‘A Weird Aperture - and Weird Echoes of Water’ was produced for ‘Lustre’, a research-led project exhibited at Kendal Museum, Cumbria. The film was installed in the Lake District Natural History Gallery for a period of six months (Sept 2015 - March 2016).
‘A Weird Aperture - and Weird Echoes of Water’ is a digital video which takes the museum’s digitisation project as its focus. Kendal Museum recently received funding to digitally preserve two important mineral collections and the project took place in the basement of the museum in early 2015. ‘A Weird Aperture’ documents the conservation, interpretation and digital reproduction of the specimens, within the hands of museum staff. The work also employs a series of digital images - the product of the digitisation process, which were recently archived and made publicly accessible.
The museum’s digitisation project has provided time, conservation and funding for two important collections: The Bill Shaw Mineral Collection and the John Hamer collection. Since the early 19th century, the geology collections at Kendal Museum have experienced a shift in priority and focus. When the museum experienced financial problems in the 1950s-60s, parts of the collections were sold to neighbouring museums. Some of the specimens were subsequently returned in the 1970s when the museum eventually reopened.
The digitisation process also brings to light, the histories of often overlooked individuals and groups, connected with the collections. Kendal Museum acquired the Bill Shaw Mineral Collection after the closure of the Keswick Mining Museum. The collection of John Hamer - a potholer and mineral collector - was donated to the museum in 2004 after its discovery following Hamer’s death. Hamer was a recluse and spent much of his life collecting minerals from sites which are now inaccessible to collectors today. He kept meticulous handwritten notes and drawings of his activities.
In ‘A Weird Aperture - and Weird Echoes of Water’, a male voice reads fragments from ‘The Caves and Potholes of High Craven: Nature’s Grottos by J. L. Hamer, July 1934. The original text is one of six notebooks handwritten by John Hamer, donated to the museum along with the minerals. Hamer provides a vivid account of potholing and caving in Yorkshire and Cumbria - describing his solo, subterranean adventures. The text highlights regional dialects, as Hamer recounts tales of local folklore and customs.
Furthermore, the form and character of the landscape is conveyed through the close study of rare mineral specimens. A selection of specimens from the Hamer and Shaw collections, are seen to blur and shift - resurfacing from behind the digital screen. ‘A Weird Aperture’ considers the objects in a state of flux within the frame and format of the digitisation project: reanimated with renewed value and importance. Within the video, the artist edits the images using a variety of digital devices and software: including high definition video, DSLR camera and smart phone camera. This treatment of the material highlights the resilience of the minerals in solid form, compared to the unstable digital reproduction.
In addition to observing the technical processes for creating these digital collections, ‘A Weird Aperture’ considers digitisation as a system for revisiting and highlighting: objects, histories and their collectors, from many different perspectives. The set-up of the digitisation studio, acts as an apparatus for extracting buried histories and background contexts, which surface in the process.
In 2016 Kendal Museum will make the digital archive publicly accessible. Questions of copyright and image ownership arise, via the artists’ appropriation of this digital content. Digital Imaging Scientist and local photographer, Tony Riley provides a selection of still image content for the film, which Kate Morrell examines and manipulates. What are the implications and potentials of sharing digital collections? What new interpretations could be extracted in the hands of each new user?