Guest blog by Captain Mike Pryce, Wellington Regional Harbour Master (1989-2017)
With the fiftieth anniversary of this tragic event occurring on 10th April 2018, it is understood that various commemorative activities have been planned to coincide with this.
The various detailed enquiry reports show that the primary cause of the tragedy was severe weather conditions and ‘wrong place, wrong time’, but there were other factors. One question that is frequently asked is: ‘Could it happen again, and would authorities be better prepared now than they were back then?’ An interesting question!
One of the key points mentioned in the enquiry was the critical period when the severe weather and radar breakdown made it impossible for those on board to know their exact position in the harbour entrance.
One could perhaps ponder on the options available today, with vastly-increased use and reliability of electronic aids to navigation. Ships have two radar sets today, with a large and a small scanner size. With improved mechanical reliability, it would be hoped that both did not become inoperative at the same time. Modern electronic equipment fitted to ferries and shore helps to ensure that their voyages are safe and well-monitored.
Greater Wellington Regional Council’s (the harbour authority) Beacon Hill Communications Station (Wellington Harbour Radio) opened a new building in December 2010, fully-equipped with the latest electronic gadgets. The experienced station operators are able to check positions of all vessels by radar and AIS (Automated Identification System – similar to monitoring aircraft transponders, but from ship) and liaise closely with CentrePort Wellington. A wave-rider buoy stationed off Baring Head (at the eastern harbour entrance) provides swell-height and swell-direction information, and an electronic in-harbour weather monitoring system provides wind-speed and direction information at various locations inside the harbour. A webcam at Beacon Hill enables the sea and weather conditions at the harbour entrance to be viewed ‘live’ so that nobody is in any doubt about the weather conditions prevailing.
Similar sophisticated electronic equipment and data-recorders are fitted to all the ferries, helping to make their routine voyages safer, and enabling various operational departments ashore to know exactly where the ferry is, when it will arrive, and when sailings might need to be cancelled. Adherence to the NZ Port & Harbour Safety Code enables all information to be carefully considered when ferry sailings are decided.
It is a far-cry from ‘the olden days’ of bad weather when the ferries disappeared from sight into the spume of Cook Strait.
A special Wahine exhibition ‘One Tragedy – A Range of Responses’ is on display in the Museum.
Featured Image: Wahine Wreck (1976) by MR Jackson. Museum collection
By Richard Latty, Visitor Services Host – Wellington Museum
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past year, Flux is a co-operatively run dynamic, living and thinking space that opened in Wellington Museum last March. It is run through a co-op of volunteers who curate the exhibitions on display, program the workshops and assist with any other community events that might be held in the space.
Wellington is a city full of art and culture, but we had noticed the lack of spaces for Wellington young creatives. So the Wellington Museum management team decided to do something about this, launching Flux at the end of March 2017 as a space for 18-30 year old creatives to:
share stories through exhibitions
stage performance, events and public programmes
create content and experiences that are relevant to you
explore ideas and perspectives
build community relationships
The kaupapa of Flux in based on inclusion for all people involved. We want it to be a safe space where all people feel comfortable and welcome. We aim to showcase this through the variety of exhibitions, programs, events and programmes we host in the space. Another key aspect of the kaupapa of Flux is connecting with different communities who feel a connection to Te Whanganui a Tara and building on these relationships. We do this while ensuring we keep Flux sustainable so future generations can continue to enjoy the planet as we do today.
Flux is run through a co-op of volunteers who strive to meet once a month. The co-op is made up of a variety of people who work in Wellington Museum along with fellow young Wellington creatives. During our monthly meeting we get together and talk about what is going well, what is going not so well, and choose the submissions we will be accepting. We would like to be able to meet on a more regular basis but because we all either study or work full time already, it can be hard to pin everyone down.
During the nearly 12 months that Flux has been in existence we have hosted a number of varying exhibitions, events, programmes and workshops. These range from a dog life drawing workshop to In the Midst, an exhibition from a variety of young people at different stages of mental health. In 2017 we had 9 exhibitions and we hope to match this in 2018. Add to this a number of workshops, theatre performances and gigs and this group of volunteers has their work cut out for them.
The Flux co-op decided to have a break over the summer months after a very busy 2017. We are slowly starting to creep into 2018 with a number of very cool events coming up in the next few months.
April proves to be a very exciting time for Flux with the Play by Play Games Festival transforming Flux into any gamer’s dream. You will get the chance to have a go at playing the video games that have made it to the final of the 2018 Play by Play Games Festival, not to mention having a go at some Virtual Reality Gaming. This will be running from the 16th of April for one week so don’t miss out.
We are currently looking for exhibitions, workshops, gigs, whatever you want to put on display, for the next couple of months. If you are interested in putting something on in Flux don’t be afraid to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We see ourselves as being here to facilitate your needs and we will do everything in our power to do so.
Finally, the co-op are always looking for fresh ideas so if you are interested in joining or coming along to a meeting to see what we do, flick us an email- email@example.com or find us on facebook at www.facebook.com/fluxatwm to find out more about us or what we have coming up.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Museums Wellington and Experience Wellington on behalf of the co-op. Involving myself in Flux has been, and will continue to be, a learning curve and I hope that others are willing to come join us on the journey.
2018 marks the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand. In 1893 New Zealand was the first country in the world to enfranchise women (give them the vote). Although this was a major achievement for women, and from this stage on women in New Zealand started having greater control over their lives and more influence in the political sphere, today women still have a way to go to achieve equality with men.
As part of this national event Wellington Museum has commissioned a contemporary artwork to be installed in the former Wellington Harbour Board’s von Kohorn boardroom. As this room is heavily dominated by male portraits of previous Harbour Board members, it is the perfect location to generate a Suffrage response.
This was our brief:
‘Wellington Museum plans to acknowledge the 125th anniversary of Suffrage in a contemporary, thought provoking, awareness raising and creative fashion. As such, we are commissioning an artwork to hang in the historic Board Room; a strong statement and juxtaposition to what is currently a very male dominated space. Although we are open to medium, textile works will be strong contenders given the historic banners women have created together to promote their causes (think Suffrage or 1913 Waterfront Dispute). As we have been considering the project our thinking has been along the lines of—125 years of Suffrage—So what? Are women in Aotearoa New Zealand equal today?’
We received a number of excellent proposals. A big thank you to everyone who submitted one – we really appreciated it and it was exciting reading them all!
So, after much thought and deliberation we are very pleased and proud to announce the winner:
Genevieve Packer – who will develop a contemporary textile artwork that will cover the map of Wellington in the boardroom.
To quote from her proposal:
“It speaks to the often overwhelming historical anonymity of the role of women, across all fields.”
“In the words of numerous placards in recent women’s marches: ‘I can’t believe we’re still protesting this shit!’ ”
In New Zealand, there are a number of issues facing women that need to be addressed. Take pay parity for example.
The cold hard facts:
New Zealand women, on average, are paid an average of 13% less than man.
Māori women earn 13% less than Pākehā women, and 23% less than a man of any ethnicity.
Asian women get paid 10% less than Pākehā women, and 20% less than men of any ethnicity.
Pasifika women are the worst off, earning 20% less than Pākehā women, and 28% less than a man of any ethnicity.
In 2016 women’s average weekly earnings were 61.1% of men’s. In dollar terms, that means women are earning an average of $432 a week compared to men earning and average of $707: a difference of $275 per week and $14,300 per year. (Source: Naiomi Murgatroyd, Tusk 01/05/17)
And then there’s the issue of domestic violence. Recently Women’s Refuge conducted an online survey about links between suicide or self-harm and domestic violence. While the survey was self-selecting and non-scientific, chief executive Ang Jury said the number of responses had both surprised and scared her.
By Nikolas Brocklehurst, Exhibitions and Collection Technician
Here at Wellington Museum we have put together the Future Museum Group as part of the ongoing development. As the name suggests we are asking some big questions. Now this post does not have any startling revelations rather it just raises some of the questions, ideas and considerations about museums that the group have been discussing.
It has been argued that by providing opportunities to establish, build and to rebuild traditions, it is culture’s temporary and transitory nature that empowers it. Conversely for a culture that does not acknowledge and embrace this nature it becomes unable to be questioned or challenged and fatally unable to evolve.
Museums are no exception. Despite their ability to bring together objects from all periods of history, they are cultural products firmly anchored in the time that created them. So for museums not to consider their own nature is to be unchangeable.
Now if this were the case, I would not be writing this and there definitely would not be a Future Museum Group. Despite being firmly encased in their architectural statements, museums have had to address their histories, to build and to rebuild themselves, to shift their focus, their purpose and broaden their public appeal (more or less). This is a continual process and failure to do so leads to extinction.
So, how does a museum, a thing with less than humble beginnings (see The Same but Different for a little history) have relevancy in contemporary life awash with alternatives?
Shifts to edutainment, blockbuster exhibitions, spectacles and indeed diversifying what actually happens in and about museums (films, concerts, light displays etc.) can be seen as a response to this question. Equally, museums are faced with an increasing need for profitability against rising costs while being prepared for any future social, economic and environmental disruptions.
And yet, is anything at stake when museums position themselves as one-stop shops, with cafes, movies, retail spaces, kids areas, so on and so forth, evoking something very reminiscent to a mall?
Or is the move to more diverse undertakings and events an attempt to break free of the museum’s dry and stuffy persona? Does embracing singular, unique, one-off moments counter the typically static displays of singular, unique, one-off objects? Further, can it be understood as a means to stand out from the immediacy, simultaneity and ubiquity offered by our increasingly digitally mediated world? A world where notions of originality are easily reproducible.
Is this a move to personal and personalised experiences as tools for re-securing museums within a cultural psyche? And yet fundamentally this shift is competing with the alternatives in their terms. So the question remains, what is it that 21st century museums can offer that is not offered elsewhere?
At one level they do have a role in telling contested stories but what tends to differentiate museums from other institutions are their collections – they are repositories and archives of culture. However, this is not as clear-cut as it appears.
Yes, museums are full of objects but there is a fundamental shift in the meaning and operation of those objects once they enter the museum’s doors. The very notion of being ‘worthy’ of collecting distinguishes the unique and the special from the common and the ordinary. Discarding their previous uses, they are no longer potato peelers or paintings but become embodiments of history, witnesses to events, and examples of genius. Is it this, the museum’s ability to make the ordinary extraordinary, to make an object worth looking at, the element that truly separates museums from other institutions, and by extension the one thing that museums alone can offer?
But not all objects can be given their own plinth, label and spotlight. Online collections can and do alleviate some of this, but it is not the same as being on public display within the institution itself. There is a certain prestige attached to those viewed in situ while an invisible majority remain confined to store houses indefinitely.
Decisions must be made as to what can and cannot go on display. More so, not all objects are empowered by their ‘incarceration’ within museums and their mode of ‘exhibition’. This indeed is a practice museums have had difficulty with.
Bringing it back to the Future Museum Group, we have asked who better to take the lead on displaying culture than the culture or community itself. So we are pushing a community museum focus and Flux is an aspect of this. The Future Museum Group is utilising a range of engagement strategies aiming toward empowerment and the Museum offers the one thing it can – the full weight of its social and cultural capital for all to use.
As stated in the beginning, nothing is new here, there are no great revelations, just a few things that we have been considering.
Guest blog by Hannah Zwartz, the Cottage’s gardener
Red valerian (Centranthus ruber, aka Spur valerian, Kiss-me-quick, Fox’s brush, Devil’s beard or Jupiter’s beard) grows all over the garden at Nairn Street Cottage. It pops up in dry corners where nothing else will grow, and in cracks in the paving and walls. It’s a common sight across Wellington over spring and summer; colonising dry clay banks and sunny, rotten-rock slopes, self-seeding freely and flowering in all shades of pink and red alongside tall grasses, yellow wild turnip and white daisy bushes.
When does a garden flower become a wildflower? And when does a wildflower become a weed – or vice versa? In England – from where the Wallis family, who built the cottage, emigrated – Centranthus is a wildflower that is also grown as a garden plant. With conditions in New Zealand/Aotearoa slightly more favourable for this particular plant, it’s looked on more as a weed.
Many plants in the Nairn Street garden tell the same story – brought from other parts of the world for practical or sentimental reasons, then ‘jumping the fence’ on arrival, to become something of a pest. The most commonly known example is gorse, brought from the UK for hedging before escaping to colonise whole hillsides – but in the Nairn Street garden you can also find honeysuckle, foxgloves, elderflower, purple toadflax (Linaria), crocosmia, arum lilies, agapanthus and hydrangeas. All these have at some point, or in some part of the country, jumped the picket fences to escape the gardener’s control and taken off into the wilderness on their own colonisation mission.
There’s tradescantia, for instance, aka Spiderwort, Wandering Jew/dew/willie. Nobody knows exactly who first introduced this South American plant into Aotearoa, but it’s grown in the UK as an ornamental or house plant, and was freely planted by early European settlers; Sir Walter Buller, for instance, encouraged large areas of it on his Papaitonga (Horowhenua) estate. Heavy frosts kill tradescantia, so it doesn’t become such a pest in the UK, but in NZ it can smother large areas of the forest floor, preventing native seedlings from getting a foothold.
There are times when you’d love to turn back the clock, and ask more questions – is it really such a great idea to introduce possums, rabbits or ferrets? The questions in the Cottage garden are simpler – should we dig out the honeysuckle and elder, so the birds don’t spread the seeds into bush areas? Or is it OK to keep them if we make sure they don’t set seed? Why do we grow ‘weeds’ like purple toadflax, arum and red valerian at the Cottage?
The answers are partly cultural; elder for instance, is a plant with strong herbal and cultural significance (though it also spreads into disturbed habitats, inhibiting regeneration of native species.) Sometimes the answer, to be honest, is partly practical – the reason these plants become ‘weeds’ is that they are very well suited to local conditions, and grow extremely easily. They germinate quicker than more ‘desirable’ garden plants and thrive in poorer soil, with less water. Whether you call them weeds or wildflowers, these plants bring colour to the garden, feed insects and butterflies and can be cut back for use as mulch or compost fodder.
But on another level, they also help the garden tell the history of New Zealand/Aotearoa. Why did settlers – both Māori and European – carry with them, on their months-long ocean crossings, carefully wrapped packages of seeds and cuttings, keeping them alive to plant and take root in the new land? Which plants did immigrants deem essential, for food and medicine but also for cultural reasons? Māori brought kumara, and hue (gourds), and other plants that didn’t take root in the new environment such as coconuts and aute (the paper mulberry used for tapa cloth). Māori gardeners were also quick to adopt potatoes, which grow more easily than kumara in colder areas. European settlers to Wellington brought fruit trees, berry canes, and herbs such as sage and thyme useful for everyday first aid. They also brought roses and other flowers – the first dahlia shows in Wellington were as early as the 1840s, a strange (to our eyes) transplant of British culture/horticulture to a Pacific environment.
People often comment that the Nairn Street Cottage garden looks ‘natural’. Actually, a lot of art goes into making it look that way. There are ongoing decisions on which self-sown beauties to leave and which to pull out. Lines, however arbitrary, have to be drawn – that’s what makes it horticulture, as opposed to wilderness.
The garden and its plants can tell stories of colonisation, invasion, migration, aggression, refuge, assimilation, naturalisation, attempts at control and/or restoration. Questions facing the gardener – like what to allow in and what to root out – are, on a different scale, the same questions facing wider New Zealand/ Aotearoa culture and society. What makes a ‘worthy’ immigrant – and who gets to decide? The story of colonisation is a living story, not fixed in time in the nineteenth century, because waves of botanical and human migration, and the forces of globalisation, are still here today.
Nairn Street Cottage is open everyday from 1st January to 18 March 2018. Opening hours: 12 – 4pm
By Moira Sun, recently a Visitor Services Host for Museums Wellington
2017 is my year for travel. I had the chance to explore quite a few museums and galleries when I traveled to Singapore and Melbourne. What appealed to me the most was the beautiful blend of the practice of technology.
In this blog, I would love to share some of the technologies that were used, and how these affected my museum/gallery experiences – not only those I visited but also those I work for.
Mobile App + Free-Wifi – great that you have it all!!
At National Gallery Singapore, I had unlimited time engaging with the mobile app to better understand how to self-explore a variety of exhibitions. This was something that I had heard about but never come across before. The free app National Gallery Singapore: Gallery Explorer made it easy to surf for exhibitions and art works with various options. For example, by choosing the category ‘Tours’, you can either go on a self-guided audio tour of selected key works of a specific exhibition you are interested in, or see the highlights of the building history. You are also able to tap on the artwork to see more information.
For someone who likes to enjoy themselves alone in a gallery, having a pair of ear plugs with the free app downloaded onto your smart phone is perfect for taking your own time to learn all the new things. However, the museum or gallery should enable super speedy connection with free Wi-Fi so that audiences can actually download all the videos and pictures and navigate for themselves without requiring human interaction!
2D or 3D? Maybe 4D! – it’s kind of mind blowing…
When we talk about technology, we often think of the future. At the Future World: Where Art Meets Science exhibition in ArtScience Museum Singapore, I experienced how some artists explore innovative ways to make art into a new form.
I had such a fun time at one of the projects called Sketch Town in the TOWN section. I became a player who was so fascinated by how I could transform my 2D colour-in into a 3D animated apartment building through a digital scanner! I still couldn’t believe I waited for almost half an hour in front of this ‘fictitious town’ (‘Sketch Town’) to see where my building would be dropped!
At that point, I thought I had spent too much time just in the Town section, but when I walked into a space with more than 170,000 wonder stars (LED lights), I found myself lost at the centre of this ‘scintillating Crystal Universe’ where the contiguously changing lights in the universe responded to people’s movement. Created with TeamLab’s Interactive 4-D Vision technology, this spectacular artwork also allows you to interact with it by releasing stars, planets, and even galaxies on your fingertips (i.e. control the LED lights from a smart touch screen within the installation). By combining art, science and technology, Crystal Universe really gives you a hint of the power of 4-D.
VR (virtual reality) + AR (augmented reality) – you can go big, or you can start small
Working in small-medium sized museums doesn’t mean you stay away from trendy technology. In fact, you can start small and still put up something pretty cool, especially with VR and AR technology. You don’t really need very complex equipment, according to the picture above, this experience can be ‘generally achieved by holding your smart phone’… or ‘by wearing a helmet or goggles’.
For example, Being There from Otago Museum’s Far from Frozen exhibition (hosted at Space Place in the 2017 July school holidays) showcased the use of ‘the latest virtual and augmented reality combining holographic computing and animated projection mapping technology’ (Otago Museum); by simply wearing a helmet, audiences were actively engaged to explore Antarctica and the potential impact of climate change.
Large museums sometimes face difficulties around members of the public being able to access the exhibitions up close in large spaces. For example Wild at Melbourne Museum, which ‘features over 600 animals in a spectacular vertical array’ (from Amazing animals in a changing world) where Panoramic Navigators were used to allow audiences to ‘orientate themselves’ and effectively ‘access information’ about the selected animal specimen (J Shaw). These ‘interactive augmented-reality multi-media information terminals’ (J Shaw, 2010) presented a smart way to learn ‘which animals are thriving and which are merely surviving’ (Amazing animals in a changing world) via touch screens and computer generated visual displays.
Audio + visual – it’s the ideas behind it that matter
Fancy technology can sometimes turn away your non tech-savvy visitors; plus not every museum is able to afford this. So, what’s the most important thing here? Well, I think it is the intriguing ideas behind the use of new technologies.
The most outstanding exhibit when I was in Melbourne was the interactive Interview Room from the Getting In exhibition at the Immigration Museum. With a flat screen TV, a touchscreen monitor and a set of audio speakers, you get to travel back in time and role-play a government official in charge of interviewing people who applied to migrate to Australia in the 1920s, the 1950s, or the present day. Although they used a more common technology of audio and visual media in the Interview Room, the audiences were still very well engaged – neither losing interest, nor feeling the technology was distracting from the content.
Social media (Instagram/Facebook/Twitter) – you can know more about who we are and what we do
Compared with some fun and smart technologies practiced in the museums and galleries, social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, etc. could possibly be considered as one of the best everyday life tools/icons that engage and connect with people. In fact, it’s probably one of the best networking tools.
I was very inspired by seeing that many arts and cultural organisations have embraced social media, including the museums I work for. It is a great way to advertise products and events, to promote exhibitions and programmes, to socialise with each other, and to share information with audiences on a daily basis.
This isn’t the end.
My 2017 trips were great. I have seen some very interesting, interactive and educational shows and exhibitions, but, this isn’t the end. I’d love to see a wider diversity of technologies used in future museums and galleries, which can maximise the creativity and innovation which enables us to inspire more visitors, to make more of a difference, to create more multi-sensory experiences, to be more accessible, and to take on more challenges.
Guest blog by Steven Sedley, Holocaust Centre of New Zealand
The concept of ‘Human Rights’ didn’t exist for most of the history of mankind. It is a concept that evolved gradually during the Age of Enlightenment culminating in the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. However, that all should have the equal rights of citizens (including Jews, slaves, Romanis, colonised indigenous people, women and children) took many decades to take hold.
In most of Europe Jews didn’t have the rights of citizenship until near the end of the 19th century, and when they did get such rights they had a price to pay. They had to give up their language and learn to speak, and ultimately think, in the vernacular of their host country, be it French, German, or Hungarian. They had to give up their distinctive garb, they had to buy into a national consciousness, national celebrations, local patriotism, at the expense of their long standing Jewish traditions. Jews became French, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Italians, of Jewish persuasion, Jews by religion, but by identity the nationality of whatever country they lived in. It was not their rights as individual human beings, but their rights as citizens that mattered.
It was not until Nazi Germany deprived Jews (and others) not only of their rights as citizens, but also of their rights as human beings that the question of ‘Human Rights’ came to be considered by the community of nations. They were demonised, made invisible, their properties expropriated, exiled, identified by number not by name, and ultimately, they were murdered.
In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that stated, among other provisions, that:
Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedom
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
Perpetrators of ‘attacks directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population’ genocide and atrocities against people were brought to account for ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. The first prosecution for such crimes took place from 1945-46 at the Nuremberg trials. These considered the formal punishment of leading members of the Nazi regime for war crimes during World War II. Since then the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court were set up to deal with those responsible for mass murder in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and others.
New Zealand as a country and New Zealanders as individuals had only a limited knowledge of the atrocities that were committed in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. When faced with refugees seeking a haven, New Zealand shut its doors. Of the thousands who were fleeing for their lives, New Zealand admitted a mere 1100 approximately. There were indeed individuals who spoke up on behalf of the refugees and many refugees encountered kindness on a personal level, but there was also a good deal of opposition to admitting people who were not British, and Jews in particularly. There was a deeply ingrained anti-Semitic prejudice under the surface.
The Nazis and their allies went to extraordinary lengths to conceal their crimes. People taken to extermination camps to be murdered were told that they were to be resettled. When extermination camps were abandoned they were not only destroyed, but the lands on which they were sited were grassed over to conceal all the evidence. The stories of mass murder were so horrendous and unbelievable that many put them down to propaganda. It was a New Zealand diplomat, Paddy Costello, who was the first to report, through reliable diplomatic channels, the evidence of mass murder in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Maidanek.
New Zealand, like the rest of the world, failed to stand up for the victims, the persecuted. If there is anything to be learned from the Holocaust, it is that every individual must do their utmost to resist prejudice, fight injustice and to care for others.
The bottom line of the rights and obligations of every human being is summed up in the saying in the Talmud:
Human Rights and Museums from Nik Bullard, Social History Curator
Historically museums have tried to remain politically neutral. But to address the huge amount of human rights abuses and issues, historically and contemporarily, we need to bring these stories into our museum. To hear these stories, especially in people’s own words, is a valuable tool in creating an inclusive and participatory museum, one that isn’t afraid of telling difficult or hard stories.
I believe there is a social justice issue involved here – to tell the truth about what is happening on a local and global scale, thereby raising awareness and bringing about greater understanding, empathy and tolerance towards others. And just as importantly, to help prevent human rights abuses and atrocities of the past from ever happening again (eg, unbelievably fascism and slavery are on the rise!)
These museums and organisations address human rights:
The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, Wellington
The Holocaust Gallery, Auckland Museum
Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg (established in 2008) – dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights
International Slavery Museum, Liverpool (opened in 2007) –hear the untold stories of enslaved people and learn about historical and contemporary slavery
The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, Seoul, South Korea
War Remnants Museum (formerly Museum of American War Crimes), Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Osaka Human Rights Museum, Japan
EMSA Museum of Remembrance and for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Buenos Aires, Argentina
National Museum of Memory, Medellin, Colombia
FIHRM (Federation of International Human Rights Museums) – about sharing, working together, learning from each other, and encouraging each other; about being active – looking at the ways our museums can challenge contemporary racism, discrimination and other human rights abuses.
By Rachel Ingram – Head of Learning and Programmes, Museums Wellington
This blog was originally delivered as part of the Arts Access Aotearoa Panel at the 2017
Museums Aotearoa Conference: He Waka Eke Noa, Museums of Inclusion. The topic was ‘Diversity and Disability: Including who? Including how?’
In 2014 Wellington Museum was at the beginning of our accessibility journey, and at the same time our thinking around proposed exhibition – The Attic – was taking shape. We were naively assuming that accessibility was something we would achieve, and hadn’t quite realised it was something we would always be working towards. Our approach, although well intentioned, largely involved doing it for the disabled community. Thankfully, and with perfect timing, it was at this stage our relationship with Arts Access Aotearoa and the Arts For All Network began.
We were given a first edition printed out copy of Arts For All and seized on particular pages of the book Getting Started, First Steps, Ten Things You Can Do Now, What Words to Use, and Where to Go For Advice and Information. Our thinking began to change.
We attended an Arts For All Network hui and met members of the disability sector. Our thinking changed a little further. We were chatting with the team from Arts Access Aotearoa about an Accessibility Policy for our Museums when the Attic came into the conversation. They suggested the Museum host a Network hui, share our plans and ask for input. Our practice began to change.
Our designer brought a tactile scale model of the floor and the display cabinets/furniture to the hui. He talked the Network through his designs and they fed back to him. The hui was constructive and collaborative. Network members with lived, familial or community experience, along with representative organisations, talked through all aspects of the design, answered questions, and gave information on guidelines and minimum requirements. They introduced us to Standard 4121, suggested contacts and readings, and told us about their experiences and how we could incorporate or learn from them. They were positive about the thinking to date, and encouraging about what we could aspire to – what would be the very best we could do at this time for this exhibition.
Our designer acknowledges The Attic is what it is due to the conversations he had with the group. He credits these as making him both aware and mindful of accessible design aspects and has indicated that without the network’s input The Attic would have been vastly different. He notes that the feedback the network gave him has resulted in a more accessible/inclusive experience for all. These days Standard 4121 is embedded in his thinking and community consultation is a natural part of any planning process.
The curatorial team speak from a content point of view. For them, thinking around interpretation and story selection were enhanced at the hui. It was here they realised the importance of engaging with the disability sector, planning with a person not for them.
This led them to collaborate with World Champion swimmer and Paralympian Mary Fisher on an exhibition in The Attic, and not only that, but after the opening, for them to work together again to make adjustments that would improve the experience for visitors who are blind or with low vision.
What are our learnings from The Arts for All hui regarding The Attic development?
1. Engage with the disability sector/Arts For All Network early in the process
2. Keep communicating throughout the process, and afterwards
Or more simply put: CONNECT, LISTEN, STAY IN TOUCH
To hammer it home the Network gave and continues to give us:
The opportunity to form and maintain relationships
The opportunity to listen
Support and learning
Connections and networks
The opportunity to participate in training
Next steps in our accessibility journey
Finally, and this is key, before the hui we had accessibility champions in the Museum – now we have relationships with disabled people and disability organisations, and a culture of accessibility and inclusion.
By Paul Thompson, Deputy Director and Head of Content
The modern museum often sees its ancestry as stretching back to mediaeval and renaissance Wunderkammer (cabinet of wonders). At times they actively use them as models or metaphor for how they present things.
Wunderkammer are those wonderfully eclectic collections of art, curiosities and natural history specimens that the wealthy created and used to show off their resources and their knowledge. But while museums have no trouble with the form or derivations from the Wunderkammer they can find the function a bit trickier. Times have changed.
The Colonial Museum was created when Wellington became the Capital in 1865. After morphing through the Dominion and then the National Museum, it was the precursor to Te Papa. Some things are exactly the same, such as the whale skeleton hanging from the roof, the glass cases, the waka in central place and the labels. The major difference to a modern museum is that now the birds would be in one section, Māori artefacts in another and the Kohorn mortar in a third, and there are probably no stuffed animals.
A new display (a whole floor actually) at Wellington Museum has reverted to, or rather been informed by, the idiosyncratic jumble of the Wunderkammer. We used the idea of an attic as the design metaphor but the individual items and associated stories that we call ‘the dispersed model’ means stuffed animals, paintings, carved portraits, civic history, Māori taonga and colonial and modernist detritus sit happily side by side. The Attic is a giant Wunderkammer and of course the word ‘cabinet’ was traditionally applied to a room as well as a piece of furniture.
In another display called Jack’s Boathouse, this time more like a traditional Wunderkammer, or curiosity cabinet, all the objects sit together in a case with no labels. They are based on the Collections acquired when Wellington Museum’s focus was maritime so they have a more restricted range of objects than a traditional Wunderkammer. But they certainly have variety within the overall theme.
Early Wunderkammer had an effective way of classifying the world that was stunningly straightforward – articifialia or human artefacts including art, musical instruments, exotic clothing and weapons and ‘objects of curious manufacture’.
Or naturalia (natural objects). At times we get lovely combinations such as this painted shell.
But these binoculars, pieces of artificialia, can perhaps show us that while we have installations that look like Wunderkammer we may have the signs but not the spirit. When we look at or through these binoculars how many of us would read brass binoculars as metaphor or muse? This is how we have interpreted them:
‘Binoculars (brass). Binoculars replaced telescopes for long distance viewing because they are easier to hold steady, have a wider field of view and give brighter and sharper images’. Well it’s all true but rather prosaic.
In an earlier time their presence in a Wunderkammer may have turned our thoughts to higher matters. We may have regarded them as being symbolic of the all-seeing eye of God and then developing this up to encompass all the objects in the cabinet as confirmation of his (as God was conceived of then) wonderful works. Or as you looked through the bigger end and saw objects as diminished in size this could be a lesson in morals warning us of the dangers of hubris (pride). Humans may think and act ambitiously but in reality are specks in a material universe. Whether one is a believer or an atheist there is room for speculation. The Wunderkammer acts as a philosophical and speculative prompt.
This type of thinking is recognised by some museums by the phrase ‘visitors make their own meanings’. In this we know that the visitors may see meanings and ideas in objects that are not at all related to the reasons why we (the museum) have decided to put them on display. A good example at Wellington Museum would be the dozens of black and white portraits of Chairmen of the now-defunct Wellington Harbour Board that line the wall of the Boardroom. The other day I saw a couple of visitors slowly examining each one. “Looking for ancestors?” I asked. “No, comparing them to 1930s silent film stars”, was the reply.
So in modern museums we may have the form and we occasionally have the function of the Wunderkammer. But in a post-Enlightenment world, with its focus on rationality and classification, are we in danger of losing the Wunderkammer’s poetry?