“Telling stories can enable us to draw links between past, present and future and bring to life the human presence behind any object”
My time at the McManus working on the ‘The People’s Story’ project has highlighted to me, how storytelling can aid interpretation. The visitor, who observes a treasured object and shares their story, allows others to interpret an artefact, by connecting personal stories to social/political histories. Objects can trigger visitor’s memories. The past can be brought to life, allowing an everyday seemingly insignificant object to be as valid as an object from a significant historical event. Stories can allow a visitor to explore their relationship to place. The visitor can gain a sense of pride in their identity by interpreting of museum objects and sharing stories about Dundee.
The stories connected to museum collections can be used to encourage younger audiences who have less life experience to help them interpret objects. People’s stories can support museum staff, to share and explore ideas as well as influence creative activities. In my observation, children often mixed factual and fictional description of things, however, they too can gain a better understanding of Dundee’s History through a good story.
“Children were often surprised at what they saw in museums. Their experiences surpassed their expectations and often took them unawares.”
Continuing my observation of how visitors engage with the displays within the ‘Making of Modern Dundee and Dundee and the World exhibitions.’ In my last post I questioned, how different types of audiences explored the museum. Now, I would like to consider the visitor’s experience.
The adult museum visitor often experiences the exhibition by observing a curated object and reading the information provided. An atmosphere about the subject is created depending on how an object is displayed and the content of the information given. However, primary school children have to be encouraged to read the information. In my observation, children would rather listen to a story than read the facts. The spoken word becomes essential in establishing a unique learning experience for children. An oral history can add another element in creating an atmosphere, to allow a child’s feelings to connect to an artefact.
How younger audiences feel about objects, is also reflected in their previous knowledge. They benefited from researching a subject before a museum visit and used a mix of knowledge and feelings in the learning process. The ‘Creative Learning Team’ at the ‘McManus’ provides group workshops for both adults and children. These well-planned workshops usually involve a tour and a creative activity. This experience gives visitors an opportunity and time to discuss their observations, to ask questions and help visitors to interpret the museum’s artefacts.
In my next post, I will discuss the visitor’s interpretation of museum artefacts.
 Hooper-Greenhill, E.. (Oct 2004). Learning from Culture: The Importance of the Museums and Galleries Education Program (Phase I) in England. Curator . 47 (4), p428-449.
“Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.”
The McManus museum is more than its collection; it is a stage for a visitor’s experience. Over the past six months, I have observed different groups of visitors engaging with the displays within the Making of Modern Dundee and Dundee and the World exhibitions. Questioning, how different types of audiences engage with the museum, the gallery space and interpretation of its artefacts? In my observation, younger audiences interacted with the museum slightly differently to adults. However, the public encounter, regardless of age can be separated into three parts.
I watched adult visitors explore the exhibitions, happy to follow a route influenced by design. They moved in a quiet and orderly fashion, yet, the more visitors in a space, the more open they were to make conversation. As they explored the collections, they could receive an impression of what an object symbolises. The artefact can reveal a relationship to people and the culture it represents.
Children are far more curious, I watched them enjoying the freedom to explore, question and select what objects to look at. They liked to choose what order to look at things, often moving from one display to another and then back again. They viewed objects from different perspectives by looking up or crouching down for a closer look. The young visitor also enjoys interacting with the space in-between the exhibits and can be very noisy.
For my next blog post, I will discuss the visitors experience and interpretation of artefacts.
I visited the new ‘Dundee Preserves’ exhibition with Sharron, a member of the ‘McManus Creative Team’ and a group of visitors from a Broughty Ferry residential home. The new exhibition offers visitors insight into what the museum does with its objects.
We walked around the ordered displays and we gained a better understanding of how curators and conservators care for; research, store, document and conserve the City’s collections. In the crusade of immortalising objects on the battlefield of time, the ‘McManus’ understands its mission and recognises its enemy as the ‘Agents of Deterioration’.
Theft and Vandalism
Unexpectedly, we found the exhibition displayed “Moths from the Robertson Collection”, presenting the body parts of a slain enemy! The humble clothes moth ‘Tineola bisselliella’ is considered a pesky foe in the museums world. The display highlighted how this historic collection holds import information about genetic profiling of the specimens, their environment as well as the underling motivation and attitude of its collector, Dr A Robertson.’
“It is regarded not as the creation of a benevolent being, but the device of evil spirits—spirits enemies to man—conceived and fabricated in the dark, and the very shining of its eyes is thought to represent the fiery element whence it is supposed to have proceeded. Flying into their apartments in the evening at times it extinguishes the light; foretelling war, pestilence, hunger, death to man and beast.” Moses Harris (Entomologist 1840) 
Its perfectly reasonable for the McManus Museum to protect their objects from destruction. Understanding why and how an artefact deteriorates gives the museum a fighting chance in the crusade for an object’s immortality.
“It would be a mistake to think that an “object” as other simply seizes us, making us passive while it is actively dominating.”
Over the past few weeks I’ve joined a variety of activities at the McManus Galleries, attended by groups of senior citizens from Dundee. While wandering around the displays, I have had the pleasure of listening to their stories. Allowing the memories of the past to be brought to life by objects found in the exhibitions.
I began to think about the relationship we have with these selected objects. Once placed in a display cabinet they become more that a mere object; placed beside ‘other’ chosen objects, each display tells a story, an object is a sign, a copy of itself, removed from the past and framed behind glass. The object transcends into artifact.
“Although materially, these remain as they were, they become, on the plane of meanings facsimiles of themselves. They announce distance between what they are and what they were through there very function, once placed in the Museum, of representing their own pastness and, thereby, a set of past social relations.”
The visitor who shares their story by observing a museum artifact, reveals their personal experience of an object. Reconnecting the past to present, the artifact to the everyday object, by placing a story in-between.
 Desmond, W (1995). Being and the Between. New York: State University of New York Press. P11.
 Bennett, T (1995). The Birth of the Museum. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. P129.
A Centenarian visitor joined the creative team at the McManus Galleries yesterday. Mr. Allan Whatley; is 104 years old, born in 1913, at Boscombe, near Bournemouth. Mr. Whatley is the oldest visitor to join ‘The People’s Story’. A new resident to Dundee, having only moved here last week and this was his first visit to the ‘McManus’.
Mr. Whatley has had many different jobs during his career including, Librarian and Author of a book called ‘Whiskey, the Left-handed Dog’. He took great interested in the Gothic design of the McManus building after discovering it once housed Dundee’s public library. He thought the architectural style was very grand and the vaulted ceiling of the Albert Hall was rather impressive.
The creative team, Sharron, and Kim enjoyed re-telling the stories connected to the Tay Whale and Mr. Whatley found the sculpture of ‘Oor Artifact’ to be rather curious, he even participated in a little weaving while telling us his own stories of his wife who enjoyed weaving and quilting.
When asked what’s the secret to living a long life? He advised exercise and diet, as he is a vegetarian who played a lot of tennis in his younger days. Before going home, Mr. Whatley told us he had enjoyed his visit to the museum and had learned something new about Dundee’s past and a little about its people.
Juteopolis, an intervention performed at the McManus Museum and Galleries, as a part of the Festival of Museums on the 20th May 2017. The performance celebrated the launch of the new ‘Ship Models’ exhibition, presenting an impression of ‘The People’s Story’ through the collection of shipping history, found at the museum.
A story about the flow of culture connecting museum objects, to the people of Dundee.
MANY OUTSTANDING SHIPS
THEY SAILED THE WORLD
The philosopher Theodor Adorno argued that objects, once inside a museum, are removed from the flow of culture where connections can be established. In contradiction, the artists, Lise Olsen and Lada Wilson used this performance to argue against Adorno’s theory by creating a new story, engaging with the ‘Ship Models’ collection in a variety of different ways.
Photo Credit: A big thank-you to Stuart McAdam for taking such beautiful images.