Thursday, 15 January 2015

Who are you?

At the National Portrait Gallery in London
Grayson Perry asks us, "Who are you?"

"Who am I?"
I'm a mum, I like going to exhibitions, I love museums and galleries, I watch TV,
I like going out, occasionally I draw and make things, I like Grayson Perry.
I watched Grayson Perry on the telly, his series of the same name,
So I went with my kids to see his exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
My fifteen year old had watched the programmes with me.
At eleven the other two had gone to bed by the time it was on,
so they weren't keen but I had promised them hot chocolate and that we would also see
the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square next door.

For this exhibition, there's a route, a journey around the first floor. 
Grayson Perry talks about identity in terms of a journey,
"I have attempted to portray the character of the identity journey
they (the subjects) are facing."

You begin at Grayson Perry's self portrait, 'Map of Days'.
A self-portrait as a fortified town with walls that he suggests are his skin.
I notice that the walls are thick, heavy lines.

Very near the Map of Days was a Families Activity Base
where my younger two were given sketchbooks and a pencil each. They were happy. 

From 'A Map of Days' you head to Grayson Perry's 'Comfort Blanket'.

All things British.
Grayson Perry gives you something to "wrap yourself up in".
Things "we love, and love to hate".
I'm British, is this me?

I've never been to Number 10, Offa's Dyke or Glastonbury.

I do love a 'cuppa' though.

I queue with the best of them.

I've never met the Queen.

So who are these people in this exhibition?

'Melanie, Georgina and Sarah'
"Three women, big and proud, who want their size to be seen as positive."
Their dresses are decorated with images of food and women.
Food and self-image are so intertwined, I get that.
I don't want my daughters to get that though, they will soon enough.
Food can be glorious and so can women's bodies.

'Modern Family'.
Male parents with a mixed-race daughter.

 Grayson Perry tells us that they teach us an important lesson,
that parenting is hard work, needs thought, is not something you can take for granted.
You don't often notice good parenting, it just happens.
But there are times when you high five yourself,
little moments when you could burst with love and pride for your kids.
This family appears to be revered on a pot, canonised, enthroned in the clouds.
Hurrah for Grayson Perry, celebrating good parenting.

Kids are part of the next story too.
Four kids, I know what that involves.

'The Ashford Hijab'.
Mum, Kayleigh is a convert to Islam,

and on this hijab, Grayson Perry shows a journey from the temple of consumerism,

to Mecca across a busy road.

Watching this couple in the TV series was very moving.

'Memory Jar'. 
Alzheimer's disease, robbing this couple of memory and identity.

Memories, family photos, are being snipped away.
The thought of either myself or my husband losing memories of our life together
is something I find hard to deal with.

In our family, an older generation, some memories are slipping away, it's disconcerting.
Though I've never thought of it as an act of vandalism, ravaging with scissors,
but more of a river gradually and slowly washing away the bank.

I have to mention 'The Huhne Vase'.
Chris Huhne found fame (infamy) perverting the cause of justice,
all over a speeding offence.
Surely I can't relate to this? 

I loved what Grayson Perry had to say about this story.
"I have smashed the pot and had it repaired with gold
to symbolise that vulnerability might be an asset..."

I'm not that broken, but we all know what it is to have cracks.
But imagine being repaired, put back together with gold?
Vulnerability, gleaming and attractive, something beautiful.
As a friend said about this work,
"Grayson Perry has been very kind."
I'm not sure, having watched the programme, that Chris Huhne really got that.

As for my kids identity, for now anyway.
Not on a pot, a blanket or a hijab, those sketchbooks were very revealing.
My son, asked a new question.
"What is your story?"

He's not interested in identity, he wants genres, characters, main events.

My daughter made a list.
A visual list, collecting little bits of Grayson Perry's work.
The Queen's eye, a horse's head and The Earl of Essex.

Above are just a few of the people Grayson Perry asked, "Who are you?"
To see more, see the exhibition for yourself at the National Portrait Gallery
on until 15th march 2015.
Details on their website here.

The question remains: Who are you?

Staying with the National Portrait Gallery, I have to show this lady,
she has helped formed my identity,
as a woman,
as a voter.

Emmeline Pankhurst 1858-1928.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Hunterian Museum

My husband had a day off, he did work most of Christmas,
the kids had gone back to school,
we had a day off to ourselves
to mooch around central London, have coffee, have lunch,
take in a couple of roof-top views and have cocktails.
More on that later...

First, he graciously agreed to go to a museum.

Having had a coffee in Lincoln's Inn Fields
we weren't quite sure which building we were heading for, it wasn't signed.

Oh apart from this...

We went in and asked if we were in the right place,
were given a badge and sent,
"left up the stairs, on the first floor".

My heart sank when we arrived.
No photography.
Perhaps an overly dramatic reaction, but I had been hoping to blog about this visit.
For this blog I take photos in order to tell the story of what we look at in museums,
what we talk about and the objects that capture our imagination.

I put my camera away.
And now it's just words to describe what we saw
and give you a picture of the Hunterian Museum.

First impressions,
It was like walking into a huge sweet shop.
Jars full of goodies, floor to ceiling, two stories high.
But that's where the analogy ends,
As we looked more closely at the contents of those jars,
we began to have a kind of 'child-catcher' moment.
Unlike the kids in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang though, we hadn't been duped
but the 'wow' moment went from one of "how beautiful"
to "is that what I think it is?".
We should not have been surprised however, as these specimens
have been collected to train surgeons in human anatomy, warts and all.

This collection of anatomy, pathology, osteology and natural history
was begun by John Hunter in the 18th century who accrued around 15,000 specimens.

It was one of those museums, where you go and get each other.
"Come and look at this."

"Have you seen the giant?"
A 'wow moment' as I took in all 7' 7" of Charles Byrne's skeleton.
He called himself the "Irish Giant",
his stage name as he became a popular source of entertainment.
Making money out of life and death, John Hunter paid £130 for his body in 1783.

Obtaining bodies was not without controversy.
Resurrection men often supplied the bodies for London's anatomists.
During the 18th century grave robbing from London's poor was common
as new laws allowing the dissection of executed murderers
couldn't meet the demand for bodies.
However the rich allowed surgeons to conduct post-mortems on themselves.
Perhaps for the cache and thrill of being involved in new technology and innovation?
John Hunter carried out post-mortems on family and friends
and showing total commitment to the cause of anatomy,
he himself was dissected after his death in 1793.

Museums work hard at curating exhibitions
helping visitors to connect with objects and respond to what they see.
The Huntarian Museum is at a huge advantage here,
no lack of responses, rarely do my toes curl in a museum.

I give you surgical instruments.
We winced,
especially at the neolithic flint scraper, graver and borer helpfully displayed on a cranium.
"A razor shell and a sharpened chicken bone. Really?"
"To think, these tools will have all have actually been used."

It's probably kind of obvious that in understanding any anatomy, human or otherwise,
it's the anomalies that fascinate us
and help us understand how things work.
That Lizard on the right has two tails.

There is plenty of this kind of thing at the Hunterian Museum.
Morbid anatomy.
You'll have to go and see for yourselves.
There are things that cannot be left to the imagination.

Like the pig epididymis injected with mercury.
"Isn't that beautiful, it looks like a strings of pearls."
At home I googled it, 
perhaps now not so beautiful,
"... the thin tubes that carry sperm from the testes to the male reproductive organ..."

Upstairs in the Hunterian Museum,
they present the more recent history of modern day surgery.
You can watch the film 'Surgery in Action'. I didn't,
but was fascinated to read about the post-war development of neurosurgery.

This was part of our day out, we needed to get on.
"Shall we go now, there's only so much I can stomach?."
Honestly no pun intended.

"I don't think I can eat lunch now."

We left, reverently walking past the past masters and presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons. 

Seriously though, our feelings about lunch aside,
all that history in there that has helped get us to this place
where we understand so much about the human body that incredible operations take place,
saving people's lives.

"Yeah and did you see those jars of penises?"

It didn't take long before we were ready for lunch.
As for the cocktails, a Christmas treat in January, we had them on floor 32 of the Shard.
Cheaper than going to the top!

The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is not for the squeamish.
So kids would love it, I'm taking mine next time.
I saw some great activity trails they could do.
Details on the website, here.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Great Map

That time of the year, between Christmas and new year,
when you have family over and far too many kids in the house,
weather permitting, you all head out for a walk.

To Greenwich Park,
then too my surprise (and delight) they suggest heading into the National Maritime Museum
at the bottom of the hill just to the left in the picture.

The teenagers go off by themselves,
so I suggest taking my eight year old nephew to see The Great Map.

provides a space to explore the museum's collections from all around the world
using touch screen tablets.

The museum provides them for free, so when there was one available
my nephew named his ship.
Introducing the 'Puffle-Treader',
Club Penguin meets C.S. Lewis.

We went off exploring the world.
I have to say that I didn't quite work out what was happening, he was to fast,
using it was second nature to him.

Without one of the National Maritime Museum's tablets
you can still interact with The Great Map.
On (paper) cards the museum suggests five games you can play,
one being a version of  'Hunt the Thimble',
getting 'warmer' or 'colder' as you hunt for a point on the map
chosen by a member of your party.

I chose the game suggested using your smart phone,
taking photos of places around the world for my nephew to find.

After all that digital exploring,
we took a moment to consider the world and all the possibilities of travel.

Terrestrial and celestial globes, not always accurate.

For more accuracy, these mathematical instruments measure angles, of the sun and stars,
and along with knowing the time,
they help you pinpoint exactly where you are on the earth.
Early GPS, using the sun and stars instead of satellites. 

With a promise of a hot chocolate in the park cafe,
we lure the teenagers back up the hill to where the cars are parked.

In the cafe, courtesy of my phone, I continue The Great Map game.
Identify these places?
With the magic of modern technology, you get to play the game too.

Italy & Sicily
Labrador Sea in the North Atlantic between Canada and Greenland.
Egypt, Sinai Peninsula.
Lake Victoria

How did you do?

Entry to the National Maritime Museum and using The Great Map tablets are free.

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