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Emotion in Museums

Space, and a Certain Time and Place

As happens regularly in museums, we have recently been updating an exhibit at Space Place at Carter Observatory. This means ‘resting’ objects that have been on display, swapping in objects that have not been on display, returning items that we have on loan from generous individuals or institutions, and refreshing graphics and interpretation panels. Along the way we might go through the archives and rediscover stories hidden away like old scrapbooks at the back of a cupboard.

My beautiful picture

Peter Read, the People’s Astronomer, was an iconic figure on 1960s and 70s New Zealand television. There is a special place for him at Carter Observatory, and at NZ On Screen. Digging through one of our digital cupboards, we rediscovered these wonderful old images from a 2010 Carter Observatory exhibition about Peter. Some of them are from his time in the US witnessing the Apollo 15 launch. They are affecting for capturing a specific time and place while focusing so fervently on space and the future. They also tell part of Peter’s story, as do the film clips of his long-running television show ‘Night Sky’. The refreshed Peter Read exhibit should soon be installed at Space Place at Carter Observatory; in the meantime enjoy this online exhibition. And look out for a special Wellington feature at the end featuring a whole lot of history you won’t want to miss (but you may want to forget!)

My beautiful picture

2-3in 2in 4in cooke 4 in gregorian Continue reading “Space, and a Certain Time and Place”

I was photographing everything – Alison Jones

One of the great pleasures of opening The Attic at Wellington Museum has been seeing visitors spot themselves or their family members in the exhibits. We’ve had a visit from the granddaughter of the architect of our 1890 building, Frederick de Jersey Clere, and from the grandchildren of Ken Coles who features in the 1956 Chimpanzee Tea Party film. One of our most popular exhibits has been ‘Working on the Job’, a series of images of New Zealand Rail in Wellington in the 1990s, taken by then-clippie Alison Jones. It is with some delight that people recognise places and faces in the images, and sometimes even see themselves. Our Social History Curator, Nik Bullard, has curated an excerpt of the show for our first online exhibition. Also featured below is a brief but exclusive interview between Nik and Alison. If you want to see more, you can find it in The Attic

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2005-5043-6 Continue reading “I was photographing everything – Alison Jones”

Long Walk to Freedom

The importance of the relationship between human rights and museums was highlighted to me during a recent return to South Africa. A trip to my birth country is always a bittersweet experience – it highlights our collective neglect of humanity, while confirming how far we have come.

About 2 hours out of Durban on the R103 is a small cairn which commemorates the place that Nelson Mandela was captured by armed apartheid police on 5 August, 1962. I’ve visited the site during each of my returns to South Africa. It always struck me as strange that the capture site was commemorated – was it first erected in triumph, or was it later put there to serve as a reminder of the nation’s darker days?

Either way, for a long time the site was small and insignificant – a semi-circular stone wall, no higher than my hip, with a brass plaque. But in the (nearly) three years since my last visit, something extraordinary has been built in the Midlands. Continue reading “Long Walk to Freedom”

Looking After the Future as well as the Past: Human Rights in Museums

Most people think of museums as repositories for nice old stuff, interactive exhibits and historical or scientific information. While it’s true we have some nice old stuff (and the other bits), the modern museum often has priorities that have more to do with who we are now and who we wish to be. How does our old stuff inform that? This is where museum perspectives and traditional Māori perspectives might meet: for Māori, our past lies in front of us, leading us towards our future. In other words, we cannot know where we are going unless we know where we’ve been.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) conference at Te Papa. Human rights are not generally the first thing most people think of when they consider museums, but as UN youth delegate Melissa Gibson noted in her closing panel remarks, FIHRM  transforms perceptions of what museums are for, and how they can affect our lives.

Continue reading “Looking After the Future as well as the Past: Human Rights in Museums”

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part Two – Getting Busy)

Our collections team are busy installing the Attic exhibitions right now, so this seems like a good time to reveal a few behind the scenes antics. According to Assistant Registrar, Taila Roth, they’re actually ‘pre-installing’, which means bringing in cases and large objects, organising mounts, lighting and other technical stuff, like painting the giant’s castle. It sounds really fancy, but what it looks like most of the time, is pictured above. Continue reading “Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part Two – Getting Busy)”

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part One – Getting Emotional)

There was some sadness expressed this week after Auckland Museum announced the finale of their longest running exhibition – Centennial Street, also known as Auckland 1866.   Historical streets in museums often evoke cherished museum memories – sometimes the most vivid or only memories. There is something extraordinary about these re-creations of times and places we can no longer access any other way. For many of us, being close to historical objects, absorbing a facsimile of historical space, or being encapsulated in an historical frame, however limited, is the closest we can get to time travel.  My earliest museum memories include Whanganui Regional Museum’s Edwardian street, and if they ever decide to pull it down I will most likely throw a full tantrum.

Continue reading “Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part One – Getting Emotional)”

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