The Secret Life of a Caravan Curator

In addition to being ‘Katie Smith, Caravan Curator’ I have a parallel life as a self-confessed research geek. After I was commissioned to tour my Movable Museum of Found Objects by Transported last summer I took part in an AHRC-funded skills development project organised by researchers at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design (Birmingham City University) and Communication and Media Research Institute (University of Westminster). The project explored the different ways in which academics use participatory creative research methods.

The aim of the Movable Museum is to take an unexpected arts experience to unsuspecting audiences. In the context of Transported it was used as an artist-led consultation activity to test assumptions made about why people’s engagement in the arts in Boston and South Holland is significantly lower than in other parts of the country. I realised that this process could be described as a creative research method and after much pondering I shaped my thoughts into a blog post that you can read here.

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The Moveable Museum’s next dalliance with University researchers was an appearance at a DESIS-UK workshop at the University of Lincoln last September. The DESIS UK network focuses on how design can play a role in social innovation. The Lincoln workshop specifically explored how artists can use creative activities to support social processes with the Moveable Museum’s Transported tour being used as a practical example. It was also a chance to use my newly purchased hostess trolley which was heavily laden with Battenberg and French fancies for visitors to enjoy!

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Last month I was thrilled and terrified in equal measures when I was invited to present a paper at the Museum Ethnographer’s Group Conference at the University of Aberdeen.  

Ethnography is the study of social interactions, behaviours, and perceptions that occur within groups, teams, organisations, and communities. I talked through the case study that I had written, about how We Found Art had built an online community through a shared interest in found objects and of how these objects then have the power to stimulate conversations about collections from visitors to the Moveable Museum. I was pleased to learn that my friends Jan and Chris from the Caravan Gallery had preceded my visit with their residency Aberdeenshire Ways which encouraged much caravan appreciation from the audience who thankfully were very kind to me!

Transported; Adventures Beyond the Tour

I can’t believe that the last blog post that I wrote about the adventures of the Moveable Museum of Found Objects was way back in July 2013! Whereas it’s true that the museum goes into hibernation over the winter months there have been some excited moments between then and now that deserve to be shared. These exciting moments fit neatly into 3 themes: Transported Stuff, University Stuff and New Studio stuff so I’ll write a post about each, starting with Transported Stuff…

After our 2013 tour of Boston and South Holland we were thrilled to be the subject of a little film made by Transported. The film explains how the Moveable Museum was used as an artist-led consultation activity to encourage people to be more open to the idea of talking about what taking part in the arts means to them. The shoot was fueled by biscuits and was a lovely introduction to the chaps at Electric Egg who have become firm caravan friends. Do check the film out, we’re very pleased with it.

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Post tour, during the summer of 2013, myself and co-pilot Dave Briggs were invited to run some sessions in Transported’s pop-up shop in Holbeach. We spent a very happy couple of days taking people on photo-walks around the town and encouraging some digital experimentation with Makey Makeys (which included the creation of a wondrous fruit piano). You can read Dave’s report about day 1 for more information.

Although the Moveable Museum had to stay at home during this particular adventure, it was never far from our thoughts. I was delighted to discover a golden hostess trolley in a junk shop during one of our photo-walks which I was compelled to purchase as the perfect caravan biscuit station.

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We also thought that it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t look for lost and discarded treasure as we rambled through the streets and back alleys of Holbeach. We were thrilled that two of our younger photo-walkers, sisters Sophie and Holly, turned out to be fellow explorers of the world. Walking with eyes fixed to the floor (this takes considerable skill if accidents are to be avoided) they each made a collection of found objects which they proudly displayed back in the shop for all to enjoy.

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Transported

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On Friday 19th July we pitched up at the final stop of our Transported tour, the Anglia Motel at Fleet Hargate on the main A17 Washway Road.

The motel is part of a roadside complex which, besides chalet style accommodation, boasts a restaurant, cafe, farm shop, garden centre and camp site, all advertised by a cacophony of colourful signage. On site there is also a display of ex-military vehicles including a 1950 Hawker Hunter aeroplane, a 432 armoured personnel carrier (APC) and a large self propelled gun. With such an unusual blend of amenities and exhibits to explore we had high expectations for the day.

Harold, the Motel’s owner, had reserved us a space in the car park which was both accessible to patrons of the restaurant and visible to passing traffic. We quickly set up and in keeping with the comfort stop vibe of our venue, brought out our best china to start the day with a cup of tea and a selection of dainty pastries. Harold seemed very impressed with the effort we’d made and we were surprised and absolutely delighted when he appeared with a vintage picnic set as a donation for the Museum, a random act of kindness that set the scene for the day.

People came and people went; bikers on Harley Davidson’s, families in people carriers, truckers taking a break and retired couples enroute to a day out at the coast. We soon discovered that the Motel was a space to pass through and once visitors had grabbed a quick drink and used the facilities they were keen to continue their journey; sadly visiting a museum was not high on their list of priorities.

Having encountered an epic fail in our usual emergency engagement strategy of tempting passers-by into the caravan with biscuits, we decided to change our approach. We were intrigued by Harold’s team of volunteers who use the Motel as a base to raise funds for the Royal Anglian Regiment Benevolent fund; who were they and what did they do? We decided to investigate.

It wasn’t long before an opportunity presented itself to meet two of Harold’s gang, Ray and Chris, a camouflage clad duo who were preparing to take the armoured personal carrier out for a spin. We introduced ourselves and soon found we had a common interest in collecting. Ray proudly showed us his collection of weapons and a selection of his tattoos; he explained that the latter was not only decorative but functional as should he have been killed during service the tattoos would have helped to identify his body. 

We headed back to the caravan for a lunch of cold fish finger and curry sauce sandwiches, swilled down with diet coke. Our respite from the heat of the day was short lived however as our picnic was interrupted by the rumble of a personnel carrier on the move. The armoured vehicle drew alongside the caravan and ground to a halt, a helmeted Harold popped out of the driver’s hatch and shouted to Dave

 ‘Get her in the back and follow in the car!’ 

I obediently hopped in, unsure as to whether I’d been kidnapped or invited on a joyride. With Harold and Ray at the helm and fellow passenger Chris in the back, we jerkily wound our way around country lanes until we reached our destination, a local primary school. I was pleased to see that Dave had used his tracking skills and was waiting for me, as in the excitement of the moment the camo crew had forgotten to tell him where they were taking me to!

Back at the Motel we continued our quest to meet its people and enjoyed spending time in the company of WW2 Veterans, and fundraising volunteers, Tony and Rita, Dizzy from the restaurant and neighbours Jackie and Bill. Our vehicle related adventures didn’t stop at the APC experience either, as just before it was time for us to pack up and head home we encountered Tractor Bill who invited us to explore his impressive (and immaculate) collection of vintage tractors which flanked the opposite side of the road.

It seems fitting that our Transported tour concluded with a day of unusual experiences centred around a gloriously random and unexpected selection of vehicles; thank you Anglia Motel for a memorable day!

You can view a selection of photos from our Anglia Motel adventure here

Curious Collections

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On Sunday 7th July 2013 we were invited to Long Sutton Church to an event that combined Transported consultation activities with a sponsored cycle ride and All Day Breakfasts served in the Church Hall.

Initially we were a slight let down to some parishioners as we had been advertised as an Antiques Roadshow type event; many had brought unusual objects with them in the hope that we would reveal their history and worth only to discover our lack of knowledge of antiquities. However, once inside the museum visitors were won over by our eclectic collection of found objects and were keen to tell us about their collecting habits too.

Let us introduce a few of our new caravan friends:

Chris described his caravan experience as ‘absolutely fantastic’ adding that it reminded him of his ‘childhood’s eclectic collections.’ He told us that once as a child he found a dead baby blackbird caught in the strawberry netting in his garden and that he and his friends decided to give it a proper burial. The gang of pals enjoyed directing a funeral so much that they went on to make a collection of small furry or feathered bodies to send off to the Pearly Gates. We were particularly impressed to hear that in adulthood Chris has made a humongous collection of sugar lumps from all over the world!

Bonnie brought some bling to show us and we discovered that she was an enthusiastic collector of tins, embroidery threads and postcards that nobody wants. She also told us that her daughter once had an impressive collection of cacti which gained her a badge in the Girl Guides and that her husband has an ever growing collection of glass cake stands and WW1 silk postcards.

We made Cliff a business card to publicise his love of attractive stones. He makes his selection based on size - any prospective pebble to be considered for his collection must be large enough to write the date and place of discovery on the bottom but not so large as to weigh his trouser pockets down.  

You can view more photographs from the day here.

Our next appearance will be at the Anglia Motel, Fleet Hargate on Friday 19th July 2013.

A Strange Carry On

Our latest adventure of our Transported summer tour saw us pitching up right outside the entrance of ASDA in Boston.

Our day started with a healthy dose of trepidation and moderate feelings of anxiety at the thought of the potential hazards we might encounter whilst manoeuvring into our allocated space; bollards, run away trolleys, shoppers on a mission and illegally parked cars to name but a few. We breathed a sigh of relief on our approach to the front of the store however as we spotted an army, well 3, trolley collectors waiting to assist us. Within no time at all we were set up and enjoying our emergency trifle which is a necessity of any caravan adventure.

It was a different experience being at a supermarket; people going in to shop were generally on a mission and those coming out were laden down with bags. We soon learnt to employ some shopper friendly tactics to tempt people into the museum offering both a trolley minding and a trolley distribution service. We also found that Party Rings, the caravan biscuit of choice were quite a draw for potential visitors. The Fabulous Frankie, one of our Community Researchers also discovered a hidden talent for making supermarket announcements as she commandeered the tannoy to alert shoppers to our presence!

My favourite aspect of We Found Art, the project that generated the Moveable Museum’s collection, has always been its ability to encourage chance encounters and random happenings. The ASDA adventure didn’t disappoint, Frankie spotted Dr Amy Jane Barnes collection of objects and I was delighted to discover that she had taught her at De Montford University!

It seems that irrespective of location, the Moveable Museum has the power to start conversations whether visitors appreciate the collection or think it’s completely bonkers. Mr Palmer of Frithville was intrigued by the caravan and was completely bemused and perplexed as to why anyone would want to document and display objects that others had lost, forgotten or discarded; he described the museum as a ‘strange carry on,’ a comment that made our day.

Oswald (Ossy) Snell of Fishtoft spent a long time perusing our collection and talked to us about his interest in the social history of Boston, its people and long tradition of land work. He also revealed that he had founded, coached and managed the Fishtoft Ladies Football Team for many years. He shared his training techniques with us which were tough but fair and included a ban on gossip; it was therefore no surprise to learn that the team enjoyed considerable success in the East Midlands League.

Four year old Sam from Frithville visited in order to compare the caravan to his family’s as they had the same model and was particularly delighted to find Jude Hoyles’ collection in the wardrobe. Being on our own patch we also benefited from increased visitor numbers generated by unsuspecting friends passing by who were all too polite to refuse a tour. We were very pleased that ASDA staff also took the time to come and visit us proving what excellent hosts they are!

You can view more photographs from the day here and catch us next on 7th July at Long Sutton Church and 19th July at the Anglia Motel.

I was so pleased when Katie asked me to be her co-pilot on her latest tour of Lincolnshire with the Moveable Museum of Found Art - I’ve been a fan since I first came across the project online, and the more time you spends in the company of her caravan, the more you learn to love it.
Part of this is because the caravan is a reminder of my youth. My family used to take regular caravan holidays in the mid-1980s and the classic browns, oranges and yellows of Katie’s caravan send me spiralling back in time to summers spent putting up awnings, emptying chemical toilets and learning to cope with Dad’s snoring.
The caravan is a double-edged context switcheroo. It puts a museum in a place where people don’t expect to see a museum: in a market, a field, a supermarket car park. Then, when visitors are already slightly woozy, the artefacts displayed in the museum are another jolt - everyday objects, picked up off the ground, for who knows what reason?
Can a caravan be a museum? Can these objects be worthy of display within a museum? People can mull over these questions while looking around, or just enjoy the items collected.
Finally, the museum is about stories. What was it that made people pick up these apparent pieces of junk? Why that bottle top, and not any other? What on earth were these things, before they ended up on the floor?
We’ll never know the stories behind most of these objects. But we can imagine, invent our own stories, develop our own histories of the artefacts in the Moveable Museum of Found Art, and in a way they then start to belong to us too, they become part of our history.
 Just as a caravan itself was part of mine, and now is again.
Dave Briggs, Caravan Co-Pilot

I was so pleased when Katie asked me to be her co-pilot on her latest tour of Lincolnshire with the Moveable Museum of Found Art - I’ve been a fan since I first came across the project online, and the more time you spends in the company of her caravan, the more you learn to love it.

Part of this is because the caravan is a reminder of my youth. My family used to take regular caravan holidays in the mid-1980s and the classic browns, oranges and yellows of Katie’s caravan send me spiralling back in time to summers spent putting up awnings, emptying chemical toilets and learning to cope with Dad’s snoring.

The caravan is a double-edged context switcheroo. It puts a museum in a place where people don’t expect to see a museum: in a market, a field, a supermarket car park. Then, when visitors are already slightly woozy, the artefacts displayed in the museum are another jolt - everyday objects, picked up off the ground, for who knows what reason?

Can a caravan be a museum? Can these objects be worthy of display within a museum? People can mull over these questions while looking around, or just enjoy the items collected.

Finally, the museum is about stories. What was it that made people pick up these apparent pieces of junk? Why that bottle top, and not any other? What on earth were these things, before they ended up on the floor?

We’ll never know the stories behind most of these objects. But we can imagine, invent our own stories, develop our own histories of the artefacts in the Moveable Museum of Found Art, and in a way they then start to belong to us too, they become part of our history.

Just as a caravan itself was part of mine, and now is again.

Dave Briggs, Caravan Co-Pilot

Quite often I find lose screws and nuts in the streets, be it when I ride my bike to the train station or on a sunday walk. I document this finds in my blog "Not lost but found". I often wonder about my attachment to this lost causes. As a child I used to play with rusty nails and oily screws which my father kept for reuse in soap boxes, tins and yoghurt jars. Screws and nuts in a way hold our world together. I am amazed how many can get lost without causing trouble.
Matthias Bruellmann, Basel, Switzerland 

Quite often I find lose screws and nuts in the streets, be it when I ride my bike to the train station or on a sunday walk. I document this finds in my blog "Not lost but found". I often wonder about my attachment to this lost causes. As a child I used to play with rusty nails and oily screws which my father kept for reuse in soap boxes, tins and yoghurt jars. Screws and nuts in a way hold our world together. I am amazed how many can get lost without causing trouble.

Matthias Bruellmann, Basel, Switzerland 

A Phantasmagorical Day in Holbeach

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Every outing of the Moveable Museum of Found Objects is an adventure but nothing could have prepared us for our day at Holbeach Midsummer Fayre on Sunday 23rd June. The day started like any other; with the able assistance of my intrepid caravan co-pilot Dave I worked through our checklist of caravan essentials. Once we were sure we had packed our flasks, water-proofs and enough emergency biscuits to see us through the day we hooked up the caravan and were off.

We reached Carter’s Park in Holbeach in good time and were met by a Rotarian Gatekeeper in a day-glo jacket. I couldn’t help but notice that the width of his gate was almost equal to the width of the caravan, give or take a few inches. Before I had time to even contemplate a meltdown help presented itself in the unexpected form of a Tramp Clown. Cosmo Hardy had been booked to provide bespoke humour for the event but luckily for us he was very happy to provide bespoke caravan manoeuvring services too! I suspect that it was the intervention of midsummer magic cast by the shadow of the previous night’s super moon that brought Cosmo to us, but whatever it was it gave us an inkling that it was going to be a rather unusual day.

We pitched the Museum in a busy spot surrounded by charity, craft and local produce stalls and set up to a soundtrack of 80s classics blaring out from the PA system. Gates opened to a steady flow of visitors willing to risk the dark skies and threat of showers and by mid afternoon the park had swelled with crowds eagerly anticipating the dog show.

Throughout the day we welcomed visitors to peep into our cupboards and to explore our collections. We had our first ever visits from an aristocrat, tattoo artist, owl and ice cream vendor. Cosmo and his sidekick Joe Fool popped in to solve conundrums and hand out cabbage leaves at regular intervals and we also picked up some life saving tips on how to avoid being eaten by a tiger. We thoroughly enjoyed our day and would like to thank both the Holbeach Rotary club for inviting us and the local residents for their museum related enthusiasm.

Our current tour is part of Transported a community-focused programme which aims to get more people in Boston and South Holland enjoying and participating in arts activities. It is funded by the Creative People and Places fund from Arts Council England.

You can view a selection of photographs from the day here

A Day of Boston Awesomeness

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Wednesday 12th June marked the first day the 2013 summer touring season for Moveable Museum of Found Objects and a very exciting outing to Boston in Lincolnshire as part of Transported.

Transported is a community-focused programme which aims to get more people in Boston and South Holland enjoying and participating in arts activities and is funded by the Creative People and Places fund from Arts Council England.

We Found Art is thrilled to have been commissioned to work in partnership with Kind of Digital to get out on the road taking the Moveable Museum to unexpected places and unsuspecting audiences to gather information about what people would like to see as part of the Transported programme when it commences from September 2013 onwards.

We were particularly excited to be invited to pitch up on Boston Market and were very grateful to Dave the Market Inspector who found us a premium spot nestled in between popular stalls. We welcomed a steady stream of curious visitors throughout the day who had not expected a museum experience as part of their Wednesday shopping expedition.

We discovered that we were a welcome distraction for husbands who didn’t like shopping who happily left their wives to browse the nearby stalls while they explored our collections. We also witnessed the power of the Museum to engage; the Summerfield family were happy to be late for their holiday to Yorkshire, Michael didn’t mind missing his lunch and Dean left his stock stall to have more time to peep into our cupboards!

 We had a fantastic day meeting people and finding out stuff we didn’t know, for instance you can join a belly dancing troop in Kirton and enjoy a slice of cake and cup of tea in the Stump at a very reasonable price. You can view the edited highlights of our day over on Flickr.

We are already looking forward to our next trip out; catch us at Holbeach Midsummer Festival on Sunday 23rd June.

New Tour Dates

The sun is shining and that means one thing at We Found Art HQ… the caravan season is about to start! We are ridiculously pleased to announce that the Moveable Museum of Found Objects will be touring Boston and South Holland in Lincolnshire this summer as part of Transported. We are also thrilled to have recruited Dave Briggs of Kind of Digital as our techno co-pilot. Catch us on Boston Market on Wednesday 12th June.
 

The Curious Case of the Golden Closet

On a crisp autumnal morning at an hour almost early enough for the birds still to be asleep in their nests, the Moveable Museum of Found Objects set off on another adventure. Its destination was Oakham in the tiny county of Rutland; a piece of middle England sandwiched in between Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire. Its mission was to both demonstrate the creative potential of social media and to ‘show and tell’ We Found Art’s learning journey.

As the museum’s adventures are often accompanied by the need for extreme towing skills and advanced manoeuvring techniques I enlisted the help of two of the project’s biggest fans to take responsibility for navigation and driver support. Val and Colin Smith (aka Mum and Dad) stepped up to the mark and also provided travel sweets which was an unexpected bonus! On arriving at Oakham C of E Primary School we were allocated a superior spot to pitch up on in the car park which didn’t involve the previous challenges of the North Sea, black ice or steep gradients which was a huge relief!

With the caravan support team despatched to explore the town I prepared to welcome 80+ pupils to explore the Museum’s collection of found objects and to find out more about its origins as an online project. My visit was part of a day of creative activities to launch the school’s ‘Telling our Learning Stories’ project, developed in partnership with The Mighty Creatives. The project’s aim is to explore the different ways in which the school community can capture and tell their learning stories through creating a group of young learning documenters. These young people will be supported to develop new approaches using ICT and social media which will eventually be rolled out across the school.

During the day pupils visited the Moveable Museum in groups of five; they peeped into cupboards with awe and wonder, admired the 70s inspired decor and asked many, many questions about caravan logistics. The hands-down winner of ‘favourite object of the day’ was a match attack card found in a muddy puddle closely followed by a skeletal bird’s leg brought home in a lunch box. It was however the photographic gallery in the Golden Closet that created unprecedented interest; it seemed to have magical powers, igniting the curiosity of the young visitors and drawing them in. There were several pupils who accidentally shut themselves inside the gilded gallery as they admired photographs of Mablethorpe and I soon realised that I needed to count each group out.

Many of the staff and young people that I met throughout the course of the day shared their stories of their own collections and I was also introduced to Geocaching (www.geocaching.com) which I got quite excited about! I was also thrilled to be offered found objects and although We Found Art is no longer accepting postal submissions I am hoping that there may be an influx of uploads to the project’s Flickr group (www.flickr.com/groups/wefoundart).

Katie Smith

The Museum of Broken Relationships

If you submitted or had every intention of submitting a found object to We Found Art but didn’t quite get around to it you might like this!