Digital reviews | The sound of objects, where WWII refugees went, and a photographic archive - Museums Association

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Digital reviews | The sound of objects, where WWII refugees went, and a photographic archive

The latest digital content from museums, galleries and heritage
Digital Map Photography Sound
Sounds of love: a V&A conservator tends to a stage outfit belonging to singer PJ Harvey
ASMR at the Museum | Victoria and Albert Museum

Even the most advanced panoramic 3D scans of museum objects have something in common with the simplest smartphone snap: silence. Museums may present digitised objects in dazzling multi-layered colour and dizzying resolution, interactive and zoomable, but we rarely get to hear from the objects: they sit as mute on a laptop screen as they do inside a glazed display case.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has been listening to the objects. Its ASMR at the Museum series on YouTube brings you the sound of medieval parchment, actor Vivien Leigh’s dress, one of the stage costumes belonging to the singer-songwriter PJ Harvey, and more.

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response – the tingling sensation you get on your scalp and spine, the hairs standing up on the    back of your neck, when you hear certain sounds, such as  a soft whisper or the rubbing of fabric. Listening to the sound of a dress being carefully tended to turns out to be a surprisingly physical experience.

Curators and conservators have also been carefully recorded by sound designer and performance-maker   Julie Rose Bower using ambisonic microphones. Listen to the soft squeak of an archive box being opened and the rustle of protective tissue paper being removed, as a museum professional explains how they store and care for their collections.

It’s relaxing, meditative even, to slowly contemplate objects like this. In fact, there’s something so hypnotic about the sound of the materials and objects, that the voices of the experts, even ambisonically treated, seem almost superfluous. The soft rumble of steam rolling across a ballet tutu might be enough all by itself. After so long in silence, we should let the objects themselves speak a little more.

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Refugee Map | Wiener Holocaust Library
Each entry on the Refugee Map traces a journey from Nazi Germany to the person’s new home in the UK

Can a global crisis be understood through its local repercussions? The Refugee Map created by the Wiener Holocaust Library, London, tries to make the almost incomprehensible atrocity of the Holocaust meaningful by making it visible at the most immediate level. Like A Street Near You, which maps war records to the homes of first world war servicemen and women, it manifests the lives of refugees from Nazi Germany in the familiar streets of our own lives.

You can zoom in across Europe and the UK to follow the journeys of Jews and others who became exiles, to the new places that they made home. The library is Britain’s largest archive of Nazi era and Holocaust material, and all the lives documented in the map are sourced from its extensive collections starting in the 1930s.

A search around my own neighbourhood throws up results for the German-born sculptor Fred Kormis, whose prisoner of war memorial can be found in my local park. The records are slightly fragmented and not entirely easy to navigate, but you can browse through the digitised images and the archival catalogue itself. A little clunkiness can be forgiven in pursuit of learning and discovery: take some time to find out more about the refugees who found a new home near you.

Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive

The Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art’s new website presents more than 100,000 newly-digitised reference photographs of British paintings, sculpture and architecture. Many of these works were unavailable to the public, being kept behind closed doors or in private collections.

There’s plenty to explore, even if some of the records are light on detail. A series of short films shows how the artworks are being used by artists, curators and researchers – they are shot at large leather desks and in book-lined studies, giving a slight air of stuffiness about it all. Nevertheless, as an accompanying essay describes, the archive team is also engaging with the issue of racist language in the catalogue descriptions.

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