“Everywhen” at the Harvard Art Museums

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Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia

I had originally started this post as something more rigid and defined. It was a review, an art review, something I’ve really never written in my life and don’t think I’d be very good at if I tried. When I stepped away from my computer and went outside with my notebook, and really thought about how the art on display in Everywhen spoke to me, how it elicited reactions within me, I realized that there’s no point to writing a review of this exhibit, or any exhibit for that matter. Not for me, anyway. Instead, this is a reaction, from my point of view.

Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia, is the new exhibit at the Harvard Art Museums, and it opens to the public this Friday, February 5th. If you can, I’d suggest heading to the opening reception on Thursday evening, and you might get a chance to go to the opening lecture, a conversation between Stephen Gilchrist and artist Vernon Ah Kee. Everywhen has been guest curated for HAM by Australian Studies Visiting Curator Stephen Gilchrist, an Indigenous Australian of the Yamatji people of the Inggarda language group of Western Australia. I’ve only ever met a handful of folks from Australia in my life, and none of them had ever identified as Indigenous, so to have Stephen give this tour was a real treat; knowing that he had curated the exhibit made it even better, because he has a deep connection to the art on display.

Gilchrist spoke of ancient narratives reinterpreted in abstract concepts, of connecting the past to the present to the future in a cyclical manner (the everywhen), of reimagining your way of being in the world and considering how you interact with it. The exhibit, he says, is an invitation to question how we discuss Indigenous art in the context of contemporary art today – is it other? Do we need to redefine art history? “This is not about rescuing indigenous art,” Gilchrist says. “We are indigenizing art history.”

For me, the most important aspect of the collection represented in Everywhen was the history. If you know me, you know that generally I don’t care for contemporary art; but if it is reinterpreting history, or expressing pain or grief or demanding justice for wrongs committed in the course of so-called “enterprise”, then I’m much more intrigued and open to understanding the artist’s interpretation of their own history (the last contemporary piece I wrote about was William Kentridge’s Refusal of Time).

20160201_144703674_iOSHistory cannot be separated from art, nor should it be. The Indigenous artworks on display in Everywhen are personal reactions to the events of the past; attempts to cross the divide between the present and what once way, spanning almost 40,000 years of history. Julie Gough’s piece Dark Valley, Van Diemen’s Land (2008) (at right) connects the artist, born in Tasmania and part of the Trawlwoolway language group, to her ancestor’s tradition of creating necklaces out of shells, reflecting the maritime culture of her people. The large chunks of coal tell the tale of Aboriginal exile and extermination, in the name of economy and progress; the story of The Black War hangs in the gallery, bringing back the voices of thousands of innocent victims slain in the name of industry.

IMG_5101Yhonnie Scarce’s The silence of others (series of six) (2014) (at left) is another piece that throws history in the viewer’s face, demanding to be remembered. Scarce uses yams as the shape of her blown glass trapped under bell jars. Each piece engraved with an archival number that represents one of her immediate family members; each of them treated as inhuman and “other” by having their body parts measured and catalogued as a taxonomical specimen (sound familiar?). The yams are representative of the Indigenous peoples’ affinity and connection with the natural world, and an attempt to remind us of the strength of that connection, as it flies in the face of colonization and Western “progress”.

It’s important to recognize that this is the first exhibition of its kind in the United States in 25 years. Narayan Khandekar of the Straus Center for Conservation pointed out to us in the gallery, as we looked at a bark painting by Manydjarri Ganambar, that up until recently there had been no technical studies of the materials used to create bark paintings. Narayan worked with art galleries and museums in Australia to study 200 samples of pigments and bark types to learn more about how contemporary Indigenous artists are using materials to connect with their ancestors and the past.

As a student of history, I think everyone should come to this exhibit and take the time to consider similar events that occurred in our own country’s history. Every piece on display in Everywhen tells a story; every brush stroke, every weave is entrenched in the history and ancestral narrative of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. The exhibition is an amazing opportunity to learn about the culture and history of a population I know very little about, and I recommend you visit often. I know I will.

Thanks to Becca Torres at the Harvard Art Museums for giving me the opportunity to join the press preview of Everywhen, and thank you to Stephen Gilchirst (Australian Studies Visiting Curator) and Narayan Khandekar (Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies) for the tour of the gallery and the insights into the historical and technical aspects of working with the collection. Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia is on display at the Harvard Art Museums until September 18, 2016.

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“Everywhen” at the Harvard Art Museums

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

Wow. Did yesterday happen? Yes, Alli, it did, and it was awesome. But now what? What are you going to do next??

I will admit, when I first started this blog in 2013, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was hoping to do something similar to what Emily had over at the UMZM and Field Museum, but I didn’t have the access. I thought, well, maybe I’ll do something similar but with the Waterworks Museum; now I’ve left there, and while I think I did a pretty decent job running their social media, I had dreams for what it could have been if I had infinite time and money and resources. I think I also got bogged down in the process of blogging – what do I talk about? How often do I post? Who is going to care? Will anyone even read this thing? So eventually, I stopped.

Yesterday was amazing, and not only because of Emily’s unofficial official nomination. Yesterday I got to meet Hopi Hoekstra, the Curator of Mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and it was awesome because we got chatting about how awesome it would be if Hopi could get Emily to come visit Harvard and give a talk to kids and students about getting involved with science. Yesterday was amazing because I got to go to work at the HMNH and spend my day surrounded by fascinating collections pieces whose stories have yet to be told. Yesterday was amazing because I got to spend time with my best friend, seeing one of our favorite bands live.

Now, I feel recharged, refreshed, and filled with a new sense of purpose. Today, I go to work with the reminder that people are curious and want to learn more, and that I have the opportunity to facilitate that learning and help fuel that curiosity, in kids and adults alike. Today I go to work with a storyteller’s eye, seeking the tales (haha, tails/tales, get it) that have yet to be told; hoping to awaken long-dead species to tell their stories to whoever will listen; determined to no longer remain dormant. I am once again an active volcano.

My new goal for this blog will be to post twice a week about something I find fascinating at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Semitic Museum, and the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (collectively known as the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture). I don’t have a backstage pass for any of these museums (yet!), so what I’ll be delivering is what I can find through research and asking the right people. It won’t be just natural history focused – there will be history woven in as well, because that is my background and my ultimate passion.

I still need to think of a tag for these special posts, but I will come up with something, don’t you worry. Keep an eye out: things are about to get interesting.

– a 

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

So, it’s been a while.

Hello, world. What’s new? I realize I haven’t posted here in…jeeze…forever. Sorry about that. I think I started blogging just to have a blog, which is never a good reason to start blogging. Take that as a lesson!

I’ve moved on from the Waterworks Museum, where I was briefly (for 8 months) running their social media, in addition to occasional work on the collections, scheduling Waterworks Wednesdays, and anything else I could fit in to my 15 hour work week. It was a great learning experience, but after a combined 2.5 years there, it was time to move on and seek new adventures. (Don’t worry, you can still find me in the gift shop at the Harvard Museum of Natural History)

Now, I’m a graduate intern at the Bostonian Society, which runs the Old State House Museum in downtown Boston. I’m working with an off-site collection, and that’s really all I can say until I get a better sense of TBS’ social media policy. I’m hoping I’ll be allowed to blog here and there about my experiences there, but we’ll see. I’ll be there for a year (I started in January and will end in December), so there’s a lot of room for growth and discovery. I’m really looking forward to the journey.

I’ve completed all my classes for my graduate degree, and I’ve realized I’ve been spending my days spending money I don’t really have. I feel like I should be reading museum books, but do I really need to be reading more theory? I had an idea while I was tweaking the appearance of this blog (dear lord it took forever to figure out that social menu below my title) — wouldn’t it be cool to visit one or two historic houses and museums in Boston a week, and blog about them? I think that would be neat. And it would get me to write. So I think I’m going to do that. I should make a list of all the historic houses in the area (helloooo Google) and try to get to as many of them as I can.

In other news, Drinking About Museums: Boston and NEMA are co-hosting a networking 101 evening at the Hong Kong on April 15th, 2015. I helped come up with the idea and get it together (sorry to brag but I gotta take some credit, right?), and I’d love it if everyone came! Click the DAM:B link above to RSVP (and make sure to come to the event this Wednesday for casual drinks and chats!).

Speaking of Drinking About Museums, I’m pretty glad the Google+ group exists. I’m heading to Austin, TX in a few weeks (for funsies), and posted in the group to see if anyone wanted to get together — BOOMSAUCE! Got a fun date with a bunch of Texan museum pros on April 6th now. I love the internet. Don’t you?

Time to make that list.

– a

So, it’s been a while.

#MuseumTech: Theta360 and Museum Galleries

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The first time I heard about the Ricoh Theta, I got very excited. A 360-degree camera? How awesome would that be!?

It’s pretty awesome, guys.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one for two weeks, and I am already imagining the possibilities that this little guy could bring to museum education, public programming, gallery interpretation, and social media integration.

The Ricoh Theta is a 5″ high camera with two fish-eye lenses, which allows it to capture a 360-degree image. You can either take a picture by pushing the shutter button on the camera body, or use an app to take a hands-free image (from a tripod or placing Theta on a flat surface). The app is currently available on iOS and Android platforms, and allows you to look at your photos as soon as you’ve taken them (the camera has WiFi that your device connects to, instead of connecting via Bluetooth). It’s a really neat little device!

Anyway, how can this be connected to museums? Well, here, let me show you.

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This is screenshot of my 360-degree photo of the Great Mammal Hall at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. How flippin’ sweet is it?! I can already see the potential for an iPad app, just from this screenshot alone. Or even better, the potential for a visual tour of the museum galleries, possibly to be placed on the website, or only accessible for educational purposes in the case of a school being too far away for a physical visit to the museum. Having the ability to swing around and look at every aspect of the gallery, with the potential to add information in a touch-screen manner (forgive me guys, I’m not an integrated media specialist and I definitely have no idea how to create an app). For example, if you tapped on the skeleton of the North Atlantic Right Whale (the one directly above, with the black baleen), an info panel would pop up, to tell you more about the specimen. It could include anything, from the collection records from the MCZ, to biological information about the species, and go one step further and discuss modern conservation efforts for protecting right whales in New England. It could have neat little behind-the-scenes facts; for example, the baleen on our right whale isn’t real baleen, it’s actually horse hair (the baleen was harvested when the whale was killed 100 years ago). Wouldn’t that be great?

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Here’s another screenshot, this time of the Mineral Hall at HMNH (please forgive my goofy hand and intense attempt at trying to be invisible in a 360-degree shot). Again, I’m seeing so many possibilities for extending the museum beyond the confines of the building and into the digital realm. I almost want this shot to act in the same way Google maps does when you use Street View: you can move forwards and backwards, and side to side along the streets, and zoom in to what interests you. I think an application like that for people who otherwise can’t visit the museum would be a huge help to education. People could virtually “walk” through the Mineral Hall, and zoom close enough to each case that they could see each specimen, and then click on a specimen to learn more about it. The same could be done in the Great Mammal Hall.

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Just one more, and then I’m done, I swear. This final screenshot was taken today, from the floor of the Great Engines Hall at the Waterworks Museum. The view is straight up, in the arch of where the original building ends and the addition begins. Behind the chairs, you can see the Allis engine towering 3 stories high; and upside down you can see the Worthington. If the lighting were better in this shot, you could zoom in to get a better look at the structural details of the building as well. And, once again, I’m envisioning virtual walk-throughs of the museum, allowing for greater access from around the world.

Below are links to the 360-degree images on my Theta360 account. You’ll be able to manipulate the images the same way you could if you had the app! I recommend zooming out a little in the viewer first.
Great Mammal Hall: https://theta360.com/s/9PK
Mineral Hall: https://theta360.com/s/9PS
Great Engines Hall: https://theta360.com/s/9PZ

What do you guys think? How would you use these images if the possibilities were endless?

#MuseumTech: Theta360 and Museum Galleries

Collections Storage Tour at the Peabody Museum

Last Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to visit the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology‘s collections storage space as part of my class on collections management. It was such a great experience! We were split in to two groups, one led by the collections manager (also our professor) and the other led by one of the curatorial/conservation assistants. The first place my group went was the offsite storage facility, which I believe houses the majority of the PMAE’s collection. It was incredible. Three stories full of objects from all over the world, all within arms reach. At one point we were even allowed to hold an Acheulean flint axe head. This object was made by homo erectus, our ancestors, and is somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 years old. UM, WHAT? The oldest thing I have ever held in my entire life. It was a little ridiculous.

After the offsite storage we were brought up into the attic by the curatorial assistant, who showed us the different methods he and his co-conservators use for rehousing and storing objects in the collection. I know this employee from working at the desk at the Peabody occasionally, so it was really cool to be able to see him in his element, instead of in the front hallway. Plus, he recognized me! I (half-joking) asked if I could come hang out with him when I was on my break sometime, and his response? “Give me a few days heads up and you can come check storage out all the time!” My jaw dropped. For real? Ok, great! I also learned from the collections manager that the Semitic Museum is always looking for collections volunteers – BANGARANG. As much as I love the Waterworks Museum, I need to have experience with another collection under my belt, and the Semitic Museum’s archaeological collection would be a perfect new addition.

Tonight we’re going to be discussing repatration, specifically related to NAGPRA and the NMAI Act, which I’m becoming more and more interested in. It’s certainly a global discussion at the moment as more and more countries are requesting (sometimes demanding) that artifacts be returned to their rightful owners instead of remaining in the museums that acquired them centuries ago. Maybe I’ll post about it.

Cheers!

Collections Storage Tour at the Peabody Museum