At the Wellcome…


At the Wellcome Collection in London the other week I was stopped in my tracks by three Japanese wood panels depicting botanical specimens.  The panels are made from the wood and framed in the bark of the trees represented: Chusan palm, Japanese persimmon and Asian pear.  They were on loan from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The display is part of a collaboration between five London museums (Horniman Museum; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Natural History Museum; Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection).  Each museum has chosen an object or group of objects which has never been displayed before.  Each object is displayed in each institution for six weeks and its ‘story’ is written by an expert from each of the institutions.  The stories are printed in a little booklet you can take away.  The point of the exercise, I think, is to show the different stories that are told by different people in different institutions about the same object.  An approach which is close to the heart of New Light on Old Bones.

In fact each story is told from an interdisciplinary perspective which suggests that it is far too simple to suggest that scientists think in one way and artists in another.

What would be fun is to print the stories without their originating institution and see if we can decide their origin simply from analysing the content. I suspect we wouldn’t be able to.  Now there’s a challenge for someone.



Filed under Museums, Objects

2 responses to “At the Wellcome…

  1. I think that is a really interesting angle, also to challenge the hierarchy of institutions where the experts are the ones the hold the ‘right’ knowledge, as we all know there are many different interpretations to a collection. For the next phase of the engagement work I’m interested in setting up an online platform for Pennine Lancs heritage venues where people can curate their own tours around the sites, uploading their own images of the collections. Each persons stories would be equally valid, whether that is a museum expert telling us about their interpretations of their favourite objects, an artist curating a tour of what inspires them or somebody recalling the objects they saw as a child and the stories they remember about them. I think it will be really interesting to open up the world of curating and collect the stories that link people to objects, and we now have the online tools to make this possible.

  2. If you follow the link, you should also see that you can ‘follow’ an object from institutional website to institutional website seeing not only the interpretation but how it appears on each website (eg as a collections ‘object’ or an ‘event’). Websites frame interpretation and knowledge just as much as the bricks and mortar of a museum. See:

    for more….

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