Museum (House) with Lots of Chairs

Yesterday, I wasn’t very productive with my writing. I was just a bit agitated and I knew I should just get away from my desk and do something else. The sun shines and what a pity if I could just stay indoors staring at my computer screen. I suggested to mum that we could go outside but I wasn’t sure where to go. We already did much shopping, and I could not think of anything special.

Anyway, we finally walked out and I took my mum to Kettle’s Yard. We actually went there the other day, but it wasn’t open yet by then. So, that was around 1 p.m. and the gallery was open. We saw the exhibition of Victor Skipp, a collector and artist who bestowed his collections to Kettle’s Yard. I had expected that mum would not be used to contemporary art galleries. She had hardly been to one. I was watching a video, about the countryside house owned by Victor and some of his collections. I called mum over and she wasn’t as excited as I was. And she simply commented how a video like that could be an artwork on display. I totally agree that the gallery is a very typical contemporary art space–

White wall with small sometimes tiny black characters simply ‘announcing’ the name of the ‘artpiece’.

I don’t know Victor Skipp. But I could imagine how the collections would look very differently when they were displayed in his house. Or maybe ‘display’ would not be a proper word. They would simply be there, as part of his house, his surroundings and his everyday life. But then, in the gallery, everything looked so lonely. The video was beautifully shot and the display was carefully arranged and there were leaflets for visitors on which the general outline of the display was mapped out. The leaflets became a kind of ‘portable labels’. But apart from the silhouette and the numbered title of each object, I didn’t find any information on the stories of how Victor collected and treated these objects when he was alive.

Mum seemed to get impatient and she asked me to confirm that ‘that was it’. Nothing more. Yes, nothing more. I told her I would take her to the house, which would be very interesting as it was the real residence of a ‘friend of artists’. When I was in the gallery, I discerned those white doors where I used to walk in and out as an volunteer. But they were all locked then. And I now had to find my way to the house as a visitor. There was no shortcut.

We went outside the gallery and found the door to the house. I had never enter the house by that door before and it seemed that I need to pull the bell. I tried and soon someone opened the door. A friendly face welcomed us and we went inside the house. She told us that we could store our bag and hang our clothes by the hooks under the staircases. She also helped us to put our bags in a locked closet. It was truly like visiting a friend’s flat. We were the only visitors and I signed on the visitors’ book as the volunteer asked me to. And she explained the rules and said that we were very welcome to sit on the chairs but that we were not allowed to touch anything.

I walked mum all the way to the bathroom on the ground floor. I pinpointed a few aesthetic arrangement to her: the swirling pebbles, the lemon on the plate against the dark background, the three stones that resemble a family of three, a few feathers elegantly lying in a glassware … We then went upstairs and the staff who welcomed us was talking to another guy. They both said hello to us. Again, I highlighted a few things to mum, especially the little ‘greenhouse’ with a magnifying glass plate. It was a pity that the sunlight was gone when we were inside and the lighting effect was not that perfect. I also encouraged mum to sit on one of the sofa chair, but she didn’t have much interest and only symbolically seated herself for a few seconds after I insisted. We seemed to cover all the areas, including the attic with lots of artworks.

If I was there alone, I would really like to lie in one of the sofa chair and read books. It was a short visit. Not too bad though.

What reminds me again of those chairs is an article I read today. Bradburne was memorating Kenneth Hudson who once talked about museums with charm and museum with chairs. It is a very short article, but it just touches me. The whole philosophy of museum with chairs is so different from that linear viewing method by the traditional ‘walking’ route. How come that this simply, succinct, but wise idea hasn’t been picked up by the museum world?

But the house of Kettle’s Yard is one living example. As visitors, we are invited to sit down, to just relax ourselves, to have time and space to look and think and ‘feel’, to just enjoy a moment of peace, to ‘look’ at the objects from different angles.

Why can’t museum be a space to just sit back and enjoy? A space that encourages meditation? I would certainly want to visit the house at Kettle’s Yard again, alone or with some other friends: to sit down and relax myself. And maybe I would see the place differently. Maybe that would be a totally different experience.

But aren’t we tuned in that way of ‘walking through exhibitions’ that we would naturally ‘reject’ to sit down, as what my mum did?

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