By Aoife Barrett, Unit 10 artist and Bristol Culture visitor assistant
Back in June, as part of a new city-council artwork project called Threshold, St Mungo’s participants were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the wonderful treasures housed in L Shed, the museum store adjoining M Shed.
The focus was on skills-sharing, bridging gaps and creating opportunities for social interaction. Having the opportunity to get out of the studio and see the physical evidence of Bristol’s history and hear the stories behind them told by experts was an ideal starting point.
The tour was a real eye-opener to the importance of understanding and appreciating the development of the city, and helped hugely in providing a context for the participants’ artwork. The group loved the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ feeling that goes with the tour. They felt like they were uncovering hidden parts of Bristol and discovering, as one participant said, “the odd things about Bristol”.
All sorts of artefacts were revealed, from the beautiful collection of various road and advertisement signs to the great big wheels of industry. The tour really showed how important objects are in helping to animate and personalise history; the close-up and often hands-on experience shed light on new ideas and possibilities for many of the group.
Certain statues and objects from forgotten people and former times opened up conversations about Bristol’s past prejudices.
One person referred to historical images of the lead-shot tower and saw the tower’s history as a metaphor for St. Mungo’s in the way that it has advanced and rebuilt lives. Another person mentioned that the old bikes show how technology and ideas have progressed over time, ultimately changing lives for the better.
Back in the studio, the positive experience of the tour and seeing a new side of Bristol became a great source of inspiration when mapping out ideas for artworks. Everyone was really interested in how cities, people and ideas evolve.
A lot of the feelings and thoughts were that with Bristol you never know what you might find – there is always something new and quirky to explore. Everyone agreed that this sense of adventure and opportunity provided a massive boost to their creativity, and helped prepare them for the next stage of the project.