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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A trip to London by Arthur Schopenhauer (the fingerpuppet)


Greetings students.  Like me I expect you are a student of life as well as the myriad of organisations that we pile into the descriptive bracket of the museum.  Like me I expect that you are unduly concerned with the way in which our world is organised to bring only maximum misery to its unwitting inhabitants, everyday exhibited by those modern peddlers of doom and destruction the tabloids and broadsheets.  I beg you to reconsider that you never step outside into the hateful reality in which we subsist everyday and instead fill your days with wonder and enlightenment, chiefly from the musical and philosophical arts.  I find that every time I forget to follow this simple maxim I am only incredibly disappointed by what I find that I must retreat to my bed for several days with a severe headache for my pains.  Such as it was after my visit to that infernal place they call London, a city where all the world's ills are magnified as if to a terrible cacophony, the squeaking and squealing masses of humanity crowding into the temples of fawning and... oh I have been informed that I must dispense with this lengthy introduction and so get to the point of this post which is to ruminate upon the recent visit of myself to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Library, to take in two esteemed exhibitions and so acknowledge my thoughts to you in the manner of a review.  I suppose I must and so let us commence.


Cold War Modern it has to be said did not assuage any of my fears about the narcissism and idiocy of those we deem fit to rule in our names.  The premise rested on the contest between the USA and USSR to see who could best each other in presenting to the rest of the world (who watched events unfold in fear and perhaps disbelief that grown men could be so flagrant with their powerful toys) their vision of a utopian future, dragging their (mostly) brainwashed populations along with them.  If the history of this hideous manifestation of the will to power was unpalatable to me, the interest of this exhibition lay in the myriad outputs from this titanic contest.  I admired the quantity of objects amassed by the V&A that had been influenced by the competing attitudes of fear and revulsion, hope and optimism that the Cold War seemed to inspire in architects, artists, craftsmen, scientists and manufacturers.  Although I do not generally admire the automobile for its capacity to destroy the very environment it claims for its freedom, I greatly coveted the appealing examples of German (I say proudly) design - the scooter which encased the driver in a protective bubble and the automobile of choice for East German dictators and bureaucrats.  Sadly I cannot provide an image of these marvelous creations still, imagine a useful form of transport masquerading as a friend (bulbous eyes, a smile you can trust) and you might steer close to my feelings for these amazing creations.

There was much to take in and so my impressions can only be sketchy; although I am an interloper of time in this 21st century I was intrigued to see the debt of the postmodern (or is that post post modern, I am afraid my great mind is getting too kerfuddled to understand these modern definitions) world attributed by this exhibition to the Cold War.  Simple plastic cups and saucers seemed to recall those designed by the great consumer giant IKEA.  Furniture that cocooned the participant against the fear brought on by State posturising a welcome sight.  That some of these future fantasies evoked an age where men would feel at home in ribbed stockings was not something I felt should have survived the nuclear fallout, let alone the Middle Ages.  But then the visions of artists can be as ridiculous as they can be sublime and this exhibition visited well the suggestion that whilst the artists etc had their heads in the Utopian cloud, often their designs did not make it past the prototype stage.  Perhaps there was a collective sigh of relief from some visitors (myself included) however the dreams of a few were strong enough to drag entire countries, whole peoples along with them.


I was made slightly less miserable to see that museums CAN have a sense of humour with the sign to the shop entrance replicating the famous sign when leaving the American sector in Berlin (we had a short discussion as to why in Germany after all the German language would be relegated to last on the sign but drew no sensible conclusions).  It amazed me more however how much more  attention was paid, by the young ladies in my group, to the consumables for sale in said museum shop than the objects in the exhibition.  That noted, I thought it would be a tremendous wheeze if the curators would only stick tiny price labels on their objects and visitors would flock in their droves!  Between you and myself I was rather enamoured of the secret camera that could be hidden in a leather briefcase, unfortunately they had not seen sense to replicate this in a format that could be placed on general sale.  So I left the shop with a few postcards of the striking images from the exhibition to serve as a reminder that tyranny never goes away, it continues to exist if only in alternative forms.

It was fitting that after the prolonged exposure to such a thought-provoking exhibition, we repaired to an eating establishment for snacks and all manner of hot beverages. To make you jealous I have supplied a picture of the tasty fare below.



So ends my miserable opinion on the trip to London, I could expand at length on the second exhibition we visited at the British Library, however I fear that I have exhausted myself and I must now return to my bed for a prolonged period of rest and some musical comfort. And so I will bid you all adieu, in whatever part of this ill-formed world you belong.

Note: huge apologies are made for the potential inadequacy and offense that this review may cause, Schopenhauer is grumpy at the best of times

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