Nothing says Durham like Robots, Japan and Video Games… wait a minute… Part One

Posted: March 27, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday I took a day trip to Durham, primarily to attend a seminar run by the Inventions of the Text series in the English Department [ a department I was attached to, with the History department, for BA]. I saw BioShock and games narrative mentioned one of the papers and we’ll, what’s an academic nerd girl going to do but turn up?

The talk wasn’t until 5.30pm so I took the opportunity to explore an exhibition at Palace Green library which I’d wanted to see since I’d heard it announced in November 2013. Let me set the scene, palace green is the grassy area on the Durham peninsula hill, between the old castle [now a college] and the cathedral. It’s a place steeped in history and so the perfect location for an exhibition on… wait for it… Robots!

ROBOT_300px
Yes, you read that correctly, in a departure from their last exhibition on the historic Lindisfarne Gospels, the library traveled the other direction in time for inspiration to the imagined future of robotics. It is a little exhibition but one that is well thought out and jam packed with a variety of robots from the utopian to the dystopian. There are the familiar friendly faces in life size models of C3PO, R2D2, Kryten and Ironman, to the more dubious Borg [a Picard Borg model] Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet and a T-800 head.

The informational text panels are in a delightful computer style font, some in the green of older computer screens – a colour used to great effect in The Matrix. Attention is given to difference between Robots, Cyborgs and Androids, and to some very early examples of clockwork men, a sketch by Charles Dickens as ‘Boz’ being one of those examples.

I’d definitely recommend a visit if you are around Durham before the exhibition closes on 27th April.
With some more time to kill in the afternoon I took the long walk up the hill, past the science site of the university to the Oriental Museum [yes, not the most culturally sensitive name]. It should have been a pleasant walk but the heavens opened and pelted me with hail for most of the twenty minutes that I marched up hill.

The museum covers objects from China, Korea, Japan, Ancient Egypt, the Islamic world and South East Asia. Despite the list of cultures it is again a small museum, established in 1960, it was designed to allow students of oriental languages access to materials from the cultures which shaped the development of those languages.

Articulated snake, photo by me

Articulated snake, photo by me

One of the objects that caught my eye was this articulated snake, made in Japan in the nineteenth century.Last year I adapted Sherlock Holmes and The Speckled Band for a site specific theatre production at The Treasurer’s House in York for Theatre Mill. Now anyone familiar with the story will know why this item caught my attention – a replacement prop, perhaps, for the next time the play rolls out.

The museum has a real mix of different objects, both old and really modern – in the Japanese section there is a clothing cabinet which houses a beautifully intricate wedding kimono, covered in cranes and cherry blossom, next to a similarly intricate cosplay costume for a character from a recent anime/manga phenomenon Black Butler [Kuroshitsuji]

They also currently have a exhibition of modern Japanese Prints, mainly woodblocks, which I’ll admit I have a soft spot for. After the visit I have another couple of names to add to my list of artists whose work I like. There’s the otherworldly, geometric precision of Shiomi Nana whose use of the contrast between red, cream and black is strikingly beautiful.

On the more nostalgic end of the scale there’s  the work of Ohtsu Kazuyuki which depicts Japanese landscapes with emotional tenderness, invoking traditional past and giving the viewer a snap shot into a memory of Japan.

Clear Autumn Day by Ohtsu Kazuyuki

Clear Autumn Day by Ohtsu Kazuyuki

The colours in A Clear Autumn Day, along with the perspective and style, made me think of the worlds created in Miyazaki’s movies, there’s something of the artist’s house in Kiki’s Delivery Service here, isn’t there?

 

Again, if you can bare the walk, the Oriental Museum is a nice distraction for an hour and you never know, you might be inspired.

Read the next post for my thoughts on the two talks given at the seminar…

“You just complicate the narrative!” Computer games as ‚Erzählspiele’ (narrative games).
‘You seen The Godfather?’ – The Sopranos and the postmodern gangster.

 

Museum Info:

Robot – Exhibition                                                                   Oriental Museum

Palace Green Library,                                                               Elvet Hill, Durham

Palace Green, Durham,                                                            DH1 3TH                                                    

DH1 3RN 

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. Lexy Denman says:

    I definitely need to get myself to Durham in the near future. Also, nice to see someone else with a soft spot for Japanese woodblock prints!

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