A few days ago, I went to the Science Museum. I am looking for links, inspiration, artifacts or innovations related to the making of a better world. I was also interested in molecules, given that my interest for minerology increased since my visit to Oxford, specifically to the Natural History Museum, where I learnt that some rocks have different densities and properties according to how they have been formed. Thus, I am now trying to understand the difference in mass within rocks and minerals as an analogy to book, which in their way have different densities, origins and when the knowledge of a book collides with another, new knowledge is generated, alike the tectonic plates under the earth's crust and the minerls that spawn from their collision. I was marvelled to encounter the 'Materials House' by Heatherwick studios, which inspired me further in the relevance of materials in art making, as well as opening my mind to the different categories, specifications and applications that materials can have.
While this was relevant to my practice in practival terms, I was at the same time noticing the displayability applied to the exhibit. For me, this was one of the most successful displays in the museum, not only had an artistic output, expressed via de house in itself, but also had a more practical side to it, the physical catalogue, and furthermore, it had a station/pod in which one could consult the properties and learn further on a platform, a screen. From the display opposite, I was reminded as well that our body is made of materials! We have metal, as much as organic matter inside of us! Which brings me to the next floor of the Science Museum, where I actually started my visit. However, I would like to quickly mention that, on displayability, the Science Museum also had microscopic imagery. In contrast with the Glass Tank Gallery, the exhibit was captivating, even quite magical, making me wanting to be immersed in the world of (mainly) metal molecules.
From this exhibit, I did get the feeling that molecular structures can visually inspire me in the making of my links, whether visually or conceptually.
I was initially interested in the Medicinal Gallery, as I was looking for porcelain evidence in Science usage thorughout the ages. Nowadays, advanced porcelain is produced to make use in labware, rods, tubes, all sorts, but surely it started much earlier, as the chemist's mortar and pestle can confirm. To my surprise the Medicinal Gallery was very small and proportionally, it had a fair amount of devices on display, but mainly made of metal and glass. All good, I am using glass and metal accordingly anyway.
One of the curiosities that I many times had come accross, but only now understood the context of, was Phrenology. This was a 'science', well a then thought science, which cool visuals now give way to our fancy vintage posters' designs. Back then people used to think that the shape of the head had features that coud tell us how one's character is. They made molds out of real skulls, cataloguing famous and infamous people in the hope of estabilshing connections between them. They did use ceramics for this though, and were indeed trying to generate knowledge with it... just not very reliably.
A little bit like Alchemy, so did the Phrenologists contribute for the development of Science. These are works that eventhough we now understand through technology are not accurate, Franz Gall and his associates did investigate. This means they made notes, thought, reasoned, documented and wrote about the brain and the head. Part of these investigations found that functions are localized in different parts of the brain, the main theory behind Neuroscience, which was then asserted by the Phrenologists, vindicating part of their findings. Please check 'How much of it was true' section of http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/overview.htm#whathappened .
After a very small Medicinal gallery, the Energy Hall was inviting as there were lots of interactive, in-your-face, pods, displays and toys immediately after the end of the Medicinal gallery. And it's here that the harshness is going to start...
Science Museum, Energy hall, future, kids... one would think that the message would be a green, sustainable, positive, encoraging one.
Science Museum, public museum, government, conservative, no, definitely not a suistainable message, but one based on fallacies, hypocrisy and biased information.
As a visitor, who was not looking for an energy hall, but the medicine gallery, I wasn't even thinking about what kind of message would they be trying to put across, I did honestly think that it would be encouraging. However, for every renewable energy or fact on the greener ideologies described, there would always be a biased comment based on the inneficacy, sometimes economic, sometimes of a frugal nature of the exhibit. I illustrate below.
On a simulation 'game'of being the Energy Minister of a mock country, designed to be kid friendly, the 'player' had to manage the country's energy's resources. In my case, I made some good decisions, the energy levels were good, but after that result I got the above screen: 'Everyone hates you!' Now, think of a teenager, who is, tipically in their age, trying to be popular... this kind of message is only going to make them think that to be popular they have to make other decisions, such as support the oil companies, in order to be popular with the people - who in this game, by the way, are the big businesses' owners and not the overall population. In addition, how is it (I mean what is the reasoning behind) that being greener makes you unpopular? In any case, I suppose that yes, unpopular could be appropriate to use as it is a descriptive word, but using the expression 'Everyone hates you!' is judgemental and atrributes negative value to positive decisions. Unacceptable.
The poo fallacy
The first paragraph of this card describes a situation that is currently being practiced in India and China. However, Dr Judith Thornton, who's area of research include sewage and human physiology but which main focus is water treatment, says she isn't sure about it. Not only this information is dismissive of the actual applications and potentials of poo power, but also is not up-to-date. The UK does not have the world's largest chicken poo power station - China does. Also the poo power stations that exist produce local power, meaning they are not on the National grid. Centrica, the company that owns British Gas left the Biomethane project with these words 'As with many fledgling technologies there are challenges to overcome, and progress has been slow. Partly for these reasons, and facing other pressures in the external energy production and supply environment, Centrica made the decision to suspend involvement in the sector, which remains potentially exciting yet is still in early stages.' in October 2010. Whereas MEIF RE UK is producing 1.7 Mtoe of Bioenergy ( https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/449134/ECUK_Chapter_3_-_Domestic_factsheet.pdf ), the country could be benefiting from a clean and much wider delivery of this amazing and clean energy. This card also claims that it can produce electricity for almost 100 000 homes. I am not an energy expert, but I will be seeking help to understand how these calculations work, because in simple mathematics this doesn't really add up. If 1 Mtoe is equivalent to 11 630 Kwh and the average home (following the same above government report) consumes just over 4000Kwh a year, it would mean that Bioenergy only provides for 4.9 homes a year. However, think I must be calculating something wrong, otherwise building these plants wouldn't be feasible. Also, MEIF RE UK claims to have an output of 111.1 MW from biomethane which is not the same of what the government is claiming to be used, a mere 19.7 MW. But, again, I am seeking help to understand this better.
Surely that for a healthy discussion we have to present pros and cons. I just find that for an information pod, the disdain for the better options is strongly perceptible in the formulation of these questions. 'Is there any point...?' 'How would you fancy....?' These are questions formulated with a negative output. Again, is this educational, or influential? In a Science Museum? Anything in there should be either impartial or for the positive, and these are negatives that manipulate the pre disposition of the reader. Other points I could address in a critical manner, is that on the 'Nasty nuclear' panel it states that nuclear power produces dangerous waste - which is true - so there are fears of nuclear leaks - which is plausible - or that terrorist attacks are too great..... so... we can keep nuclear weapons, which present even greater risks, for example, that of human error or of a tyrant governor, but we shouldn't use the best side of nuclear power...? This blows my mind. We have nuclear bomb bases, which are responsible for many more nuclear disasters than nuclear power stations, but that's OK because we are under 'constant' terrorist threats - we suffered 1, I repeat 1, terrorist attack in July 2005, but we shouldn't have nuclear power to fight climate change! This logic isn't right. I don't support nuclear power as an alternative to crude, but the reasoning behind this information pod is toooo wrong: it's biased, and in an educational public establishment shouldn't be. Another frugal argument for the wind farm reasoning... 'some people think it spoils the landscape'...well, most wind farms in the UK are at sea, so not many people get to see them, or even feel the bad effects that they can cause - which are true. I personally neighboured a gentleman who went to court because his daughter developed cronical ear problems and other brain anomalies and he won the case, as the doctors managed to prove that it was due to the wind farms' white noise and released vibrations. Now the ultimate encouragement to youngsters is: 'Is there any point in trying?' NAH, it saves us money, but screw Nature because 'ANY GAINS WE MAKE AS INDIVIDUALS ARE OUTWEIGHED BY ENERGY-GUZZLING TRANSPORT AND INDUSTRY' -- WHHHATTTT??????? this is the same to say, 'quit having any moral fiber, because putting your rubish on the floor is fine: there will be a litter-picker collecting it, and you know what? people need a job, so you might as well just stop being environmental-sound all-together. You can't stop other people from polluting, so why should you care?' Is really this the message that the Science Museum should be putting out to us? The wording on these pods is outrageous, they translate the exact opposite that environmentalists are trying to fight for. Science should walk holding the hands of suistainability, not belitteling it!
Hypocrytical artworks commissioned
Mike Stubbs was specially commissioned in 2003 to do this film and poem. On the Science Museum website it's presented this way: 'In our culture, fast cars can represent power, status, fun and freedom. We love to use our cars. But we forget that petrol is made from oil, a natural resource that won’t last forever.' To start with, is the fact that oil won't last forever the only problem with it? Clearly not, we have seen plenty of proof of that! Should one be talking about how cars are a representation of power and status, or should we be presenting options for better cars and how that is innovative and for this reason prestigious? What kind of things are we valuing in this artwork? This artwork should have never been commissioned... why would the Science Museum pay for (their words - above) the convertion of 'fuel into speed and sound, (...) wasting precious energy and (...) releasing fumes that damage the planet' ? It makes no sense to me, not to be talking about innovation in transport and instead support old-fashioned polluting trends in an educational institution. Why isn't there anything on the Mag-lev in there for example?
There are two points that come to mind when visiting such an appawling gallery: first it hasn't been updated in more than 12 years minimum, which means that the youngsters are getting the wrong information i.e. poo power, the wrong values, i.e. being green is being unpopular and definitely the wrong educational examples of good thinking i.e. information pods and Mike Stubbs artwork. Secondly, the museum isn't using any funds to make this better because whoever wrote this information is probably in line with the conservative and capitalistic manner of government. Let the kids grow up like their fathers, and the world won't be here to let their own children grow.