Singapur am 27. 2. 02, 11 Uhr, sonnig und schwül, sieht genau aus wie das kühle, beschneite Prag einen Monat später oder der Gaza-Streifen am 2. 6. 05 um 14 Uhr: nach nichts. Oder vielmehr: nach einem leeren Glas mit Metalldeckel und Schraubverschluss. Die britische Künstlerin Nikki Pugh hat im Jahr 2001 begonnen, solche Gläser zu kaufen und sie Freunden und Bekannten mitzugeben auf Reisen. Mittlerweile hat sie mehrere hundert “Wetterproben” aus allen Teilen der Welt, ein paar Dutzend stehen derzeit im Hygiene-Museum in Dresden. Ein fein ironisches Bild dafür, dass uns das Wetter, obwohl wir zu jeder Sekunde mittendrin leben, durch die Finger flutscht wie nichts.
Fear and Poetry
Singapore, February the 27th, 2002, 11 o’clock, sunny and sticky, looks the same as the cool, snowy Prague a month later or Gaza on February the 6th, 2005 at 2 am: it looks like nothing. Or rather: it looks like an empty jar with a metal cap and a screwtop. In 2001, the British artist Nikki Pugh began to buy such jars and give them to friends and acquaintances to take them with them on their journeys. Nowadays she possesses several hundred of these “samples” from all parts of the world, a few dozen are now exhibited in the Hygiene-Museum in Dresden. A fine, ironic image for the fact that the weather, although we are living in the middle of it in every second, slips through our fingers like nothing.
Here are some photos of the doings (for my Mum) and some thoughts about display (for me, ‘cos one day I’m going to nail the presentation of this piece of work).
I’d suspected it was going to be big, but first response on seeing the museum building was something along the lines of “eek”. Other adjectives that came up over the next few days included ‘imposing’ and ‘didactic’. Here’s why:
I should therefore have guessed it would have been rather more of a formal launch event than I was used to: speeches started at 7 and lasted for close to 2 hours.
After the speeches drew to a close there was a bit of a mass exodus as probably about 500 people descended back down to the main entrance hall and the bar.
Waiting staff periodically emerged bearing trays of cheesy sticks, pretzels and sandwiches etc to be swarmed around by the guests. I wish I’d got some good photos of that!
We eventually made our way to the exhibition halls which were, by now, only fairly rammed rather than being completely rammed! It’s hard to describe the feel of this place: part science museum with interactive bits and pieces; part civic museum with dimmed lights and watchful attendants; part at gallery, part… The best way to get an impression of the mood and the scale is to have a lookatthephotos on the German-language section of the DHMD website.
Exhibits ranged from the exploded shards of lightning-struck trees through to a small canister of top secret recipe snow-globe snow. Nice.
the weatherproject was in the third room, curated by Novina Göhlsdorf to bring together different cultural responses to the weather. My jars are temporarily hanging about with the likes of one of Her Majesty the Queen’s umbrellas and latex casts of hurricane-flattened homes.
It was quite strange to see a tiny fraction of the entire collection at once looking so small and also so big. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m glad I didn’t have to make that selection of 30 jars from over 10 times as many in the complete collection!
I arrived at the museum not knowing anything about how they were intending to display the jars and record slips. This was intentional because I’ve always struggled to present this work and wanted to give them free reign to see what solutions they came up with with their resources, experience and expertise.
It was really interesting to compare their method of display with the one I used for the threshold exhibition back in 2004. My solution for threshold was to construct an 18′ long table with a folded plastic cover that arched quite snugly over the jars. (the cover is removed in most of the photos at the previous link because of the way it attracted the dust…). At the DHMD, the designers had made a similar cover out of similar materials and of a similar scale with respect to the size of the jars. All much more skilfully executed though! Rather than heating and folding a single strip of polythene/acrylic they had cut and glued individual pieces of much thicker stock to give some really nice clean corners. I’m jealous…
The DHMD installation also paired each jar with its record slip and gave each pairing quite a lot of space. At threshold I had 250 jars and was using the opportunity to get them all out on show en masse as physical objects and so they were a lot closer together. The threshold jars were all closely bunched together and the record slips available digitally at one end of the table.
The DHMD approach had a strange homogenising effect – both through intentional selection of collections made in the standard jar and with no additional labels/contents etc and through the omission of the individual ephemera such as postcards and photos that accompany most of the jars. This and the lighting/mid grey plinth colour led to quite an austere effect. Very different to what had gone before and I suppose made possible by both the exhibition and curator’s distance from the people who had made the contributions.
I can see how this was appropriate to the task in hand here, but the work did lose some of it’s quirkiness that I think is one of it’s strong points. I don’t dislike this format, however, and it may be something I experiment with more in future presentations…
I loitered a bit and watched how people interacted with the display, and have to say that I didn’t see many people do more than look at one or two of the jars. I’m not sure if this is an observation worth basing any theories on seeing as how people were having to zip around quite fast to try and see everything before closing and, well, if there’s a bank of empty jars labelled up in a different language next to an interactive display of snow-globes which one are you going to choose! I know which one I’d go for!
Actually, as it turned out, I got totally drawn in by a black and white film of rain in Amsterdam in the late 1920s. Regen by Joris Ivens and Manus Franken (here with soundtrack, although it was silent at the Dresden exhibition).
Another thing I found interesting was watching how people’s engagement with the work shifted. Typically people would glance at one or two jars and then, sometimes, go and read the accompanying text describing the work. That was the hook! If they did this then 9 times out of 10 they’d go back to the jars and have a closer look – often with a smile on their face and usually grabbing whoever they were with and getting them to have a look too!
So, all in all a method of display that brought along a whole bunch of new things to consider, but also reiterated old hunches too. Hopefully we’re getting closer to the ultimate weatherproject format…
If you happen to be in Dresden over the next few months I can recommend you stop by and check out the exhibition. Take the randomness of the weatherproject and then multiply that by 4 large rooms full of stuff both curious and scientific. There’s a whole range of interesting things all brought together here and you’ll definitely find something that whets your appetite.
After the launch had officially ended we found our way to the after-party in seminar room 8. A good time was had by all, despite the strangely prison-like surroundings and the stinky cheese!
I’m going to finish up with these two photos that I really like (party lights and top-end museum security) and, more importantly a big thanks to Family Göhlsdorf et al for making my trip a lot easier than it could have been otherwise.
Hello, my name's Nikki. I make things happen.
My main area of enquiry is centred around interactions between people and place: often using tools and strategies from areas such as pervasive games and physical computing to set up frameworks for exploration.
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