As part of the V&A’s Collecting Europe Festival in February 2017.
Mapping and Making was part of the Collecting Europe Festival that took place at the V&A between the 1st and the 7th of February 2017. The festival was developed in partnership with the Goethe-Institut, and consisted of a diverse range of activities that took place throughout the museum, including performance, talks, workshops, singing, working with clay and sugar sculpture. The festival encouraged museum visitors to think about what is Europe today by considering and exploring its past and present through the museum’s collections, as well as imagining its future.
The Mapping and Making workshop invited participants to explore the museum’s collections and create a map of the museum through its objects. The workshop took place inside the Globe in the British Galleries, very appropriate given its title. We started the workshop by creating a huge abstract collage map on the floor of the Globe, and participants were invited to choose from a multi-coloured stack of paper and colouring pencils to take with them throughout the museum and draw objects which appealed to them as they wandered. The idea was that after exploring the museum they would come back to the Globe with their drawings and add them to the map. People of all ages joined in and as might be expected children were very enthusiastic.
Children of different ages took part in the activity, and it was particularly interesting to see how the different age groups engaged with the workshop and with the museum. As expected, toddlers and younger children were more interested in experimenting with different materials and textures when drawing their objects than with the details about the object’s history and location. For older children, however, the idea of mapping the museum seemed to be exciting, and as well as creating detailed representations of their chosen objects, a lot of attention was paid to where the objects came from, where in the museum they were placed, and where they should go in the map we were creating. Some of the children also showed interest in the date of creation of their chosen objects, and in how they were displayed in the museum.
Participants stuck their object drawing where they chose on the map, and as more contributions were added, we began to see which of the museum’s objects caught children’s attention and imagination. Musical instruments, swords, shells and clothing were the most popular choices, and as the number of drawings grew, the children began grouping their drawings thematically, and expanding the initial map surface to reflect their understanding of the museum’s geography.
Everyone was happy to talk about their drawings and in some instances, discuss stories, real or imagined, relating to the objects they chose to represent. Two young brothers chose to draw a sword and its case; the boys were a couple of years apart in age and it was interesting to note the difference in approach. In speaking to us about it, it was clear that the elder brother had made his choice decisively and had drawn the sword in proportion with carefully drawn pencil lines giving the impression of its hard steel materiality. The younger boy had followed his brother’s lead and simply drawn the same object, obviously feeling that his brother’s endorsement was enough to validate this choice. The drawing of the younger brother had an abstract quality rendering it as an object composed of circles which gave it an entirely new presentation as an almost soft and toy-like artefact; as unlike a destructive weapon as possible compared to the original.
Another notable contributor was a young boy aged around seven. He spoke eloquently of his choice of a large tapestry from which he enjoyed drawing many of the individual elements, his favourite being a colourful peacock, because he has seen a real peacock and would like to have one. He was very keen to take his whole tapestry picture home, but happily spent time drawing and colouring a replica for our map. The end result of all the participants’ creativity was a beautiful new artefact, a map of the museum as seen through the eyes of its visitors, and composed of an array of colours, textures, shine, patterns and drawings ranging from the carefully executed to the instantaneous.
Mapping and Making worked well on several levels; encouraging museum visitors of all ages to look more closely at the artefacts and to make choices and decisions on their preferences, thinking about where the objects came from, how they were made and when they were made and how they might have been used. The aspect of team work even extended to the clearing up at the end, when we had enthusiastic help with rolling up our gigantic map. Participants could feel that they were, figuratively and literally, part of a bigger picture, and enjoy the freedom of creative activity in an environment where they might not have felt this was possible.