Category Archives: Reflective Practice

Passion Tree – Afterlife of Heritage Research Project

By Daisy Black, PhD student, University of Manchester.  

Beginning the Journey

I have been involved in producing community theatre events for the past few years, but it was not until hearing about the Afterlife of Heritage Research project that I really started thinking about the ways in which my PhD research on the medieval mystery plays might be used as a public engagement exercise. My thesis, which examines late medieval mystery drama, is concerned with what happens when biblical narratives are performed in a medieval space – particularly in examining the ways in which the plays’ biblical narratives tend to ‘absorb’ elements of their medieval social and historical playing space. I therefore felt that drama would be an appropriate medium with which to engage the public with my work – a project about drama, communicated by drama.

This was not my first foray into adapting medieval drama for a modern audience. Before beginning my PhD I worked in theatre production, and throughout my course I have used findings from my research to put on small-scale public performances of multicultural versions of the Towneley manuscript’s Second Shepherd’s Play; the Chester Massacre of the Innocents and a travelling Passion Play. However, these performances were designed for a specific audience and, as such, did not reach broader, non-academic, non-religious audiences. I was also aware that Manchester already has its own folk heritage – particularly concerning dance and music – and that any transposition of a medieval drama to a modern, Mancunian context would need to take this heritage into account. The question was how to successfully engage with these wider community participants and audiences?

This was where the Afterlife of Heritage Research project came in. I attended two workshops prior to submitting my funding application: the first focused on public engagement; the second on working with cultural partners. The first of these workshops was particularly helpful in expanding my understanding of public engagement. I realised that there were many ways of engaging with the public in a way that would expand my project’s impact beyond the audience physically attending the event. Because of this, I planned to make a filmed version of the play available on YouTube, as well as setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts so that others could follow the play’s progress through the community rehearsals to performance. I also decided to write a programme explaining some of the play’s history, which would be available to both the audience on the day and accompanying the film version online (it was here that the course’s focus on the avoidance of jargon and writing for a non-academic public was crucial)

Cultural Partnership

Finding a cultural partner for this event was an interesting challenge. Street theatre, by its nature, has an uncomfortable propensity to fall ‘between the gaps’ of the different remits of various cultural bodies. It is not a fixed-place activity, such as a museum or gallery exhibition, but it also does not take place within a specially-designated performance environment. Street theatre also tends to have a somewhat anarchic aura about it – it moves beyond the socially-constructed spaces within which we expect to encounter theatre culture, and instead brings its message into the commercial and social spaces of the public. Any kind of street performance is guaranteed an audience if it is done in a busy area – but the producer has very little prior knowledge over who that audience will be, or what its needs are. In this, street theatre is an excellent, if somewhat daunting method for bringing ‘Research to Public’. It also poses a challenge for cultural partnership.

I first approached one of Manchester’s main theatres, the Royal Exchange, which has an excellent record of public engagement with its theatre in education programme. While they were very supportive and happy to give me advice, they were unable to work in partnership with me as their public engagement work takes place within the (indoor) spaces of their theatre. However, they did suggest that I contact Manchester Histories Festival. This proved to be an excellent suggestion, as the Festival supports a diverse range of events and activities, including public lectures, art tours, heritage walks, drama and music at many of Manchester’s museums, galleries and cultural centres. I met with Claire Turner, the director of the Festival, at the second Afterlife workshop, and she agreed to be my cultural partner for this bid. She also agreed to give my project a performance spot in Albert Square on the 29th March 2014.

During the next couple of months, I made further partnerships with communities who would be involved directly in the production and performance of the play. Hoping to involve a number of different groups in the making of the play, I asked St Peter’s Chaplaincy if they would jointly sponsor the event, whilst providing links with a community who would provide the play’s chief performers. I was also keen to engage Manchester’s rich folk scene with the project, and so invited Manchester Morris Men to provide dance interludes during the play and engaged some of Manchester and Stockport’s folk musicians to provide music.

Submitting the Proposal

My second proposal submission, informed by the Afterlife of Heritage workshops as well as my discussions with the external bodies mentioned above, required several changes to be made to my original plan. First, I decided that the play would no longer being a travelling drama, but would rather a static, fixed-place performance. This was in order to make Public Liability Insurance for the event viable, as well as avoiding any road closures, which would not be possible on our performance budget. I also moved the date of the proposed project to March 2014 in order that it might be performed as part of the Histories Festival.

Since having my application accepted, I found that there was no space for the Histories Festival to offer an educational drama workshop before the performance, as originally intended, so I will have to work on alternative ways of getting the public engaged with the play as well as merely being audience members. Hence my producing a filmed version to be released on networking sites. There are also plans to release other performance materials – rehearsal diaries, pictures, and articles – via the Festival’s website.

Chapter 1 – Being Encouraged to Think ‘Outside the Box’: Academic Research and Public Engagement

Dr. Serena Iervolino, Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick
E-mail:,uk; Twitter: @SerenaIervolino

It is February 2014, my ‘engagement project’ with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery entitled ‘Women and Colonial Photography: Subjects of Knowledge or Objects of Desire?’ is a far-off memory now. I have finally some time to look back and reflect upon my participation in the Afterlife of Heritage Research (AHR) programme and, more specifically, on my ‘engagement project’. 2013 was one of those no-stop years for me! Since submitting my PhD in March, life has been really hectic; I would say even more hectic than it used to be. I imagine that those readers who are currently in the process of writing-up their doctoral thesis may find it hard to believe that their life will get even busier after completion. ‘Busier than this?’ they might ask themselves with a terrified face. This has been my experience at least. Writing this piece many months after the AHR ‘adventure’ began and also reached its conclusion last July, it is hoped that I am now suitably detached from the practicality (and the challenges) of the process of translating my ‘engagement project’ from a vague idea into a concrete museum output to be able to evaluate the ‘entire thing’ with sufficient distance and perspective. Before describing the project, however, I would like to begin by going back to ‘square one’ and tell you more about how this ‘adventurous adventure’ started.

The Beginnings (or Attempting to Escape the ‘Ivory Tower’)

It all began with an e-mail I received sometime in November 2012. I was working on the conclusion of my doctoral thesis and the end of the PhD was in sight. I was looking forward to the day when I would finally leave the ‘ivory tower’ I had inhabited since July 2012, where I had been ‘crafting’ the very final version of my thesis. I was fervently hoping that an opportunity would present itself for me to escape the ‘world of ideas’ and provide some sort of concrete application to the findings of my PhD research. You may ask: ‘Isn’t a doctoral thesis (of about 80,000 words or more than 400 pages) already a concrete, even tangible output of a process of rigorous, theoretical investigation?’ Unquestionably it is but I was unsatisfied. In the end, my interest in how museums are shaped by and in turn shape cultural diversity policies and politics, and particularly in how they represent, engage with, and negotiate issues of differences marking contemporary societies had never been an end-in-itself. In fact, my interest in this area of scholarly enquiry has always been driven by a strong desire to inform museum practices and cultural policies. Besides, I have always had very little interest in pure or basic research. In other words, the quest for new knowledge that has no practical application has never appealed to me. This is one of the reasons why I chose the interdisciplinary field of museum studies for my doctoral research, which crossed a number of disciplines including museum studies, cultural policy studies, political theory, and postcolonial studies. Through studying concrete museums – operating in the ‘real world’ – interested in actively and ethically responding to contemporary cultural diversity, I hoped that my research could impact upon museum practices and cultural policies, and contribute to broader societal change. I am aware that the idea of museums as institutions with a social agency that have the potential and, therefore, the responsibility to contribute to broader societal change may be unusual to some. I would like to clarify from the very beginning that this is how I – as well as many others (Dodd and Sandell 2001; Iervolino 2013; Janes and Conaty 2005; Marstine 2011; Sandell 2003) – approach and theorise museums today.

Now, let’s go back to November 2012, back to that desk where I was working on my PhD. With the ‘end’ approaching the question of what the afterlife of my heritage research would have been exactly had started moving – slowly but steadily – from the back to the front of my mind. How could I translate some of the ideas of my doctoral research into something more concrete than a thesis? What shape could this translation take in practice? A partial answer to these questions came to me unexpectedly – as it is often the case – through the above-mentioned e-mail. Apparently, the University of Manchester was inviting PhD students and Early Career Researchers in the Humanities to submit an ‘Expression of Interest’ to participate in the AHRC-funded ‘Afterlife of Heritage Research’ programme. This initiative sought to provide successful applicants with training as well as concrete opportunities to translate their research in ‘real-life’ contexts. Through the Research2Public strand of the programme, the possibility to develop a real project in collaboration with a cultural or heritage institution was offered to a restricted number of participants. The ‘princess’ (aka PhD candidate busy with the writing up of her thesis) – who was feeling increasingly suffocated in her ‘ivory tower’ – could not believe her eyes. For a moment she wondered whether the project’s organisers had been overhearing her thoughts. To avoid any paranoid thoughts she convinced herself that it was only a fortunate coincidence. To cut a long story short, I was one the lucky 16 applicants to the Research2Public strand whose ‘Expression of Interest’ was selected. The basic idea of the public engagement project I proposed was to design and deliver a series of events/activities that, taking as a starting point the (ethnographic) collections of a museum, would explore ‘themes of contemporary relevance from different perspectives, and attempt to bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds that might hold dissimilar views.’

Up in Manchester with Like-minded Folks (or The Great Escape)

Having being selected for the project the ‘princess’ felt she had sufficient justification to escape the ‘ivory tower’ and travel to Manchester to attend two informative and engaging workshops: ‘Understanding the public impact of your research’ (January 2013) and ‘Turning your research into a public output’ (February 2013). The success of the two workshops was due, I believe, to a combination of knowledgeable and skilled facilitators, a good mixture of theory and practice, carefully planned activities as well as the great diversity of research interests of the project’s participants working on exciting research projects in different disciplinary fields across the Humanities. What we all had in common, however, was a shared interest – although to different extents – in better understanding and further exploring the public relevance and impact of our research. Surely the Research Councils UK (RCUK) would have been very pleased to see (some of) the members of the next generation of UK academics embracing the impact discourse and ethics with such an enthusiasm and commitment, even when having little or no awareness of the RCUK’s Pathways to Impact. It is hard to say whether the AHR’s participants are only a few members of a small group of ‘enlightened’ researchers committed to achieve excellence in research with impacts or there are many others who increasingly think along the same lines. The high number of applications that the AHR project received gives some hopes that the latter option might be accurate.

Workshop 2 was particularly stimulating as it took place in the Manchester Museum and was attended not only by the project participants – that is, those ‘enlightened’, ‘converted’ researchers interested in public engagement – but also by a number of heritage professionals wishing to initiate fruitful collaborations with young researchers. After all, if academic research is to be carried out in more participatory and collaborative ways, it is essential that organisations outside academia understand and value the positive impact of collaborations with academics. The heritage professionals who attended the workshop seemed to be very well aware of such a positive impact.

Once the workshops had been delivered, all participants were asked to submit a reviewed engagement project proposal. Indeed, the competitive element of the project was not over as yet; the Research2Public strand could fund only a number of project proposals to be selected through a competitive process. Participants soon turned from amicable participants into competitive rivals! As well as providing information about the specific institution we intended to co-produce our ‘engagement project’ with, in the final project proposal we were asked to offer a detailed account of the nature of the activities we planned to carry out, the project’s outputs, and a rough budget. At this point I had to confront the first challenge. Which institution was the best host of my engagement project? As is well known, finding a suitable partner for any sort of collaborative endeavour is a very delicate step. I was fortunate enough to identify the appropriate collaborator to bring my idea to life! To know more about this, well, I am afraid you will need to wait until my next blog post.

I will be back soon, hopefully.

Reference list

Dodd, J. and Sandell, R. (2001) Including Museums. Perspectives on Museums, Galleries and Social Inclusion. Leicester: RCMG.

Iervolino, S. (2013), ‘Museums, Migrant Communities and Intercultural Dialogue in Italy’ in V. Golding, and W. Modest, W. (eds.) Museums and Communites:
Curators, Collections and Collaboration. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 113-129.

Janes, R. R. and Conaty, G. T. (2005) Looking reality in the eye: museums and social responsibility. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

Marstine, J. (2011) (eds.) The Routledge companion to museum ethics: redefining ethics for the twenty-first century museum. London: Routledge.

Sandell, R. (2002) (eds.) Museum, Society, Inequality. London: Routledge.

Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #2

After we submitted our final proposal for funding for the Afterlife of Heritage scheme, things started to move rapidly. Our cultural partner, The Manchester Art Gallery, needed to secure the date for our event. We met and chose to have it 30 May instead of during the summer, hoping to catch some students who might still be in town. Unknowingly, choosing this date meant that the speaker we had wanted to invite, Carol Mavor, would be unavailable. Our partners at MAG, were undaunted and suggested that Sophie and I showcase our own expertise by giving a guided tour. They said that the public loves getting to hear from specialists, which sounded both intimidating and encouraging to us.

Then we did receive official confirmation that we were awarded Afterlife of Heritage funding. Even though we had already dedicated a significant amount of time and energy to the project, it all seemed very tentative until we received this notification. It felt quite strange to do so much planning before funding was confirmed.

With the date finalised and funding confirmed Sophie and I set down to planning what we wanted the night to look like. We decided we would choose a few artworks that relate to our theme of Marcel Proust in 1913 to focus on in our guided tour. We met at MAG and had a long walk around the spaces to think about how the works were arranged and how appropriate certain pieces would be to highlight. We were also informed by the gallery that they would be installing a Delphos gown (on loan from the Costume Gallery), which was made by Mariano Fortuny- the artist on whom I am writing my thesis. Fortuny is also a very notable artist in the writings of Marcel Proust and we knew it was a perfect object to include in our tour.

We had also wanted to have a unique element to our event that invoked other senses/sensibilities. We investigated the possibility of having a magic lantern show, but our budget did not really allow for it. We then thought of having musicians from RNCM, utilising the relationship I already have with the staff in charge of liaising student bookings. I had a meeting with Abi Collins from RNCM where I told her our budget, our theme, and our idea of having musicians stationed around MAG to incorporate in our tour. She offered a few suggestions as to which musical instruments/groupings might be available and said that she would do her best with the budget we had.

Once we were assured that we’d have musicians, Sophie and I were able to write a short description of the event to begin publicising. We had trouble coming up with a clear and succinct title for our event, so we sent a few options to MAG to be decided. On the 25 April our event was posted by MAG to Eventbrite so that guests could start booking in. They titled the event, ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music, Art and Marcel Proust’ and it was sold out within a week. We had only publicised the event on our personal Facebook walls and Twitter accounts, and MAG had not publicised the event anywhere except for the Eventbrite page. Sophie and I knew there were more than 180 people booked, but were not aware exactly how many tickets had been available and had trouble planning how to manage the size of the audience.   We had the idea to have two tour times on the night to break up the group. We asked MAG to send an email with these two tour times to the people who had booked a place, but this was not done until the day of the event, and therefore was of little help in managing the crowd.

In the weeks leading up to event Sophie and I determined the outline of the tour and assigned who would do which parts according to our own personal research interests, (i.e., I would talk on Venice and Fortuny, she would talk on Ruskin and Manchester). The week before the event I liaised with Abi to contact the specific musicians we’d be working with and decide which pieces they would be playing and where in the gallery they’d be stationed. We were very happy to have a violinist, a harpist, and a flute trio.

Sophie and I also put together the material for a simple webpage to be posted onto the MAG site, as was previously requested by MAG staff, as a way for our project to have an ‘afterlife’. This material was sent but never used, and there seemed to be some miscommunication about how the webpage would have been used.

Overall, communication with MAG during the 2 weeks leading up to the event was difficult. It seemed to be a busy time for MAG and perhaps some complications arose from our project being transferred from one staff member to another. The week of the event was quite stressful for Sophie and I as we had very little to base our expectations on and were given confusing and conflicting messages from MAG about their expectations for the event.

Sophie Preston, 1st year PhD researcher in Art History

Wendy Ligon Smith, 3rd year PhD researcher in Art History

Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #1

Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #1

Wendy and I have decided to propose a public engagement event inspired by the one hundredth anniversary of the first volume of French author Marcel Proust’s long novel, In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way.


As both of our PhD projects involve substantial research on the novel, we are interested in making connections between our work and the way other readers interact with the novel. Our initial idea was to create a website or blog that would curate scanned images of submitted pages of people’s copies of Swann’s Way. We hoped to attract scholars, academics, students and general readers of Proust to submit their pages.


We were interested in the traces and marks readers left when navigating the novel. Turned down pages, highlighted or underlined words or phrases, doodles, annotations etc., all evidence the lovable ardour of reading Proust and similarly mirror Proust’s own laborious writing process, made visible in the hundreds of preliminary notebooks, full of crossings out and doodled images.


After attending the first workshop defining the wider impact of PhD research and learning how to communicate this research to non-experts through cultural organisations, we were asked to choose a cultural partner. We were keen to join up with the John Rylands University Library at Deansgate. This seemed like the most pertinent choice due to the literary nature of our proposed project and as the library holds a relevant archive – that of Marie Nordlinger, a friend of Proust’s who helped him to translate works by English critic, John Ruskin.  In the archives, we hoped to find and share Nordlinger’s own responses to Proust.


After being turned down by John Rylands University Library due to the profusion of applications they had received, we were given a laurel branch when Emma Anderson, from the Manchester Museum & Galleries Partnership, asked to have a meeting with us, along with Project Leader Kostas Arvanitis . Emma and Kostas both liked the premise of celebrating the anniversary of Swann’s Way but were less keen on the blog idea in terms of a public engagement event. We had a frank discussion coming up with lots of ideas, from exhibitions to using social media. Eventually we came to a mutual decision to put on a one off event. Emma suggested the ‘Thursday Lates’ series at the Manchester Art Gallery would be an ideal arena to put on an evening celebrating the Proustian centenary. Wendy and I came away from this meeting feeling anxious but buoyant about these changes to the proposed project and got to work.


Wendy and I have since been to the Manchester Art Gallery and spent some time looking at the paintings on display. We have been excited to realise that a good deal of the works remind us of passages or themes from Proust’s novel. From here, things have really taken off.  We have enjoyed our final workshop and received invaluable advice from Emily McIntosh and Esme Ward and drafted an email to the MAG giving them a detailed plan of our proposal. We have had another meeting with Emma and have been introduced to Manchester Art Gallery Programme Assistant, Connie Witham. Together we have discussed a preliminary idea for a unique tour looking at some of the artworks on display through a Proustian lens. Due to shared enthusiasm between Wendy, Emma Connie and myself for the potential success of the event, we have been confident submitting our final proposal. We can’t wait for  ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’…

Sophie Preston, 1st year PhD researcher in Art History

Wendy Ligon Smith,  3rd year PhD researcher in Art History

Della Robbia Pottery in the 21st C – blog post by Juliet Carroll

Della Robbia Pottery in the 21C –  blog post by Juliet Carroll 



Words of policyspeak that indicate that essential academic skills in 21st century Britain include the ability to make research accessible and relevant in a way that can be computed and quantified – a daunting thought.

I was keen to attend the training sessions to learn these skills. Although I missed the first workshop due to a prearranged research trip I enjoyed the second one immensely. Three key points that I took from the session were

  • Simple, easy understood proposals with a straight forward execution are good
  • Good communication is paramount – keep in regular contact with cultural partners, supervisors and directors of study.
  • To be bold and confident in my thinking.

At that point I had not discussed the proposal with my cultural partner – I felt some trepidation about suggesting that the newly refurbished gallery should be turned into an amateur ceramics studio, complete with glazes and wet clay. However, the gallery was enthusiastic and supportive and offered to fund an extension of the project if it proved successful.

The proposal: to celebrate the work of the Della Robbia Pottery of Birkenhead by inviting participants into the newly reopened Williamson Gallery to work with a local ceramicist  to create and glaze a ceramic piece in the distinctive style of the nineteenth century studio pottery.

By recreating the studio of this Arts and Crafts pottery, the would-be potters and decorators will experience the ethos of the pottery, and indeed of the Arts and Crafts movement, that puts a clear emphasis on creativity and individuality, in which a precise manufacturing process with division of labour plays no part. Advice from the workshop was to limit my participants to an older age group – U3A, local history groups – rather than riotous school children. However, the director of the gallery is keen to extend the project if my bid is successful and the undertaking proved viable and would include school children in the future. Thus the project has an extended afterlife – this could become a regular event at the museum. I am also pleased that the reputation of the Della Robbia Pottery will grow in a practical and accessible way rather than being restricted by the academic confines of my PhD.



Kyra Pollitt on lessons learned from preparing her Research to Public events.

Kyra Pollitt on lessons learned from preparing her Research to Public events.

Of course I think my PhD is interesting. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davis, I would say that wouldn’t I? But I don’t foresee a queue forming outside Waterstone’s in eager anticipation of the submission of my thesis. So when I came across artsmethods@manchester’s Research to Public strand, offering guidance on making my research public-facing, I was immediately excited. After all, what’s the point of research if it’s not meaningful to reality?

Research to Public offered two structured and intensive full day workshops at the University of Manchester, supplemented by documentation and an online presence designed to prize open the rusty doors of the ivory tower and let the daylight of practicality flood in.

Eager applicants to the scheme were initially subject to a selection process before being invited to the first workshop. Then, after considerable input, we were sent forth into the big wide world and told to come back with an institutional partner- a gallery, museum or other public institution interested in our proposal and willing to play host. The second workshop honed our ability to co-operate with our partners and the resulting carefully budgeted and considered proposals were then submitted to a panel charged with distributing prize funding.

I am very fortunate to have had my proposal selected, and I write this on the eve of the first of the two events that I proposed. As you can imagine, the whole process has been challenging in lots of ways; some anticipated, some unexpected, but all very, very useful. So here are some of the lessons I’ve learned thus far. I apologise if you already know them, but some of us are slower on the uptake.

Lesson 1:  Don’t be precious

There’s wisdom in that there Kenny Rogers song about knowing ‘when to fold ‘em’ and ‘when to hold ‘em’. There may be some ideas that are worth being deeply precious about, but these are rare. Actively seek the opinions and contributions of others. Be honest with yourself about your level of commitment to the idea as it stands, and give due and respectful consideration to the tweaks others propose. Every contributor (from the gallery curator to the chatty passenger sharing your train journey) brings different expertise; learn to harness it.

Lesson 2: Network

Contributing to as many networks as you can effectively manage is good for your creative soul. It’s also kind of karmic. I had cold-called a number of institutions who were all enthusiastic but already committed to a schedule, before a network connection yielded an introduction to an institution that wasn’t even on my list. It turns out the institution was looking for something that would reach beyond its usual remit and demographic, and I could propose just the thing. Who knew?

Lesson 3: Refining is a lived process

Like most other things in life – and unlike the fairy tales I’m still addicted to – perfect proposals don’t just appear fully-formed, ready-sprinkled with magic dust. Business proposals, academic theses, paintings, life – all require adjustments and rewrites.

Lesson 4: Plan and anticipate

Like the archetypal mum checking before her child leaves for school in the morning- Homework? Packed lunch? Gym kit? Keys? Hanky? Umbrella? It was quite fun spending time just thinking about all the possibilities and unlikelihoods surrounding the events I’d proposed. It was even more fun when the gallery curator was able to identify a few more.

Lesson 5: Make it real

Isn’t there some great quote from a famous person about the number of brilliant ideas that lie gathering dust in obscurity? Despite what I hope (with some effort) is a bubbly public persona, I’m actually ‘a bit behind the door’ so the process of taking an idea and making it real has been quite exhilarating. It’s both humbling and inspiring when other people believe enough in your idea to lend themselves to it. Ok, so I may have had to gather myself a little before plastering my event all over Facebook and Twitter but the whole R2P process has given me renewed confidence in my ability to communicate to others through writing, talking, thinking and sharing, and ultimately performing. I think it’s no coincidence that my painting and sculpting, as well as my academic writing also seem to have received a bit of a boost.

I’ve spent today having final meetings with the artists involved, gathering the hardware I’ll need for the space, making a Blue Peter style audience contributions box, monitoring the Twitter publicity spread (currently standing at 45 RTs, 7 mentions and 3 favourites), and checking the Bank Holiday weekend weather forecast (chance of rain, 13˚C).

What are we planning?  Will it work? Will anyone care? These tales will be told in the next blog. For now, let’s see what new lessons tomorrow brings…


Blog Post by Sarah Younan

Sometimes working on a PhD can be dry, slow, overwhelming. And then sometimes there are days that take yo by the horns and drag you forward. Today was such a day.

I met with Gareth Loudon ( for a tutorial in the morning. Gareth’s area of expertise is, amongst others, ethnography. I picked his brain on how to go about my intended research. I hope to extend the public impact of museum objects by 3d scanning ceramic artefacts from the collections of the National Museum of Wales, and then using these scans, to:

a)     create colaborative projects with artists working in digital media

b)     make copies of the original objects through 3d print and/or traditional craft techniques in order to emerge them in everyday live.

These copies will be handed out to volunteers, to take home, to use, to contemplate, to re-emerge museum objects in the wear and tear of everyday life. Life for objects, as for people, is fraught with risk. These copies might be apreciated and cared for, they might be neglected and forgotten, they might be used out of context, they could end up chipped or broken – either way new stories will be created. Stories about interaction with these objects, about what might be the fate of the original, where it not preserved in the museum, but thrown into everyday life.

This is what my contribution to the Afterlife of Heritage project, a story, a potential afterlife tale about objects from and beyond the museum.

My next stop was the museum, there I met with Andrew Renton, head of applied arts at the National Museum of Wales. We went to a storage room and I chose two objects to scan. I have worked with 3D  scanners before ( I am using a NextEngine tabletop scanner at the moment) and was aware that scanning two ceramic objects would take up quite some time. The objects I chose were a Meissen porcelain cup, with a basket-weave moulded border, and an ice cup and cover, the cover has a little squirrel sitting on it.

It took most of the morning and afternoon to scan these objects. I prepared them by spraying them with Talcum powder, as the glossy surface of glazed ceramics can confuse the lazer of the 3d scanner. I then did some test scans to find out the optimal distance, ambient light and scanner settings. For the cup, the ice cup and its cover I did a 360 degree scan each, and further single scans for areas that were difficult to see.

As I was working with objects from the collections Andrew stayed with me, to supervise and also to learn more about 3d scanning. We talked about museums, collections, about artist interventions and about digital strategies in museums.

Andrew likes to push the boundaries of his work. As a currator he has on several occasions collaborated with artists. This has led to the production of work and exhibitions, which challenged the notion of the museum and proposde new ways of experiencing museum artefacts. Two artists who have interacted with the ceramics collections in ways, that question and challenge the museum’s traditional practise of preserving artefacts, by removing them from interaction and lived experience are Edmund de Waal and David Cushway. De Waal investigated and re-displayed objects from the ceramics collection alongside his own pieces in 2005. He removed the museum objects from their glass cases and displayed them on a large plinth, unprotected and within reach of the audience. His own work took the place of the museum objects in the glass cases.

Cushway’s project in 2012 went even further. Together with Andrew the artist removed a porcellain tea set from its glass case and the two of them sat down to drink tea from these pieces. This performance was filmed and is now available on Cushway’s website:

I see these artist’s projects as a genealogy of my own involvement.

In the digital realm any transgression is possible. Objects no longer need to be preserved; the touch of a button is enough to restore digital models to their previous state. The former observer of museum objects can become and actor.

Safe. Edit. Delete. Undo. Merge. Distort. Send. Print.

3D printers can make the digital file physically manifest, once, twice, many times, and copies of museum objects, not quite the original, but more than souvenirs, can find their way back into everyday life.