For this project, we had to create a piece of art inspired by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. This artwork would then be presented in the OVADA space as part of a public exhibition. I knew that I wanted to work in paint for my piece as that is the medium I feel most comfortable using. However, I struggled initially to find just one theme to focus on in the museum as their collection was quite overwhelming and I found myself being inspired and interested in everything. Looking at the classical statues excited me most as I studied Classical Civilisation at A-Level, so I spent some time looking at ancient Greek and Roman sculptures.
I was intrigued by the interaction between the viewer and the artwork. The people in the museum that were visiting became something I observed now, rather than the artefacts themselves, and I enjoyed seeing how they reacted to the pieces. In museums the artefacts are presented in ways which prevent us from ruining them, and to prevent damage there are normally signs put up along side to guide us. My focus shifted from the viewers, to the signage of the museum, as I was interested in our response to this.
I wanted to create a piece which incorporates all of the things I found interesting about the Ashmolean, so I needed to find a statue which represented my interest in the Classical Sculptures of Greece/Rome.
There is not really any specific reason why I chose this sculpture. The items she’s holding have no apparent reason.
Now that I found the sculpture I wanted, I needed to find a way to introduce the theme of signage and the viewer’s interaction with the pieces. Below are some photos of my final piece for the ‘Artefact’ exhibition. I used acrylic paint on a large white fabric curtain, and then projected an animation I created taking inspiration from the signage I had seen around the Ashmolean.
Below is the statement I presented with this work:
Joanna Griffiths, DO NOT TOUCH
While exploring the museum, I overheard visitors discussing their desire to touch the artefacts, despite the ‘Do not touch’ signs placed by the objects. It is interesting to see people’s wish to ignore these signs, and it is this inclination of rebellion which inspired my piece. There are many signs around the museum, and those that particularly interest me are the warnings, directions and suggestions which change the way in which we view the work. Visitors are guided around the space with arrows, given commands to prevent accidents as well as warnings and instructions in case of disaster.
When you are discouraged from doing something, intimidation causes you to feel that your freedom of choice is being threatened. So to regain control of the situation, you desire the complete opposite. It is this reverse psychology which makes visitors want to ignore the directions given by the Ashmolean.
For humans, touch is an important way to gain information about an object. Each day, we spend a significant about of time touching objects in our environment. Museums deny touch for many reasons, sudden changes in light, temperature and humidity can cause degradation of an object. Touching museum pieces could lead to depositing traces of dirt and oils from our skin onto their surface. Acidic oils can deteriorate metallic surfaces and subsequently ruin objects. The museum signs prevent us from affecting the quality of the historical pieces.
I wonder what it would be like if the signs were not there to guide us? Do they limit and restrain us from exploring culture and history for ourselves? Or do they enlighten us when we struggle to interpret the pieces ourselves?