Scarborough Museums Trust’s lockdown digital commissions stay at home online

Estabrak’s Homecoming: A Placeless Place

SCARBOROUGH Museums Trust’s lockdown-launched series of New Digital Commissions from leading British artists is complete and available online.

The project was introduced by the trust in response to the first lockdown in March as a “dynamic new approach to its collections, learning and exhibition programming during the Coronavirus crisis”.

Key to the series was a commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality of access and innovative ways to promote this message. A diverse range of artists – Lucy Carruthers, Estabrak, Kirsty Harris, Wanja Kimani, Jade Montserrat, Jane Poulton and Feral Practice’s Fiona MacDonald – created digital artworks for release online over the spring and summer across social-media platforms.

Lucy Carruthers’ Animal Archives. Copyright: Scarborough Museums Trust

Trust chief executive Andrew Clay says: “It’s been so important this year for people to have access to the arts and culture: for many people, they’re a thought-provoking lifeline and have a proven positive effect on our mental health.”

Curator Dorcas Taylor says: “Museums and galleries have a social responsibility to support communities, now more than ever before. We can provide a platform for creative expression that enables artists to share their messages to communities in lockdown. Their artworks can support personal wellbeing or become an opportunity to consider some of these wider issues.”

Scarborough Museums Trust has provided a range of access tools to accompany the digital content to support as many people as possible to connect. Among them have been visual guides, in the form of “social stories”, by Scarborough illustrator Savannah Storm that give audiences downloadable information on what to expect before accessing digital content. Subtitles and audio descriptions have been used wherever possible.

Kirsty Harris’s Whispers From The Museum. Copyright: Scarborough Museums Trust

The New Digital Commissions all can be found on YouTube at http://bit.ly/SMTrustNDC, other than Jane Poulton and Kirsty Harris’s projects at https://www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/stardust/ and www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/learning/family-resources/ respectively.

Lucy Carruthers’ film, Animal Archives: Rewilding The Museum explores how we forge connections at a time of distancing. Interested in the relationship between inside and outside, all the more pertinent during lockdown, she asks how social isolation affects museum objects.

Estabrak’s Homecoming: A Placeless Place is a multi-layered touring and participatory project that uses community engagement, film, sound and paint for cross-cultural exchanges around home, identity, and displacement.

Jade Montserrat made a film with filmmakers Webb-Ellis for the New Digital Commissions project

It started in 2019 in Brighton and Hull and saw the social experiment, which invites honest expression and participation through ultraviolet light, invisible ink and dark spaces, introduced digitally to communities in Scarborough. 

Kirsty Harris created Whispers From The Museum, a six-part online and immersive adventure for children and families, inviting them to read George’s logbook, discover amazing museum objects and take part in art and craft activities. 

Wanja Kimani made a film, Butterfly, that follows a walk from a child’s eye view as she spent more time noticing the world around her and sensory experiences became amplified.

A still from Wanja Kimani’s film Butterfly

Jade Montserrat produced a film with filmmakers Webb-Ellis that explores the impact of lockdown and chronicles the process of making, and new ways of being, that encourage mutual support and acts of care.

Jane Poulton produced a series of photographs and text called From Stardust To Stardust, focusing on personal objects she owns as she considers whether those that mean the most to us are often acquired at times of crisis and what comfort they may bring. 

Feral Practice’s film, The Unseesables, explores themes of extinction by focusing on three “unseeable” birds: the great bustard, the corncrake and the great auk. Examples of all three can be found in the trust’s taxidermy collection.

A still from Feral Practice’s film The Unseeables

What next?

Some of the New Digital Commissions artists will be participating in What If? at Scarborough Art Gallery and the Rotunda from April 24 to August 30 2021.

Next year’s exhibition will explore “the civic responsibility of museums and their collections and how we could introduce wider narratives into our spaces to make our institutions relevant to both the world and our local community”. 

Feral Practice’s film in lockdown The Unseeables reawakens three extinct birds

Great Auk, clay head, work in progress for Feral Practice’s The Unseeables

THE Unseeables, a tale of extinction in three birds by filmmaker Feral Practice, is the latest digital commission in lockdown by Scarborough Museums Trust.

The 11-minute film, looking at the “the strange and polarised relationships humans have with other species”, can be seen on the trust’s YouTube channel (bit.ly/TheUnseeablesNDC) from Tuesday, June 16.

Feral Practice, the alias of artist and researcher Fiona MacDonald, explores loss, reparation, extinction and conservation, via the interwoven stories of three birds “lost” to Scarborough, now surviving only as specimens in the Scarborough Collections.

Corncrake facing left, for Feral Practice’s The Unseeables

The first is the sad and harrowing story of the Great Auk. The SMT collections house a single egg of a great auk, a large flightless bird that became globally extinct in 1844.

The auk’s demise was brutal, cruel, and driven by profit; most were killed for their down. As they approached extinction, every specimen was coveted by museums, ultimately putting the prestige of an auk exhibit above the survival of a species.

In the Scarborough Collections too are taxidermy examples of the great bustard and the corncrake.

Great Bustard eye, for Feral Practice’s The Unseeables

The great bustard became extinct in the UK in the early 1800s, but diminishing populations still exist in Central and Southern Europe and Asia, where the huge, “showy” males perform glorious ruffle dances for their female harems.

In Britain, the bird has been the subject of a reintroduction project that has succeeded in establishing a breeding population on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

The distinctive voice of the shy Corncrake was once integral to the British rural soundscape. Corncrakes started declining, however, as agriculture became mechanised, and by the late 1930s they were absent from much of England, not least Yorkshire, despite once having been widespread across the North of England.

Great Bustard performance body and bird, for Feral Practice’s The Unseeables

Now, they are confined largely to the islands off the west of Scotland and the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland. To save the bird, British conservationists seek to educate and persuade landowners.

The film narrates the birds’ stories alongside imagery that weaves together close-up footage of the Scarborough Collections exhibits with found footage and sculptural responses by Feral Practice, in an “impossible attempt to conjure the lost birds in their studio”.

Feral Practice says: “As we comprehend (or re-learn) the complex warp and weft of ecological thinking, and understand landscapes as self-creating masterpieces of which humans can never be masters, can we step back from our urge to manipulate, exploit and control? Will we allow other species the space they need to flourish alongside us on their own terms?”

Great Bustard performance feathers in two colours for Feral Practice’s film The Unseeables

Scarborough Museums Trust wants The Unseeables to be accessible to everyone, so the film is captioned and a parallel audio experience is available for those who might find this helpful. 

Defining Feral Practice’s artistic practice, Fiona says: “We work with human and non-human beings to create art projects and interdisciplinary events that develop ethical and imaginative connection across species boundaries.

“Our research draws on artistic, scientific and subjective knowledge practices to explore diverse aesthetics and create suggestive spaces of not knowing nature.” 

Painting the egg for Feral Practice’s The Unseeables

Feral Practice is the artist-in-residence for 2020-2021 at Dunham Massey, a National Trust Georgian house, garden and deer park in Cheshire.

The Unseeablesis one of a series of new digital commissions in lockdown from Scarborough Museums Trust in response to the Corona crisis. The trust has asked artists Feral Practice, Kirsty Harris, Jane Poulton, Wanja Kimani, Jade Montserrat, Lucy Carruthers and Estabrak to create digital artworks for released online across assorted social-media platforms.

Still , gold spiral, for Feral Practice’s The Unseeables

Scarborough museums to commission digital works from artists in lockdown times

Feral Practice: Queenright, Ant-ic Actions, 2018-2021, work in progress

SCARBOROUGH Museums Trust is introducing a dynamic approach to its collections, learning and exhibition programming with a series of new digital commissions from artists nationwide in response to the Coronavirus crisis.

The trust, in charge of Scarborough Art Gallery, the Rotunda Museum and Woodend, has been working with Flow Associates to develop a new way of working across the organisation.

This will involve using a method called the “Story of Change”; in a nutshell “defining the change you want before choosing the tools to achieve or measure it”.

Homecoming, A Place, by Estabrak

Andrew Clay, the trust’s chief executive, says: “We want our work to make an impact. Defining that impact before we plan our exhibitions and wider programme means we can ensure we are relevant and responsive to our communities all the time.”

Key to this progression is a commitment towards diversity, inclusion and equality of access, leading to the trust finding innovative ways to promote this message.

A wide range of artists, among them Lucy Carruthers, Estabrak, Kirsty Harris, Wanja Kimani, Jade Montserrat, Jane Poulton and Feral Practice, have been asked to create digital artworks, to be released online over the next four months across myriad social media platforms.

Dust, mixed media, by Wanja Kimani, 2019

Clay says: “It’s so important to have access to the arts and culture at this difficult time: for many people, they’re a thought-provoking lifeline and have a proven positive effect on our mental health.”

Simon Hedges, the trust’s head of curation, collections and exhibitions, says: “Museums and galleries have a social responsibility to support communities, now more than ever before.

“We can provide a platform for creative expression that enables artists to share their messages to communities in lockdown. Their artworks can support personal wellbeing or become an opportunity to consider some of these wider issues.”

Ave Maria Gracia Plena, by Jane Poulton

As part of its commitment to access, the trust has been working with artistic producer Sophie Drury-Bradey and disability activists Touretteshero to ensure people with diverse minds and bodies can become more engaged in its work.

Hedges says: “Before the lockdown, we started to explore how access can be a creative stimulus for our projects and how to extend a warm welcome to our disabled communities.

“We’re now looking at the lockdown as an opportunity to continue this work and find creative and imaginative ways of ensuring people can access our digital content.”

Shhh, Did You Hear That, by Kirsty Harris. Picture: © National Trust, Sutton House

The trust has committed to embrace a range of access “tools” to accompany the digital content to support as many people as possible to connect. Scarborough illustrator Savannah Storm, for example, will create visual guides, or “social stories”, to provide audiences with downloadable information on what to expect before accessing digital content.

Alongside this, subtitles will be used wherever possible, with audio descriptions to follow. The first Gallery Screenings Online event this evening at 7pm will incorporate a live Q&A session being accompanied by live captioning.

Audio descriptions will support children and families with visual access requirements for the first digital commission by Kirsty Harris, narrated by 11-year-old Ruby Lynskey, from Scarborough.

Shadowing Revue – Ecclesiastes v Watercolour, gouache, ink and pen on paper, by Jade Montserrat, 2017. Collection of York Art Gallery

Supporting children and families to access content is important to the trust’s learning manager, Christine Rostron: “We’re looking at a range of ways to help families engage with the learning activities we’re about to launch online in fun, age-appropriate ways,” she says. “Using a local child to produce audio descriptions is much more relatable than the voice of an adult BBC presenter!”

The trust’s intention is to continue this work for the long term, as Clay reasons: “Being inclusive and accessible is not an add-on: it’s becoming part of our DNA.”

The artists involved in the New Digital Commissions project all will be participating in exhibitions at Scarborough Art Gallery and the Rotunda in 2021.

“We want our work to make an impact,” says Andrew Clay, chief executive of Scarborough Museums Trust. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Lucy Carruthers will explore how we forge connections at a time of distancing. Her interest in the relationship between inside and outside is all the more pertinent during lockdown, wherein she asks how social isolation affects museum objects.

Estabrak’s Homecoming is a multi-layered touring and participatory project using community engagement, film, sound and paint for cross-cultural exchanges built around home, identity, and displacement.

The project started in 2019 in Hull and Brighton and now Estabrak will conduct the social experiment Homecoming: A Placeless Place, inviting honest expression and participation through ultraviolet light, invisible ink and dark spaces, introduced digitally to communities in Scarborough. 

Estabrak: One of the artists taking part in Scarborough Museums Trust’s New Digital Commissions project.. Picture: Ali Al Sharji

Kirsty Harris is constructing a new digital project for children and families during social distancing that imaginatively will bring to life objects in the trust collection to connect with children struggling with social isolation.

Wanja Kimani will be creating walking journeys from a child’s eye view as she spends more time noticing the world around her and her sensory experiences become amplified.

Jade Montserrat will consider the socio-political impact of lockdown and “encourage us to discover new ways of being based on mutual support, rather than a model that exacerbates existing social inequalities”.

Jade Montserrat, working on her The Last Place They Thought Of installation, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Picture: Constance Mensh

Jane Poulton’s series of photographs and text will focus on personal objects she owns in order to consider whether those that mean the most to us are often acquired at times of crisis and what comfort they bring.

Feral Practice will develop a digital artwork leading to a major commission on the theme of extinction for 2021.

The new digital works will be available to view shortly via Scarborough Museums Trust’s:

Website: scarboroughmuseumstrust.com

YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8-gck0CM7gVFcsZHMAIcDw

Twitter: @SMTrust

Instagram: @scarboroughmuseums

Facebook: @scarboroughmuseums

Floodproof, Travelling Series, by Lucy Carruthers