- Susan Stockwell
- Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
- Arts Council England
Warrington Museum & Art Gallery was one of six heritage sites selected by Arts&Heritage to take part in its Meeting Point 2018-2019 programme. Warrington took part in a series of A&H training workshops and visits, to learn how to successfully deliver a contemporary art project at the museum. Warrington then developed their own Artist’s Brief, and presented this to 60 artists from across the UK at a networking event. From Expressions of Interest, four artists were shortlisted to draw up a more detailed proposal from which Warrington selected Susan Stockwell for the £11,000 commission.
Stockwell’s exhibition, Hidden Histories, Untold Stories at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery reflects her personal interests in politics, colonialism, social movements and the importance of telling people’s individual and untold stories. She made a number of interventions into the museum’s collection with the assistance of museum staff when hanging this show, selecting artefacts that celebrated the collection and shed light on imperial histories, including objects that are being considered for return to their place of origin. Stockwell’s sculptures are made with specially sourced industrial and consumer objects, which she juxtaposed amongst these objects from the museum’s collection, creating dialogues that explored themes of consumerism, trade, expansionism and the wilful destruction of the planet.
This exhibition highlights the museum’s role as a cultural collector and storyteller, and brings to life some of the untold stories behind its 200,000 objects. The exhibition also explores themes around social change, consumerism and how museums across the world are reframing their collections to better reflect the communities, cultures and people they represent.
Artist, Susan Stockwell, said:
“As one of the oldest museums in the country and a hidden gem, Warrington Museum & Art Gallery also has one of the most varied collections, covering everything from ethnology, archaeology, natural history and Warrington’s own social and industrial history. I was inspired to learn more about the stories behind its objects; who originally made them, and what were they used for? I wanted to explore how the museum’s objects help us understand our history, and how the act of collecting and displaying things links to our modern obsession with consumerism and ownership. We’re also in a period of social change and questioning, and I wanted see how the museum’s collections could help us engage with current debates.”
“Whilst pointing towards major critiques of colonialism, [Hidden Histories, Untold Stories] never offers easy answers. It instead raises questions for the audience to contemplate for ourselves.” – Messy Lines, 2021
“I think that a lot of museums have to accept that they have to change. We all do. We all have to accept and address our past and we need to take responsibility for it before we can move forward.” – Susan Stockwell, interview with Javier Pes
Hidden Histories, Untold Stories was displayed at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery in the North West from 24 October 2020 – 18 April 2021.
A&H commissioned a ‘making of film’ for Hidden Histories, Untold Stories, capturing the artist’s process.
Warrington Museum & Art Gallery was established in 1848 by combining the collections of Warrington’s 18th century Circulating Library with those of the Natural History Society. Its success meant that the municipal council decided to build a larger museum which resulted in today’s Grade II listed museum opening in 1857. The museum expanded its collections to include Fine and Decorative Arts but the galleries of geology, botany, ethnology and fish and reptiles have been maintained largely intact. The core of the museum collection includes fossil footprints on Triassic slabs and William Wilson’s collection of British Plants and Mosses alongside Linnaeus Greening’s collection of t reptiles, amphibia, snakes and spiders. It is a rare example of a faithfully preserved Victorian Municipal Museum and is often described as a ‘museum of museums’.
The preserved Victorian Museum displays capture the visitor’s imagination; the natural science and ethnographic collections are presented in a way that would be familiar to Victorian collectors. However, the Museum also recognises that some displays conflict with our 21st century of humanity or the natural world, and wants to have brave conversations about the nature of collecting and find ways of expanding, disrupting or changing the ways the collections are understood.
Susan Stockwell is an established artist working across sculpture, installation, collage and film. Her practice is concerned with examining social and colonial histories and engaging with questions of social justice, trade, cultural mapping and feminism. Her art employs the material culture of everyday products, such as recycled computer components, maps and paper currency, which she transforms into compelling artworks. In seeking to reconnect an object’s past, its related history and materiality with contemporary issues, her practice underscores these materials urgent interconnection to collective memories, desires and ecological shortfalls; aspects that evoke, expose and challenge features of social, racial and gender inequality and injustice. Susan has exhibited extensively around the world, including at TATE Modern, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, The National Museum of China, Beijing, The Katonah Museum of Art, New York and Art League of Houston, USA and Manchester City Art Gallery. Her work is in public and private collections around the world. She teaches part-time at the University of East London and is based in London.
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