Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Grayson Perry British Museum ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ 18th February 2012

The British Museum ran an exhibition in which works which had beencrafted by Grayson Perry and inspired by many of the collection were displayed side by side.  Grayson Perry is well known for ceramics and many of his pots were on display but Perry works in many materials and there are examples of objects such as tapestries, sculpture and drawing which have been assembled.  Much is left to the imagination and at one point I thought I had “seen” this stuff before, I was told that I had; one of the pieces from the Wellcome Collection is on display.  Themes of pilgrimage, religion, politics and memorials are often sensed and there is a warning that some of the objects are (You know “of a sexual nature” shock horror)

The exhibition or show has attracted many plaudits and indeed Linda Bolton had encouraged me to make sure to go.  (See guest blog)

The show had been extended for a week and it was possible to book a time slot for a Sunday which can be busy.  We got to the BM early and I enquired about other facilities at the Help Desk.  The staff are always helpful and if there is nothing to hand they are resourceful to ensure that a suitable alternative or suggestion was made available. I mentioned that I was going to go to the Hajj exhibition and the staff brought me some advice from the Hajj information desk in the
Great Court
.  We had some time to get some photos and make a start to a recording outside the show on an upper floor of the old reading room.  There are lifts and toilets and the round stairway can be avoided.  There is a motorbike outside the exhibition on view and my photograph was taken admiring the bike.  Perry is often photographed with his teddy bear, Alan Measles and his teddy bear features in many of his artworks.  

While I could make out the pots, which are huge, it was not possible to make out much of the detail on them.  As so much is left to the imagination one has to rely on the companion’s sense of both taste and description terms.  With some friends a shorthand of description is sufficient to describe an item and I knew it would only be a matter of time before a “Carry on” film was made.  This turned out to be about forgeries of antiquities especially of Roman helmets (Carry on Behind) and sure enough there were iron helmets and fake antiquities which had inspired Perry. Whether he had cited these “Carry on” films is unclear. In the case of a West African Chief’s headware there is also an early 20th century motorbike helmet and a Grayson Perry Bouncer helmet made of polycarbonate.

Perry makes much of the distinction drawn between art and craftsmanship and the somewhat arbitrary nature of taste.  Pilgrimage is currently a big “mot du jour” Many describe any journey as a pilgrimage and the term s often overused.  Pilgrimage has always been about travel, accommodation, ritual and souvenir/tack/ephemera.  Perry alludes to this.  I particularly enjoyed his map of Truths and Beliefs.  This is a huge tapestry which was designed by Perry and woven in wool and cotton by Flanders Tapestries using files prepared by Forum Arte.  (I bought a large postcard of this in the souvenir/gift shop. This was probably the most accessible object for me though I did recognise Perry’s Herms, Batiks, jackets, reliquary, shrine, boats and the objects from the museum such as maps, stellae, amphora, icons, flags, carvings and prints.  Much was made of the British Museum 100 objects which was made with the BBC for radio.  This series was thoroughly accessible in audio format and the descriptions with the captions read out are a standard for any audio component for the visually impaired.  If you enjoyed the Radio series thenyou may enjoy this exhibition.  For the visually impaired community the British Museum arranged for a talk with Grayson Perry and a handling session.  This is not available during the show and much of what you experience is through the eyes of several people.  There are so many objects to enjoy and it may be that some overload of topic, history, form and medium could result in this show being a hard “ask” of a describer.  Visits to exhibitions such as this do, however, offer the chance to admire parts of the British Museum collection.  If you find something of interest the help desk can be asked for more information and it may even be possible for you to make contact with the curatorial staff and arrange an access visit.

A few years ago Neil MacGregor gave a talk about the Enlightenment Galleries at the BM and having enjoyed the exhibitions on The Persians and seeing the Cyrus Cylinder it was a pleasant surprise to hear the director of British Museum give a TED Talk and I could listen to it having found the talk on a British Museum tweet on twitter.  I have often commented how important Serendipity is for the visually impaired.  Your chances of finding something interesting on the web or an event locally are greater if you can work out, with your own software, how Twitter works.

The British Museum is running an exhibition on The Hajj.  This is one of the pillars of Islam.  There were quite a lot of visitors to this exhibition and the reviews which have heard have been quite positive.  (For the benefit of those using a screenreader, Jaws 13 with American accent seems to have given the best rendering of Haj.  It is not Hoj or Hach)  I have heard of reviews from some Muslims on the radio though I have not met the acquaintance of a visually impaired Muslim who has been to Makkah during Hajj.


After coffee and a cake I bumped into the very large print by Durer on the way to the bookshop.  On sale at the British Museum are a series of books.  I bought one on Medieval love poetry with illustrations on courtly love and chivalry (that is what I have been told) The other is a introduction to the drawings of Durer’s prints and drawings.  Sometimes the museums offer a pleasant book which one can give as a present.