Museum Field Trip: Reflections on Objects

This week we visited the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in order to further explore the connections and relations between our chosen object. As mine is a childhood toy, while looking around the museum I focused on paintings and objects that related to feelings of home, belonging, and memory for me.

I grew up in rural England with a very small family. Many of the objects I selected at the museum directly relate to things I can remember from my childhood. The images of horses are very much a part of my childhood, as I grew up riding horses and later went on to work with them and surround myself with them until I came to university. The painting of the dahlias invokes memories of my grandfather growing them in his garden, and also of seeing them exhibited at the village show each year. The cat painting and the stuffed lynx cub reminds me of the many, many toys that I collected and played with, and the collection of old fashioned sweets is again another memory.

It’s clear that I linked my object into notions of memory primarily, drawing upon my earlier experiences as a child to make a connection between the museum objects, and my stuffed dinosaur. The museum is an archive of collective, cultural memory and yet I was able to draw out individual links and memories from this huge archive. I was primarily drawing upon feelings of affect through memory when looking for linked artefacts, relying on feeling and instinct to develop a link between my own object and those of the museum.

Radstone and Hodgkin’s (2009 4th Ed) work on memory cultures is linked strongly into my experiences at the museum, particularly when it comes to my own memory subjectivity. I bought my subjectivity with me when examining the objects and artefacts for links to myself. I did find it difficult at first to link my memory and subjectivity to the objects within the museum, but as I started to explore wider notions like cultural heritage rather than literal direct links, it became easier to see a broader context surrounding the museum archive and my own archive.

We later moved on to the Bullring, Birmingham’s shopping mall. Here, we were asked to repeat the task of thinking about objects, archive, memory and how they are structured. I found this task much more difficult to achieve as my object draws so heavily upon cultural background and affect – whereas a mall is a relatively blank canvas. A museum looks to capture memory and history, whereas the Bullring is all about consumerism and a modern approach. I tried to explore a similar avenue to that which I used in the museum, looking back at childhood memory and affect, but I found it much more difficult as there was little I felt strongly resonated within the mall to connect to my object. I looked to toy shops primarily as markers of childhood, but I felt little to no connection to them. Venturing into the Build-a-Bear workshop was the most connective experience I was able to find, as I have memories of visiting one as a child, and I was able to reach out and touch the soft fluffy skins of the to-be-stuffed toys. Drawing this physical link into the experience made this instance stand out for me a link to my object.

Overall, I found the museum visit to be much more helpful in developing understanding of my object and how archives work, although using the Bullring as a counter exercise was interesting to see how we can develop links between things that we may not have previously considered.

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