Cabinet project seeks to redefine visitor perceptions

Searching by Kerry Whittle

Architects and designers have been rummaging in the archives of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery as part of a project that aims to redefine how museums present themselves to visitors.

The Cabinet exhibition is a collaboration between the museum and the University of Plymouth, which has seen the museum open up its archive to a group of 14 exhibitors, who have been tasked with creating works that respond to objects they have found.

An exhibition of their work will be held at the university’s Peninsula Arts Gallery from 14 May to 25 June and the Exploding the Cabinet symposium, featuring contributions from Design Council chief design officer Mat Hunter, critic Lucy Bullivant and Land Design Studio creative director Peter Higgins, among others, will be held on 17 May.

The intention of the Cabinet project, according to Roberto Fraquelli, head of 3D design at the university and one of the contributors to the show, is to highlight objects that often get hidden away in museum archives, as well as to present new ways to attract visitors.

Fraquelli says, ’In most museums, only something like 7 per cent of the objects are on display at any one time. Behind the scenes there is a phenomenal amount of stuff and unless you get access to that there are a lot of things that gets missed.’

Fraquelli adds that as well as showcasing hidden objects, the initiative also aims to look at new ways in which visitors can interact with museum exhibits. He says, ’Often, museum exhibits can be hard for the viewer to relate to it will be in a cabinet, maybe tagged with a bit of text for information. We want to make it easier for people to connect with the exhibit and to have a more personal understanding of it.’

Paddle/Fan by Roy Tam

Fraquelli gives the example of the Scope exhibit he has worked on with Vladimir Geroimenko, which uses an augmented reality smartphone app to layer digital content on top of physical exhibits. He says, ’We’ve placed tags around a piece of coral if you point your phone at it the application will show you fish swimming around the coral. We’re encouraging people to look around the object, to engage with it in 360 degrees.’

Other works include Kerry Whittle’s Searching piece, which is a full-size model of a person with binoculars that the visitor can look through. Whittle says, ’My intention is to capture the moment of looking, of peering into places that are difficult to see and spotting something from the past that helps make sense of the present.’

Sana Murrani and Mat Emmett have created the Overlaid Realities work, which brings the viewer into the ’cabinet’ that displays the object. The designers say, ’The installation blurs the defined boundaries between museum exhibits and visitors.’

Show curator Peter Quinn Davis says, ’We are living in pretty challenging times. Museums and archives need to be nurtured and supported, not only to continue our rich heritage, but also to make us reflect on where we might be heading in the future and how this can be understood.’

Contributing artists

  • Tony Aldrich
  • Doreen Bernath
  • Peter Quinn Davis
  • Mat Emmett
  • Adam Cowley Evans
  • Roberto Fraquelli
  • Vladimir Geroimenko
  • Nick Gilbert Scott
  • Nick Kary
  • Polly Macpherson
  • Sana Murrani
  • Roy Tam
  • Kerry Whittle
  • Mike Woods
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