Working in a museum situated in an arts university opens up special avenues. We are particularly keen to involve artists in interpreting the museum’s subject and have been pleased to host residencies of the fine artist, Mariele Neudecker, and the musician, Karen Wimhurst, both supported by Arts Council England.
Mariele developed a series of art photographs presenting the collection as ‘vanitas’ paintings
|Plastic Vanitas - Still Life with Flower and Poodle [AIBDC, 237, CR, 90, Shelf 2 of 8, 3.8kg] . Art photography by Mariele Neudecker|
Karen developed a chamber opera, with soprano, plastic trumpet and live vinyl DJ. It explores our plastics age through a series of sung chapters timelining the meteoric rise of plastics throughout the twentieth century to ‘Synthetica’, the world we live in today. On one level this is an ‘every person’ mythic tale initially heralding a glorious new age free of poverty and exploitation of nature which leads us to a different reality unfolding in the twenty-first century. It tells of the desire to move beyond nature for the betterment of humanity and ends with returning to closed loop systems of the natural world. On another level, it is a cross genre reflection on a complex web of design, scientific discovery, history, and the power of marketing.
‘Synthetica’ was workshopped at the Lighthouse, Poole, in 2018 and premiered, as part of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival in London last summer, directed on both occasions by the AUB’s Acting Course Leader, Katharine Piercey Bill Bankes Jones, Tête à Tête's Artistic Director, said: 'We were extremely pleased to host Synthetica... It was a great addition to our programme… innovative, thought provoking, a great score and a virtuosic cast. Moreover, it’s billing in the Plastics and Rubber UK Journal proves it can reach places other operas can’t go!' It was Frances Lynch of Electric Voice Theatre's favourite opera in the festival: '...cutting edge, provocative, with a truly exciting score and great live performances... It stood out as an opera for our times and deserves a wide audience.' You can enjoy excerpts from it here
We were so pleased and excited early this year when Arts Council England offered further support to build on the success of that performance. The intention was to tour the show to a minimum of six venues, even to take it abroad. However, for the time being at least, lockdown has put our plans into abeyance. Theatres are closed and staff unavailable. Planned performances have had to be cancelled and making contact with theatres is proving challenging. Although there is some easing of lockdown, it is not known when live performances will be allowed.
Therefore, in navigating the unknown territory that Covid 19 has thrown up, we hope in the shorter term to be able to create an online version. As the opera is already split into chapters, each one of these can be presented for people to access from an initial menu. The circularity of a vinyl LP and the lock groove turning round and round is a central image to be used. The proposal is to film the opera simply with the head of the singer ‘Zoom style’ on a green screen backgrounded by a playful collage of objects from the MoDiP collection including ads from 1940’s magazines, excerpts from the libretto, and textures of plastics materials, which the singer can manipulate. As well as the opera scene itself, each chapter will contain educational resources for release to schools nationally.
Whatever the state of lockdown, MoDiP remains interested in working with artists. Although ideally a residency involves hands-on contact with museum objects, we are fortunate at MoDiP that most of the collection has been photographed. Indeed we believe we have the best quality and largest collection of images of objects made of plastics in the world. In these strange times we would be especially interested in creative interaction with the online collections. Indeed, with or without lockdown, there is much that could be done with the digital collection. Do get in touch if you have ideas, digital or otherwise, that you would like to talk through: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Lambert, Chief Curator, MoDiP