It’s been a year of deep thinking around play in museums. I adore the concept of playful interactions; bringing joy and wonderment (often with a sneaky side serve of history) to visitors. I personally love finding spaces that encourage me to play inside them; from chasing butterflies across an interactive wall to bumbling my way around puzzle rooms.
I stumbled across Dr Conway’s article this week, and I just wanted to share it immediately. “From monologue to dialogue: towards playable cities” explores some of the differences between games such as PokemonGo and Hello Lamp Post.
here to edit.
I'm almost in my last year of University! Joy! Happiness! Immense bloody relief!
Occasionally, as I rocket my way towards the end now, I find myself in first year topics that I somehow managed to leap frog in my excitement to get to the end. Last semester, due to this, I found myself in the delightful "Global Ethical Challenges". Suddenly, all the lessons from 'The Good Place' became useful!
Part of the unit included a creative response to a topic. I thought I would give it a bit of a museum twist and wrote this short story:
Admittedly, I may be finding myself spending a lot of time at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) at the moment. Three times in 12 months is surprisingly high, but the topics they have been covering just tickles my brain into thinking more creatively and more broadly.
Digital Directions is an annual symposium, now in its fifth year of existence. The purpose of the symposium is designed to consider the future of our collections in the digital age. Like all good events, the NFSA collaborates with several other excellent institutions including (get ready for some alphabet soup): ABC, AIATSIS, ANU, AARNET, NAA, NLA and NMA.
This year’s speakers were fabulous, and the topics were broad and exciting. Will I go again? Absolutely! This is my very brief summary of the talks I managed to get to
Something a little new, I thought I would review museums as seen in movies, just for a bit of fun.
Being the lover of action films, I’m not sure how I ever missed Demolition Man. However, watching the movie set up some particular narratives, that I’m definitely not on board with, I’m not devastated by this hole in my pop culture knowledge. There is a museum scene in the film, which I found pretty amusing.
San Angeles Museum of History
There is nothing quite as satisfying than having a moment where a number of your passions come into alignment at the same time. Last weekend I had the joy of visiting the National Sound and Film Archive to explore the new exhibition ‘Game Masters’. My museum life was hanging out with my gaming life, and I don’t think I could have been more satisfied.
The world of gaming is going through an incredible time at the moment. Back when I was a wee girl in the 1980’s popular opinion made video games the realm of the young and those who had nothing better to do. They were something to scoff at, an illegitimate form of entertainment and the domain of the basement-dwelling white pasty male.
Honestly, I felt like a bit of a rebel against society. A girl who was playing games and thumbing my nose at those who thought my past times were a sign of immaturity. For me, and many of my friends, they were a style of storytelling that I connected to. The games that really stick out in my mind are Zelda, Final Fantasy and the Dungeons and Dragons PC games. I migrated from console and PC gaming, and made my way into tabletop games, designing stories and worlds that would explore the narratives that I connected to. I think it moulded me into team player, a deep thinker and a problem solver.
I’m extremely impressed to see that the National Film and Sound Archive are accepting their first games into the collection. It’s only right that collections start to reflect this medium more fully, not just an art form, but as something that has (and will) influence society. It will be interesting to see how they go about this process with some game consoles beginning to get to the end of their spare-parts life. It sounds like a great adventure in future planning!
The Game Masters Exhibition is fabulous. The exhibition was initially debuted in its home, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. It’s travelled extensively overseas, and this is its first visit to Australia. The exhibition stretches over three spaces all of which include a startling number of games that you can play. This is a hands-on exhibition, with staff on hand to explain ideas and gameplay to visitors.
I loved the theming of the spaces, and the text panels were spot on. It’s rare to see so much information readily available about the game designers and how a game comes together. The games were all working, almost a miracle considering the breakdown rate of touch screens and TVs in exhibitions. The games and designer choices are really thoughtful, pulling out trailblazers that started genres (like Wil Wright, Peter Moyneux) and new Indie designed creating amazing concepts (like thegamecompany and Ken Wong). There were many moments were Mr Geek, and I made squeaky excited noises where we found a game that we loved and felt connected to. We tried a few new things. I oooh-ed and aaaah-ed at drawings and handwritten notes and company structures and models. It was just fabulous fun with ways of engaging people who may have no interest in the genres at all. There are a good number of photos below with notes.
I wish there were a merchandise shop for this one because I would have loved to go home with some swag. I like that the exhibition wasn’t buying into the stereotypical mouth-breathing basement-dwelling nerd. I felt very welcome and among a wide variety of people from the community. I was not the only woman playing enthusiastically on the consoles, which was fabulous to see. There were youngesters, all the way through to people who may have started gaming significantly before I was born.
Whether you love games, feel confused by them, or just want to understand what the gaming community finds in them; this is an excellent opportunity to learn about why they matter and who some of the movers and shakers have been.
PS: A shout out to my Dad who had Captain Comic installed on our very first computer. A shout out to my hubby for introducing me to Dungeons and Dragons, and to Mike for letting me play on their Nintendo 64. A big shout out to my weekly gaming group who I design with, solve problems with and imagine better worlds with.
I popped into the Dressmaker Exhibition, at the National Sound and Film Archive, and was thoroughly impressed. 8 years living in the ACT and I am kicking myself for not checking out the dozens of previously advertised NFSA exhibition. This exhibition closes on the 18th of August, so if you haven’t seen it, I would suggest going sooner rather than later.
The Dressmaker (the film), is an Australian classic. Having been convinced to watch it by my lovely Aunty, I will admit that it wasn’t specifically my cup of tea. The filmography and costuming were amazing, the story building is fantastic, but it was thoroughly lacking in superheroes and fast cars. Incredible film though, just not my taste. The film is probably best described as a revenge/comedy/drama set in outback Australia and explores the mysterious past of the female lead character Myrtle Dunnage. Myrtle is a fabulous dressmaker, which means that the costuming has a strong place within the film.
Although I enjoy costuming and anything textile, the Dressmaker Exhibition had been in my peripheral view, and it took a lovely friend arriving in town with a love for dressmaking to decide the matter. I loved the costumes on display. They were amazing. Lovely textiles, great embroidery, beautiful dress shapes.
Beyond the costumes, I loved the exhibition itself! It was interesting comparing the atmosphere between this exhibition, and my recent exploration of the Guo Pei exhibition. The Geo Pei exhibition was glamorous and it felt like you could be looking through a veil while standing on the runway or in the dressing room with the mannequins. It creates a dreamy feel to the whole exhibition. The Dressmaker Exhibition was the complete opposite. The dresses (and suits) stand with the set photography behind them in lovely bright lights. The display cases provide further insights with additional props or equipment, deepening the narrative behind the scenes that called for each piece. For many parts, it was easy to feel as connected to the dress as it was to the atmosphere and narrative of the movie. Remote Australian, with this injected glamour, and a whole bunch of f**k this. It felt punchy, not dreamy.
It’s probably a ridiculous thing to focus on, but I also loved the magazine stands. Yep... magazine stands.
It’s for two major reasons. Firstly, the magazines that were on display described the costumes as if they were haute couture. It felt like it was something the character, Myrtle, should have. It felt like the pieces were being elevated to the runway in Paris she belonged, and that it was throwing shade on the denizens of the horrible little town. Secondly, the magazine stands were just really nicely constructed and low impact on the exhibition itself. I took a surprising number of photos that I think may have confused the poor museum staff member who was looking after the floor that day (thanks for your patience!).
Marion Boyce plays a dual part in this fantastic exhibition: She is the designer/curator of the exhibition but was also the film costumer designer for The Dressmaker. I’ve noticed several future exhibitions that are tied to her, which I will certainly be making a point to visit.
I felt like this was a worthwhile exhibition to see, if you would like to snap up a ticket you can either buy them at the counter or pop onto the NSFA website: https://www.nfsa.gov.au/events/dressmaker-costume-exhibition
Part of my adventures with the University of Canberra has included visiting two places dedicated to telling the narrative of the Peranakan ethnic group. It was an interesting comparison between the two methods of displaying the culture and history of the group.
Peranakan in Malay means ‘local born’, but in Singapore the word is used to describe the family and descendants of Chinese immigrants who married local Malay women. It’s an incredible cultural heritage, where the culture of both the Chinese and Malay blending together fairly harmoniously. To add to that blend, the Peranakan combined other facets of cultures that they appreciated into the mix. This resulted in a specific (almost eclectic) style and a different way of thinking compared to other ethnic groups.
The two locations that we visited to explore this culture was The Intan and Baba House. Both are houses, and both present the history of Peranakans in slightly different ways (although the core narrative is very similar). I’m glad that we visited both, because I feel like the two fleshed out the history quite well.
The Intan is owned and operated by a Peranakan descendant, Alvin Yapp. Alvin started collecting Peranakan artefacts and antiques from a young age, wanting to connect to and learn about his culture. The house belongs to him and the collection is entirely brought to life via the stories he tells. Downstairs, we were given tea and cakes that were made for us by his mother. Alvin is a very talented interpreter, and after giving us a briefing on how his collection and research started, he allowed us to pick his brains. What is Peranakan? Are people still Peranakan? What role does religion play in the culture? What is this thingy over here? It was great having a guide which allowed for just being curious. Upstairs is where all the very shiny and interesting things live, and I was bedazzled by the sheer number of Peranakan beaded shoes (a skill that now quite rare). The house is not exactly a museum, and it’s not exactly a heritage house, it somehow manages to straddle the two aspects well. It certainly is an impressive collection, and it is was wonderful to be given access to it so warmly.
Baba House is different entirely. Owned and operated by NUS university, it is very much both a heritage house and a museum combined (and also kind of separated out). Level 1 and 2 of the house are frozen in time in the year 1926, considered academically to the be the peak of Peranakan culture. The 3rd floor is a very impressive museum, in a surprisingly small space. The house is being restored/conserved by university students and academics, and I was surprised to hear that at least 40% of the furniture was from the original family that owned the house (which I thought was pretty impressive considering the house was empty when they took over the site). I picked the curators brain for a while on how choices were made about what was being added to the space, and I will be happily applying some of those thought processes when I get home again. I really loved the museum up the top of the house as well, talk about fitting something really diverse into a small space!
Peranakan culture is incredibly interesting, I’m so glad that we have spent this time learning about it. I had no idea that it existed before this trip was scheduled and I feel like it is a really fascinating example of multiculturalism. I really hope next time I am in Singapore the Peranakan Museum will be open again, so that I can have another view point added to my experiences.
Please note: For both locations, photography was severely limited, so I’m very sorry about the lack of substance in these images. I will say, in my very laid back vernacular though - the embroidery/beadwork at the Intan, and the language diagram in Baba House, are very awesome. Also, if you click on the photos, the full size will come up, which means Alvins head will come back into existence.
(Before I get fully started, please be aware that the photos below do have graphic representations of violence)
Yesterday, I travelled through the 10 courts of hell and survived to tell the tale. Welcome to Haw Par Villa, probably one of my absolute highlights from my trip so far! The cultural park is one of the most fascinating places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Situated in Pasir Panjang, the parks origin story starts with Tiger Balm. What is Tiger Balm? Tiger Balm is an ointment you can buy in most countries that is rubbed onto sore joints and muscles to relieve pain. Two brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, inherited and grew their fathers apothecary shop, which led to the eventual success of Tiger Balm. The park was a built in 1937 as a gift from Boon Haw to Boon Par, and was originally called Tiger Balm Gardens. The brothers had a deep appreciation of Chinese mythology and lore, and created the gardens around a lavish villa they would live in. Boon Haw’s personal motto was “That which is derived from society, should be returned to society”, the park became part of that vision.
So what are you seeing in the photos below? It’s a combination of things: Chinese mythology, folk law, Confucian philosophy and a surprising number of turtles. The park contains over 1,000 statues, many of which are organised into dioramas that explore a certain park of the topic. Quite a few of the dioramas explain the scene (the panels for the Journey to the West were my favourites), but some are just left to the imagination to those who are unaware of the origin stories. The section covering the Ten Courts of Hell had very good signage, and I am disappointed that I am probably going to at least a couple of levels unless I up my game slightly. Apparently the park was used in the past by parents to educate children on why good behaviour is important.
What a wonderful cultural landscape! So many parks are pleasant to view, with a lovely wander through some flowering plants and probably a gazebo somewhere. A place to relax. Not this park, this park will invade your brain with stories, histories and a curiosity to work out exactly why those duck people sculptures are looking so angry. It’s colourful and loud and completely in your face. It shoves Chinese culture right into your personal space and leaves you with the impression that there is so much more to explore. This place is absolutely something to celebrate - if not from a place of faith, then from awe at incredible story building. Even from a place outside of faith, I can see how it can also be seen as a place of reflection. In particular, the area where you can try laying down in a coffin, certain makes you consider your own mortality. It has a rich history of how it was constructed and developed over the years, which is also well worth diving into.
It’s interesting that cultural or theme parks have not made it into many heritage lists so far. I think that people see them as being frivolous or designed to only make money, but these places do reflect culture and society. Places like Disney World, are deeply ingrained into our perception of what it is to be in a state of wonder or disconnected from reality and placed into stories. Are we just too serious and grown up to consider these places special?
Or maybe it’s simply that these parks may not want that heritage status anyway. After all, a heritage listing can seriously restrict a places ability to adapt and change, which is exactly what stories do. Imagine the way that the story of the Journey to the West has changed. From the original writings, to the Monkey Magic of my childhood to the newly created New Zealand version from last year. Stories should be adaptable to include new generations of participants.
It’s sad to see so many of the sculptural pieces of Haw Par Villa suffering from the ravage of weather and years. If I were much braver, and able to work in Singapore, I would absolutely choose this as a location of infinite opportunity for development. If you are visiting Singapore, you should pop it onto your list of places to visit. Key tips - make sure you have a couple of spare dollar coins in your pocket to feed the many turtles and the EFTPOS facilities weren’t great when I was there (but the staff were lovely). They also run tours which I would have loved to experience
I had a *lot* of fun yesterday, doing a practice section of cultural mapping in Waterloo Street. It was colourful, and fascinating, and basically compiled a bunch of the things that I like about working in museums into one handy location. It’s the hunt for data and information, that puts together a picture. I’m gushing, but it’s wonderful.
Waterloo Street stretches from Rocher road to Bras Basah Road in downtown Singapore. Our cultural mapping session included the space between Albert Street and Bencoolen Link. The space includes two amazing temples, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and Sri Krishna Temple. The street in front of the temples is crowded with incense and flower sellers, fortune readers and massage tents. The next section up takes a hard right and is almost all retail or clothes and Knick-knacks.
I decided to follow the sounds of the street. A fair amount of cultural mapping is focused on intangible heritage, and as a personal note I tend to identify places with the way the sound first when remembering. Plus, if you took the sounds away from this street, it would lose a significant amount of it’s cultural feel.
As you enter the street from the Sri Krishna Temple, there is the sound of the bells being rung on the front door. This bell is an important part of the process of entering the temple space, as they believe that it will make them more receptive to the experience inside. The bell is also associated being polite, and asking permission of the gods to enter the temple.
Just outside this temple, and I admit that this is going to sound odd, but you will likely hear a bit of flesh slapping. This is the sound of the massage practitioners working on clients. The massage places are all professing to have special healing properties and have signs up explaining ‘energy’ flows in peoples bodies. You will also start to have people approach you, looking to sell either flowers of incense that can be used in the temples. They don’t ask incessantly, just politely once. I came across a man without a nose, and wearing a placard that said “Diesel causes cancer”, speaking loudly to anyone who would listen in Mandarin.
Outside the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, you will hear what is best described as the sound of shaking. The temple is devoted to Avalokitesvara, the Goddess of Mercy. Devotees believe that using fortune sticks (or divination) sticks will help to guide them. The process includes shaking a cylinder of these items, which when combined by the many others in the space performing the same ritual, creates a sound that can be easily heard on the street.
Moving down the street towards Bencoolen Link, shops have turned their music up to encourage visitation. Unlike China town, the music here is not sugary American pop, it’s chanting or religious in nature. All of it is in a language I can’t understand, but it is still quite effecting. The retail is mostly offerings, herbs, food and religious paraphernalia.
As you cross the Bencoolen Link, heading towards Albert Street, you reach more retail. Over here you will find people on megaphones selling clothes, knife sharpeners, and all manner of Knick-knacks. You will also be able to hear people bantering and bartering with stall keepers.
The street is incredible. It’s so full of sounds that you normally wouldn’t hear together in Australia. I have to go back before the end of my trip to actually try the divination stick ritual. I had a lot of fun here, and i can’t wait for the next session with Ngee Ann Polytechinic students.
Yesterday’s visit to the Singapore Botanical Gardens was quite enjoyable. The gardens are beautiful, tied up with some interesting history and a nice break from the city. It was particularly interesting comparing it to the walking trek of the Southern Ridges that I completed on the weekend, and the Gardens by the Bay the week before that.
The Botanic Gardens is the oldest of the three garden walks that I have been on, with the garden having been established in 1859. The gardens played an important role in tweaking the process of extracting rubber for the British, which makes some of it’s history a little complex. It also served as a garden for members of the Singaporean Agri-horticulturist society that designed and maintained the garden. For a while, in the late 1800’s, the gardens included a zoo, which was closed by 1903. In the 1920’s, it became a site of experimentation for orchid growing and hybridisation. This orchid experimentation grew into Singapore becoming one of the worlds foremost exporter of the flowering plant. By the 1990’s, the park was going through a revitalisation process to feed into the cities Green City plan. In 2015 it became Singapore’s first World Heritage Site, on account of fulfilling Criterion 2 and 4 of the selection criteria.
Walking through the gardens today is quite interesting, with it seemingly embracing the colonial feeling of it’s past. There are Victorian style lamp posts, buildings that are from the colonial era and at one point we walked past a bandstand painted white. The garden beds and placement of plants feels quite European in style. It is undeniably beautiful and full of old world charm. I think the most fascinating part for me was the concept of Orchid Diplomacy - where official meetings for international leaders results in a new hybrid orchid being named for the person visiting.
Having visited the other two locations, it kind of made me wonder whether they are balancing points. Gardens by the Bay is spectacular in design. It’s hard to describe what it is the most beautiful natural and constructed green spaces confined within domes that are somewhere above. It’s nothing like walking into a quaint greenhouse. On the outside of the buildings, the Supertree Grove is nestled into the green space, challenging our perception of what is natural. I have no doubt, that only in Singapore, could I see anything like this. The Southern Reaches walk was also pretty incredible. Where the Gardens by the Bay and Botanical Gardens are constructed and designed natural spaces, the Southern Reaches invites people to walk in the tree tops of the rainforest below you. There is a sense of the wild beneath foot as you walk along the metal structure. There are constant warnings of wild monkeys and I saw a squirrel darting down a tree. In the moments of quiet, you could almost be a bird (or squirrel), watching over the forest below.
In essence, I felt like visiting the three completed a whole experience for me. Three sides of Singapore: Colonial beginnings and growth, Singaporean design and innovation, and the land that is woven in around that.
I think that makes me wonder about the World Heritage listing for the Botanic Gardens. It received it’s entry via selection criteria 2 and 4, which is interesting. World Heritage listings are often quite worthy of their status, however the process is wrapped up in a certain level of politics. I think that the garden does connect into a much large national narrative, and it is supremely interesting in it’s use for diplomacy. The garden is already somewhat secluded, which will help with maintaining lay it’s status, and it is popular for tourism. I’m not convinced that by itself, those two criteria works well for it. I feel like maybe the Gardens by the Bay could have been a better option for world heritage status, but it is quite new. I would be quite happy to be convinced otherwise.
I am so pleased that I was able to visit all three, and I’m feeling extraordinarily lucky to be on this trip with University of Canberra.
Side note: Squirrels seen during this trip now equals 2!
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.