News: Playing with Time, An Art Installation at Wells and Mendip Museum, Somerset

An illustration from Playing with Time, image courtesy of Sean Harris.

Wells and Mendip Museum is hosting a stunning exhibition featuring the work of artist and film maker Sean Harris. ‘Playing with Time (Or a Concise History of Truth)’ is a stunning animated installation inspired by the museum’s cave paleontology collections.

The art installation, fittingly housed in the Balch Room at the museum, explores the thinking and practices of various Victorian ‘cave-hunters’ and early cave scientists such as Reverend Alexander Catcott, Sir William Boyd Dawkins, H.E. Balch, Reverend Dr William Buckland, and William Beard and brings their work firmly into the present day with the inclusion of current researchers Angharad Jones and Professor Danielle Schreve.

Artist Sean Harris and Danielle Shreve at the opening of Playing with Time. Photo by Linda Wilson.

The art installation takes the form of ‘flipbook-boxes’, hand-cranked devices that use the technique of stop frame photography to animate Sean Harris’s artworks. To evoke the feel of caves, visitors are equipped with a small torch to enable them to light the inside of each box while they turn a handle to bring its contents to life. Mammoths stride across an ancient landscape, horses run, bears prowl and hares leap, all presented alongside the collections that inspired the images. Each box and their artworks are accompanied by a series of short, informative texts that provide more background about the creatures brought to life by Harris and the men and women who studied – and are still studying – them.

Artist Sean Harris says: “To contemplate the cave paleontology collections of Wells & Mendip Museum is to consider the differing meanings held by great extinct beasts; for our distant forebears in the many millennia before the Enlightenment, for us in the scientific age – and for the explorers of the Victorian era who created the bridge spanning the two.

Harris’ work encompasses a variety of media including printmaking, animation, sculpture, installation and sound. He explores the relationship between people and the natural world, how environment shapes culture and how ‘place’ is made and defined. He is particularly interested in the role of creatures as vessels of resonance and meaning and their function as symbols of cultural continuity.

‘Playing with Time’ was commissioned as part of Muse:Makers in Museums, a project being held in 8 museums in Devon and Somerset. Further details, together with Harris’ blog on his project, can be found here. The exhibition runs unto 28th October 2017 at Wells and Mendip Museum, which is open from Monday to Saturday, from 10am – 4pm. There is a small charge for entry to the museum, and while you’re there, take the time to look around the rest of the collections.

An illustration from Playing with Time, courtesy of Sean Harris