Bad tours go good as Janette Parris leads Museums at Night at The Cardiff Story

By Rosie Clarke | 18 May 2014

Playful artist Janette Parris had plenty of tricks up her sleeve for Museums at Night at The Cardiff Story

A photo of a woman playing a harp in a lift
Uplifting music for Museums at Night in the Welsh capital
When the Cardiff Story Museum won participatory artist Janette Parris to lead their Museums at Night event in the Connect10 competition, they probably didn’t expect her to enlist her fellow artists to make bad copies of their artefacts to replace the originals on display.
 
A jukebox was replaced with a silver-painted cardboard geometric form suspended from the ceiling: one person at a time could step up to listen to the headphones hanging from it, on which artist Georgina Starr had recorded a chorus of voices.
 
Jessica Davies, a Canadian artist with Welsh heritage who created a painting of a red sphere in response to the cricket ball Janette showed her as a prompt, commented on the diversity of stories the museum told, and just how many ordinary people’s lives were celebrated.

Parris’ new song cycle, Cardiff: The Musical, inspired by the stories of people who moved to the city in pursuit of a better life, was ably performed in spontaneous, pop-up style by students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

They appeared at unexpected moments, weaving through the crowds of visitors with guitars and violins and leading us to discover hidden highlights such as the museum’s magnificent tiled corridor.
 
As part of a fictionalised personal tour through the collections, the tour leader cheerily bounced her horde of bemused listeners between display cases while telling spinoff stories of arguments at her family’s weddings, her “Auntie Mavis” who a redoubtable ship’s figurehead was modelled on and a tram conductor’s uniform which had an A-line skirt.
 
“Interestingly,” she observed brightly, “I myself can never wear A-line skirts. Not with these hips."

The tour audience clapped at the end and laughed good-humouredly, while one woman patted the guide on the arm with the consoling words “I can’t wear A-line skirts either.”
 
“I’m not sure they realised that that was supposed to be a bad tour,” Parris observed afterwards, with a mischievous look.
 
In addition to the many audiovisual and interactive displays visitors could play with, there was a hushed silence as people approached the large silver lift.
 
When curating the event, Parris decided to use this space differently by inviting musicians to play live acoustic sets inside it. The rippling lilt of harp and flute stilled passers-by: yet another moment of magic on this unexpected evening.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of people performing music inside a museum
A photo of two masks in a display case
A photo of two small wooden mannequins sitting at a table
Hundreds of events took place for Museums at Night between May 15-17 2014. Visit museumsatnight.org.uk and follow the festival on Twitter@MuseumsAtNight.

More Museums at Night 2014 reviews:

Trapeze artists, Withered Hand, robotic limbs and a disco: Museums at Night in Edinburgh

Ballet at the National Gallery as Late Shift marks First World War centenary

Bethlem Museum of the Mind takes Museums at Night 20 behind the scenes
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