No, to clarify, I do not own a bronze pot, I never have (so it hasn’t been stolen from me) and I’m not trying to curse anyone. This is a post focusing on some exhibitions that I have seen: how they’ve worked on interacting with and activating their visitors.

Roman Baths1
A screen, interpreting some of the messages left by Romans at the Roman Baths, Bath.

At the Roman Baths in Bath, the focus was mainly on the people who had used the baths in ancient times. Both the title quote and the image above are examples of curses engraved on pieces of metal which have then been thrown into the holy spring in the hope that the goddess there, Sulis Minerva, would fulfil the wronged person’s wishes. These curses were displayed and interpreted in several different ways across the Baths, including showing the actual metal, writing out the curse in latin and then with a translation, the interactive screen that I photographed, and a short film that re-enacted the corresponding offense and then the making of one of the actual curse metal sheet. This focus on the individuals of the Roman period really shaped the exhibition as a whole.

Sulis Minerva
The goddess Sulis Minerva. Roman Baths, Bath.

At Winterbourne, the focus is also largely on specific people (as I will soon tell you more about), but as its history is much more recent we know more of the people and this naturally affects the way in which they are presented via objects and text. Here too, though, you have interactive screens where you can read, in this case extracts from the diary of Margaret Nettlefold. Objects that are known to have belonged to the family are mixed with objects that simply evoke the era of their lives. In that respect, these two very different exhibition spaces are alike. While Winterbourne follows the history of a family, The Roman Baths follow a more diffuse group of people, not really connected but by their civilisation and the Baths. The Nettlefolds did have an impact on the city of Birmingham, though, which is of course also reflected in the exhibition.

winterbourne1
Map of Birmingham with a train set operable by the visitor. Winterbourne House & Garden.

This train set on top of a map was designed to show the zones in Birmingham most important to the Nettlefolds. To receive information, the visitor would press a button for a certain location. Then one of the locomotives (the one for a freight train or for a passenger train) would travel to that spot and then a recording would play. This is a way to activate the visitor on several levels with both the information and the medium engaging him/her. Electric train sets have existed since the late 19th century, so that too is a reminder of the era and the people that are being evoked.

Burne-Jones1
In the Edward Burne-Jones room at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

At BMAG, no opportunity to educate and engage the visitor is missed out on. In the Burne-Jones Room, even the two pieces of apparatus for measuring humidity and light in the room have labels. This conforms with the idea that I’ve had reinforced over and over during my time here: that everyone can learn something from an object – no matter who and no matter what. What matters is that we do learn, and that we know that we can keep learning.

 

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