Talking Objects Collective – co production with the British Museum

This blog was written by  Shameema, a participant in a recent Only Connect project with the British Museum, Talking Objects Collective.

Talking Objects Collective is a community project run by the British Museum since 2012 and supported by John Lyon’s Charity. It focuses on engaging groups and museum staff with objects and the ideas, knowledge and debate that can arise from looking closely at museum collections. Through creative exploration of an object, these projects can deepen participant engagement and establish stronger links between audience development and collections interpretation.”

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Early on a Wednesday morning I rushed to grab a seat in the corner of the busy Central line tube. I felt the nervousness overtake me as I sat quietly playing with my rings. I had so many questions whirling around my head about Talking Objects, a new project I was involved in at the British Museum.

After the short journey (secretly wishing it was longer) I finally reached the British Museum. The outside was filled with tourists walking around with big cameras. I walked past them, trying not to bump into anyone, trying to keep a smile on my face, trying to balance my nervousness -way too much to control at once.

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Our first session gave us an introduction to the whole project and we learnt about how we would build a story around ‘star objects’, housed in the British Museum. We would then perform our piece to visitors to the museum, aiming to enlighten them and change their views of how museums can be interesting yet creative.

One of the most important factors of this project was creativity. During every session, we learnt as much as we could about our ‘star objects.’

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Our star objects were the Lewis Chessmen. The Lewis Chessmen are priceless and very valuable. They are detailed and intricate. Chess can sometimes be portrayed as a mature and “boring” game to youngsters but the Lewis Chessmen carry a different aura. They could catch anyone’s attention and were the perfect objects for this project. Learning about them and using then as our objects of creativity has been very moving.

Each session was very packed. We listened to lectures from the museum’s curator educating us on further history of the Lewis Chessmen. We also visited the galleries to choose and decide which would be used in our final performance.

We also had to creatively transform ourselves into animals, inspired by the Lewis Chessmen. For example, the Bishop is often seen as cunning and sly therefore we chose an owl and a fox. This process was helpful in our final performances as it inspired us to bring the characters to life.

Throughout all the sessions, we had to rehearse out in the open which meant a different audience each time. This was very nerve racking at the beginning as it was quite new to us all however as we progressed along our confidence grew stronger and much solid.

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This project took us all on a journey towards greater knowledge, stronger confidence and improved performers’ skills. Our journey had many similarities to the journey we took our audience on in our final performance. We took them on the quest to find the queen- through different galleries (Africa, Asia and Greece) using many aspects of physical theatre including body movements, singing, rhythms, projection of our voices to grab the attention of the audience and keep it entertained.

This project gave us a unique perspective on the museum. I am absolutely certain that every single participant learnt more about the museum and its objects than they would have if they’d come every day to visit the galleries. Let’s not forget we had “secret passages” passes through the museum restricted area, which was remarkably fun! I will take on board every small and big thing I have learnt during this project for the future.