Museums have changed considerably in the last 30-40 years. What was once a dreary trudge around a series of banal artefacts has evolved into an interactive and engaging exhibition designed to ensnare our interest and provoke nostalgia and curiosity.
For this task we visited a modern museum with a specific performance based on recent history. My job was to evaluate how their displays draw the viewer in and leave them with a memorable experience.
The Herbert Art Gallery has a particular section dedicated to recent history. All of the exhibits focus on life in Coventry and the UK during the last 200 years with the latest items only 20 years old. As a middle-aged student there where many items that I remembered from my childhood and even early working life. Memories quickly surfaced behind each item but one that stuck with me particularly was a display on politics that featured busts of famous politicians from the 1980’s that had been parodied by a popular TV show called Spitting Image. This was a decade that saw the rise and dominance of the Conservative party, the first and longest serving and possibly most controversial Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher preside over a radical change to Britain’s industrial structure. Because the 1980s were one of the most influential decades in recent history then there was plenty of topical issues for the Spitting Image team to focus on. Using a unique type of caricatured puppets they would construct over exaggerated scenes based on current events or personality traits which rapidly became a hit with viewers. The first episode aired in 1984 and ran for 12 years finally ending in 1996 (IMDb n.d.) a year before the Labour Party finally returned to power (BBC n.d.).
This inventive comedy show became part of the viewing publics life and prompted a trip down memory lane. For anyone seeing them for the first time then a lot of the significance of the show would be lost but the oddity of the artefacts would at least provoke interest.
The exhibit works well as a nostalgic trip down memory lane but could be improved if they where able to show clips from the series. These are now widely available through the internet but would need to obtain permissions for copyright issues.
(Spitting Image 1985)
When I came across this exhibit I was amazed to see a phone model that I once owned on display. There is nothing like a museum making you feel old when seeing objects that I used everyday as artifacts. Mobile phones were a rapidly growing market with a number of manufactures vying for supremacy. Amongst the early contenders was Ericsson who released the GA628 in 1997 (Mobilephonehistory.co.uk n.d.) which boasted pure digital technology and express on covers. This was one of the first phones that was marketed directly towards the average consumer and younger generation and away from the business user. Its boasted advanced technology and with the ability to customise its appearance it quickly became one of the market leading handsets to rival the leading brand Nokia.
I have to ask the question though when an object really becomes an item of history. The phone on display would still work on todays networks, is only around 17 years old and I would not be surprised that people still use it today. Mobile phones technology is advancing rapidly and things change quickly so there it is accumulating a history at a rapid rate but there are older analogue mobile phones out there and I felt these would have made a better artifact.