Horniman Museum: The Great Walrus Move

This week we have have had many early mornings and late nights filming and editing a one tonne over stuffed Walrus that is over 120 years old. He is the focus piece in the Horniman Museum‘s Natural History Gallery but this summer he is on loan to Turner Contemporary in Margate for an exhibition called Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing.

WalrusHead

The video is just over two minutes long but because it’s in time lapse it covers three full working days of material.

We started by going in a few days early to his spit and polish so that he would be leaving looking his best. There was a very surreal moment when Christopher Biggins arrived to take a couple of shots of the walrus and then disappeared again. Nobody seemed to know why and the museum wasn’t even open yet. Anyway the walrus looked very clean and relaxed at the end of that day.

On Monday we did arrive at what we thought was a “very early” 0715hrs to begin filming his departure but contractors and museum staff had been in since 6am to prepare for the moment everyone was very anxious about. Lifting the one tonne gentleman over the cabinets by way of a winch. We did question why they couldn’t just move the cabinets but turns out that the beautiful Victorian casing is much more problematic to move than an overstuffed walrus.

There was a lot of excitement in the air, with a slight hint of nervous tension, and there was a lot of interest surrounding the fact that he was getting x-rayed before he left. Apparently this is the first time he has ever had his insides examined. I overheard two Natural History curators casually discussing if they thought any of his bones were still inside. They both agreed that his skull and flipper bones must be there as the shape of them was accurate compared to his over stuffed body. They were of course proved correct. I love it when people obviously know what they are talking about. Expertise at work!

To create the sliding effect whilst maintaining the time lapse effect can be done with a very expensive piece of equipment or with a lot of patience. On this occasion we went with patience. We placed the camera on our slider and moved the slider a quarter of a centimetre every three seconds. The result is a dynamic and fluid shot.

This is why when the moment came for the walrus to fly over the cabinets I missed the whole thing. I was fully focused on moving the camera a solid quarter centimetre. I managed to get a look of his while he was suspended in the air which was rather awe inspiring. There was a palpable sense of relief when he touched the ground again and applause spontaneously erupted for all those involved. It was a great job, well done and exactly to plan.

Heave! Have you ever seen a Walrus fly?
Heave! Have you ever seen a Walrus fly?

After a little bit of crating he was allowed an early night because the next day he was wrapped up, padded and battened into his crate for the journey to Margate. He looked rather peaceful and we decided he looked like he was going to Margate for a spa treatment. His crate was then fully closed up and he was left in isolation.

The next morning was another very early start and we all hung around in the gardens waiting for his grand exit. The conditions were arctic, perhaps to make him feel more at home, and after waiting for some time he was lifted into the lorry very quickly and easily.

See you back at the Horniman in September!
See you back at the Horniman in September!

We thought we had very little time to get into position to see him leave the site so dashed off but in reality everyone else went off for a cup of tea and we stood on the south circular in rush hour traffic in windy and cold conditions waiting for everyone to return. In minutes it was all over and off he went to Margate.

You can read more on the Horniman’s own “live blog” of the events and their very interesting The Great Walrus Move Storify of tweets and instagrams.

Story of the move is also on the Telegraph, ITV, Londonist and many other websites. He even made it on to BBC South East news. What a celebrity.

Horniman Museum: Museum of the Year [Video]

This week we made this video for Art Fund Museum of the Year Finalist, Horniman Museum and Gardens.

We asked visitors why the museum was their museum of the year and to sum up all the aspects of the museum in one word. It was a really fun video to make and a pleasure to see how much people love the museum. We didn’t struggle to get positive comments but we did end up capturing more than enough footage and so we have had to cut many glowing reviews to get it down to a consumable size.

Now let us know if you have been to the museum and what you think of it in the comments!

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UPDATE… just seen this cute thing via Twitter…. a walrus wearing our video as an accessory. acapmedia fashion coming to a market stall near you soon.

Walrus bearing gifts! Each of the @artfund judges will be able to take home their own copy of 'Our Visitors Voices'.

A post shared by Horniman Museum and Gardens (@hornimanmuseumgardens) on

Click the pic to go to the Horniman’s Instagram photo directly

Horniman Museum: Collections People Stories: Meet the Team

Recently I did some filming for a “Behind the Scenes” look at the Horniman‘s Collection People Stories project.

I was keen to do this as the project is very large and we have heard several times at events we were filming just how many people were working on the project but I think it can be difficult to grasp who they are and what they are doing, as well as to some extent why they are doing it from a distance. So we got up close but not too personal.

I was welcomed to the Museum’s store which is where all the objects not on display are held. As you walk in it feels quite cramped as the ceilings are fairly low in the stairwell and leading into the staffroom. I arrived in time to sit on (and film clips of) a catch up meeting for people involved in the project. This was very interesting as it let me get a bit of an insight into how they worked, communicated and kept links with the Forest Hill site where the curators etc are based.

When I was taken into the stores it was a very different environment to the offices and galleries in Forest Hill. There were cases for mummies, buddha statues and boxes beyond boxes of objects in large halls. Off the main halls were rooms with Victorian cabinet cases in them. In the middle of one of the halls a special office and photography studio had been set up and this was where I began my main filming.

Cases and cabinets and drawers...
Cases and cabinets and drawers…

I interview Kirsten Walker, Director of Collections Management & Special Projects, who is overseeing the whole project with Dr Sarah Byrne who appears in several of the CPS videos. She gave me an overview and then let me talk to (a different) Sarah and Rachel who were part of one team doing, what they called, The Physical Review.

The Physical Review, in many ways, could be seen as quite mundane and repetitive as they have to go through many boxes each day and review: look at, check and photograph many objects. Luckily these guys are precise, love objects and are working with a fascinating collection. I was only there briefly and saw a range of Hindu amulets and figures that were gorgeous but I wasn’t allowed to touch them as I didn’t have gloves on.

It is also these guys who are often responsible for many of the objects found on the very popular blog the review has on Tumblr. Do take a look!

Then I spoke to the Project Photographer, Dani, who explained all the various kinds of photography the project involves, she showed off her whizz Photoshop skills and I was fascinated watching her climb up and down the huge trolley which she has set up, surrounded by boxes of artifacts, to photograph large objects from above.

I filmed a conservator repairing a broken boar’s tusk charm, documentation managers and the collection manager, who I managed to track down and interview in the Armour store. While I was there I got some quick snaps of a Suit of Armour, poking out from under a dust sheet and the spears which were the backdrop to our interview.

A very traditionalyl museumy room
A very traditionally museumy room

I spoke to the Deputy Natural History curator, Paulo, who explained how he had assisted his colleagues on the anthropology review by identifying the skull of a vulture that was part of a Nigerian charm. I had actually seen the charm on the tumblr page already:

Click on the pic to read the posts on the tumblr page
Click on the pic to read the posts on the tumblr page

In person though I was really impressed by the size of it which I hadn’t really appreciated from the tumblr page. Paulo showed me a variety of skulls from Birds of Prey in a room full of deer heads and horns. This is him holding the charm and, for reference, he has big hands.

Click on pic to link to hear more from Paolo on theHorniman tumblr
Click on pic to link to hear more from Paolo on the Horniman tumblr

It was a great day full of some very interesting sights and passionate people.

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There were more passionate people when Chris and I visited the Museum again the following week to interview the Anthropology curators who are heavily involved in the review.

They were all absolutely fascinating and clearly really enjoying the project and having the luxury of time and resources to re-evaluate the fantastic collection in their care. We got philosophical but also I wanted to try and eek out of them the practicalities of what being a curator is, which I hope I managed to some extent… I certainly felt that I left with a better impression of what that day-to-day role is.

We spent a lot of time walking up and down a warren of offices with piles of papers, folders and precariously balanced objects (ok, not so precariously balanced!) . Messages of respect for the objects’ cultures of origin were clear from everyone and as was a shared inquisitive character. A common sense of cultural exploration and a hope that anthropology and museums can really help people try to see the world in a new way seemed to be at the forefront of their minds.

It was fascinating and exciting to hear them talk about how this was possible and I fear if I say anymore I shall start to spoil the video which will be coming soon!

Horniman Museum and Gardens Overview Video

Today the Horniman has launched their new overview video which was lovingly crafted by acapmedia.

The Horniman Museum is a “Gem”, a “Hidden Treasure”, a “Local Curiosity” but it is also a world class museum with disparate collections. Our challenge was to capture the feeling of this wonderfully diverse organisation, covering all the collections, galleries, activities and never forgetting the stunning gardens into a short concise video that would appeal to past and regular visitors but also encourage those who hadn’t visited before to make their way down to Forest Hill in South London (really rather easy thanks to the overland and many direct trains from London Bridge and Victoria) to see it all for themselves.

Horniman Museum Timelapse Filming
Horniman Museum Timelapse Filming

It took a little while to arrange time to meet with all the curators and staff members as everyone was always very busy but when we did manage to pin anyone down they were very generous with their time and remarkably enthusiastic to share their knowledge. So enthusiastic we sometime felt rude reminding everyone that their gallery or section could only be featured for a very short time. We learnt a great deal about fossils, Ethiopian instruments, coral reefs and African puppets that could never fit into this video so you will just have to pop along yourself to find out more.

Enthusiasm was a recurring “problem” as members of the public we interviewed had so much to say about the museum: 80year olds telling us about their visits there as children, annual visits from Scotland, Jamaica, Thailand and…Ilford, people meeting old friends and new friends. Visitors really seem to take the museum to heart and want to share everything. As one of our interviewees says in the film, “Everything you see is eye opening.” but not everything edits down well into a short video so we have had to leave out some lovely moments.

As well as having to heavily edit our interviews we also had to be ruthless in our choice of objects to show in the video. We could never have shown everything and, of course, we wanted to leave some surprises. The Horniman’s Collections are so exciting we were very strict with ourselves in each gallery not to film everything but to pick out some highlights and the curators were very helpful in suggesting some of their favourites. Additionally the museum is a very dynamic place and doesn’t stand still so we couldn’t film the temporary gallery that changes regularly, we couldn’t film some favourite objects because they were on loan to other museums and, as regular visitors know, the gardens have been beautifully regenerated. The film stands still but the museum never does so we very much stuck to a theme of capturing a flavour of the museum because a snap shot is impossible and perhaps that message is shared by including some archive photos that show the growth and development of the museum.

Something that many of the visitors commented on was how much the museum has changed over the years. We hope the video celebrates and shows the growth of the museum and its audiences over the years.

We were very happy as well to work with Ceridwen Smith, talented actress and resident of Forest Hill who lends her voice to the film and brings the narrative of the museum to life. Her enthusiasm for the museum was clear when we recorded and I think it shines through in the video. She is the first person to thank in our list of thanks that also include, Adrian Murphy and Victoria Brightman from the Horniman Museum as well as all the staff and visitors who shared their stories with us from families through storytellers to curators and directors, the video would not have been what it is without all your help.

You can view the video here and don’t forget to like and share with your friends: