Exploration of Museum Definitions on a Day Trip to Bexhill-on-Sea and Eastbourne (Xuejing Dai, Shandong Museum, China, ITP 2015)

Written by Xuejing Dai, Educator and Exhibition Curator, Shandong Museum, China, ITP 2015.

After two days at the Museums Association (MA) conference, finally came the MA’s day trip. It sounded great when the list of day trips was put on the website. Tour 6 was Bexhill-on-sea and Eastbourne, which meant I could see the sea. Therefore, I chose it and was the first person to put my name down on the list. It has been cloudy and rainy the past few days since I arrived in London. I am dire need of a sunny day. Bexhill-on-sea surprised me!

09:30 in the morning, 12 of us entered a huge coach to start our trip to Bexhill-on-Sea. It took us one hour to get there. The first stop was at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea.

We were welcomed by the curator of this exhibition and got to see the behind scene story of the exhibits. The Ancient and Modern exhibition is the newly installed exhibition in the gallery. It showcases objects crafted by artist Renee So, including hand-woven textiles, furniture, and ceramics. It aims to explore representations of the female figure in prehistoric cultures. I was deeply impressed by the tri-pod pottery made by her. She drew inspirations from Chinese pre-historic tri-pod pottery ware to showcase her understanding of the female figure.

Another very impressive object is the headless female figure, titled as Unknown Woman. The shape comes from a pre-Colombian figurine owned by the Bauhaus artist and weaver Anni Albers. It is the largest ceramic work that So has ever made. Its tile implies that this is an homage to all the women whose identities have not been preserved throughout history.

What is a museum? The definition of museums varies from institute to institute. De La Warr Pavilion is an institute without any collection. The only two temporary exhibition galleries rotate themselves three weeks a time. All the exhibits are of contemporary arts or visual arts, which takes up little space and no storage room. Can we say it is not a museum?

One thing that I want to share with you all is that this gallery is so accessible to everyone, from its entrance to its lift, from its gallery to its café. It is surrounded by apartments, houses, a park and the seafront. It is a must-see place for anyone who lives nearby or who travels to the seaside. It even has a theatre with a capacity of 1,500 people. Various events are held in this place, such as concerts and films. It is a real community-based museum!

The second stop for the day trip is the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne. We were so lucky to meet the head of collections, Sara Cooper. As introduced by Sara, this gallery has a collection of 5,000 artworks. Visitors can book one of the regular art store tours or a private tour, which makes the collections accessible to all visitors. As for the management of the museum’s exhibition, the gallery invites citizens to curate exhibitions from the collections. One newly installed exhibition is TEN: Towner Curates the Collection in Gallery 1. Visitors are involved with the gallery by having a place to bring ideas to life by drawing. There is a place for kids to spark their imaginations by playing. Definitely, I would say museums could do more than what is already being done to make a better living place for all human beings.

Let’s come back to the starting question, what is a museum? Collection, physical collection or visual materials or loan objects, who cares. As long as something can inspire us, entertain us, comfort us, maybe we can call it a museum!