The IMAC award is an opportunity for one student from The University of Melbourne, Australia, to spend four weeks observing professionals working across the cultural collections, galleries, archives and museums of The University of Birmingham, UK. Interested students must submit and application for review and the short listed candidates are then required to give a presentation of an object of interest from their university and undertake a panel interview. The aim of the award is to give the recipient a breadth experience of all aspects of the operation and management of galleries and museums, as well as experience in interpretation and care for cultural artefacts in the context of a University collection.
The IMAC award was an opportunity to consider my future career trajectory, as I am currently studying object conservation within the MA Cultural Materials Conservation Degree at The University of Melbourne. I am a visual artist, and have previously taught and developed curriculum in the Bachelor of Visual Arts and Bachelor of Engineering (Architecture and the Built Environment) programs at The University of Sydney and University of Nottingham, Ningbo China Campus. Therefore, I hoped to explore how my skills as an artist, educator and conservator would fit within the context of University museums and collections.
The award placement was broken into four-day weeks, and I undertook specific projects within several campus collections. Two highlights of my experience included projects in the Research and Cultural Collections (RCC) and the Wilson Paper Conservation Studio.
The RCC includes artefacts, works of art and objects related to the history of the University of Birmingham, and these collections are primarily used for teaching purposes. My task was to curate a group of eight Tuareg leather and metal artefacts from The Danford Collection of West African Art for the upcoming exhibition ‘Empires of Emptiness’. The Tuareg are a semi-nomadic Indigenous people of Berber origin that live across the Sahara. During colonial rule by the French during the early 20th century, the Tuareg’s way of life was threatened. This exhibition combined outdoor photographic panels depicting the desert forts that the French and Russians built during their colonial reign of the Sahara, with indoor showcases of Tuareg artefacts. For this project, I was responsible for interpretation and object label writing, condition reporting, basic conservation, contextual research, and display case design, including the creation of appropriate mounts and supports for the Tuareg objects.
The Cadbury Research Library, Wilson Paper Conservation studio is the only dedicated conservation laboratory on campus at The University of Birmingham. In the lab I was given two pamphlets from the 1800s titled ‘The Bottle’ and ‘The Drunkard’s Children’ by George Cruickshank, to practice basic paper conservation skills. I went through the whole process of photographic documentation, condition and treatment documentation, dry cleaning (abrasion), adhesive removal and wet cleaning, with a decent final result. In addition, I was given a tour of the archives and learnt about disaster management for flooding and preventive conservation for paper materials.
The other minor projects I was involved with included writing a volunteer newsletter for The Lapworth Museum of Geology and initial planning for a ‘Pooches in Paintings’ children’s art trail activity in the Learning and Access Department of The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. With the encouragement of the staff at RCC, I also produced a mini art installation of my own small objects that I made in the last week of my placement in the evenings from found materials. The title was ‘There’s no place like home…’ and the objects or artefacts were small cocoons that symbolised temporary homes and a sense of the connection I felt through the artefacts, collaborations with people at the University. It was also a reflection of my experience reconnecting with my heritage, as a UK citizen who was raised in Australia. I incorporated plastic medical artefacts and original pace makers produced in Birmingham during the 1960s in the display in order to trigger a dialogue about themes of identity, object histories, belonging and home that museum displays and artefacts often suggest.
The IMAC award placement was a fantastic opportunity because I was situated within a supportive environment where staff encouraged me to work autonomously and gain confidence in my skills and knowledge. After observing and engaging with a variety of activities within the University collections and alongside experienced curators, collections managers, archivists and conservators, I now feel that I would love to work in a museum or University collection in the future. I would recommend any student of The University of Melbourne or The University of Birmingham to apply for this award, as it was really an invaluable and enjoyable growth experience for me as an individual and for my career. You can read about some of my experiences on my blog https://imacaward2016.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/northern-adventures/.
You can read more about Kim’s work and travels here: