Thursday, June 5, 2008

The sun disc chariot

Yes, it is the sun disc chariot glowing behind me. The national symbol from the danish bronze age, the object which once was the toy of the finder's young son, the object which has been subject to speculations of the bronze age mythology - which is illustrated in the Bronze Age section of the new permanent exhibition of Danish Prehistory at the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Visit the exhibition! It features moving, jittering, vibrating objects. This is TRUE, go see for yourself how the bronze age shields are waving, the parade axes are shaking and the gold bowls threaten to tip over at the slightest movement in the floor.

But that's about the only entertainment you'll get in that exhibition.

As an archaeologist you'll probably be happy to see that the volume of finds in the exhibition has increased massively. Which is a good move - from the representative exhibition showing single objects as representatives of a style/type/time to a volume of objects competing to overwhelm you and to give an impression of the rather massive volume of finds, that actually exist.

And hooooraaaay, the amount of text has been limited to a minimum. My biggest pet peeve in museums is "books on walls". Thank you for getting rid of that.
If people want to READ to learn about history, there are more comfortable ways of doing that. Like taking a book to your armchair with good light, no disturbances but perhaps some dim music and a cup of tea. Books on walls in crowded museums CANNOT compete with that.
Instead, the text has been limited to a nice chronological overview you can always cling to when you get overwhelmed and dizzy of the masses of jewelry and weapons surrounding you on all sides.

Wonder why it's become fashion to use black as the background colour in museum exhibitions recently? Not very practical as it reflects the light and sometimes what you see most is the reflections of the lamps in the already very dark rooms. I've been informed that the darkness in the dark rooms is a technical fault - it's too dark some places. It will be taken care of (eventually...).[the dim lighting is intentional in some rooms only it has become too dim by mistake]

The exhibition is stocked with jewellery from all periods - it's overwhelming. But personification I think is what is lacking. The exhibition does not succeed in bringing the past to life. Where are the people who wore the jewelry, those that drank from the beakers, buried their dead, scraped the skins, made the sacrifices, fought the wars?
Perhaps a little contextualising wouldn't hurt. And yes, it can be done without adding more text, it just needs altering of the text and perhaps some storylines, some more effects, more drama?

Go and see the Barbaricum exhibition at Lunds Universitets Historiska Museum. Here you have a brilliant example on how to contextualize without overtexting, and how to create a setting that helps the visitor plunge into the past.

Thank you, that's all.For now.


Alun said...

I wish you hadn't written that. You've got me thinking about all sorts of issues regarding display and reception of artefacts when I should be working on something else.

Is it possible that the lack of light is to force people to peer. Making the display more of an effort to see and photograph might be a way impose a sense of gravitas on the display. It might be interesting to compare the use of light with cathedrals with illumination in some museums.

I'd like to blog about this later on this summer. Could I borrow the photo for the entry?

Alun said...

Aiee!!! I forgot the:) at the end of the first paragraph.

Christina said...

sure, you can just copy it from here or should I send it to you?
The dim light IS intentional in some rooms. But as the main curator of the exhibition told me (Poul Otto Nielsen, head of dept. of Danish Antiquity)it is a technical fault that it has become too dim in some places. But sure the dim lighting is meant to bring some atmosphere as well as protect sensitive materials such as skin, wood and textiles.
The vibrating and jittering is a technical problem too, so if you can, come and see it before it's too late (-:
I did museum studies in Leicester, so I was tempted to do a whole analysis of it. But refrained. I'll save that for later. But my experience of museum exhibitions is off course for ever biased...

Christina said...

THANKS for your comment, Alun. It's always nice to have comments, esp. as a relatively new blogger.

Alun said...

I've almost finished it.

Could you contact me with your email address via ?

Anonymous said...

hey there, appreciate the review of the exhibition. it makes one wonder how the certain exhibits are supposed to be handled in a specific environment, especially when talking about archaeological finds.
hopefully I'll make it soon with checking out the National Museum, I know it's worth it, in any case.