Peace, Love, and Understanding

Living Worlds at The Manchester Museum has been open since April, and I wanted to talk briefly about the gallery.

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.

The 'Bodies' case

The 'Humans' case

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.

The 'Peace' case

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!

Another view of the 'Peace' case

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.



Filed under Meanings, Museums

2 responses to “Peace, Love, and Understanding

  1. Being based in the East Midlands, I still haven’t managed to find time to come and see the new gallery, although it’s very high on my list. I was very excited to hear about the plans for the development when I visited just before the old gallery closed.

    Having read this post, I’m interested to know what it was that you felt was so engaging about this particular exhibit case? Why was it able to draw you in so much, and what did you get from it?

    Also, I can see from the photo that it is very visually arresting. It seems to have a real contemporary art feel to it. Do you have any thoughts about how it will date compared to some of the more traditional style displays?

    • David Craven

      I don’t know if it was the storyline of that specific case, or the fact that I spent so long next to it. It’d be a great experiment to go and stand for 45 minutes by every case and see what happened, but I don’t think I’d get away with that as a days work!

      What ultimately drew me in was that the case makes a powerful statement about the cultural connection to the natural world. The crane is a symbol of peace, and the thousand origami cranes are a symbol of good luck and prosperity. So the association between that and an event that may be the most horrific in human history (dropping a nuclear bomb), is a really powerful one. The story goes that Sadako Sasaki tried to make the 1,000 cranes while she died of leukemia after Hiroshima. She died before she finished.

      So a case that initially seems empty of “real” objects (it has a stuffed crane, and a piece of melted glass from Hiroshima), and mainly just origami cranes, is actually full. It’s full of emotion, resonance, and pathos. It’s a vivid illustration of how we relate to, and affect, the natural world. It can lead you into contemplating the recovery of that landscape after the bombing.

      As for how it will date, I’m really not sure. I suspect all displays have a lifespan (and we usually change them about 10 years too late), and this will be no different. Because the Living Worlds gallery focuses on contemporary issues, that also means it will date.

      However, I think the story of Sadako Sasaki and the 1,000 Cranes is likely to be timeless. So maybe that will help preserve that case.

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