BEHIND THE FAÇADE
2007-2008 Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, Oxford
National Lottery and Arts Council England, co-ordinated by Oxfordshire County Council.
The museum is a container of historical objects and experiences, of lives lived, both past and present. The 'chest of drawers' references those used in the Museums, like treasure chests, stacked with valuable objects. Here, value is extended beyond the objects to the hands of those that work with them, offering a more immediate physical presence and acknowledgement of the lives being lived within the museum.
Behind the Façade was a complex, multi-layered project that took place across four museums in Oxford which largely operate as separate institutions; The Ashmolean Museum of art and archaeology, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the History of Science and the Pitt Rivers Museum. brook & black were engaged to make a work for the Pitt Rivers Museum and to oversee a community engagement programme. The fundamental design of the project presented an interesting ‘twist’ on the format of many community arts projects - whereby the lives and experiences of the participants so often form the basis of the participatory processes and content of the resulting creative work. Behind The Façade facilitated a consideration of the personal input involved in enabling museums to play their public role: the people behind the façade. The skills, experiences, passions and personalities of the University Museums’ staff were the inspiration for both the participatory processes and the resulting artwork by brook & black.
In the form of a white, four drawer, display cabinet, we positioned a facsimile cabinet in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Details within the work, such as the drawer handles, were made to match the Pitt Rivers’ collection and display. The artworks within each drawer were produced using the emotive gradations of tone offered by photo-etching onto plaster tablets. The hands in each ‘drawer’ belonged to:
Drawer 1 – The Museum of the History of Science: Cheryl Wolfe, Conservator and Margaret Hauser, Administrator.
Drawer 2 – Museum of Natural History: Professor Jim Kennedy, Director and Zoe Simmons, Collections Assistant (Hope Entomological collections).
Drawer 3 – Pitt Rivers Museum: Alan Cook, Technician and Shirley Careford, Receptionist.
Drawer 4 – The Ashmolean Museum: Hugo Penning, Front of House Manager and Alexandra Granthead, Paper Conservator.
Link to engagement work
Acknowledgments: brook & black thank Kate White at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Fitzwaren School, Oxford Nightshelter, the Garth Centre, Bicester and Oxpots at Woodstock, Oxfordshire for enabling them to work so collaboratively with everyone involved.