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Prima Facie: Care and Preservation of Collections

So far, we’ve talked about ethics, collections and inventories and documentation.


Care and preservation of collections

Deciding priorities and assessing risks; Reducing future loss and damage in 100 years or more; Classifying risks to collections; The Nine Agents of Deterioration; The collection preservation cycle: Step 1: Check the basics – Step 2: Survey the risks – Step 3: Plan improvements to collection risk management; Examples of specific risk assessments and individual solutions; Integrated risk management of pests (IPM); Integrated, sustainable risk management of lighting, pollutants, temperature, and humidity; Museum lighting guidelines; Museum temperature and humidity guidelines; Museum pollutant guidelines; Integrating management of all four agents.

George: This is the chapter I probably have the least to say about. Given that V1 of the museum was pretty rough and ready and lasted for just 10 days, we — I — didn’t think too much about rigorous care of the collection. We had very little control of the environment itself, apart from a key to the door, access to the light switches, and our ability to open the window a crack. The lighting wasn’t focussed in any way, and we turned it off for our Hoa Hakanana’i and Nandi Bull displays so we could project movies into the cramped corner of the room (to great effect!). If anything, the collection is designed to be touched, which creates a wholly different set of questions about care and preservation (and patina), I think.

Designed to be Touched

We had the idea to photograph each object each day because it was obvious they’d probably get a bit grubby over the course of V1, since the objects were out on the museum “surface” and there to be touched. Indeed, some of the displays required that visitors touch the objects, like how lifting Nandi off the museum surface revealed the story we made about contrast between real life and museum life.

I also happen to like the light, janky, slightly cheap-feeling touch of the simplest 3D print format. The objects have no heft, and are all the same colour. To me, this potentially makes them more approachable, and touchable. The fact that they are such obvious facsimiles.

Repairs to Delicate Things

The Tara print was really fragile. She was the smallest, and her lovely hand gestures and her plinth were so delicate that she actually broke under pressure. Tom did a great job of restoring her though. With super glue and a steady hand.

Rainy Afternoons

Just to say that on the day we left Somerset House, there was a gentle rain falling, so as we made our way to the taxi with all the stuff, the top of the box V1 got a tiny bit wet so now you see the echoes of a bit of rain there. The objects themselves would be resilient outside in rain. To a point, at least.

The Nine Ten Agents of Deterioriation

Here is the curious list of these nasty “agents” of deterioration, borrowed from the Historic Royal Palaces conservation team. Curious to play with these.

Preventing harm

As the name suggests, our conservators’ aim is to prevent any harm coming to the palaces’ objects by taking precautions against damage. These are widely known as the ‘agents of decay’ and commonly include:

  • Direct physical forces
  • Theft and vandalism
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Pests
  • Contaminants such as dust
  • Radiation (light)
  • Incorrect temperature
  • Incorrect relative humidity
  • Disassociation

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

Now, the collection of objects and the donation and the bequest are stored in my home. The museum in a box is in a round box I got some Royal Doulton mugs in, and the various displays are rolled up in an extra layer of brown paper. We also wrapped up the various bits of project documentation in an envelope made out of white paper. We thought a bit about what to remove or keep from the various bits of paper. We decided to keep the blue painters’ tape around, and indeed to consider adding the leftover tape to whatever archive we think about keeping, since that was such a key element to the look and feel of the thing. It’s roughly kept, but the house is warm and dry.

I have been taking a couple of the objects more far and wide to continue the conversation about the Museum in a Box project. In particular, Goddess Hathor and the Nandi Bull have been traveling a bit, riding in my backpack. The Goddess now has a grubby nose, and Nandi has passed through airport security more than once.

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somerset house, v1

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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