Miniature Museum by Tara Downs and Bart Sabel at Holst Museum, Cheltenham, from Sat 13th

This summer has a seen the touring of a unique artwork that reflects upon items in the collections of three museums in Gloucestershire. The Miniature Museum of Museums, by Tara Downs and Bart Sabel, is created in and on a desk, using mechanical and electronic devices.

Part of a research project funded by Arts Council England for Flow Contemporary Arts – it has been a fascinating journey that is still evolving.

IMG_0780We launched at the Gloucester Waterways Museum – the desk was located in a large warehouse there and its first encounters in the world were a little tentative. The majority of the displays nearby were big, using text, images and information, and the interactivity in that particular room was less than in others. Once volunteers and visitors began to understand the links with the engineering history of the waterways, they were able to enjoy the quirkiness of the automata and digital programming the desk hosts. Considering how enormous the feat of building the waterways was, in comparison the desk appeared slightly fragile (although it most certainly isn’t – it has proved to be extremely robust and survived several months of display). Listen to this song: A most Eccentric Desk – it helps to set the scene, and was sung by Steve Hill, who works on the front desk at Museum in the Park.

In Museum in the Park the Miniature Museum morphed again – this time into an exhibit surrounded by glass cases of artefacts and stacks of drawers, many of which are openable by visitors. The education officer at MIP created an accompanying display of some of the artefacts within the collection that informed the invention of the desk. This helped to contextualise the new artwork into the room. It was also placed centrally in the room, so visitors could look around its entirety. Whilst there, the museum hosted Museums at Night and it was wonderful to see how children enjoyed their encounter – as they approached the artwork whirred into life, with flashing lights and a spinning planetarium.

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MM MIP by Tara 001

So tomorrow we open at the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham – a dignified Regency house with an elegant drawing-room on the first floor. As a context, this feels like home – the desk is perfectly in keeping with the design of the room. One can imagine Holst as child wandering into the room and enjoying the magical presence of the slightly frivolous engineering.

Engineering, music, textiles – all rely on mechanical moving parts to do what they do. And those are things that Tara & Bart excel in – they use them to create a magical experience wherever they go.

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Don’t miss it – even if you have seen it in one of the other museums, it is again different here.

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