The wandering eye

Musings and reviews from a museologist in training

Embracing the unknown at Sutton Hoo

     

The striking Anglo Saxon helmet motif on the front of the exhibition hall at Sutton Hoo, the Anglo-Saxon royal burial site, Weybridge, Suffolk © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-hoo/

Despite being one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time, Sutton Hoo will always remain a mystery. The Anglo-Saxon burial mounds which populate this Suffolk estate have rested enigmatically for over a millennium, though since their discovery in 1939 many people have tried to interpret their significance. The site now houses a modern exhibition hall and shop, as since 1998 it has been under the stewardship of the National Trust.

We visited Sutton Hoo on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and were at once taken aback by the calm and beguiling air of the unknown that enshrouds the whole area.

Upon approach you are met with the magnificent exhibition hall, which has been constructed in a sympathetic style, to fit in with the surrounding landscape. To enter the hall visitors walk beneath an imposing reproduction of the Sutton Hoo mask.

Visitors in the exhibition hall at Sutton Hoo © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw 

Inside the exhibition centre, there is a comprehensive yet family-friendly review of what we know of life and death in the Anglo-Saxon era. In the centre there is a life-size recreation of the burial chamber which archaeologists uncovered within the most impressive burial mound, housed within an Anglo-Saxon ship. It is popularly believed that this mound was the final resting place of the Raedwald, King of East Anglia in c.625 AD.

The famous tale of Beowulf features three funerals which describe the Anglo-Saxon practice of mound burial, and one in particular, the funeral of Scyld Scefing, features the burial of the King of the Danes in his boat, surrounded by his many worldly possessions.  The parallels between Beowulf and the findings at Sutton Hoo are touched upon within the exhibition and add an additional layer of intrigue.

In the treasury you can see replica riches and some of the original finds from the burial sites – it is incredible to imagine these magnificent examples of ancient craftsmanship residing below the earth for so many years, undiscovered.

Inside the exhibition hall at Sutton Hoo© National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

After leaving the visitor centre, you take a short scenic walk to the home of Edith Pretty, whose patronage enabled the archaeologist Basil Brown to undertake excavation of the site, which rested on her 255 acre estate. Pretty’s home has been restored to its 1930s glory, and presents the opportunity to imagine the heyday of archaeology, during this wonderful era of discovery.

Outside you can wander around the burial ground: the exposed fields overlooking the river Deben are a perfect backdrop for such contemplative exploration.

View looking towards a large burial mound at Sutton Hoo on a frosty dawn morning © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

What is unusually refreshing about Sutton Hoo is that the National Trust enables visitors to embrace factual uncertainty, without the pressing urge for explanation which so often accompanies historical sites of such magnitude. It is enough to bear witness to this haunting spectacle, and to allow the silent mounds to tell their own story. It is a site unlike any other, and long may it continue to inspire the imagination.

one man in his time plays many parts

The Arundel First Folio - Engraving of William Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout. Copyright of the Governors of Stonyhurst College

Shakespeare: staging the world

The British Museum, 19 July - 25 November 2012

http://www.britishmuseum.org/

When we originally booked tickets to this ‘bardbuster’ of an exhibition, I had great expectations. In this Olympic year, the British Museum had chosen to wheel out our favourite cultural heavyweight, in order to draw the crowds.

As I have come to expect from the British Museum, the staging was magnificent. The reading room has been converted into the Elizabethan Globe Theatre, and as you enter the round you can hear the hushed murmurs of a pre-performance audience. At intervals throughout the exhibition curators have selected objects to convey a sense of the time and place in which and about which Shakespeare wrote.

Though at times the connections between Shakespeare’s verse and the historical artefacts on display feel a little forced, the exhibition does offer a comprehensive sweep of half a century of British history. However, its biggest strength is the British Museum’s masterful collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is the multimedia elements of the exhibition that truly bring Shakespeare’s world to life. The projected monologues of Henry V, Brutus, and Cleopatra performed by the RSC masters are immeasurably moving, and lend gravitas to the mute objects on display.  Additionally, the silently contorting body of Richard III, life-size across 3 plasma screens, makes powerfully emotive use of such technology.

When we were halfway through the exhibition, the computer programme controlling all the multimedia elements crashed, plunging the exhibition into silence and making its reliance on technology very apparent.

Though as you enter the exhibition you encounter the bold statement that Shakespeare is “Britain’s greatest cultural contribution to the world”, I left with an impression of Shakespeare’s times but very little to say about the man himself. I appreciate that the focus was on Shakespeare’s world, as opposed to his life, but in choosing not to explore his already elusive character, the audience is left chasing a ghost whose reflection is only fleetingly visible in the display cases.

Every individual is in some sense a product of their times, however, though it is interesting to see the context in which Shakespeare lived and worked, surely one of the most powerful things about his plays are their ability to escape the shackles of history and mean just as much in our modern world as they did centuries ago. Though wonderful in illustrating Shakespeare’s context, this exhibition fails to realise that Shakespeare’s genius is that he was not a ‘man of his times’ but rather as his peer Ben Jonson wrote, a man for ‘all time’.

Northern Light

The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Iwan Baan

Post-War British Sculpture and Painting, until 3 November 2012

Artists Rooms: Richard Long, 23 June – 24 October 2012

The Hepworth Wakefield

http://www.hepworthwakefield.org/

I believe that the perfect museum should be a cathedral for modern times. Such a place would offer the opportunity to be inspired, to celebrate and to reflect. The Hepworth Wakefield is such a place.

This triumph of a museum is a regenerative jewel in the tarnished crown of Wakefield. Unlike the Turner Contemporary in Margate, which was also born from the imagination of architect David Chipperfield, the Hepworth Wakefield has a quieter majesty. Where the Turner leans a little too heavily on the celebrity of their Olympic torch-bearing daughter to draw the crowds, the Hepworth Wakefield has nothing to prove.

You approach through the industrial end of town to find a pay and display car park, packed with flash motors, the first hint that perhaps there is something worth seeing here. Traverse a bridge and cross a roaring weir over the River Calder to approach the calm façade of the Hepworth Wakefield, the largest purpose built exhibition space outside of London. The building’s riverside location allows it to source the majority of its heating and cooling from the Calder’s flow, meaning this regal edifice is intrinsically tied to its landscape. The interior is equally monumental with over 1,600 square meters of gallery space saturated with natural light.

I am not used to having such a strong response to sculpture. I often find that the cold stone creations of giants like Hepworth and Henry Moore, leave me emotionally aloof and yearning for the bright colours and expressionist sweeps of paint, which really charge my imagination. Not so in the Hepworth Wakefield, it is as if these sleeping forms come alive in the space.

The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Iwan Baan

The Hepworth Family Gift, containing 44 full size working models, drawings and a large group of lithographs and screen prints by the artist, forms the beating heart of the gallery’s permanent collection. The purpose-built spaces devoted to the Gift house it magnificently, and transform these silent maquettes into haunting totems, to be adored. The floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the rushing waters of the Calder, and provide the perfect backdrop for the sculpture on display.

In another room the work of Bristol-born artist Richard Long finds itself equally at home in the gallery. Long who has been a proponent of British art for 40 years, creates works which use landscape both as a medium and a subject. The temporary exhibition for Artists Rooms showcases works from throughout his career, including Cornish Slate Ellipse (2009) which like a mysterious crop circle, rests enigmatically in the space. Long’s desire ‘to make a new way of walking: walking as art’ is developed from his early photographs such as A Line Made by Walking (1967) which portrays a flattened grass line made by Long’s repeated journeys up and down, and ‘A Hundred Mile Walk’ which maps a circular walk he repeated on Dartmoor during 1971-2. 

Richard Long, ENGLAND, 1968. ©Richard Long. All Rights Reserved. DACS 2012. ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony D’Offay 2010.

It will be interesting to see how the Hepworth Wakefield ages, particularly in uncertain economic times. I hope that the efforts it is making to integrate itself within its local community, as well as encouraging tourist traffic, will help to establish this museum as a much-venerated pillar of the community.

The Hepworth Wakefield is a worthy destination for a pilgrimage up north. Is it any wonder that the gallery has welcomed over 512,000 visitors, 3 times the nationally benchmarked forecast of 150,000? In the words of the Faithless song God is a DJ – this is my church, this is where I heal my hurts.

 

Museum of Memories

Sooty glove puppet, 1955-59 © Museums Sheffield

Magic Worlds 

Weston Park, Museum of Sheffield

28 April – 6 January 2013

http://www.museums-sheffield.org.uk/museums/weston-park/home

Last weekend my husband whisked me up North on a surprise trip to the steely city of my birth, Sheffield.

A compulsory feature of our itinerary was a visit to the wonderful Weston Park, Museum of Sheffield. This is a special place for me, as when I was small my Dad used to collect me from nursery opposite the park and take me to see the mummies at the museum.

Today’s museum is understandably very different from the place of my childhood visits two decades ago. The whole building has been refitted with modern interactive elements, impressive sliding glass doors, a café offering wholesome local fare and a stylish gift shop.

Museums Sheffield Weston Park © Carl Rose

Upon arrival the first room we wandered into was Magic Worlds, an exhibition created by the V&A Museum of Childhood which showcased over 200 objects to explore the origins and history of magic. An enchanting exhibition that must have been an absolute pleasure to curate, each corner houses a living vignette from the world of illusion and fantasy. C.S.Lewis’s Narnia has been brought to life as visitors enter through a giant wardrobe. The Mad Hatter’s tea party was in full swing, complete with miniature tea set and costumes so that children could get into character.

Towards the back of the room were some interesting displays showcasing the art of the magician – touring show posters, costumes and paraphernalia from performances, including the famous ‘Zig Zag Girl’ used to seemingly slice a magician’s assistant into thirds. One display case had close-hand magic tricks being demonstrated on television screens beneath the props themselves, which was a wonderful way of engaging the audience and bringing the objects to life.

Poster for a performance by the magician John Nevil Maskelyne at the Egyptian Hall c.1880 © V&A Museum of Childhood

Outside of the temporary exhibition we walked through four rooms housing permanent displays – Treasures, a gallery showcasing highlights from Sheffield’s World Cultures collection; What On Earth, an interactive introduction to the natural world and a showcase for Sheffield’s natural history collections; Arctic World, an exhibition centred around Snowy the Polar Bear, and Sheffield Life and Times, exploring local history.

Of all the galleries, Sheffield Life and Times was by far the most emotive and unique. Here you can learn about many of the lost crafts which used to be prominent in this industrial beacon, and hear eye-witness accounts from those who have watched Sheffield’s rise and fall as an industrial giant. This room was the only one of the permanent exhibitions which really connected with an adult audience, and is one which I felt could have been expanded upon.

It is necessary that Weston Park covers a breadth of content, as a city museum. However, as well as catering for the family audience who will enjoy the broad if brief overview of subjects like the natural world and archaeology, an older audience and tourists would perhaps have greater interest in learning more of the story of Sheffield, in its city museum.

As we left Sheffield Life and Times we noticed that there was a board near the exit detailing the struggles of the museum and how they had been overlooked for ACE funding. This display fitted perfectly in the context of the exhibition and its documentation of Sheffield’s passion and stoicism in the face of social injustice. It was refreshing to see a museum inviting comment on current events within the context of a permanent exhibition.

Museums Sheffield Weston Park. Photo Adrian Richardson © Museums Sheffield

If Weston Park was able to harness more of the fashionable audience-pulling exhibitions and events championed by museums like the V&A, this would present a money-spinning opportunity for the museum. Though involving a family audience is extremely important from an audience engagement perspective, they are as a demographic less likely to spend big bucks on the retail, refreshment or room hire possibilities which are an essential source of revenue for the modern museum. Weston Park would benefit from being a more welcoming place for young professionals, with cash to spend or older generations with money to invest and legacies to consider. I do hope that this beacon of culture and social history has a place in my future as well as my memories.

Looking beneath the surface

Tom Friedman, 1000 Hours of Staring (1992-97). Photo Linda Nylind

Invisible, Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012

Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre – 12 June – Sunday 5 August 2012

http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/

It was too easy to overlook this exhibition and to declare it nothing more than emperor’s new clothes, as my husband quickly did as he came across the listing. It was with some difficulty and the promise of a trip to Ping Pong afterwards that I managed to convince him to join me at the Hayward Gallery, to explore the art of the unseen.

You would be forgiven for questioning the judgement of any gallery who decide to stage an entire show around nothingness. However, somehow the Hayward manages to pull it off.

Upon entering the exhibition you are met by videos of the French champion of Nouveau réalisme Yves Klein, who had a preoccupation with “the Void”.  The Hayward fancies itself heir to Klein’s 1958 exhibition The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Pictorial, which featured empty white rooms brimming with invisible energy. It was fascinating to see the video of Klein traversing the empty rooms, but more for his similarity to Don Draper, than for the visual spectacle of the art. However, more compelling were Klein’s plans for an “architecture of air”, detailed in wonderfully stylised drawings.

The bulk of the exhibition was filled with expected non-imagery – plain sheets of paper stained with snow by the Swiss artist Bruno Jackob, and a blank canvas that would not otherwise have benefitted from a second glance, in Tom Friedman’s controversial 1000 Hours of Staring.

Later in the exhibition, a photograph of an eager looking film crew is accompanied by a caption describing how the entire movie was made without there ever being any film in the camcorder. This work seemed particularly cruel, the artist laughing at the wannabe actors, who would perhaps never realise they were a subject of farce.

However, there were gems to be found here too. The work of the Mexican artist, Teresa Margolles, was particularly emotive. In Aire / Air, Zurich (2003) you enter a room through plastic sheeting, only to find it is filled with nothing but two humidifiers, you then read the wall and realise that the vapour in the air is from the Mexico City morgue and has been used to wash corpses of drug victims before autopsy.

The exhibition again finds its way into sensitive territory, with the inclusion of Holocaust memorials.  There is a photograph of the Aschrott-Brunnen Fountain, originally constructed in 1908 by Sigmund Aschrott, a successful Jewish businessman, in front of the City Hall in the German town of Kassel. In 1939 when Nazism had arrived in Germany, the fountain was torn down, leaving only the base.  Over 40 years later the artist Horst Hoheisel was commissioned to create a new piece in its place, by the Society for the Rescue of Historical Monuments.  Hoheisel recreated the old fountain but inverted it, sinking it into the ground, and leaving the sound of water rushing underneath as the only testament to its existence. He wanted to avoid any idea of ‘making new’ and chose instead to demonstrate loss and emptiness, as he said, “the only way I know to make this loss visible is through a perceptibly empty space, representing the space once occupied.”

In a similar vein we see a photograph of Claes Oldenburg’s unrealised Proposed Underground Memorial and Tomb for President John F. Kennedy (1965). Oldenburg wanted to create a huge statue of the assassinated American President, to be buried prostrate upside down. 

It seems that when dealing with loss and trauma the art of the unseen is most fitting. Indeed, to repeat the famous quote by the German sociologist Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund Adorno, “there can be no poetry after Auschwitz”, and in the same way perhaps there can be no art.

Jeppe Hein, invisible Labyrinth (2005). Photo Linda Nylind

The exhibition finishes on a much more comic note with Jeppe Heine’s Invisible Labyrinth (2005). Visitors don vibrating headsets and proceed to weave a path through an invisible maze, guided only by a small black and white map, and the buzzing of the headset when one encounters a wall. It was a perfectly surreal ending to an exhibition that excelled in both the monumental and the absurd.

The Shape of Things to Come

UK Pavilion Seed Cathedral, Shanghai Expo, China 2010 © Iwan Baan

Heatherwick Studio, Designing the Extraordinary

Victoria & Albert Museum

31 May – 30 September 2012

www.vam.ac.uk

There are few places better to spend a Friday night in the city than the V&A. And so, for the second time in as many months, I found myself waiting to meet my husband for an evening’s entertainment at the temple of British Design.

We had tickets to visit the Heatherwick Studio exhibition, and though architecture is not my forte, I had high hopes following the V&A’s accessible and enjoyable presentation of British architecture at the current British Design 1948-2012 showcase.

The Heatherwick Studio was tiny compared to the 3 room spectacle of the former exhibition. However, despite the physical limitations of the space, the V&A had crammed in as many architectural models, videos and drawings as possible. At times this led to some confusion, as the static wooden plinths upon which the object captions were mounted were not able to sit alongside the works they were describing. Additionally, on the evening we visited, the V&A were experiencing some ‘technical difficulties’, which meant that there was no one at the other end of the black telephones positioned at intervals throughout exhibition. There was no signage explicitly informing us that the telephones were out of use, and as a result my husband and I dutifully tested 9 out of 10 receivers, on the off chance an elusive caller should wait on the other side.

Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary 2012 © V&A Images

However, what the exhibition lacked in auditory amusement it made up for three fold in visual spectacle. It was novel to see the workings of Thomas Heatherwick’s mind, and its evolution from his undergraduate years spent studying three-dimensional design at Manchester Poly, to his mighty Seed Cathedral, created for the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in 2010. Despite showcasing the breath-taking achievements of the Heatherwick Studio, the exhibition was also adept at capturing the playful elements frequently overlooked when celebrating cutting-edge design. One display case contains examples of the Christmas cards sent by the Studio, continuing Heatherwick’s childhood tradition of creating handmade Christmas cards. These tiny cards are a wonderful spectacle uniting craftsmanship and creative indulgence, and the exhibition leaflet describes how for 17 years mini production lines were set up each Christmas, with the cards being seen as a Studio project in their own right.

It feels as though you can see Heatherwick’s reflection in every display case and it is wonderful to see his influence on each piece. It is especially refreshing when you consider the criticism of certain modern artists who have little to do with their own works, standing by as their studios reel off canvas after canvas of similitude.

My husband marvelled at how long we had managed to spend in an exhibition that filled just one small room. Afterwards we enjoyed cocktails outside and took turns in Heatherwick’s spinning chairs. Another wonderful evening at the V&A.

Enjoying Heatherwick’s spinning chairs

Raiders of a Lost Ark

By Jorge Royan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/

In a world where everything has to be interactive, faster, smaller and louder, it is refreshing to visit a museum that contains very little technology whatsoever (aside from the installation of electricity) and yet perfectly fulfils the brief of what a museum should be.

The University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum is a cornucopia of empirical delights. Peering into the darkened and crowded Victorian display cases, I felt like Indiana Jones in a quest for a missing artefact, and was reminded of the inquisitive excitement I used to feel as a child, imagining the romantic pursuits of early anthropologists and explorers.

By Einsamer Schütze (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Here is a museum that is confident in its out-datedness. One way in which the museum is especially unusual is in its continued use of small handwritten object labels, many of them authored by the first Curator. 

The perfect fusion between past and present museology is exemplified by UCL’s Grant Museum, which has retained its Victorian bell jars but introduced iPads where visitors can vote on contemporary issues relating to the collection. Indeed the Grant Museum was awarded this year’s Museums and Heritage Innovations Award for the QRator: Visitor Participation Through Social Interpretation project (http://www.qrator.org).

Though there is room to follow the Grant Museum and introduce interactive elements without jeopardizing the personality of the museum, the Pitt Rivers delights in its antiquity. It is refreshing to see a museum that does not deny its origins but rather showcases the acquisitions in an authentic context. Though we are and should be ashamed of many of the negative elements of our imperialist past, we must remember how much our predecessors changed the way we see the world.

The Pitt Rivers celebrates the diversity of the world in over a half a million wonderful objects. The whole spectrum of human culture and experience is captured in one space, and the cases literally roar with the variety and spirit of humanity.  This is the cradle from which modern museums were born. Individuals like General Pitt Rivers, who founded the museum with a gift of over 18,000 objects, should be celebrated as explorers who not only had a materialistic need to acquire, but also wanted to celebrate human diversity in its material form.

The Pitt Rivers Museum continues to collect despite the fact there is so much to absorb here that you could literally spend a decade just looking at all of the pieces on display. However, the sheer wealth of material only makes me more convinced that I must come back soon.

By Einsamer Schütze (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Not Waving But Drowning

Tracey Emin, She Lay down Deep Beneath The Sea 2012, Neon © the artist  courtesy White Cube  photo Ben Westoby

She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea: Tracey Emin at Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary, Margate – 26 May 2012 – 23 September 2012

http://www.turnercontemporary.org/exhibitions/tracey-emin-she-lay-down-deep-beneath-the-sea

You can take the girl out of Margate, but you can’t take Margate out of the girl. At least, not in Tracey Emin’s case, and this exhibition at the Turner Contemporary marked the homecoming of Margate’s most famous daughter.

The one-year-old Turner Contemporary is a truly magnificent gallery space. Teetering on the edge of Margate’s choppy shores, and perfectly designed to blend in with the seascape – going so far as to use seashells instead of gravel for the walkways, the Turner is a cultural beacon in an otherwise dilapidated seaside town. On my first visit, I was reminded of Boston’s ICA, a waterfront development opened in 2006 and designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which unites the interior and exterior space masterfully and is an older sister to the newly built Turner.

Turner Contemporary © Richard Bryant/Arcaidimages

Ascending the staircase to visit Emin’s latest exhibition, I felt excited in that guilty way only Emin can inspire.

Though the exhibition contained some of the crotch-grabbing face-slapping elements for which Emin is so well-known and rightly admired, these have been watered down with the repetitious imagery and restricted palette used throughout. Perhaps this is Emin’s blue period however, I was left feeling as though Grande Dame Emin RA had, in her 49th year, returned home to die.

Tracey Emin, Sex 1 25-11-07 Sydney © Tracey Emin/Tracey Emin studio

The spidery child-like vignettes left my husband with visions of Emin reeling off scribbled doodles from a giant flip pad, in order to populate the space. There were fleeting moments of greatness captured in the Schiele-esque embroideries, but these were quickly diluted in their sheer multitude.

The one strong image was the green neon outline of the supine female form, positioned at the top of the staircase at the entrance of the exhibition, and reflected out on the turbulent waters beyond the opposite window.  This figure being engulfed by the lapping waves could be a metaphor for the figure of Emin within this exhibition, drowning in a repeated motion.

Emin had many of her most formative and traumatic experiences in Margate, yet even her scrawled painting ‘I Said No’ on the gallery wall, seems like more of a whimper than a shout.  Many critics have speculated that Emin’s reluctance to show her true colours was due to her recently elevated status as a Royal Academian, however, perhaps Emin was sheepish when confronted with reliving her past in her old neighbourhood, as it felt just a little bit too close to home.

Tracey Emin, I Said No, acrylic on board © The artist

Reclaiming art

Cane by Michael Connell

Michael Connell is a construction worker turned artist. His works, created using waste materials found during his day job, are emotionally charged expressions of nature, with religious undertones. In this interview Michael discusses the motivation and inspiration for his art, currently on display at The Crypt Gallery, Euston Road.

Where do you live and work?

I live in Catford, South East London.  I work in the Construction industry which enables me to work around England. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was working in Scotland and presumably I will be working in Ireland next month.

How long have you been making art and how did you start out?

For as long as I can remember, I have been a creative person.  I studied art at Waltham Forest College and then moved to the Kent Institute of Art and Design, where I studied Spatial Design.  I was a founder member of Lewisham Arts House, which was a residence for Artists based at Hillyfields School.

Over the past 30 years I have enjoyed Art as a hobby, however, 5 years ago I decided it was time to bring my work to the public.  I have created a few commission pieces, but more recently dedicated my time to working extensively on my own personal collection. 

Art is something that has been inside of me from a very young age.  It runs in the family - my father was artistic. I started doing architectural design but it took me into a different direction, this ultimately led me into art which became my passion.

Describe your work?

My work involves the use of many types of materials ranging from glass, wood, sash cord, basically “anything goes” in terms of the materials that I use.  I try to be as imaginative and as creative as possible and in doing so have developed my own unique style. Although I like to create abstract forms, my work can often be contemporary.  My work has no limitations in terms of size. 

Why have you chosen to work with recycled materials and what do you feel it brings to your work?

I started experimenting with broken glass as a medium when I was at College.  When I went into construction I was open to a wider range of waste materials which I took advantage of.  Gradually I began to feel comfortable working in such medium.  The satisfaction of bringing beautiful pieces of work to life from waste is a wonderful feeling.

Vines by Michael Connell

 Who inspires you?

My inspiration comes from the environment and the universe; for example trees and spiritual energy.

Why do you think the visual arts are important?

It is pleasurable and makes you feel good to see something beautiful that has been created from what would have been waste.  Personally, it is great to use your imagination to its limits and to go deep within yourself and bring out the beauty from within.

Is it hard to be an emerging artist in the current economic climate?

Regardless of any situation or economic climate if you are passionate about something you just get on with it.  On a personal level it has been an uphill struggle getting known as a minority in an industry that is elitist.

Train by Michael Connell

What does the future hold?

My dream is to see my work exhibited in the major galleries around the world.  Also, I would like to be commissioned to create personalised artwork for individual taste.  I want to continue to enjoy my passion.

Michael’s exhibition “Povera” With a Touch of Colour is at The Crypt Gallery, Euston until Wednesday 6 June. For further information visit: http://www.cryptgallery.org.uk/

For more information on Michael’s work: http://www.michaelsart.co.uk/

Feels Like Home

At Home with the World 20 March – 9 September 2012

Who Stole My Milk?  15 May - 9 September 2012

The Geffrye, Museum of the Home

http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk

The Geffrye Museum is an 18th century sanctuary within London’s fashionable East End. Set in gardens just off the Kingsland Road, the museum resides in the former almshouse of the Ironmongers’s Company. The Geffrye was first opened in 1914 and since then has celebrated the home, from the 1600s to the present day. How fitting that a salvation for those without a home of their own, has now been transformed into a museum showcasing the very same.

Exterior of the Geffrye, © Geffrye Museum/Morley Von Sternberg

My husband and I attended the evening unveiling of one of the new exhibitions exploring student accommodation in London, under the light-hearted title ‘Who Stole My Milk?’

Upon arrival we briskly proceeded through to the modern area of the museum, where we descended the staircase to the ‘Concourse Display Area’ (less glamorous than its title might suggest) to see the exhibition, produced in collaboration with students from the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The graphic panel display was based on research undertaken at four student houses and flat shares in London and focused on a ‘student’s quest to create an individual identity in this temporary home away from home’.

The exhibition explored how an individual establishes a sense of home in an alien environment, highlighting the use of personal totems, such as a particular mug, or a trinket from home. Additionally, the poignant image of the suitcases present in every student’s room was highlighted as an effective symbol of the transitory nature of their residence.

A great deal of emphasis was placed on the conflict present in student residences. This was a little over-egged by the student-curators, perhaps as it was something slightly more prominent in their minds, and this sensationalism showed the dangers of being a little too close to your subject. However, the exhibition was created by students for students (the age bracket was stipulated as 16 to 25), and the humorous tales of warring housemates no doubt resounded with the intended audience.

Kitchen note courtesy of http://whostolemymilk.blogspot.co.uk/

The permanent exhibition in the Geffrye Museum is definitely worth visiting. As you traverse the corridors you are led through the ages century by century, encountering period rooms akin to those inhabited by the ‘middling classes’ of the time. Each vignette had been thoughtfully staged and the accompanying room card brought the scene to life through storytelling, as though the inhabitants of the house would be returning shortly.

A drawing room in 1830 © Geffrye Museum/Chris Ridley

For the Cultural Olympiad the Geffrye has revisited its permanent collection to demonstrate foreign influences on the English home throughout the centuries.  At Home with the World explores just how ‘English’ our homes are, by earmarking items which find their origins further afield. Examples such as the appropriation of Islamic and Indian patterns in Scottish paisley have been tagged with pink labels, lending an ‘eye spy’ element to the existing scenes. Though the connections feel slightly forced at times, it is interesting to see the history of London’s cosmopolitanism and I can imagine that families will enjoy spotting the foreign items.

One of the unique qualities of the Geffrye is the way in which the subject-matter sets the tone for the visitor experience. The sense of homeliness is refreshing in a city museum, and the welcoming attitude of the staff and the accessibility of the museum literature, enables you to fully immerse yourself in the domestic scenes. The museum attracts over 100,000 visitors per year (a third of whom come for the educational projects) and remains free and open to all. Even today the Geffrye provides a home away from home. 

A dining lounge in 1935 © Chris Ridley