The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Ortonesque: Joe Orton 1933-1967 and other exhibitions

This lunchtime I went for a quick spin round New Walk Museum with a colleague, principally to have a look at the Regeneration exhibition by the MA students. However this morphed into a visit to the current exhibition about Joe Orton, Leicester's "Playwright, novelist and Diarist" whose life scandalised contemporary society whilst delighting them with black comedies. The MA exhibition is tucked away behind the museum cafe in the corridor leading to the toilets (which created an interesting juxtaposition of smells) and is worth a visit to see what students can do on a modest budget and with determination.

Several things interested me about the Joe Orton exhibition. Firstly, what would Joe Orton, with his contempt for society and institutions, make of it all? After reading about how he used to go into libraries with his lover, Halliwell, to steal books, ripping out pages and altering the dust jackets, it struck me that he was the antithesis of a tidy, well displayed museum exhibition. I liked the way they used his own words in the interpretation and there was plenty of material to digest, which I have to be honest I did not read in its entirety so perhaps that is why I felt so curiously detached from the subject. The colours were very understated, lots of blues and greys which made it feel quite clinical in atmosphere, not helped by the silence in the gallery (such a contrast to the noise and life provided by the school groups downstairs!) That got me to thinking about how well we can experience someone's life through the medium of the museum. Can an array of exhibits, neatly labelled and presented in chronological order, really give us an insight into the mind of an individual? This was the theme that linked the exhibition, that Orton's life is directly linked to his literature and each explains the other. I am not sure that without reading any of his works I came close to understanding what drove him but it has made me think that I should go away and do just that.

Additionally, we had a very quick look at Face to Face, 30 amazing portraits of orphaned gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos. Proof that every animal has a unique set of features and the expressions were ... well the obvious thing is to say 'human-like' but that kind of suggests that we have to imbue animals with human qualities in order to understand them. Tne labels tell the story of each individual which makes for disturbing reading considering how we continue to treat such beautiful creatures and it made me feel sad, especially when confronted by the melancholic faces in many of the portraits.

4 comments:

Amy said...

Oh, the Face to Face exhibition is incredibly powerful; really amazing photographs. But distressing. Important yes, but upsetting.

As I said before, I only had a quick turn around the Orton exhibition the other day, but what it did do is make me realise that I orientate towards objects - always - in exhibitions. There's me going on about the importance of interpretation, while in actual fact I mostly steer clear of text panels in my own museum visiting. Weird...

Amy said...

Oh, and I inevitably rebel against defined circulation routes around exhibitions and often, deliberately, start at the end first. I'm an exhibition designer's nightmare! Could this be why my reviews are always so rubbish?!! ;)

Ceri said...

Katy went round the Joe Orton exhibition backwards and I do not think her enjoyment was any less. I confess to going around in an erratic manner depending on what seemed most interesting to me and that was the fur coat and the typewriter, but I did read most of the panels only because I was thinking of writing the review for the blog. So was that even worse??

Amy said...

Ah well, that makes me feel a little better then, if even RCMG employees don't stick to the rules. ;)