Fakes and Copies: 10,000 Year Old Facsimile Elephants —

There is a new and booming trade in ivory. Siberian tusks are being traded openly and legally – global warming is defrosting the permafrost releasing millennia old mammoth remains as it does. This unexpected new industry is cashing in on the illegal trade of elephant ivory by selling these newly available, old tusks as an ersatz equivalent.

Screenshot 2018-12-20 at 17.01.52.png

There are ethical concerns around a trade that cultivates a market for ivory of any sort – Telegraph article here.

I'm more interested in the idea that the replacement stand-in is more interesting, rare, and desirable than the thing it's supposed to be substituting. In my mind mammoths occupy a similar territory to dragons and dinosaurs - part myth, part legend, from a time so long ago they can only exist in stories. Yet here are these tangible reminders of what used to be, now freely available on the open market. Whole glorious tusks, polished to perfection for those who can afford it (approx $15-20k), shards and offcuts for the curio hunter with less deep pockets.

I find the blatant commercial nature of the thing at once disgusting and grimly alluring. I want some mammoth tusk – but I'm also aware that the story it tells isn't about treasure lost in the tundra, it's a story with layers of sadness about peoples effect on the world and how we exploit it.

Screenshot 2018-12-20 at 17.01.01.png

Kelham Island Museum: Museum of Tools —

Kelham Island Museum is part of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, which gives an idea of the sort of thing going on inside this old iron foundry. I was expecting general local history, cutlery, coffee pots etc. but hadn’t appreciated that those skills also meant that Sheffield made a lot of engineering and hand tools too.

As such, the museum is also host to the extraordinary Hawley Collection. A remarkable assortment of tools and works in progress that show how the tools were made. This means that the tools that made the tools are also presented - leading to a wonderful sort of meta exhibit.


The really great thing is that it’s a personal collection turned institutional, and where you’d expect more gaps, and more bias you’re met with sheer quantity of artefacts and a really well presented, coherent exhibit. Both the character of the founder, Ken, and the group of volunteers that man the ‘research room’, (biscuits and enthusiastic tool chat were more noticeable) are firmly felt in the gallery.


Elsewhere in the museum is the massive River Don Engine that came to the museum straight from the factory floor where it had been used to make armour plating for nuclear power stations.


I also really appreciate any museum that incorporates it’s archives and restoration work into it’s displays – It gives a sense of continuation, activity, and relevance.


New Aesthetics? —

They've been about for a while but it's only fairly recently that drones or quadrocopters with cameras have become good enough or cheap enough to use by say wedding photographers or cheapish regular telly. Mostly it's just another way of getting B roll. Rarely does it add to the overall content and understanding of the shows topic like below, from The Secret History of the British Garden, (presented by Monty Don, naturally).


Food Politics —

From Michael Pollan: Cooking Matters on the Food Programme from June 2013

The decline in home cooking does parallel with women entering the workforce, [… since the 70s …] the food industry, who had been trying to insinuate itself into our households for a very long time – for about a hundred years, without too much success – recognised there was an opportunity here, and they stepped forward and said ‘We’ve got you covered, we’ll do the cooking. You don’t have to do it, and you don’t have to argue about it anymore’. The symbol of this for me is this amazing billboard that Kentucky Fried Chicken erected in the 70s with giant bucket of fried chicken, underneath a two word slogan ‘Women’s Liberation’. And they identified themselves with the aspirations of women, and they also redefined not cooking as a progressive thing to do. They found a tension and then relieved it. This isn’t to blame feminism for the collapse of home cooking, it’s to suggest that the industry used the rhetoric of feminism to get into the kitchen.

Representing Replicas — The Cast Courts —

I was thrilled to discover the V&A Plaster Cast Courts for the first time recently. Tucked to the side of the museum, and away from the weekend crowds, the Courts house plaster copies of famous architecture and sculpture from across world. The scale of the rooms and the gigantic Trajan Column that dominates them is the first thing to be impressed by (even more so when you realise that they should be stacked on top of each other to achieve their original height). The spectacle of seeing such impressive architecture inside another building, framed and lit in the context of the museum is incredible. 


The sheer randomness of the collection is intoxicating. The courts have Frankenstein displays where the front of a cathedral from Santiago de Compostella has doors inset from Germany from 200 years earlier. Old mixes with new and everything from all over the world is together in one excessive architectural Disneyland. 


The really interesting thing around the casts is of course that they aren’t real. That is to say that they aren’t the original objects. They are facsimiles of much coveted masterpieces of art and architecture from throughout the ages. But the discussion around an objects authenticity and it’s subsequent relevance to scholarly or artistic study is only part of my fascination. In 2014, Room 46B was renovated, (the courts having originating in 1873), and it’s in this more modern world that this odd collection exists now. A modern museum setting that is constantly reassessing the usefulness and quality of facsimiles in all their forms – from digital print outs and online representations, to VR experiences and 3D-printed stand ins. What is and isn’t valid as an accessioned artefact seems to be as much up for grabs as ever. 

Here are some links about the history of the Cast Courts:
I never knew the V&A was originally the Museum of Manufactures! The History of the Courts. Room 46A. Room 46B.