A student post by Annie Egerton, MSc Museum Studies student at the University of Glasgow.
As part of the 2020-2021 MSc Museum Studies programme, the student cohort worked in small groups to produce an exhibition proposal for The Hunterian. When our group was coming up with ideas for our exhibition proposal in January 2021, in the midst of a long, hard lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic was very much on our minds. Our proposed exhibition, Wild at Home, explores the way that humans bring the outside inside, from our indoor plants to our pets, decor, apparel and art.
The idea of our exhibition came out of wanting to try to reignite a love and appreciation for the spaces in which most people have spent an awful lot of time in the last eighteen months or so: our homes. We also wanted to draw attention to nature – the other thing that kept us, and many others a little more happy, calm and sane during the lockdown period. The theory underpinning all of this was the biophilia hypothesis introduced by Edward O. Wilson in 1984. The hypothesis posits that humans are inherently predisposed to seek connections with nature.
Though Wild At Home was very much an idea-led rather than collection-led exhibition, we recognised that the concept would allow us to draw objects from a broad variety of disciplines across The Hunterian’s collections. The categories we used to choose our objects and organise our displays were two broad ones: things collected from nature, and things manufactured by humans to mimic nature. Within these broader categories, we grouped the objects to reflect the kinds of activities carried out by humans in and with nature, such as decorating and crafting, collecting, hunting, domesticating and gardening. Our deep dives into the online collection in our search for objects yielded a whole range of fascinating objects from unexpected parts of the collection, for example this serpentine marble apple (Image 2). Needless to say, there was a multitude of items in The Hunterian’s collections that we would have loved to include but couldn’t, due in part to their need for specialised care conditions in the exhibition space or simply a lack of available space to include everything.
A key concern of the Wild at Home group throughout the development of our exhibition proposal was that our exhibition would be positive, lighthearted and fun. This is reflected in our choice of objects for our display, such as the delightful rabbit-emerging-from-a-cabbage music box automaton (Image 3), the Cumnock pottery beer mug with a frog inside (Image 4), and the slightly startled looking hamster (Image 5). The more artistically talented among our group (Amy Whitney-Scholes and Nicole Linton) carried this sense of fun, vibrance and positivity through to the graphic design and mockups of social media posts for Wild At Home (Images 1 and 6).
Of the ten class proposals, ours was one of those shortlisted and received a lot of positive comments by both museum and academic staff but in the end was not the one selected to move to implementation by The Hunterian Exhibition Group. Although this exhibition may not be displayed, it was nevertheless an invaluable experience for our group. To carry out this exercise and gain exhibition development experience with a collection such as that held at The Hunterian and supported by the knowledge and expertise of The Hunterian staff was a wonderful opportunity.