In many ways, Living Worlds embodies what NLOB is all about; the changing contexts in which we can see natural science collections. Except in this case, it’s not just about looking to the past, it’s also about looking at the future. But I want to focus on one specific, personal, experience of the space.
When I first entered the space, just before the public opening, I formed a number of initial opinions. Being fairly traditionalist, I was initially drawn to quite conventional displays like Bodies, and Humans.
But a more unusual display, like Peace, produced a more negative reaction. I wouldn’t say I disliked it, but I certainly didn’t find it appealing.
Then a funny thing happened. As the preview got into full swing, I found myself ‘trapped’ by that case. Not in an unpleasant way, it just so happened I bumped into old friends and colleagues, and stayed there chatting. I think we were there about 45 minutes, and as time passed, I went on a journey with that case. My feelings about it, my relationship with it, changed.
While initially I’d been put off by the lack of ‘real’ museum objects, I started to see how this highlighted the message of the case, the story it told. The longer I was there, the more I thought about that message. I started to see the value of it. I started to consider my own reactions, my own preconceptions. I became ‘okay’ with the display. Then I started to quite like it. By the time I left, I loved it.
So there’s a clear message here to museums. It’s worth thinking about the messages we can convey. Less can be more. Encouraging ‘dwell time’ by cases is not a vice. Taking risks can produce rewards. Oh, and there’s nothing funny about peace, love, or understanding!
Next week we have another take on the Living Worlds gallery. Work experience student James Lever has written a blog post about his personal opinions of the new gallery. That’ll be up on the 22nd August.