I felt a bit like the proverbial kid in a candy store. As I began wandering around the rooms, the variety of the exhibits hit me hard and fast, and the possibilities of inspiration seemed to fly through the air.
There were butterflies, artists’ books, tins, paintings, beetles, crystals, a lion skin, and a letter written in blood. There were posters, doll’s houses, kaleidoscopes, fossils, shells, birds, and a mummified cat, to list but a few things.
So many possible starting points to write. The temptation was to latch onto something, pin it down, produce my own exhibit. But I know from experience, that’s not the best way to work. It’s better to absorb things, let them ferment, give them the freedom to develop in weird and wonderful directions.
One thing that struck me is how the exhibits resonate off each other, like words do in a poem. If you stick two words near each other in a poem, unseen connections are created between them, a certain tension, they bring out different connotations in each other. It’s a technique that many poets will use. And this was present in the collections in the Beaney. One room has the exhibits organised by colour, which means you can see an agate ornament, a piece of jasper and a muskrat in close proximity, or butterflies, beetles and crystals side by side. It’s a really fascinating way of looking at things, and reminded me how the context of objects (or words) can completely change how we see them.
I’m also fascinated by people, I love to sit and people watch, and I think watching them as they look around the exhibits is interesting. I sat in the Study and did this for a while. Looking through glass cases into the other room meant the people staring into those glass cases appeared to be exhibits themselves.
I heard one very small girl point at the lion skin and say to her carer when I was little, I was scared of that, but I’m not any more. Then a bit later that used to be alive, but it’s dead now. Why is it dead? This question was fielded nicely by her adult saying that’s a question for another day, here look at this.
I feel the place is bubbling over with potential at the moment, and I can’t wait to see where it leads me.
Oh… and even after spending ages wandering around, I still couldn’t find the actual ‘Armchair’.
Nicky Thompson will be exploring the Beaney from January to April 2014, using the experience to take her creative writing practice in fascinating new directions and capturing what happens when the collection and the community meet. Nicky will be encouraging other writers, through interactive workshops, to create individual as well as group responses to the collection.