Object Affinity explores affective and subjective ways of engaging with museum objects and spaces. Begun as a series of interdisciplinary workshops at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, my colleagues and I have explored ways of moving from university to public engagement. It is driven by the questions: What do these objects mean for me? What does cultural heritage mean for us?
Our workshops focused on the museum’s collection of Assyrian Reliefs. Researchers from across fields and universities gathered together to learn about Assyrian Reliefs through lectures, visits in various contexts, object handling. We then presented our own research using the reliefs as lenses. After gathering together the common threads, we wove together thematic narratives through the museum. This culminated in a ‘Choose Your Own Ashmolean Adventure’, an interactive trail that was staged in the museum during a Live Friday. Several hundred visitors of all ages and experiences participated and explored museum objects while examining their own consciences: Standing on the threshold, do you enter the king’s court and participate in socio-cultural order or do you face the chaos of the wild? How does one preserve the legacy of one’s culture? Saving books? Saving people? We started working with the Assyrian Reliefs long before the current destruction of Assyrian Heritage by the Islamic State. However, this very destruction makes the contemporary resonance of these old stones even more deeply felt
My colleague, Nick West, and I have continued experimenting under the Object Affinity banner.
I used the Object Affinity model as the basis for a fourth year undergraduate Capstone Seminar that I developed in 2018 in partnership with the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Students had backstage access to the Museum and they produced beautiful and critical Choose Your Own Adventure Gallery Trails that were presented to a select public and then modified for a more general audience. Carleton’s Educational Development Centre wrote a blog post based on their observations and participation in the students’ presentations.