In their show, What Can Be Seen, artists Vlatka Horvat and Tim Etchells take an idiosyncratic look at Museums Sheffield collections, presenting contradictory impressions and versions of the museum via objects, specimens and images from the museum’s holdings in Archaeology, Natural Sciences, Social History, Decorative Arts, Fine Art and The Ruskin Collection, as well as items found in the museum’s archives and store.
By displaying fascinating artefacts, specimens and drawings that have not been exhibited before alongside objects that are still packed or half-packed in their storage boxes or crates, the artists explore the relationship between the museum as a playful Wunderkammer, as a place of organised knowledge and study, and as a back-room depository of both ordinary and extraordinary things whose role and history are not always fully known.
What Can Be Seen gives a glimpse into the systems and meticulous methodologies that characterise the work of the institution, as well as a taste of its operations and life behind the scenes, with a focus on the work and processes of the curators, on the small glitches in the system and on the missing or ambiguous pieces from the collection. Etchells and Horvat point our attention not just to the thorough and well-ordered knowledge to which the museum aspires, but also to the limits of knowledge and understanding and to the occasional absurdities, gaps in information and small mysteries that are hidden in its stores. From empty frames wrapped in polythene, to statues packed for transportation and images of the museum’s warehouse spaces, the artists contrast the everyday life of objects out-of-sight with their starring role in gallery exhibition.
Alongside artefacts, specimens and drawings from the Museums Sheffield collection, What Can Be Seen features two new photographic series’ by Horvat and Etchells, No Contextual Information and Card Index (Details).