Collecting The Contemporary

Multicoloured crochet square banner that reads "Patrick Geddes Birling in his Grave"
Image courtesy of Museums & Galleries Edinburgh

 

At a time when political and world events are happening at a breakneck speed the act of collecting the contemporary is especially poignant. This month we ran a workshop with speakers from Glasgow Women’s Library, Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, British Golf Museum, and National Museums Scotland looking at their approach to contemporary, or rapid response, collecting.

In the first of our workshop round ups we hear about four contemporary collecting programmes, some of the challenges they face, and the importance to them of maintaining and developing an approach to contemporary collecting.

The stuff of Scotland’s landscape: contemporary collecting and climate change, Sarah Laurenson, National Museums Scotland

Sarah discussed how curators from across the Museum’s departments collaborate to collect contemporary objects that document the impact of – and response to – climate change.

In the Department of Scottish History and Archaeology, Sarah’s work revolves around the tension between ideas of Scotland as a beautiful, wild and ‘timeless’ landscape and the realities of the global environmental shifts constantly changing those landscapes. Sarah outlined case studies of recent acquisitions that demonstrate different facets of that work.

First, a pair of wooden skis crafted by Jamie Kunka of Lonely Mountain Skis in Perthshire as a response to the backcountry skiing craze that has emerged against the backdrop of changing conditions in Scotland’s hills.

Sarah then discussed a group of objects from Iain Cameron, aka. ‘the snow hunter’, representing the unprecedented moment when the oldest of the UK’s snow patches (the closest thing we have to glaciers) – the ‘Sphinx’ in the Cairngorms – melted for the second year in a row in 2018.

Sarah finished by discussing her work collecting the impact of shifting patterns of land ownership on the natural world in Scotland through material from Eigg and Ulva, two islands that are owned by their local communities. Sarah highlighted that this approach to contemporary collecting is rooted in engagement with people across the country, and centred on objects that give us a glimpse at what a future Scotland might look like.

Repealing the 8th: Pros and Pitfalls of Rapid Response Collecting, Jenny Noble, Glasgow Women’s Library

In ‘Repealing the Eighth: Pros & Pitfalls of Rapid Response Collecting’, Jenny discussed contemporary collecting at Glasgow Women’s Library. She began by describing GWL’s origins as a rapid response intervention to the cultural situation in Glasgow and talked about the development of the collections through different methods of contemporary collecting. She cited examples of rapid response acquisitions, from pussy hats to abortion rights campaign material, and explored some of the issues associated with this type of collecting, such as neutrality, balance and representation.

Bringing Our Values to Life: Contemporary collecting around golf’s championships, equipment and the sport’s development, Rebecca Prentice, British Golf Museum

The British Golf Museum’s (BGM) collecting has evolved over the past 30 years. Following in the tradition of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the Museum collects golf artefacts and records. As the BGM is approaching its 30th anniversary, it is embarking on a redevelopment of its galleries and brand.

During the presentation Rebecca applied values of courage, integrity and inclusivity to review the Museum’s contemporary collecting practice and highlight opportunities for future collecting. Insights and questions were shared about how the BGM are using a time of development to review the method and content of their collecting. For instance, the BGM wants to collect to fill gaps in its interpretative narrative for the new galleries opening in 2021.

The BGM plan for big events to make the most of the opportunity to collect. The 150th Open championship is coming back to St Andrews in 2021 and they will examine if there is a side to The Open and golf that they do not currently represent in its collection. The BGM are thinking about collecting with regards to health and wellbeing and asking how can they collect to encourage more people to try the sport?

From Trump to Thunberg: Collecting contemporary protest and campaign material in Edinburgh, Vicky Garrington & Anna MacQuarrie, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh

Banners have been a key part of the Museums & Galleries Edinburgh (MGE) collections since the opening of the People’s Story museum in 1989. A desire to reflect the lives of the ordinary people of Edinburgh led to the acquisition of banners from the early 19th to late 20th centuries covering topics as diverse as political reform, vivisection, the miner’s strike and the campaign for a Scottish Parliament. A renewed appetite for public protest in the age of Trump, Brexit and the Climate Crisis has led to a series of new acquisitions by MGE in recent years.

Vicky and Anna discussed recent acquisitions, the way these differ from our historical banner collections, and the challenges we face in recording the context for our new banners and conserving them for the future. The key part played by social media in organising protest and contemporary collecting was explored, alongside the way ambitions for protest slogans to go viral has affected the very nature of banner designing.

Collecting the contemporary is an evolving and responsive curatorial approach with much still to be discussed. We welcome contact from museums who undertake or are interested in contemporary collecting. Contact Jacob O’Sullivan, MGS Collections and Interpretation Manager jacobos@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk.

If you’re interested in reading more about Contemporary Collecting you can read a helpful introduction created by Museums Development North West