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The objects in that cupboard have lain forgotten for decades by everyone except the generations of curators we appoint to carefully label our ignorance. Now let’s read the labels. Or who will miss them if they disappear? Who took them in the first place? And from whom? Are they the residues of raped villages or diplomatic banquets? No one knows. Who cares?

The ordinary paraphernalia, the tools and toys of people going about their lives, have been taken away from their context and preserved in an alien one. Perhaps stolen, perhaps given as gifts. To what end? Who do they belong to now? Have we made them into sacred objects by accident? What spirits do they represent for us? Or are we completely blind to the ideologies they embody? Do we really believe we are completely objective, driven by truth and pure knowledge, as was the Imperial machine that collected these things and then forgot about them? Is our memory so weak? Are we the senile dotage of Imperial might?

Let’s give away our swag and make a clean start.

These questions might seem impudent in relation to roomfuls of lost property. But do they seem absurd when applied to a handful of scum in a ditch…?
Here are some diatoms I will burn. Plenty more where they came from.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. David Gelsthorpe permalink*
    02/07/2009 8:59 am

    Diatoms are microscopic singled-celled algae that live in water. They take energy from the Sun and are very important as they form the basis of all life in our seas. They produce a quarter of the oxygen we breath and can absorb the same amount of carbon as a forest of trees.

    Leander Wolstenholme,
    Curator of Botany
    The Manchester Museum

  2. Jo Woodcock permalink
    02/07/2009 9:57 am

    Just the diatoms, or everything in the cupboard? What are those things in the cupboard? Some of them look like sacred objects, and would it be right to destroy the sacred objects of another culture? Could they possibly be returned to the descendants of those from whom they were taken, or would this be an impossible task?

  3. Bodger permalink
    02/07/2009 11:36 am

    You’ll burn them, will you?

    Bet you won’t. Bet this whole is a publicity stunt and you won’t destroy anything.

  4. Steve permalink
    02/07/2009 1:03 pm

    The diatoms are beautiful – beautiful shapes and colours and textures. They have improved a difficult day. Thank you Hermit!

  5. Cosi (awed) permalink
    02/07/2009 2:41 pm

    the diatoms are truly beautiful in more ways than one….
    at first i saw the picture without context and thought they were a collection of brooches (some of them are very art deco don’t you think?) and was reminded of collages made from broken jewellery…

    but they are microscopic and most of us don’t wander around they world looking through a microscope to see it’s wonders, so few of us get to appreciate their visual beauty.

    their real beauty lies in how they contribute to giving us air to breathe! we should worship them (poseidon gras, etc etc)!

  6. Emuna permalink
    02/07/2009 5:16 pm

    I too am in awe of these. Please don’t burn them. They are beautiful.

  7. 02/07/2009 9:40 pm

    Do you know what these beautiful brooches look like when you collect lots of them together? Slime, sludge, scum.

    Jewellery? Poppy Loughtman, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry the mosquito didn’t work out, but I reckon you should take a handful of slime from a pond to your Brown Owl and claim your Brownie Collector’s badge

    Steve, Cosi, check out Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel. He was one of the first people to pull these life forms out of their invisible dimension into one we can all appreciate. He was also enormously influential on both Art Nouveau and Surrealism. The patterns in nature are an inexhaustible design sourcebook. There’s nothing new under the sun.

    As for burning them, Bodger, Emuna. Why not? You destroy thousands yourself every day.

    Perhaps we should worship them. But then we should worship all the water and the air around us too.

    • Rebecca permalink
      29/07/2009 12:01 pm

      Why the need to either deify or destroy them? Why can’t we just live alongside them? I would like to allow these beautiful objects to exist alongside all the other living and deceased organisms in our world.

  8. Bodger permalink
    03/07/2009 11:57 am

    I might be a cynic, but surely if you want this to be more than just a ‘mind-opening’ intellectual debate you need to give us some idea of why you’re not destroying any of the items. Even though you’re threatening to.

  9. samudra sen permalink
    03/07/2009 12:15 pm

    dear ansuman,
    apnar ai hobby amar khub valo legeche. akta avinabatto ache. apnaer ai adventure r je anuvuti seta amra anuvab korte parchina. kintu ata apnar khetre natun kichu nay. tabuo museum-e aka thaka akta romanchokar ghatona. to ai anuvutita kamon. aktu janan.

    Samudra Sen

  10. alex permalink
    03/07/2009 4:55 pm

    I would make necklaces and bracelets for tiny fish and mermaids from these – says Sadie aged 7.

  11. 07/07/2009 2:53 am

    Diatom… The most beautiful item yet!!!!

  12. 09/07/2009 12:40 am

    Hi Ansuman

    sorry I tuned in a bit late

    I like this post. You are asking such intelligent questions. What do we value? How do we store information? Does it matter when things disappear?

    I like Sadie’s comment the best!


  13. 28/07/2009 6:56 pm

    Burn the cupboard, but keep the contents.

  14. Leander permalink
    07/10/2009 11:40 am

    The Collections Development Panel, along with the director and the artist, discussed the diatoms at a meeting on 3rd September

    The blog responses and discussions were summarised as:
    “One contributor suggested making them into jewellery for seahorses! There are possible uses once digitized, such as projections within a gallery, using copies to create jewellery. But do we need the whole collection to do this, there are a lot of them and generally they are rarely used.”

    The group suggested that we audit and review the collection prior to exploring alternative uses.


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