Art

The Whitworth Art Galley Big Reveal

I attended the preview of the £15 million renovation of the Whitworth Art Galley on Saturday and it is easy to see how this money had been spent. The gallery is absolutely stunning and it was great that the gallery decided to open its doors to it’s members and the local community before the press and even big names in the art world. The photography embargo was officially lifted today – so that the images of the gallery and of the evening could be revealed on social media at the same time.

The Landscape Gallery

The Landscape Gallery

A Gallery showing part of the original exposed brickwork and Sarah Lucas's 'Tits in Space' wallpaper

A Gallery showing part of the original exposed brickwork and Sarah Lucas’s ‘Tits in Space’ wallpaper

The central open-plan gallery

The central gallery

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A Mixture of old and new portraiture

A Mixture of old and new portraiture

Galley curator Maria Ballshaw’s speech was inspiring – she was keen to thank all the ‘Friends of the Whitworth,’ some of whom had donated to reach the £15 million target, along with a heritage lottery grant and funding from the University of Manchester. Along with being a little overwhelmed at just how much hard work had been put into the renovation and the positive reaction from the crowds which attended, she was keen to tell us all about artist Cornelia Parker’s use of graphene. The substance, which is just one carbon atom thick, is around a hundred times stronger than steel and was invented right here in Manchester by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who won the Nobel prize in Physics 2010 for its development. Cornelia has carefully taken samples of graphite from several gallery etchings, including one by William Blake, and used it to create graphene, which she will then use to ‘trigger a meteor shower’ over the gallery when it officially opens this Saturday (I assume this will consist of some sort of fireworks display). It will be interesting to see how this turns out, along with the several other performances and exhibits which will be  both in the gallery and in the park itself throughout the day on Saturday. From what I have seen so far, I’m sure it will be spectacular, and I’m looking forward to the newly reopened gallery taking its place among the richly cultural and socially inclusive galleries and museums of Manchester.

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Archaeology

Fragments of Samoa

Yesterday I was working with trainee museum curator Kiera Gould on some of the Samoan ethnographic artefacts that the Manchester Museum has in its collection. Below are two examples of these, an intricately carved wooden fan and a hank of tobacco which has been packed for trade and was purchased by the Museum in 1918.

Wooden Fan from Samoa

Wooden Fan from Samoa

Hank of Tobacco From Samoa

Hank of Tobacco From Samoa

Samoa, since becoming independent of New Zealand in 1962, is an independent country consisting of about half of the chain of Samoan Islands in the South Pacific.  The other half of the chain forms American Samoa, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Samoa has some fascinating archaeology – particularly the wealth of prehistoric stone tools which have been found there. Leading New Zealand archaeologist Janet Davidson was among the first to pioneer Samoan archaeology when she excavated there in the late 1960s. Discover more about her finds and the archaeological collection at the Museum of Samoa here.

In other news, the piece of research I’m embarking on with fellow archaeology students Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh together with University of Manchester lecturer Dr. Hannah Cobb (link to previous post) is underway. I’ll be constructing a separate blog to publish updates but I’ll keep you posted on here too. The title will be Visible diggers: researching learning through research in archaeology. The repetition of the word research is of course intentional, and its importance for students is what we hope to highlight through this project. We’re currently discussing the strategy for collecting data from University of Manchester archaeology students and how best to present this at the CIfA conference in Cardiff in April. More updates as they unfold!

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Archaeology

An Exciting Research Opportunity

Today I was selected together with two of my peers to collaborate with Dr. Hannah Cobb from the University of Manchester on an exciting piece of research. The project will revolve around the benefits of archaeology students engaging in fieldwork and primary research and whether they feel they are making a valuable contribution and actually benefiting from it. Together, we’ll be writing an article on our findings for the IfA magazine and will be presenting at the IfA conference. The IfA, or the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists are the leading British professional body who regulate standards and ethics in archaeology. Read more about them here.  I’m really excited to work with Hannah as she’s one of the most enthusiastic, interesting and engaging members of teaching staff I’ve encountered across my degrees at Manchester and Liverpool Universities. She specialises in the Mesolithic, and the transition to the Neolithic, particularly in Western Scotland and the role of material culture in the production of identity within periods of chronological transition. She also focuses on gender archaeology and queer theory. Read more about her here. I’ll keep you updated with the progress of the research as it develops!

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Archaeology

Strange Objects

This week, I joined the University’s archaeology society and was elected as its museum liaison. It’s now my task to arrange activities for myself and my peers which are museum-related and this got me thinking about how museums display archaeological material. When an artefact is found in the ground, at least when part of an academic or commercial excavation, its exact location is meticulously recorded. The surrounding material (context) is mapped and many other things like dating and post-excavation analysis may be conducted. After working with the Manchester Museum’s ethnography collections for a few months it became apparent that museums often hold large quantities of objects which have little or no information associated with them. These usually come from older acquisitions or donations from personal collections. I have come across many examples from North and South America which have no reliable date, provenance, and in some cases the nature of the object itself is a complete mystery. Are objects like this useful to us as archaeologists at all? Do we have to know anything about the object’s history or origins for it to provide us with information about the past?  This is something I’d like to explore in one of the sessions and would be interested to see other student’s reactions to an object which the museum knows nothing about, and I will let you know some thoughts on the matter.

In other news, the Whitworth Gallery’s long awaited renovation is nearly complete. The new galleries look great and have upcoming exhibitions by artists such as Cornelia Parker and Sarah Lucas. I’m particularly excited by Cai Guo-Qiang’s stunning installation which will be displayed in the new landscape gallery. He uses gunpowder to created huge and sprawling Chinese-inspired landscapes. Read more about it here. I shall be attending a preview evening on Saturday 7th of Feb to check out the newly improved gallery for myself ahead of its official opening on the 14th, although a photography embargo will be maintained until the 11th so I’ll post some photos after that date. Wouldn’t want to spoil it for the press!

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