Enquiremanchester’s Weblog

The Manchester Museum is the lead museum in the North West Manchester cluster in a national project about art and learning for engage called ‘enquire’

Draw to explore October 28, 2008

Filed under: About Alchemy - enquire — enquiremanchester @ 1:31 pm
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So, as I said, the co-delivery of the sessions went pretty well.  We delivered three sessions in the herbarium during Big Draw week and with each one the non-herbarium staff (Jen and I) got more confident with how far we could let the students be free to explore for themselves.  After the first session Leander said he thought we could encourage the students to explore more so I made sure to emphasise that in my introduction to the following sessions and throughout.  This seemed to work and by the third session students were opening up drawers and boxes, asking for particular objects – such as the ‘oldest thing in the collection… something from Egyptians times, perhaps’, and gathering them together as they wanted to.

What worked particularly well for me was being able to allow Leander, Suzanne and Lyndsey to lead on their area of specialism and for me to lead on the art side of things backed up by my museological training.  Sometimes leading art sessions at the museum can make you feel like you’re not sure who or what you are representing for the students.  Are you a representative of the museum and all its histories and meanings, or are you the artist exploring the museum independently and sharing how you do that with the students?

By formalising our various roles in the delivery of the session it felt like we could each give something unique to the session.  In addition to that, Leander was great at making sense of the different ways that artists and scientists use the collection.  He’s had the chance to work with quite a few artists who have come to make work in/with the museum so framed it quite nicely by saying that both scientists and artists are looking for certain ‘truths’, but that how we each qualify those truths might be different.


Co-delivery and planning October 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — enquiremanchester @ 11:17 am
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It’s been a busy couple of weeks with the launch of our new herbarium sessions.  These sessions use drawing to document and present the students’ own explorations of the collections right in the heart of where they are stored and organised.

The idea behind it was to be able to offer schools and colleges the chance to come into the museum for a whole day of cross curricular learning, half a day making art in the herbarium and half a day doing hands-on science in the Life Lab.  It was about the breadth of opportunities that the museum has to offer while still looking at where different disciplines overlap.  So the herbarium session was framed by the idea of collecting and classification by reviewing the history of classification right up to how we can classify things by their DNA, and the lab session allowed students to learn about the applications of DNA and carry out their own simplified DNA extraction technique.

I met Botany Curator, Leander Wolstenholme, and Botany Curatorial Assistants, Suzanne Grieve and Lindsey Loughtman, to think about our roles in the session and about how we would use the herbarium space.  I went up to the herbarium twice before the session and spoke first with Leander, and then with Suzanne and Lindsey.  Leander has a scientific background and we discussed how he might best introduce the idea of classification and DNA as part of that.  Leander couldn’t make the second meeting which was about choosing which objects we were going to use to highlight the various areas of the collection.  However, talking with Suzanne and Lindsey gave the session a new dimension because they pointed out their backgrounds as being in history and environmental science respectively, rather than botany and, as such, approached the collections in a different way.  Whereas Leander maintains the scientific classification of the collections, sometimes by dividing up collections made by one collector into their various plant groups, Suzanne noted that she enjoys the stories that one collector’s work might be able to tell, and that there is a project going on at the moment to bring one collector’s work back together.

As part of the session, inspired by what someone said at the recent Museums Association conference, we decided to introduce some of the objects by asking Leander, Suzanne and Lindsey to talk about why they had chosen them and what they thought was special about them.  We thought this would be a good way not only to give the students a feel for the stories behind some of the collection, but also to start thinking about how the collections can be interpreted in different ways by different people, scientists, historians, and artists – to name just a few.

The sessions worked well with Art Historian, Jen Ashton, and I leading students to investigate artists who had previously made work by reseaching the museum’s collections and to make their own work, and with Leander, Lyndsey and Suzanne giving an introduction to what has and does happen in the herbarium, and supporting the students to explore the collections for themselves.  More on that later…