Imperial War Museum North

Today I took the afternoon to spend a couple of hours visiting the Imperial War Museum North here on Salford Quays. It’s the first time I visited the museums exhibition hall but I thought it would be a good place to start in exploring the theme of ‘Collecting’ further. I also hoped to see photography of a different type, through the eyes of 100 year old photographers and equipment and also in circumstances I may never get to experience first hand.

I have collected a few snap shots on my iPhone (displayed below) as reminders of the time and possibly as working images for further projects and assignments

For me, I feel the biggest take aways from the visit was most relevant to the next assignment ‘Collecting’. I found the myself considering the choice of objects and the display medium much more than I expected before setting out. Being interested in history already I found there wasn’t much new for me to discover in the exhibition, many of the pieces are very similar or identical to many others I have previously encountered. what I did find intriguing was the way these have been displayed. I may just be looking at this with fresh eyes and the techniques and methods used may be very common but today, I found myself considering the use of context to communicate information of feeling.

Context for me is always something I have found important in the capturing or creation of my work. Giving the observer half of the story to try and lead them to discover the rest through their own interpretation. One thing I found intriguing about the visit today was the separation of context from item. For example, a collection of Nazi head wear displayed in a case (image 6) to the mis informed or uneducated there is no meaning to the hats. It’s only with the external influence of teaching and context that the observer may feel an emotion or reaction to the symbolism of the swastika and eagle motifs. It also challenged my view of my own preconceptions associated to these items. For me they invoke feelings of pity, for those forced to wear these items, anger against those who chose to wear them and loss for those who faced up against them. Strangely in writing this piece I consider the opposite, for some at the time these items represented their patriotism, they filled parents with pride as their children stood saluting fresh from completing their training, for many others an item of idealism and progression. In some ways the context reveals the truth hidden from us and in other ways it blinkers us to the greater picture beyond our expectation.

Another piece which I felt a connection with is the wall made or suitcases (image 8). Again I find this image challenging my views on context. I find considering this display without context leads me to just consider it as a pile of bags. A piece of work with no meaning or relevancy to me. For this to work I need the context that this represents the suitcases of displaced victims of war. Whether that is the refugees from Iraq, Bosnia and many more modern conflicts, or if it is the children entire belonging from the period of WW2 when young people were relocated to new homes and families far from the major manufacturing cities and towns. With that context I begin to feel the weight or burden the installation brings with its towering and overbearing wall, I begin to question how many people, who, where and why? Looking to see the labels for clues.

One last display really spoke to me (image 11) the simplicity of the items chosen to represent the individual memorized in this exhibit.

Edith Cavell, a Red Cross Nurse, enabled over 200 allied troops to escape German occupied Belgium during World War 1. 12th of October 1915 she was executed by firing squad at 7am. Her death caused international condemnation.

I found again that the context added so much more weight to the emotional value of the exhibit, but the absurdity of the objects on display is what initially interested me. I questioned why would such prominence be placed on such simple tools and objects? From a display point of view I feel I learnt that an observers journey doesn’t always need to be spoon fed but one can achieve the goal of conveying an emotion through building anticipation or subverting the expectation first which then leads the observer to discover more through their own curiosity. This act of self discover almost lands the ‘punchline’ with greater weight. For me, the punchline was Edith Cavell’s story and the weight came with the simple realization that this courageous woman used these items. Turning them from simple objects into a tangible connection with a lost time and person. ‘Idols’ almost to her work, both the rescuing of troops and being a Red Cross nurse.

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