Day 3 of ITP: A Brainstorming Challenge! (Ivan Radman-Livaja, ITP 2018, Croatia)
Written by Ivan Radman-Livaja (ITP 2018), Deputy Director & Senior Curator, Archaeological Museum, Zagreb, Croatia
After listening in the morning to stimulating lectures about Collections Documentation and Management (by Tanya Szrajber, Head of Documentation), British Museum libraries (by Antony Loveland, Senior Librarian) as well as about Museum Archives (by Francesca Hillier, Archivist), our group had to face its first workshop task. We were, however, not unprepared for the challenge thanks to the ITP, as usual…
The mood was set by the inspirational and thought-provoking lecture of Alice Stevenson from UCL, called ‘Collections of World Culture: tracing journeys and stories‘. Besides presenting her project Artefacts of excavation – British excavations in Egypt, 1880- 1980, she invited us to discuss the histories of museum collections. More precisely, she launched the discussion about object biographies, i.e. stories that can be told about almost every object in museum holdings. She gave us several examples of how objects may have their own ‘life’, so to speak, like for instance the story of objects from grave no. 1817 in Naqada, Egypt. One should rather say stories, since artefacts from that grave ended up in 6 institutions in 3 different countries.
Besides the whereabouts of the objects themselves, the story of their discovery cannot be dissociated from the life stories of the people who found them, took them away or brought them to the museum. And indeed, some archaeological objects discovered at the same site during the same excavation had completely different destinies and ended up in places thousands of miles apart. Alice Stevenson pointed out the concept of the ‘relational museum’ – the idea of looking at the relationship between people and museum objects in a given historical context.
The lecture was the first step towards the workshop during which we were divided into 5 groups and asked to answer a certain number of questions:
Do the museums we work in have collections from other countries?
Is there interest from our audience for exhibitions presenting cultural heritage from another part of the world?
Do we have opportunities for international collaboration?
What would be the stories told by such exhibitions?
What would be the challenges of such exhibitions?
After comparing our answers, each of our randomly formed group of 5 to 6 persons had to broadly elaborate a conceivable collaborative exhibition project in which all of our respective institutions might be able to take part. While at first sight this would appear to be quite an easy task for museum professionals, with randomly formed groups it was far from evident. 5 archaeologists or 5 art historians, for example, could likely rapidly devise a project plan, but when you have to define a common denominator shared by an ethnologist, an art historian, a museum educator and an archaeologist working in museums spread all over the world, this task becomes a real challenge.
It was an excellent occasion to show whether we are capable of productive brainstorming and it worked actually quite well. Every group suggested viable ideas for exhibitions. Two groups, independently from each other, though that an exhibition could be done around the perception and use of colours in different aspects of everyday life. One group chose fragrances and their trade as a topic. Another group thought that an exhibition could be done on the expansion of architectural influences, more precisely certain construction features, using columns as a case study. Lastly, one group suggested an exhibition about a symbol, the swastika, and its meaning in different civilisations.
So far so good: our little group does not lack creativity!