlighted when visitors placed their palms on certain areas of the board. Short videos and information panels explained what section you had highlighted and its significance. Although not a huge exhibition space, these digital technologies allowed for more information to be disseminated.

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All in all, we spent around an hour and a half exploring the museum and the digital Viking history timeline. It would have been great to see more touch screens. We saw quite a few people waiting then give up and walk away. Granted they aren’t exactly cheap!

I just wanted to quickly mention that digital engagement wasn’t the only strategy utilised. Inside one of the glass cases were two pieces of white engraved rock. The question was posed “what do you think these are?” The actual, or perceived actual, answer is unknown. Whilst this can generate some great discussion, there was no way to record or voice your answer. Unless you physically left the exhibition space to find a member of staff.

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Overall, it was a very pleasant museum that provided a great overall history of Iceland in the Viking Age. Even if you don’t decide to utilise the technology, you will still leave with a solid basic idea of Iceland’s history as told through its material past.

Stockholm – Fotografiska & Hallwyl Museums

Before we leave Stockholm, I have two more museums to review. I have combined them into one post because I don’t think I will spend long writing about either. This isn’t because they were horrible. Rather, it’s because I feel kind of neutral and wasn’t quite sure what to write about.

On that note, Fotografiska is a museum housed in a 1906 Art Nouveau style building that once served as a customs house. The cafe on the top floor offers amazing views of Stockholm. It is worth visiting the museum purely for the views (and a decent cinnamon roll)! The current major exhibition showcases the work of Anton Corbijn. From what I could tell, Corbijn has photographed virtually every big name in music over the past few decades including the Rolling Stones, Nick Cave, and David Bowie.

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One comment I will make is that the photograph labels worked really well. They were hand written in lead pencil next to the corresponding photograph. It looked very rustic. Especially considering the size and style of the writing varied considerably. That’s all I have to say regarding Fotografiska.

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The other museum I wanted to briefly cover was the Hallwyl Museum. This is a very opulent home in the centre of Stockholm once belonging to Count and Countess Walther and Wilhelmina von Hallwyl. It was completed in 1898, donated to the Swedish State in 1920, and opened as a museum in 1938. It is essentially a time capsule, remaining virtually untouched.

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By Svante.tiren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The mansion is highly decorated and filled to the brim with expensive items. For example, in the porcelain room you can find an example of almost all porcelain produced in the 18th and early 19th centuries. My favourite room was the wine cellar. Apart from these lavish rooms, you can also visit the servants quarters. I thought it was interesting comparing their quarters to the rest of the house. Obviously there were more differences than similarities. Seeing them directly side-by-side enhanced these differences.

If you have time in Stockholm then either of these two museums are worth a quick visit. Especially the latter considering it has free entry.

Stockholm – Nordic History Museum

Today was our final day in Stockholm. I have absolutely adored this city and will be sad to say goodbye tomorrow. There is no doubt, however, that I will return and perhaps enjoy the city in summer. We most definitely saved the best till last. Apart from the Vasa Museum, the Nordic History Museum has been our favourite. I highly recommend visitors begin their time in Stockholm with a trip to this museum. It provides a great overview of Swedish traditions and culture as well as covering some basic history. It does all this in an architecturally beautiful space. It was literally a museum filled with some of my most favourite things (cue Sound of Music). I am going to cover a lot in this post. I will try to limit myself to only a few exhibition spaces, writing a brief summary then focusing on a highlight object.

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1. Homes and Interiors

Like well-trained museum visitors, we followed the instructions on our audio guide to our first stop – Homes and Interiors. I am going to describe this exhibition as a fusion between displaying objects and showcasing a sort of house museum (or houses museum). The aim of this exhibition is to trace how Swedish furniture and interior design has transformed from approximately 1562 to today. Chairs were on display from various centuries along with wallpaper patterns and dressers. It was a very eclectic mix of homewares. The house museum vibe came from the fully reconstructed rooms from various centuries. For example, there was a reconstructed living-room from 1939 which told the story of a lower-class Swedish family. It was fully equipped with furniture and other bits and pieces including a newspaper reporting on the outbreak of World War II. Other rooms included a drawing-room from 1886 and a 17th century cottage.

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Highlight Object:

This object was actually super exciting to see. This semester we spoke quite a bit about having a ‘tactile experience’ with museum objects and how this is often impossible. In front of a 1650-1700 chair was a mini model of the chair that visitors could touch. By having this tacticle experience, I gained a sense of how the actual chair was constructed etc. It was very cute and I have never experienced this in an exhibition.

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2. Traditions

If you are wondering what holidays are celebrated in Sweden and why then look no further than this exhibition. Everything from birth to death was explored along with complementary objects. Easter, advent, Midsummer, graduation, and death were amongst some of the many traditions represented. Words cannot describe the feels happening when I walked through the Christmas section. Only one month left now!

Highlight Object:

There were so many objects in this space it is very hard to select one. I did really like the painted Easter eggs. One was made to look like a dog whilst others were intricately painted with images of rabbits and eggs. They were displayed nicely in little egg cups spread over a few shelves. My only criticism is that quite a lot of the painting was hidden inside the cup.

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3. Table Settings

Sometimes I think I have very niche interests. Other times I know I have very niche interests. This may fall into the former category so bare with me. Essentially this exhibition showcased different table settings from the 15th century to circa 1950. It is exactly how it sounds – large tables were set-up with fake food and cutlery to recreate a traditional table setting from a particular era. The aim of the exhibition was to visually show how the consumption of food has transformed over time.

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Highlight Object:

I had to select the only object in this exhibition without a label in English. My favourite object was the Sura Grädd-Waflor. From what I could tell, it was a cutlery holder. But a very beautiful and ornate cutlery holder with all pieces still contained within. It was something from a very different time and obviously constructed with great care. It really didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand the label because I was able to appreciate what was in front of me and its detail.

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4. Doll Houses

Ever since seeing Queen Mary’s dollhouse in Windsor Castle when I was ten years old I have loved doll houses. This love was extended in 2015 when I visited the Wellcome Museum and saw the crime scene doll houses of Frances Glessner Lee. Although toys, these houses are filled with such wonderful surprises. The level of detail can be astounding. The Nordic Museum has around ten doll houses on display ranging from 1700 to today. They are displayed so you can see their contents.

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Highlight Object:

My favourite object was a dolls house from 1700. According to the label it was built in the late 17th century. It was utilized to teach young girls how to be good housewives. It was a great dolls house that has aged quite well. I would like to think that today both girls and boys can utilize doll houses for a wide variety of reasons.

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5. Jewellery

This exhibition had around 1 000 pieces of jewellery on display. In my opinion, what worked well was that the highlight objects were all contained in one case. This means if you are short on time or feeling overwhelmed, you don’t have to exert much energy to find the most significant objects.

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This is a highlight of the highlights – Gustav Banér’s pendant. This object has a very sad story attached. Banér was a Councillor of the Realm who was executed during the Linköping Blood Bath. Before meeting his fate, he said farewell to his family gifting the pendant to his daughter. It was passed down the family line until it was donated to the Nordic Museum.

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6. 1940s Apartment

Last but not least is the entirely reconstructed 1940s apartment. This was definitely a house museum within a museum. In total, there were four rooms open to visitors. You were free to walk through each of the rooms exploring every corner and every object. A great way to end your visit at the museum.

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This museum is an absolute must for those visiting Stockholm. One thing I would say is that the audio guide tour isn’t exactly the greatest. We gave up listening pretty quickly and focused on reading the labels. Other than that, it was a great introduction to Swedish culture.

Stockholm – Nobel Museum

I am so excited to write this post on the Nobel Museum. Mainly because I rarely think that digital technology in a museum is a highlight. For this museum, however, it not only made sense, but, was utilized very effectively. The museum opened in 2001 and is roughly divided into two sections – one on Alfred Nobel and one on the Nobel laureates.

We started our visit in the section on Nobel. This was a traditional museum display with thematic panels and objects locked behind glass cabinets. It was thoughtfully organized and showcased a range of objects including books belonging to Nobel and a copy of his will. Although the original will is in the museum’s collection, it is too fragile to display. In this room visitors can learn all about Nobel and why the prize was established.

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There are two other permanent displays that focus on the Nobel laureates and their inventions. My favourite room relied quite heavily on digital technology. The room contained different coloured cubes displaying an array of objects belonging to laureates that had been donated to the museum. These ranged from nail scissors to test tubes – all with a very fascinating story. Rather than crowding the space with labels, there were three large touch screen computers each displaying some of the objects. Selecting an object unlocked its story.

There were two highlight objects. The first was a small vial belonging to Australian doctors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren. They won the prize in medicine for discovering the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its connection to stomach ulcers. Marshall drank fluid from this vial essentially infecting himself to prove a point.

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The other highlight object was an X-ray tube belonging to Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. I catalogued around twenty of these tubes during my internship at Trainor/Owen. They are truly fascinating objects.

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The exhibition that relied almost entirely on digital technology was in the middle of the museum. It consisted of six large panels with computers attached. Each panel covered a ten year period. There was some text and one object providing visitors with a highlight of each decade. On the touch screen computers were the six, originally five, prize categories – medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, peace, and economics. The latter was added in the 1970s.

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After selecting the category, a list of every individual who won the prize in that decade was displayed. On selecting an individual, more information was provided regarding what they invented and how it contributed to their field. I spent around 30 minutes going through some of the screens. As it would be virtually impossible to have a physical display on each of the laureates, I thought this was a compact yet effective way to tell their stories. Whilst you are in this space make sure you look above. Banners displaying information on each of the laureates travel around the ceiling of the space on a conveyor belt.

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Finally, there was a temporary exhibition space. Right now, the exhibition is titled ‘Experiments’. During the day it is an active laboratory allowing visitors the opportunity to contribute to an experiment. In this space was another reminder of my internship. A machine constructed by Marie and Pierre Curie to test radioactivity levels. There were a few other experiments represented in the space.

This exhibition further proves that digital technology needs to be integrated with, rather than added to, an exhibition. Otherwise it seems superfluous and can be very annoying. Whilst I have seen many examples of well-integrated technology, I have never seen it on this scale. A great museum to see for those of you wondering what a museum may look like with limited objects.