Prima Facie: Displays, Exhibits and Exhibitions

So far, we’ve talked about ethics, collectionsinventories/documentation and care/preservation.

Display, Exhibits and Exhibitions

Types of displays; The object: interpretation within the exhibition context; Exhibition management in relation to other museum activities; Design: the basic planning and designing process; Creating the planning brief; Developing the exhibition; Production and materials; Completing the exhibition; Evaluating the finished exhibition

George: I think this part is one of my favourite things about The Small Museum Version One. The space and the displays we made were unexpectedly central to the V1 project. In fact, the furniture we found in the room when we first entered literally became the museum, and the room’s walls became our exhibition.

Here’s what it looked like when we’d just arrived:


Visitor and volunteer, Henry Cooke, reflected that “the museum is a product of its context,” and really was. Ninety percent of what we produced was tightly bound to the space we found ourselves in.

Materials / Aesthetic

It’s important to say up front that the residency was quite last minute, but I think that’s what gave it such a lightweight feel. On the way out on Day 1, I grabbed some semi-random stationery stuff from my place: sharpies, masking tape, brown paper, pink wrapping paper, blue painters’ tape, scissors… stuff like that. Harriet and Tom also brought a fun box of other materials (cupcake cups, crepe paper, big fat hot pink paint pen things which were awesome). I’d also purchased a printer and a projector just in case we needed them in the space. The printer was useful. The projector was Very Cheap, so a bit crap, but, the displays we used it for (Nandi and Hoa) benefited, I think, from having some blatant background/context in situ.

Here’s what the entry area looked like on day one, as we covered up some of the existing signage:


The mixture of the brown paper and tape and sharpies made the thing feel like it was rough and in progress, and I think visitors responded very well to that. It was easy to work with too, as producers of our daily exhibits. We were working in public, and doing daily exhibits, so needed flexible materials.

Dynamic Design

We developed our ritual very quickly. It was centered around a table that was 50cm wide and about 1.5m long, which we started referring to as The Museum. Each day, we’d remove our previous day’s work, hang that on the wall, and then recover the Museum with a fresh sheet of brown paper. Here’s what it looked like:

The Small Museum Version OneUntitled
The Small Museum Version One
The Small Museum Version OneUntitled

And here are the day exhibits we hung each day… they proved to be an excellent guide for visitors – we’d just pull the door out the way, and then use the panels to explain what the hell we were doing. A chronological sequence seems clear, mostly.

Day 5 hung

We also kept a visible visitor log at the front door, using a small pink dot to indicate repeat visits. A couple of museum professionals who visited us thought that visible counter was great. (So did we, because now we know we had 159 visitors! But, more on visitors later.)


Interpretation Within the Exhibition

As we poked at in the Ethics post, a few of our exhibits were critiques of the British Museum’s acquisition history. The Goddess Hathor piece in particular highlighted Henry Salt, British Consul General to Egypt, and how many objects he brought to London from ancient Egypt (and indeed sold at auction for personal gain). Visitors could talk directly to us, so there wasn’t actually much interpretive material available that wasn’t either the displays themselves, or what we said about them. It was interesting to prime the conversation about our work with what we were trying to represent — an object’s journey to the British Museum collection — and hear what people thought. There were literally whispers and quips like “you could empty every museum” on similar grounds.


It’s taking me a while to write up all these entries — but I’ll get there. I guess it’s my and Harriet’s own personal evaluation on what happened in V1. But — and we’ll write on visitors next — we asked lots of people to sign the visitor’s book when they came. As far as I’m concerned, their feedback is all we need. People loved it!

For thesmallmuseum.org write up. These are notes in our Visitors Book.

Capturing The Space

In a mad fit of genius, Tom did a 3D capture of the museum space itself towards the end of the residency. I’m so pleased to have this! Look how cool it is! (Click through for an autoplay loop tour of the space.)