Behind the scenes of an exhibition: or everything you wanted to know about exhibitions, but were afraid to ask.

Over the last twelve months we have been enhancing the boxlist for the Li Yuan-chia archive with the aim of opening up the collection to researchers and a wider audience. During the course of the project we have published several blogs, celebrated Chinese New Year with a collections encounter and discovered a love of all things LYC. We came to realise the importance of the objects in the LYC Archive and their ability to elicit an emotional response.  They acted as a visual stimulus evoking a sense of time and place, giving a personal value to often inconsequential, everyday items, which chimed with artefacts from our own lives.  As a result of our enthusiasm for the objects we came across in the Li Yuan-chia archive and the collection of Banksiana Relics belonging to the author Isabella Bank’s, we were invited to be involved in the planning of an exhibition with the proposed title of The Life of Objects, which is due to run from 16 March 2017 – 27 August 2017 at the John Rylands Library.

As newcomers to the world of planning exhibitions we were surprised and a little daunted with the amount of preparation required to bring everything together. Who knew that there was a Content Hierarchy, an Interpretation Strategy, an analysis of the target audience, we’re aiming for Commuterland Culturebuffs apparently, or that it takes nearly a year of planning to get an exhibition in to the cases and open to the public?

As well as the enjoyment of ‘showing off’ objects from the collections  and discussing our concept at a recent workshop, there is the added bonus of working with colleagues from different teams within the library as a whole, not just The Special Collections team. We are looking forward in the coming months to hearing more about the various roles (and expertise) needed to make an exhibition a success. As representatives of the curatorial team (under the expert guidance of Stella Halkyard), we have made our suggestions as to which objects we would like to include in the exhibition. The next step for us is to meet with a colleague from collection care who will advise us in the matter of conservation issues relating to our chosen objects. We’re hoping that we can show everything on our list!

This is only the beginning of our exhibition ‘journey’. Watch this space as we decide which objects stay and which don’t make the final cut for the exhibition. Find out whose stories we tell and how the objects from our collections enhance our understanding of them as writers and artists. Can we fathom why we keep some items and discard others, how do we determine their sentimental value and what it tells us about who we are.  Our next instalment follows shortly.

Clare Baker and Karen Jacques

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