There was a time when Thursday blogs were based on my experiences as a gallery guide at The Box. A Pandemic put a stop to that but here we are on a Thursday and this blog will be distinctly Boxlike.
Not Real World of course. Another new tech experience .
The Box Quiz
The low tech answer sheet.
What I can’t show you are my fellow competitors. Microsoft Teams was new to me and I had failed to download the system . In consequence only the hosts/quizmasters were visible to me eveyone else was just a disembodied voice as I was to them!
The questions were fired at us at speed, all the better to thwart googling cheats. It was a fabulous quiz and reassuring that I could actually retrieve random facts from my pandemic befuddled mind.
As it happens @theoldmortuary did quite well. Which just goes to prove that straddling the digital/ Analogue divide is entirely possible, especially if you have your comfy pants on. Or even if you don’t. No video evidence!
Its been a funny old festive season @theoldmortuary . We have a smallish family circle and a larger circle of friends. We are very lucky. One Christmas lost to being decent citizens, who stuck to the rules, is not actually a ‘ lost’ Christmas just a diminished one without all our treasured people around us.
Today it is 360 days until Christmas 2021. Our strange distorted world will look very different.
And while it can never turn the full 360 degrees to return us to our pre-pandemic normal. ( We can’t ever turn back the clocks.) Things will look and feel very different 360 days from now.
A quiet day at The Box yesterday. Being in a gallery I’ve talked about a bit gives me the chance to talk about a very old ponder that took place in The Plymouth City Museum, the forbear of The Box more than 25 years ago.
It happened in the galleries that are now called Port of Plymouth. 25 years ago I was a very regular visitor to the museum , particularly when the weather was not good and I had two small children to entertain. We always spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the case that held Plymouth Argyle artifacts and memorabilia, because my son was obsessed with football. On one visit a face and a name caught my eye from a 1920’s team photo. The name , Jack Pullen, and the face reminded me of someone I was at school with and briefly I wondered if they were related. In many respects this was highly unlikely as I went to school in Essex, The player in question though was a Welsh International player and my school friends name was Dai so it was not a completely unreasonable thought. In fairness I didn’t really dwell on it too much.
In 2010 I was living and working in London and the internet had changed communication in all sorts of ways. Dai, who lives in Australia, and I would exchange occasional volleys of emails. On one occasion I was nattering about both my grown up children working in hospitality at Plymouth Argyle. He responded by telling me his grandfather had played for Argyle for 10 years in the pre World War 2 era. My pondering of the team photo all those years ago had been correct. I did a little bit of research but didn’t find anything much about the talented player beyond what Dai already knew.
By the time I moved back to Plymouth the old city museum has been closed for a long time and the new museum was taking shape. It was only last week when I was working in the new museum that I remembered that strange coincidence.
Meanwhile Dai had misplaced photos of his grandfather. Once again the internet and chance/coincidence and serendipity took the old ponder and gave it some new life.
Whilst working in London I made a friend of another Welshman called Marc who had introduced me to a woman called Sarah that he had trained with. She is an ardent Plymouth Argyle supporter, not something you meet too often in the capital. Last week I contacted her and asked if she had any books about Argyle history. She didn’t but after a bit of research she came up with a really informative website.
My first day back at The Box after Lockdown 2, and my first day in a new- to-me gallery.
I could give you the official description of Port of Plymouth 1 but yesterday for an hour or so I had a unique experience. The gallery was almost empty and I had the chance to explore it unencumbered with any responsibility for the well being of visitors.
The portrait above is of an anonymous fisherman, he is the human face of the character of this gallery. The gallery yesterday represented to me the biography of the city. Port of Plymouth 1 tells the story, the basis almost, of every other gallery in the museum. The sort of thing that might be written on the back of a funeral service booklet to give an over view of the deceaseds life. Of course Plymouth has not died and under current circumstances enjoys relatively good health.
I deliberately chose a man’s photograph because the gallery has a woman’s voice. Dawn French narrates two audio visual presentations within Port 1 and while you are in the space you are never very far away from her voice. This is a brilliant piece of gender balance because inevitably Port 1 is for the most part a man’s world. Not because women played no part in the history of Plymouth but because history has traditionally sidelined women’s contribution. It is only really the 20 th Century exhibits that begin to truly reflect the importance of women to the city.
As you enter Port of Plymouth 1 there is a massive 3D screen showing a film presentation of the developmental history of Plymouth. The film is one of the exhibits narrated by Dawn French. Currently with Covid-19 restrictions only about twelve people can view it at any one time, with so few people it is hard to gauge the impact but later in my morning a whole school group of about 40 watched it together and the impact on them as a large group was remarkable, when the museum can open as normal this will be a memorable group activity.
@theoldmortuary we are in the process of moving home. It was a little bit strange to view our proposed new location as history evolved over it and in the WW2 era bombs landed very close.
Ambient Lighting in Port of Plymouth 1 is subdued but the lighting of each exhibit is so beautifully done that even when it is full of people ( a future aspiration) it is really easy to concentrate and understand the significance of each exhibit.
One historic artifact was simple but poignant.
The Falklands Conflict left a big mark on the recentish memory of Plymouth
This is the point that pondering has to stop, just like the Dockyard Gate photo above, the visitors started to arrive. There is loads more to talk about but visitor safety and smiling took over my time.
I apologise for this week’s blogging being a little ‘Art’ heavy.
Today is another day at The Box. An organisational conundrum gave me the theme for today’s blog. Volunteers have to check into the Breakout Room to collect their passes and sign in for their session. The conundrum is that to gain access to the Breakout room you need a pass. Inevitably this leads to a bit of hanging around until someone with a pass appears or someone inside realises you are waiting to be granted access. Today I had a bit of a wait but while waiting I noticed this mural in the education room opposite.
The mural was painted in 1950 by Wyn George in, what was, the Children’s Department of the Central Library. At the time he was an Art teacher at Devonport High School for Boys. He was also President of Plymouth Society of Artists, a position he held for 20 years 1951-71. The mural was discovered behind boarding during the building of the box. The original sketches and plans were held in the archives, using them, the mural was able to be brought back to its current vibrant appearance.
Wyn George was born in Wales in 1910, but loved the landscape of Cornwall. He exhibited with Newlyn and St Ives Societies of Artists. He trained to be a teacher at Central School of Art London following earlier studies at Cardiff School of Art. During the war he was a Navigational Officer in the Royal Navy. He lived and had a studio in Ivybridge when he was teaching in Plymouth He died in 1985
This mural was one of two that he was commissioned to do in Plymouth. The other is at The Guildhall. Something to investigate for a future blog.
This is the eye of a woman with a lot of responsibility on her Woolly head . Currently providing the Wow factor in the Mammoth Gallery at the Box. She is also a big part of the branding of merchandise for the museum.
Yesterday I spent my working time in the Mammoth Gallery . Mammoth certainly brings great happiness to the visitors of The Box. She is also the figurehead of the Natural History Gallery. The gallery has an abundance of specimens and information that is related to Plymouth and the surrounding area. There is so much to read, engage with and wonder at, that I’m sure one visit will not be enough for most people. It is not the purpose of these Box related blogs to describe in detail everything in the galleries but I can’t not tell you about the specimen jars which are displayed in something I think of as ‘Apothecary Chic’
Here they are reflected in some of the Audio Visual presentations.
Back to Mammoth. She has a strong presence in the gift shop.
Like many toys of this sort, these mammoths were made in China. Much as it grieves me to say this we bought one for our granddaughter and now it is further increasing its, already mammoth, air miles by flying to her in Hong Kong in time for her birthday later in the month.
The gift shop is always a vital part of any museum or art gallery. The Box shop has a range of products not available elsewhere in the city. It is a shame that Pandemic restrictions limit the footfall currently, I would shop there regularly for unusual gifts
Primary colours are the support mechanism for this blog. In truth I was at The Box again today, as a regular visitor. I couldn’t possibly write about it for the third day running, so I thought I would share some pictures from the last 24 hours .
Red is represented by an amazing autumnal tree and a life preserver at Calstock. I met with a few artist friends yesterday . We basked and drank coffee in the morning sun, planning an exhibition later in the year. Not wishing to jinx things but we’ve done this already in 2020…
Blue is actually represented by The Box and gives me the chance to thank everyone who responded on various platforms to yesterday’s blog and in particular the comments about the door furniture as a tangible link to the past and people we have loved, passing through those doors.
Hand blown Murano glass at St Luke’s Plymouth. Not as pure a yellow as my choices for blue and red . It’s slightly off yellow gives me the excuse for another yellowish picture. This one is definitely towards the green spectrum but it was too pretty not to include. Bubble tea from Mr Wok , highly recommended after our trip to the museum.
Another Box pondering.Today I was volunteering in North Hall. Originally the main entrance/ foyer of the old museum and now the hub of the museum. Everyone passes through North Hall and many people do exactly that, they pass through North Hall , noses buried deep in their museum plan, anxious to get to the gallery of their choice. Some pause for nostalgia remembering this hall as children or as the parents of children, revisiting the memories of the old museum. North Hall currently holds a piece of Contemporary Sculpture named Figurehead II by its creator Alexandre du Cunha. To not pay it attention is a waste of a revealing art moment.
From the picture above it is hard to even see a piece of contemporary art. And yet this picture really simply shows a relationship between contemporary art, craftsmanship, and decorative art.
I want to call Figurehead II a monolith, but it is not in one piece and not truly made of stone. It is Monolithesque and created from 4 mass produced concrete drainage pipes. It is an ordinary object repurposed as a sculpture , repurposed because it has holes gauged out of the sides of the segments of drainage pipe and a sculpture because it stands, out of context, within an art gallery. It is a ready made piece of art like Deschamps Urinal entitled Fountain, just a little further down the drain chain. It can never be a drainage pipe again. Set within the original Victorian entrance foyer and stairway, the sculpture captures attention. In some ways incongruous but actually a dominating, beautiful concrete tower. Tactile and interactive it invites visitors to explore it with hands and eyes. It teases the adventurously minded to clamber in and pose for companions to photograph them, framed by it’s grey concrete edges. It directs your eyes to the Victorian staircase and landing and in some views the circles pick up the detail of a fifteenth century ceiling panel.
Here is my humble opinion as to why this is such a simple art lesson. Explaining where this piece of contemporary art sits with decorative art and crafsmanship. The concrete pipe is a mass produced manufactured item. Where the holes have been carved out you can see the construction ingredients of stones and cement. Sitting, as it does, on the original museums Victorian decorative floor. It is immediately obvious how similar in construction the two things are, and yet the decorative floor just ‘ is’ a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Intriguingly the concrete pipe occludes the markings that gave the decorative star a purpose. It is actually the points of a compass but without the letters denoting direction being visible it has been stripped of any usefulness. Without purpose it doesn’t exactly excite your mind to think around it. Figurehead II , love it or loath it, makes you think in all sorts of ways and that,in my opinion, is the point of this piece of contemporary art.
@theoldmortuary has been involved with a new museum and art gallery in Plymouth for the last couple of years. Until recently as a hard hat tour guide of the building site. A job that involved wearing shared PPE, hard hat, steel toe capped boots, fluorescent waistcoat and rubberised gloves to enable me to show groups of people around the museum site as it was being built. Tours stopped once the museum was ready for its internal fit out and the return of exhibits to the new space. Then Covid-19 struck and everything was delayed.
Yesterday the museum finally threw it’s doors open to the public albeit in a more controlled, socially distanced way than anyone had planned..
Staff and volunteers have had a few days of soft openings with restricted numbers of visitors to practice on.
Photographs were and always will be allowed but publishing them on social media, blogs etc was banned until the first full day of opening to the public. Rather than bombard you with many glimpses of the museum I will share pictures as I learn my way around the museum. I’ve done two shifts so far in the same space. St Lukes Contemporary Art Space.
The new fused glass window by Leonor Antunes is the first thing that dazzles visitors.
As the light outside changes the mood of the gallery alters significantly. Within St Luke’s there is an installation by the same artist, it is fascinating and relevant to Plymouth it deserves its own blog at a later time.
The link below is a positive piece of publicity that explains, far better than I can, the whole Box experience.
A vision of the Mewstone means that @theoldmortuary it is dog grooming day. Now we are addicted to sea swimming it no longer means coastal path walks and coffee. It means 2 hours of swimming without dogs waiting not so patiently for us on the beach. Serendipity is a funny thing, when I was doing training at The Box, mentioned in Pandemic Pondering #220 I met a woman who had lived close to us in London, we discovered this when she commented on my tote bag.
In London we lived 2 miles apart, in Devon/ Cornwall 13 miles divides us. We met for the first time last Thursday and today by complete co incidence we sat next to each other on the beach at Wembury. Tomorrow despite neither of us wishing to work at The Box on a Tuesday we find ourselves both rota’d to do our first days work, in the new museum and art gallery, as you read this blog. It seems we were destined to meet somehow. Luckily neither of us were hiding behind the ubiquitous British windbreak. Less about protecting from the wind and more about defining territory I often think.