How can fiction build bridges?

Our Designer and Researcher in Residence, Harun Morrison, and local organisations have been exploring our Scottish Design Galleries to bring objects to life through fiction. Find out more about these workshops below.

Written by: Harun Morrison

Harun Morrison is our current Designer and Researcher in Residence and has been working with participants from Art Angel, Front Lounge and University of Dundee to consider how fiction allows us to explore the many different histories of objects. In August, participants from Art Angel’s Creative Writing Group came together in the Scottish Design Galleries to take part in a series of readings, animating the galleries with historical fiction. Art Angel is a local arts and mental health organisation, run for and by people with experience of mental health issues.

How can museum collections embrace the value of doubt? The collections are tangible, full of items made by human and mechanical means. When on display, although the objects are often behind glass, they do not lose their tactility, they are touchable. There still remain aspects that simultaneously can only be intuited, felt and guessed at. How can fiction bridge what is presumed to be known and what is unknown?

Exhibits in a museum are always more than materials and aesthetics. These objects have travelled to us through time, as we travel back to them, they also exist through oral histories and memories of usage. Strangely some of the more recently produced acquisitions of the Scottish Design Galleries such as video games (reflective of the impact of the videogames industry in the city), exemplify this more richly than older, solid, seemingly ‘discrete’ items. The video game is code, albeit sometimes contained in a cartridge, it is visualised through a monitor and a meeting of software and hardware. It needs players to activate it as a game. What happens when we think about a 200 year old chair the same way?

There are the tangible elements, but there is always a network of immaterial things that co-constitute the object, beyond what can be touched. No label or database can narrate, or contain the entire story of an object.

A series of workshops that have taken place at the museum across the summer of 2022, pose these questions to the collections. Workshop participants affiliated to Front Lounge , Art Angel and University of Dundee spent time in the Scottish Design Galleries, with an introduction from the exhibitions team, followed by an invitation to identify objects that they were especially curious about. This initial curiosity has been used as the starting point to develop a fiction around the object. Specifically, a fiction that might elucidate aspects of the object beyond what’s in the museum’s database.

Fiction is especially adept at uncovering the emotional aspects of the objects, which are less evident in processes that emphasise preservation. Fiction allows us to conjure the past in the present; and more than this, dismantle the rigidity of timelines and undermine historical accuracy. Resituating objects in time shakes the sedimentary layers of memory; churning what we have seen and touched first-hand with half-remembered history lessons, to possibly deeper ancestral memory.

The workshops began with participants wandering through the space. We then began a series of free form writing exercises, we also looked at concrete poetry as another way of engaging with the objects. These texts will eventually be edited and developed to contribute to a publication.

Whereas who commissions an object may focus on the financial exchange and class dynamics, fiction can turn an eye to the granular detail of who made what, whose finger was pricked sewing which garment? Whose back was put out of joint moving which bricks?

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image that represent two pages of V&A dundee website