Irene Brown at Thackray Medical Museum


Project Info


  • Irene Brown

Art Forms

  • Digital Installation


  • Thackray Museum
  • Arts&Heritage
  • Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund

Project Outline

View to the Past is part of the Meeting Point programme.

Irene Brown worked with the Thackray Medical Museum to create a set of virtual reality viewers which visitors looked through to see impressions of what the museum building looked like in the past, when it served as a workhouse and a hospital.

Museum staff and volunteers appeared in some of the scenes dressed in historic costumes, portraying characters from the museum’s past.

Lauren Ryall-Stockton, Museum Curator, explains:

“Visitors to the museum often ask us about the building itself and Irene’s work will help people to really experience the history of the museum in a whole new way.”

Thackray Medical Museum explores the world of medicine and is housed in the former Leeds Union Workhouse. The purpose-built workhouse opened in 1861 and served as a workhouse for the city’s poor until 1925 when it was renamed as St James’s Hospital.

Artist Irene Brown said:

“I’ve used open source technology to allow visitors to see the spaces where they’re standing, but as they might have appeared during the 19th and early 20thcenturies. It will reveal hidden ghosts from the past such as nurses who worked in the hospital and inmates who lived in the workhouse.”


  • To reinterpret and find a creative way to tell the story of the Thackray Medical Museum site
  • To engage staff and volunteers in the commissioning process


Arts&Heritage supported the nine museums participating in Meeting Point throughout the process, sharing knowledge of presenting contemporary art projects and commissions in non-traditional art spaces.

A networking event between the participating museums and 40 artists from across the UK took place at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and visits to artists’ studios were arranged. Museum teams also met with peers at other properties to learn how they successfully delivered contemporary art projects at their museums and heritage sites.

All museums developed their own Artist’s Brief. Following the networking event artists were invited to send in an expression of interest to museums that interested therm.

Three artists were shortlisted by each museum to draw up a more detailed proposal and were paid £500 each.

The Artist

Irene Brown lectures Fine Art at Newcastle University. She specialises in site-specific installations and permanently sited public art. Working methods include sculpture, photography and video and artworks often include kinetic elements, lighting and optical illusions. Irene has over twenty year’s experience of combining a senior academic teaching and research role with a distinguished career as a site-specific public artist and installationist.

Current research and practice is focused on the history of science, in particular, wonder and visual display, investigating the threshold between aesthetic and scientific realms.  Influences are many and eclectic but centre strongly on cabinets of curiosities, museum collections and her own extensive collection of artefacts.

Irene Brown also collaborated with Arts&Heritage on The Gallery Of Wonder On Tour.