Thursday, 17 July 2014

Imagining Patricia Milsom

This is a personal project I developed as part of my 2nd MA in Education in Museum. The whole idea came from the debate about the use of technology and virtual experience within the museum space. As an illustrator, I see a potential to enhance the museum experience (especially its intagible narrative) using digital tools. I demonstrate this idea by creating an animation projection for a baby cot, telling the imagined stories beyond the object itself.

This is a cot from the early 20th century that once belonged to a baby named Patricia Milsom, now displayed in the Childhood gallery of the museum. She was a
first child of a British family stationed in Dagshai, India. She was born in 1916 with the
condition spina bifida, and died aged 5 days old. Instead of keeping them for another child,
her parents put all the clothes and the cot in storage and had them shipped back to England.
They were rediscovered in the 1980s and were donated to the museum by another member
of the Milsom family; Emeritus Professor Stroud Francis Charles Milsom. The cot was
donated with several other objects also belonging to baby Patricia, such as baby shawls,
cardigans, sets of boots, cotton shoes and several delicately embroidered white cotton
gowns. From this set, only one night gown is displayed with the cot in the Babies Gallery
of the museum, the other objects are in storage. The cot is shown in a glass case of similar
fashion to the rest of the displays; cluttered with at least 4 other objects, accompanied by
minimal texts (only in English), and assembled under a theme. Patricia’s cot exceptionally
has an additional small text panel, placed way below eyelevel on the floor, explaining the
object’s origin briefly. From this display, I see the opportunity to use an animated narrative
to highlight the object, canvass its memory and engage the viewers’ imagination.

Following the DECHO, guideline for digital exploration of cultural objects (Aliaga et al,
2011) , I approached my interpretation in steps as follow; Firstly, working with the
museum’s collection team, I gained access to the original hand-written catalogue from the
1980s the recorded the 40 objects that came with the cot. From the list, I selected 7 objects
which were brought out from storage to be photographed for my reference. From them, I
then started drawing the animation by hand with colour graphite. I chose this technique
because it gives a personal and fragile feel to the piece, as well as representing the nostalgia
of early animation technique. I studied babies movements from Youtube then created
sequences of a baby wearing the various items. The sequences are short and faded in and
out to represent the fragile nature of the baby Patricia. The delicate pattern of the dresses
became the focus as they are drawn growing organically like a forest around the baby. This
link with nature links to natural reserve that covered majority of land in Dagshai.
Transparent elephant and butterflies were also added to trigger the idea of tropical climate
and the ephemerality of life. While these visual interpretations are subjective, they could
act as visual trigger for the viewers to make meaning of the story in relation of the object.
In addition to the visual elements, I also added sound to heighten the poetic quality of the
piece. The fragment used to accompany the animation came from a World War 1 song
called “Goodbye Good luck God bless you” by Henry Blurr, which was released and
topped the US Billboard chart for 10 weeks in 1916, the year that baby Patricia was born
and died.

Finally the animation was projected on to the cot on an ealry Tuesday morning. The whole installation was surreal. Seeing the ghostly digital image on the actual cot really provoke a sensitive view on the object's story. I hope to expand this into a proper workshop in the future, where each visitor could pick an object and tell their own personal imagined stories.

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