Everyday Relics: curating industrial Manchester using personal memories
Boring, technical, nothing to do with me – that is how many people feel about industrial and scientific history. This paper will retrospectively analyse an exhibition which directly countered this perception. As co-curator of Everyday Relics, a free, temporary exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry (27 November 2013 – 29 June 2014) I aimed to connect visitors with Manchester’s industrial past using object handling and memories to evoke a personal response. The exhibition was developed collaboratively between artist collective Stand+Stare and museum curators and archivists. It provided tactile access to the museum collection with the aim of encouraging transformative learning, and the information provided with each object was anecdotal and experiential as well as factual. In this paper I will illuminate why this story-centric approach was chosen, how it was implemented, and explore the impact of the exhibition on visitors.
Everyday Relics featured 18 objects which were once familiar and everyday but are now considered historic artefacts, from a kettle to an electronic valve, from a clog to a mantle clock. Innovative, unobtrusive use of technology turned the historic objects themselves into an interactive exhibit. When handled, each object triggered an audio visual film integrating oral history clips and archive material from the museum collection, associated images, specially recorded interviews and bespoke animations. I will describe how objects were selected and interpreted to represent memory narratives, giving specific examples. I will discuss the practical collections care considerations taken into account when developing, designing and implementing the exhibition, and describe some of the ways I mitigated the effects of these necessary limitations. Finally, examples of visitor responses will demonstrate the impact of the exhibition.