Shine On: New Perspectives on Museum Lighting

Yesterday I attended a workshop organised by the museums association and hosted by Stephen Cannon-Brookes, of UCL Bartlett School of Architecture and lighting consultant. I was there for work, but found it useful for my studies too. To be honest, it wasn’t all about “New Perspectives” as such, it covered a lot of the the established ground… Continue reading Shine On: New Perspectives on Museum Lighting

Yesterday I attended a workshop organised by the museums association and hosted by Stephen Cannon-Brookes, of UCL Bartlett School of Architecture and lighting consultant. I was there for work, but found it useful for my studies too.

To be honest, it wasn’t all about “New Perspectives” as such, it covered a lot of the the established ground too. But for a non expert like me, that was incredibly useful. It was also an opportunity to showcase the Society for Light and Lighting (SLL)’s Lighting Guide 8: Lighting for Museums and Art Galleries, though at £80 (£72 for the PDF) I won’t be rushing out to buy it. More of an institutional purchase I think. The first speaker, Paul Ruffles, talked us through that guide.

Beautiful objects in beautiful buildings deserve beautiful lighting.

It covers lighting principles, and stuff like visual adaptation, contrast ratio, colour appearance, colour rendering, glare, lighting the interior or display area, day light, electric lighting, access and security and emergency lighting (he explained that one unnamed city museum experienced a spike in consumption they couldn’t explain until they worked out  a security guard afraid of the dark was turning all the lights on at night). The book its just for white box galleries, it also talks about historic interiors; temporary galleries; events and corporate entertaining; the shop and of course the cafe.

He explained that since the pulication of the previous version, LED lighting has become a useful tool in historic interiors, citing an example of Chatsworth’s great stair. Historic interiors need some obvious light sources, standing lamps and the like, but hidden ones -tiny LED spots in to the historic lighting can bring out fascinating details.  However, he warned that when lighting historic places, the LED unit might only cost £28, but the wiring costs hundreds.

His talk was littered with useful tips and anecdotes. Things like keeping track of the spare parts your supplier gives you – I can well believe that when they are needed, no one can remember who put them where. He points out that when you are planning what goes on the floor in your exhibition, you want to think not just about access for wheelchairs, but also access fro whatever cherry-picker or quickup tower you need to replace the lightbulb. Lightbulb replacement is getting less of a need as LED takes over from tungsten, but LED lights can still occasionally fail. And, if you need a five tonne cherry picker to get to the lights, make sure the floor can take five tonnes (and remember it’s turning circle).
Manchester City museum, wall of paintings all lit individually between 50 lux to 150 lux.
material degradation,

Next up was David Saunders of the  International Institute for Conservation talking about The Balancing Act: Light, Conservation, and Access. He started off asking how much light to visitors need to see objects, there is evidently a rule of thumb that the minimum is 50 Lux. But he showed us a  a Durer woodcut and a Turner Watercolour. The Durer needs just a few lux, it’s black and white, and high contrast. Reduced contrast such as in the Turner, increases light needs by factors of 10.

Gary Thomspon’s The Museum Environment was a very influential book, but most of the research that informed it was experiments done in university’s , with populations of students with (being generally younger) better eyesight than the average museum visitor. So a sixty five year ol needs 300 lux for the same performance as a 25 year old at 10 lux. Similarly Colour matching ability peaks in 20s. The ability degrades as you get older. The colour differentiation you can discern as a 20 year old at 10 lux, requires 1000 lux in 75 year old. There are other factors too, which may be less relevant in museum environments, like visual task difficulty (it takes less time to see things in brighter environments).So he points out that a object that we might think needs just 50 lux to see properly might actually need three times as much for older views. Another three times if it’s a low contrast item, which means as much as 500 lux. Ifs it’s a darker object, or a difficult visual task it might need even more.

He went to to explore the history of the research that has led to those squares of blue wool you might have seen dotted around museums and National Trust places. The “blue wool” number has now become an international standard, where 1 fades quickest, and 8 shows the least discernible fading in the same period of time. It turns out that the same amount of damage occurs if you expose something to twice the light for half the time, so, we can think in terms of exposure doses, or lux/hours. The key learning from all this research is to limit the overall exposure to light. He swings by considering the differing levels of damaged caused by different wavelengths of light, mentioning the red/green skylights installed in the roof of the V&A’s Raphael gallery, before concluding that the key learning is to exclude UV radiation.

Then he addresses an interesting question. How long should an object remain unchanged In fact, there’s remarkably little research in this area, and it doesn’t seem that wide-ranging. I drifted off into thinking about an exhibition that explains these issues, and then gives some options asks the visitor how long a selection of items should last “unchanged” (of course what that really means is little or no visible change). What work has been done, David says, broadly concludes a desired lifetime before change of something like 100-150 years.

All this, he concluded, means that when thinking about this, there are very few variables that we have control over. The amount of “acceptable” damage from light is set by the objects desired lifetime, the light dose is set by the object’s sensitivity, and the level of light is set by human need – therefore length (time) of exposure is the only variable we have that’s really under out control as heritage professionals

Then Jo Padfield, conservation scientist at National Gallery, gave us a great talk on all the research work going on there. He started off questioning our arbitrary decisions on lifetime by showing us Paolo Veronese’s The Dream of St Helena, wherein she looks out on a sky that, in his words resembles:

a dull grey afternoon in Glasgow

But closer examination shows it was painted with Smalt, which was Mediterranean blue, and padfield showed us what that might look like. similary, the grey/blue bedsheet of the Rokeby Venus was once royal purple.

he talked a little bit about the change from tungsten bulbs (adjustable in increments of 60, then 30 lux to LEDs to have more control, dimming in 10 lux increments, as well as energy/CO2 reduction. There was an issue with colour quality and consistency of the new LED lamps, so they created an internal website to monitor and research the change to LED lighting. This website is now open to everyone, and some of the audience explained how useful it is.

He also mentioned the Making Colour exhibition in 2014. At the end, he said “we experimented on visitors. Human perception experiments are normally done in the lab with a sample of about 6 people. Our sample was 20,000.” He showed us how unter different bulbs, people saw the same painting differently, in one still life the same fruit could be orange or  yellow,

Jo Beggs, Head of Development for Manchester Museums Partnership, finished the morning with an explaination of where they got funding for improved lighting for the recent, £15 million redevelopment of of the Whitworth museum, especially when the lighting costs went 25% over budget.

There was lots more to talk about after lunch, but that will have to be another post tomorrow.


If there’s one thing you do in September…

   …  visit Lightscape at Houghton Hall (Norfolk) Why? Houghton Hall is a place like many of those the National Trust looks after, but still family-owned and managed. David, the current Marquess of Cholmondeley, is, like generations before him, a patron of the arts. Houghton Hall gives us a glimpse of some National Trust places might look like, if… Continue reading If there’s one thing you do in September…

  
…  visit Lightscape at Houghton Hall (Norfolk)

Why? Houghton Hall is a place like many of those the National Trust looks after, but still family-owned and managed. David, the current Marquess of Cholmondeley, is, like generations before him, a patron of the arts. Houghton Hall gives us a glimpse of some National Trust places might look like, if patronage and collecting had continued up to the present day. The gardens are a place of surprise and delight, with contemporary sculptures including a Richard Long (above) and, from Jeppe Hein, Waterflame, a burning fountain. But of special interest this year is a retrospective of works by James Turrell, including two permanent commissions for the Houghton Hall landscape. Turrell’s deceptively simple works are incredibly powerful, and you’ll likely never again have a chance to see so many together in the same place.

But it’s not just the art, the service is exemplary. And for the late night openings on Fridays and Saturdays, there’s a pop-up café, in keeping with spirit of place, that we can all learn from.

Yes it’s a little bit out of the way for those of us who don’t live in Norfolk, but make a weekend of it, it is worth it.  

 


Guest Post: An Artist’s Perspective

– Peter Driver, our Artist-in-Residence, has written a piece reflecting on his experience of the excavation season. Thanks Peter! — I relished the opportunity to be artist-in-residence at the Basing House dig.  I  felt rather unqualified for the role, having no previous experience of archaeology, outside of TV documentaries. I didn’t even study History at […]

Peter Driver, our Artist-in-Residence, has written a piece reflecting on his experience of the excavation season.

Thanks Peter!

I relished the opportunity to be artist-in-residence at the Basing House dig.  I  felt rather unqualified for the role, having no previous experience of archaeology, outside of TV documentaries. I didn’t even study History at school beyond year 9 (or third year as it was called back then) but I was excited by the prospect of being part of a multi-disciplinary team carrying out an intensive three-week project.

Image by Peter Driver. Click on image for a higher resolution version.

I planned to make a series of ‘zines’ (small hand-made magazines) to capture some of my thoughts and reflections and to provide a memento/souvenir of the experience for the members of the dig team.  I had never made a zine before arriving at Basing House. Their production consumed a great deal of my time and I was grateful for some assistance on folding duties from a few of the students, and for the patient support from the visitor centre staff when the photocopier jammed (which it did frequently) or needed logging-in, again. I decided to make limited editions of 52 signed copies of each zine. I suppose I did that to make them somehow more ‘special’, personal, and ‘valuable’ to the recipients.

Image by Peter Driver – Click on image for a higher resolution version.

Some students wanted to try mono-printing techniques so I did a number of mini workshops with two students at a time coming to my makeshift studio and producing their first ever mono-prints. Some even made work with archaeology themes!  A few of their prints were featured in the zines, with one commanding the front cover of zine Vol. 5.

Image by Peter Driver – click on image for a higher resolution version.

My pen drawings tend to be observational/representative and on the dig I made several drawings of the team working. The human effort and orchestrated activity was exciting to behold: Archaeologists, students, researchers and local volunteers; all working to gather as much information as possible from this little area of ground. From time to time my working-class guilt got the better of me and I had to put down my pen in order to shovel some loose spoil, or trundle a wheel barrow to the spoil heap.

Image by Peter Driver – click on image for a higher resolution version.

A day-trip to Hampton Court Palace helped us all to visualise what Basing House would have looked like before it was destroyed in the Civil War. It had been one of the finest Tudor houses in England and similar in design to the Tudor gatehouse and base court at Hampton Court.

Image by Peter Driver – click on the image for a higher resolution version.

The material excavated and dumped on the spoil heap included beautifully formed flints, crumbling soft chalk, clay, stone, earth, roots, bits of old tyre…all had their own charm.

Image by Peter Driver – click on image for higher resolution version.

The working methods with spade and shovel, mattock and trowel allowed layers to be cleared efficiently and sensitively down to a fine shaving of soil to find the edges of each feature  and context.

Image by Peter Driver – click on image for a higher resolution version.

Making work in response to all this excitement was a challenge. So many visualising technologies were in use by the team, with meticulous section drawing, formal photography and image capture to enable computer modelling – that I found myself withdrawing to the comfort zone  of old technology, pen and paper, glue and scissors and printmaking.

Image by Peter Driver – click on image for a higher resolution version.

Perhaps next time I will be braver and engage with some new media expressions.

It was a privilege to work with such talented and committed people. I really hope we can do it again next year!

Peter Driver


Filed under: Archaeologist Portraits, Archaeology of Archaeology, Artist in Residence, Peter Driver, Summer Excavation, Winchester School of Art Tagged: art, artist in residence, drawing, monoprints, paper, pen, screenprints, sketching, zines

Guest Blog: Artist in Residence at Work

Peter Driver, our Artist-in-Residence has written posts at his blog about the work that he has been doing with us up at Basing House while we were excavating. Peter is part of the team that is working now to develop a travelling exhibition all about the excavation.  We’ll keep you updated with our plans here […]

Peter Driver, our Artist-in-Residence has written posts at his blog about the work that he has been doing with us up at Basing House while we were excavating.

Peter is part of the team that is working now to develop a travelling exhibition all about the excavation.  We’ll keep you updated with our plans here on our blog.

I’ve copied Peter’s posts below, but please do visit his excellent blog here: http://reflectivediscontent.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/basing-house-artist-in-residence.html

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Basing House – Artist in Residence

by Peter Driver

Assembling the gear (including a lot of borrowed kit) to set up my studio at Basing House, Hampshire, where I am Artist-in-Residence for three weeks.

Makeshift studio set-up in the learning resource centre with my laptop,
Andy Reaney’s printer and the WSA monoprint  kit, including a
press improvised from a lasagne press.

Basing House was a very grand Tudor House, of similar design to the Tudor parts of Hampton Court Palace. It was owned by Sir William Paulet and visited by royalty including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Built on the site of a Norman ring and bailey castle, with evidence of earlier Romano British and Bronze Age activity, it has long been the subject of serious archaeological study.  The House was completely destroyed in a ‘great conflagration’ during the Civil War, with only the Great Barn and a few outhouses remaining.

Interior of the Great Barn at Basing House
(complete with Civil War period cannon-ball holes in the walls)

The current dig, by archaeologists from Southampton University, Hampshire Museums service and local volunteers, is excavating part of the earthwork defences erected hastily during the English Civil War as a first line of defence against Cromwell’s New Model Army.

De-turfing the 1960s excavation site – archaeolology about archaeology

As Artist-in-residence I have made drawings and photographs, the plan is to create a series of 8-page zines (foldy-zines each made from a single sheet of A3) I am producing them in real-time, during the dig, so far each member of the dig-team has received copies of Vol. 1 and Vol 2.

Vol 1 and Vol 2 – limited editions of 52

The first volume borrowed some of the style of a Civil War period pamphlet, the second was largely concerned with the team’s contextual visit to Hampton Court Palace.

Part of Vol. 1
Part of Vol. 2

Basing House is offering family activity days for two days per week during the dig. The students have created activities related to Tudor games, and archaeology. My artist friends Jeff Phegley and Mike Davies, came to help run silk screen print workshops, mostly for children, and to demonstrate monoprint and woodcut techniques.

Clear line of white chalk evident below the Civil War embankment level

By day nine, the archaelogists had removed most of the infill from the 1960′s excavation, revealing the edges of the box-grid digging system which was prevalent back then. This shows clear stratification of the ground level prior to the Civil War earth works and lower levels, where Romano British sherds have been uncovered.

Cleaning sherds of Romano-British pottery at the finds desk

The Basing House Dig – Zine Vol 2.5

Some of the outputs from the Basing House residency silk screen and monoprint workshop, collected into an 8-page foldy-zine. Work by Nicole Beale, Michael Davies, Peter Driver and Lucy Whitehall.

Back and Front covers

Big thanks to Peter Driver for this excellent post
and insight into the work of an Artist-in-Residence!


Filed under: Artist in Residence, Peter Driver, Summer Excavation, Winchester School of Art Tagged: art, artist, artist in residence, winchester school of art, wsa

Meet the Team – Michael Davies

I’ll be attending between the 29th and the 31st to help out and work with Peter on making little prints, probably woodcuts and monoprints in response to the objects excavated at the site. My work has been of abstract landscapes as of late, so to explore treasures underneath the surface will be an exciting experience […]

Michael Davies

Michael Davies

I’ll be attending between the 29th and the 31st to help out and work with Peter on making little prints, probably woodcuts and monoprints in response to the objects excavated at the site.

My work has been of abstract landscapes as of late, so to explore treasures underneath the surface will be an exciting experience and possibly something I can take away with me for inspiration as to where my own work can develop in the future.


Filed under: Meet the Team, Michael Davies, Winchester School of Art Tagged: art, artist in residence, michael-davies, wsa

On the beauty of ancient objects

On the recent Guardian onartblog Jonathan Jones asks Is Archaeology the New Art. Writing about the British Museum’s two new exhibitions on ice-age art and the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Jones notes how ancient objects are ‘thrilling’ and ‘still fascinate and beguile’. In drawing attention to these distinctive qualities of archaeology, Jones suggests that an emphasis on such attributes is the ‘best way for archaeologists to popularise their research’. As archaeology around the world experiences a current crisis with falling student numbers, perhaps we should take Jones’s advice to remind ‘audiences of the beauty of things’.

But archaeologists are torn. On one hand we must assert the scientific, rigorous, concrete side of our discipline, since this will ensure we are taken more seriously. More importantly perhaps, it is this emphasis (we tell ourselves) that will enable us to be more successful in competing for large grants from scientific bodies. On the other hand, however, we must celebrate our ‘arty’ side, demonstrating what we can offer to cultural debate and the ‘enlightenment’ of society. In our eagerness to assert the uniqueness and methodological independence of archaeology as a discipline, perhaps we have been too quick in prioritising the former. I like Jones’s idea of returning to the origins of our subject, when the enchantment with objects inspired collectors to collect and encouraged antiquarians to ruminate on the purpose of the curious items on display in the cabinets of Europe. But does a voyage back to our disciplinary roots put us in danger of celebrating the ideals from which we have sought to distance ourselves? Has not our greatest achievement been to move beyond our earlier antiquarian endeavours and challenge the love of objects for the sake of their beauty and intrinsic charm? We have spent the last 500 years outlining how ancient material culture offers insights far beyond those of mere beauty, so is it not a regressive step to remind people of the sheer artistry and magic that resides in the objects crafted in distant times?

Since the Renaissance, museums have been active protagonists in celebrating the power and impact of ancient objects in stimulating a connection with the past. From the visually intoxicating ‘cabinets of curiosity’ to the grand displays of national museums, antiquities have always been used in the service of telling great stories about humanity and the various paths taken to civilised society. The objects themselves have of course assumed a multi-faceted identity throughout this process. They are read on one hand as serious documents of human history, testifying to evolution over time, yet at the same time they are presented as exhilarating testimony of the creative capacity of our species. Archaeologists celebrate both of these features of ancient objects. We have always been enthralled with the beauty of objects; even scraps of bone and chipped stone get us excited. In his call for the promotion of archaeology as a discipline deeply connected to artistic expression, Jonathan Jones invites us to address a key issue facing our discipline – communication. I agree with him that we could do far more to remind people of the beauty of objects manufactured by human hands in the past. We must not forget our brief though. Some of the many other layers of meaning contained within archaeological artefacts should also be communicated to audiences at the same time.

Ice Age Art and the question of sex

There are many old friends in the British Museum’s must-see Ice Age Art exhibition. As a research student in the early 1970s I worked for several months in the Ulmer Museum in southern Germany. Every day on my way into the storerooms to measure more Palaeolithic reindeer teeth I passed the ivory statuette of the Löwenmensch, the Lion-headed-man.

There was less of him in those days. His muzzle had not yet been handed in and big chunks of his back were missing. There was just a bit of an ear and a lot of guess work about it belonging to either a bear or a lion. There was also a big controversy over his sex. Kim Hahn who had stuck him together from a thousand fragments went for the male. Christa Seewald and Elizabeth Schmid took the female perspective. It all came down to what you made of a small triangular flap located in the crucial area. Over time the boys have prevailed as shown a week ago at a big meeting organised by curators at the British Museum. As Kurt Wehrberger put it “The Lion-man has returned”. No-one disagreed.

In another case at the exhibition are my favourite Palaeolithic women, the female figurines from Kostenki. I first saw these in 1989 on a visit to what was still Leningrad. President Gorbachev arrived in a fleet of black cars to fire the Mayor of the city. I will always remember being shown them by Nikolai Praslov, the latest in a distinguished line of archaeologists excavating at the site. We carefully lifted these ladies of the Don out of their protective boxes.

What Nikolai was showing me was exceptional and new. Shapes and carving that added much more detail to this group that is usually, and crassly, lumped together as ‘Venus figurines’. “These Clive are the Crown Jewels” Nikolai proudly told me in between puffs on his cigarette.

A week later along with a handpicked group of American archaeologists we were the first Westerners to stand on the chalk hill above the site and walk around the excavations. How I got there is another story but it was all due to these old friends.