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Day 9: Accessibility, Our First Pup Visit and a Guessing Game

It was excellent to have a visit from Kirin, Ros, Matthew, Toby and his dog, Willow this morning. They came to us from VocalEyes, a nationwide audio description charity, providing access to the arts for blind and partially sighted people. We were really curious to hear their impressions on the idea of Museum in a Box.

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Here’s our first canine visitor, Willow, with her human, Toby.

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Sighted people make so many assumptions about how things are perceived in the world. Ros, who is a describer-of-things (including all the audio descriptions of things you can hear at the British Museum), helped Kirin to understand what was in the room, and talked through the main installation in the centre of the room, and then our wall of other projects we’d done each day. It was interesting that she read the papers from the top down — perfectly natural — but the papers were oriented from the bottom up, because of the museum/table surface’s orientation in the room. It was lovely to witness how Kirin processed inputs by touch as well.

We noticed lots of things! It was particularly interesting to hear from Kirin about what was a bit confusing and how we could fix it.

  • Scale of items in the box should be accurate in relation to each other, and perhaps we should also have a specific object that is designed to be used for scale reference.
  • We could be specific about what the bottom of each object is, and which side is the front, so each can be oriented correctly. A face is a recognizable set of features, but it takes a while to parse what’s being touched of the stranger objects (like the House post or a Rosetta Stone).
  • It might be useful to have the design of the box itself represent the institution the objects come from, so to have it be in the shape of the floor plan, and have the objects generally placed in their correct spots. This observation opened up a nice possible game in a museum, if you have an object before you visit, you could go on a treasure hunt once you get there to try to find it.
  • It’s a big deal for some sight-impaired people to actually visit on-site. There’s so much to take in and process it can be really overwhelming. That’s a big part of what VocalEyes does, to help prepare for a visit by describing in detail what to expect. We thought that the Museum in a Box could be a good way to help people prepare to .
  • The box should contain an index. Whether it’s printed or audio or another format, it’s really important to be able to know easily what you’re dealing with.
  • The work we did on Day 5 with Adrian and Frankie seemed to really strike a chord. (That chord was struck with me, too, on the day!) It’s hugely helpful to hear information, and other audio mood-setting stuff too, like our waves crashing and museum hubbub form Day 2.

We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the VocalEyes team as we move forward with Museum in a Box. It is indeed the case that any design work we do to make our project accessible to sight-impaired people will also mean it’s more accessible for everyone.

Harriet is bringing her kids in this afternoon, so Tom, Felix and I are working on a guessing game.

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Day 8: Conversation and Gesture

It’s been a day of fantastic visitors and conversations. We opened a bit late, and after the archiving and renewal, it took us a while to choose our object of focus. We ended up settling on Tara, and drawing on a theme Harriet found about her lovely hand gestures. We’re still making the display. We also just brought in a cheeky bottle of prosecco to keep us and our guests going.










I blame Friday. And prosecco. But actually, the conversations we’re having here are illuminating and extremely useful, so we’re OK with having a slow day on the brown paper.

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Day 7: Playing with Scale

It’s a bit odd having a set of 3D prints of objects whose printed sizes don’t scale with reality. I mean where the biggest 3D prints aren’t the biggest actual objects. In fact, our House post is actually the tallest thing in reality, but it’s almost the smallest print. I’d also thought from the beginning that it would just be funny to print the Colossal Foot double the size of everything else just because it was called colossal. Turns out it’s the shortest thing in reality.

That led us to thinking about scale today, as our object of focus was the foot.

Tom found a fantastic augmented reality app called Augment, which I loaded on to my iPad. Online, you can configure a “tracker” image that your iPad will recognize easily and connect it with a 3D model. You can also specify the 3D model’s actual dimensions, so that’s what we did with the Colossal Foot, and now, at the eleventh hour, we’re popping in the House post, which is 2.5 metres tall.

Here’s the (garish) tracker image being found…

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And some screenshots of what turns up…

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And a funny video of Tom and I getting stuff running for the first time. What a pair of giggling dummies!

In the end, it was quite a simple and visceral experience, a really nice way to get a feel for the size of the thing if you weren’t able to visit the museum.

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Day 7: and so it begins

I must admit to a slight fatigue at this point. But, along with that comes real and new enjoyment at the challenge of finding and illustrating a new story or thing each day.

Yesterday, as Harriet and I were chatting to a couple of visitors all the way from Suffolk, it dawned on me just how much our actual output has been governed by both the semi-random set of objects we selected to print, and the shape of the room and tables. The whole short practice has sprung from those two things. It’s interesting too, to note that the explorations themselves have gravitated towards the history of the British Museum’s collection itself, and not especially features of the objects. That’s a growing area of personal research interest on my part; how big museums have come to be, and the characters who formed them. Henry Salt, from Day 6, exemplifies the kinds of slightly shadow-y figures behind these incredible collections.

Bye bye, Henry Salt.

   

Hello, Colossal Foot.

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Day 6: Highlight Reel

We started by hanging Day 5, our RFID & Rosetta Stone craziness. We added a bunch of photos and wires and stuff to the hanging to try to give more of a sense of how it worked. (Day 5 is on the far left, Day 1 on the far right.)

Day 5 hung

It’s #museumweek this week too, and while we’re not directly participating (which is possibly an error), we were thinking we could align to today’s theme of architecture, so drew the House Post and Goddess Hathor out of the collection. After some research and thinking about potential storylines, we decided to continue the theme about how these objects came to be at the British Museum. Goddess Hathor was acquired in 1835 from Thebes, and brought to London.

Day 6 Object of Focus

We settled on the character of Henry Salt, who sold a great number of Egyptian antiquities to the Museum in the early part of the 19th Century, including this Hathor figure. He was also British Consul-General to Egypt. Harriet will follow up with a few of the facts we uncovered about him.

Henry Salt sold 1,659 things to the British Museum.

During our afternoon research, I discovered this fabulous book called The General Contents of the British Museum, published in 1762. It’s a rollicking blow-by-blow narrative walkthrough of the collection at that time.

We gathered about 115 images of objects that the British Museum purchased from Henry Salt, that’s less than 10% of the total, and arranged them on today’s museum.

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As we finish up for the day, I note our handy visitor tally too, and that two of our guests today have chosen the Colossal Foot for our work tomorrow.

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Day 6: A Handy-Book of The British Museum

They don’t write ’em like they used to.

The British Museum is filled to overflowing with almost countless “specimens,” or examples of WORK. The work is that of NATURE and that of MAN; but since man must always work only on the material that Nature gives him, the rudest flint that bears his mark upon it in its sharpened edge is counted as his work.

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Day 5: Video documentation

Amidst the wires and brains and things, we ended up making two main things yesterday. First, a way for the Museum in a Box to recognise the objects in it, in a very simple form. We stuck RFID stickers on each object, and attached a .WAV file to each tag, and then wrote a little magic dust to play the .WAV for each object. (You can hear the dulcet tones of volunteer helper and archivist to the stars, Geoff Browell, describing Hathor and the Colossal Foot.) You can see what it was like here:

Secondly, we took the Rosetta Stone as our object of focus, and worked on making it a physical trigger to hear the text on the actual stone in three slightly more modern languages: English, Greek and Arabic. Voila:

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Day 5: Panorama

Yesterday we had lots of helpful visitors, which was lovely. Adrian McEwen worked on the Museum in a Box, Geoff Browell and Bridget McKenzie recorded voiceovers for some of our items, Frankie Roberto also recorded a voiceover and worked on our translation display for the Rosetta Stone (which emerged as Day 5’s object of focus), and Tom Stuart stopped by to take superb photographs like this and work on some code mugging for another project we’ll be working on soon. Thanks for this super pic, Tom!

The Small Museum panorama

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Day 4: Nandi Bull

We started this morning with what has now become our cleansing ritual, where we remove the previous day’s display, stick that on the wall, and then prepare our new day’s actual tabula rasa.

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Our basic idea is to prepare a new display each day based on one or more of the objects. Today is our Nandi Bull.

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Here’s his label:

Figure of Nandi
India, Deccan, 1500s
Carved Granite

The humped bull Nandi (which means ‘rejoicing’) appears at the entrance of every temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, facing the god with a constant serene gaze. Symbolising strength, virility and fertility, as well as religious and moral duties, Nandi is widely recognised both as Shiva’s gatekeeper and as the animal on which he rides. Seated with his legs tucked underneath his body, this figure portrays a representation of Nandi from the southern Indian tradition.
Asia 1923.0306.1

And here’s what he looks like in the museum:

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We were struck that the austere granite figure of the Nandi Bull in situ was so inert and static compared to the energy and colour and life that surrounds the bulls installed at shrines to Siva, in real life. They’re celebrated, covered in garlands, whispered to, and surrounded by people, fire and music. The museum experience shows us nothing of that. It didn’t take us long to pick an idea where the display transforms from something bland into something with energy, color and movement.

Here’s the work in progress. We’ll post the finished thing when it’s, well, finished.

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