A Quick Culture Fix
After an amazing weekend in London watching the World Para Athletic Championships and taking my nieces to see Wicked for their first live musical theatre experience, I found I had time before my train journey home to visit one more site. Having heard of the amazing things the Wellcome Trust does and knowing its collection was so close to the train station, I am embarrassed to say that I have never visited the Museum before. Well, this was about to change.
A Museum of Modern Nature
One of the galleries within the Wellcome Collection asks us to consider what represents our personal connection to nature. At the start of the year, the public was invited to bring in objects that fostered their relationship with nature, capturing these stories both visually and verbally. The collection became inundated with objects ranging from a garden gnome and O2 canister, to a pair of trainers and a prayer mat.
Change, Imagine, Sustain, Ritual
From the objects that were submitted, four key themes were identified that formulated the structure of the exhibition and located selected objects into key sections within the space- Change, Imagine, Sustain, Ritual. It considered our impact on the environment, the importance of nature within family life and the interactions we experience on a daily basis.
Although not all the objects had a supporting audio track, each person whose object was on display provided a verbal explanation and the audio transcripts for each was found in a complimentary booklet. I found the different interpretations and stories each object provided fascinating and liked how each relationship was uniquely expressed.
There were several objects within the collection that I could relate to but hadn’t initially considered them as having a connection with nature. My Grandma sent away for a pack of PG Tips playing cards when I was younger, which I still have and play with today. There were also two crab coffins made by Merle and Bette Nunneley, to house dried out crabs found at Medway Country Park in the Thames estuary. On a gymnastics exchange in around 1996, Natalie from Halifax came and stayed with me for the weekend and whilst walking on Allonby beach, we came across hundreds of dried crabs on the sand. As she had never seen anything like this before, we sent Natalie home with an ice cream box full of these crabs! With hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best memento of her visit to the Lake District.
Along with her old school biology book and Ladybird animal books, Michaela Strachan provided an audio explanation of why she had chosen these objects. It was interesting to discover that it was her love of animals that stopped her from continuing to study Biology, as you were expected to dissect animals as part of the course, something she didn’t believe in. I also enjoyed discovering the story behind a small black and white photograph of three young sisters stood on a seaside pier. Joan Scott, 91, described her sisters as “guardian angels” but only when they wanted to be, as they sometimes wanted to lose her, something I feel my brothers probably wanted to do with me and still do sometimes.
What would represent our connection to nature?
Having visited the gallery with my parents and brother I decided to ask them what they would have provided for the space and how this would capture their connection to nature. Being a graduate of Botany and Zoology, as well as a Biology teacher, my Dad has always had a love of plants and animals. One creature in particular that he is fascinated with is the Galapagos Iguana. Also a keen drawer, I would imagine he would produce an illustration of this animal, similar to that of Christopher Wallbank who submitted a scroll drawing of a guillemot breeding colony, known as a loomery, for this exhibition.
On display in my childhood home are my Great Grandfather’s seashells and my Mum would proudly put these in the exhibition. These beautiful shells were given to my Great Grandfather, born in 1882, by family relations who were mariners and lived in the Brown House in my Mum’s hometown. She would also contribute the photos of the lakes, mountains, tarns and forests that decorate the wonderful landscape of the Lake District. My brother wanted more time to consider his object but expressed his interest in the ‘Tick Box’ data collection object on display. Zoologist John Lock studied deer in Bushy Park for several years but also tracked the number of tick bites he received during his observations, highlighting awareness of the serious problem of Lyme disease.
As for myself, I would put in my collection of pencils. Ever since I was a child I have bought a pencil from all the different places I have visited, from cities and museums, to castles and art galleries. I dare say I have nearly 1000 of them sitting in a drawer at home, waiting to be mounted on a wall as a memento of my travels. The wood of the pencils is the obvious connection to nature, but locating it within my “natural habitat” of the Lake District, the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick is only 13 miles from my hometown. There was also a collection of cars on display. Like Stephen Hall, whom would buy one for his son and one for himself, my friends and family have also helped with my collection, bringing back pencils from their own travels.
I will definitely be going back to the Wellcome Collection to discover the other galleries and exhibitions within the space, somewhere I could easily get lost in for hours. For more information about ‘A Museum of Modern Nature’, please follow this link: https://wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions/museum-modern-nature
By Anne-Marie Rooney, Resilience Syndicate Intern