Well its been a while… not that I haven’t been writing but in the past handful of months nearly every milisecond has been taken up with churning out endless essays and realising that three years into my degree I probably understand less about archaeology than I did when I was significantly less in debt. What little break I have had since October disappeared into a black-hole of flu and family medical emergencies which also had the unfortunate side effect that I was the only functioning person who could ferry my brother to his endless university interviews. To add to this my laptop committed harakiri by somehow magically jumping off a flat surface and until my finances improve I’m having to beg, borrow and steal (not quite resorted to that yet) computer access.
Anyway since I’ve now only got my dissertation to focus on – starts using excavation skills to dig a hole to sit in manically laughing whilst trying to hide from impending doom – I thought I’d occasionally take a break from my academic insanity with the odd blog post. So off we go…
One slight advantage of taking my brother to varying university interviews is the experience to travel. York has now been replaced by Norwich as my favourite English cathedral/minster city and Hendon is… not sure but I spent several hours in a campus foyer there. Anyway last week I ended up in South London shoving my brother through yet another door with a perfunctory good luck before wondering off for a couple of hours.. or so I thought. Having wandered down to Peckham I came across the amazing Persepolis, a Persian corner shop which stocks an amazing myriad of Middle Eastern produce. As soon as I’d crossed the threshold however I noticed my phone buzzing and apparently by brother had been waiting for me to collect him for a while. Three hours of travel and his interview lasted a measly ten minutes.
Since this was his last interview as a treat we headed to the Robots Exhibition at the Science Museum and having disposed of a cumbersome art portfolio (in a cloakroom not a bin!) we then discovered that there were no tickets until the afternoon due to something called half term. I had noticed that the average museum-goer in South Kensington that weekday was surprisingly baby-faced. Anyway wolfing down lunch under the benign golden gaze of Prince Albert in Kensington Gardens we headed down to London’s newest museum – the Design Museum.
My thoughts on the Design Museum; in all honesty I doubt I’ll be visiting again to look at the permanent collections. Whilst the building itself is relatively large, the free displays appear in a small area on the top floor and seem rather disjointed and not fully expressing the long British history of design. Often displays felt like they focused on being interesting design rather than interesting the viewer in the designs of the objects themselves. With large amounts of the museum were given over to a bar, restaurant and members lounge, it felt more a venue than a fully functioning museum which was incredibly disappointing especially in comparison to continental museums with a similar remit such as Copenhagen’s Design Museum and Vienna’s MAK (or Applied Arts Museum).
Returning to the Science Museum, we first went to a free special centenary exhibition: Wounded – Conflict, Casualties and Care. Whilst nearly a million British military personnel were killed, two million were wounded and the exhibition focused on the medical challenges faced on the front line and back home. The exhibits focused on break-throughs in this period, such as blood transfusion, x-rays as well as focusing on the varying responses to PTSD both then and among contemporary veterans.
From the sombre history of past medicine to futuristic engineering in Robots. This exhibition was utterly bizarre but did lead me to conclude that robots aren’t going to be taking over the universe any time soon. It’s taken nearly three years for one of the world’s most advanced robots to tell the difference between a banana and an apple of its own accord and the majority still struggle to walk long distances without swiftly draining their batteries. Others were plain surreal with the Japanese Telenoid meant to be hugged during long-distance calls with the facial features changing to match what is being said by the caller – I personally feel more comfortable with the idea of Skype. Continue reading →
Today is World Mental Health Day so it seemed an appropriate day to review Bedlam: the Asylum and Beyond exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in central Londo. I visited this exhibition during an extended lunch-break from university and whilst usually I prefer to spend my spare time avoiding deadlines and catching up with friends, for personal reasons this exhibition was of interest. Because I’m one of them. One of the 10%. Still no clue?
10% of English people will suffer from depression in their lifetime.
Every year one in four of us will suffer some sort of mental health problem.
Whilst the Bedlam exhibition showed the improvement in care of those once considered hysteric, melancholic, insane and disturbed and the change from what was the neat Georgian facade of eponymous Bedlam hospital then in London’s Moorfields, hiding an interior of broken individuals treated like zoo animals, shockingly visited on the tourist circuit of contemporary London. But the exhibition ended with a challenging question – what has the asylum been replaced with and are they still needed. Whilst the asylum is traditionally seen by some as an outdated and inhumane practice replaced by therapy and care in the community they are also seen by many suffering from mental health issues as “a safe space to be ‘mad.’” The world asylum after all means place of refuge.
The asylum had evolved from that 18th century hell-hole to institutions such as the Netherne Hospital in Surrey which was a pioneering centre of art therapy where around 100,000 art works were created in under thirty years. Other similar institutions had music rooms, entertainment programmes and provided work placements on farms and in craft workshops. A far cry from the idea of endless sombre padded cells (even though yes these were commonly used as a means of self-protection before the advent of many forms of medication). In 1961, Health Minister Enoch Powell announced the closure of these apparently unwieldy institutions and no more funding allocated towards updating their facilities – an announcement that came as a complete surprise to the medical profession with only a handful of experimental care in the community schemes. It was heart-breaking hearing the account of former patients returning to the familiar grounds of Netherne during it’s conversion into luxury apartments and being moved on.
Unfortunately the government’s current climate of austerity politics has also not been kind to mental health services. Last year the government cut this sectors NHS budget by nearly 10% and they receive only 13% of NHS funding despite accounting for a fifth of the illnesses suffered by those in the UK. At one point in 2014 there were even no mental health beds available in the hospital units that replaced those in the asylums. Continue reading →
Usually the British Museum puts on exhibitions with punchy titles – ‘Vikings,’ ‘Celts’, ‘Aztecs’ etc. so when I first heard about this exhibition I was happily surprised. Most people probably only know of Sicily from the rhyme ‘Big boot Italy kicked little Sicily right into the middle of the Mediterranean sea.’ Sicily however has been fairly high on my travel bucket-list ever since I saw pictures of the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo where the skeletons of the dead are placed in niches and the atmospheric conditions mean their clothing has survived, resulting in the pictures of the site being incredibly eerie.
So why pay to see an exhibition on a “minor” European island off Italy when it’s not a BM blockbuster exhibition? If you’re interested in the Greeks, Romans, Byzantium or the Islamic world – this exhibition has a little bit of everything. The island’s position in the middle of the Mediterranean meant it was effectively a melting pot of cultures and religions over time. The tombstone above encapsulates the “multiculturalism” or syncretism of cultures that occurred with Greek, Latin, Arabic and Judeo-Arabic all crammed in on the one headstone.
Growing up, the National Portrait Gallery was my favourite place to visit in London, in fact I visited so many times I can list who’s portrayed in some of the galleries (definitely normal behaviour)!. The gallery is a literal walk through British history from Medieval monarchs to modern rock-stars and in my view encapsulates the people and often characters that make history so interesting.
Despite the gallery being so well known, the concept of a portrait gallery itself is relatively unusual. The portraits from “Russia and the Arts” are loaned from Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery, founded based on the collections of 19th century merchant Pavel Tretyakov who began to collect portraits of contemporary bigwigs; Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky – they’re all here. This exhibition provides a glimpse of what the 19th century gallery of a non-existant Russian National Portrait Gallery would be like.
Death on the Nile at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
For anyone who doesn’t know, the Fitzwilliam is Cambridge’s main museum – the British Museum, National Gallery and V&A all squished together; Pre-Raphaelite Art, suits of armour and a massive ceramic owl – it’s all here!
Being near where I live I thought “Egyptians, Agatha Christie reference, sounds good” so promptly went along. Aged 9 I had a great pyramids of Giza sized small obsession with them, although studying them at A Level to death and the afterlife means I’m perhaps unjustly not so much of an Egyptophile anymore.
The exhibition itself focuses on the historical changes in burial practice – from simple inhumations in the sand to Greco-Roman portrait masks nearly 3,000 years later. Ancient Egyptian burial practice isn’t just mummies in bandages. Visually many of the coffins are stunning; rich in colour, covered in unusual gods with green skin or animal heads. You also began to see the business side of the sarcophagus industry; many being bought-to-order with names merely squished in a gap, coffins reused from old fragments and some of the paint-jobs remarkably scruffy. The coffins weren’t all stereotypical intricate multi-sarcophagus gold leaf jobs.