British Museum blog

Documenting the Museum’s changing landscape

Liam O’Connor, artist

'WCEC Excavation' 2012 © Liam O'Connor

‘WCEC Excavation’ 2012 © Liam O’Connor

The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, view from Senate House

The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, view from Senate House

Over the past four years I have been making work in response to a building site at the British Museum that has now become the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre.

I see the building site as an island within the city, a territory relinquished in one form waiting to be claimed in/by another.

I have been privileged to explore this transforming landscape and have attempted to describe it, or allow it to describe itself, through the objects and drawings I have made. The work explores the process of imposing order on the landscape and its objects, the end point of which is the completed structure of the building.

Over the course of three and a half years I worked on a single drawing of the site. From a fixed vantage point above the site, I observed the entire transformation of the space from demolition through to excavation and construction. In a weekly ritual I returned to this same view and added to the drawing as new forms emerged on site. Over time this developed into a memoir to the building process. The Museum documented the stages of this drawing through a series of photographs.

For me the most compelling part of the building process was the excavation, which saw the entire site cleared to four stories below street level. I have always been drawn to these huge spaces which temporarily open up in London, into which new buildings are to be placed. They are architectural events in themselves, for a brief moment a huge expanse appears within the densely packed London streets. In response to the epic excavation I made two pieces of work, the first of which was this large, three meter wide drawing, in an attempt to capture the cinematic quality of the spectacle.

Click on any of the thumbnails to view as a full screen slideshow.
All images © Liam O’Connor

The second piece came out of a body of work I had been making on site, for which I collected marks left on surfaces through rubbings, prints and photograms; collecting moments I saw as drawings. The site is continually producing images of itself; dirt, mud, clay and rust are dragged across its surfaces or are themselves surfaces onto which marks can be made. After watching thousands of lorries leave the site filled with clay, I wanted to join the clay on its journey, so I asked if I could sit in one of the lorries to see where it went. I also asked if I could place some boards in the back of the lorry, on which clay could be placed on top to create a drawing which could be reclaimed at the end of the journey, at the rubbish tip. The builders were happy to facilitate my experiments with, as they always were throughout the project. I had been exploring ways of using the materials, processes and tools on site to make drawings, and I saw this piece as a successful outcome of that process as it was made by a telescopic digger, a lorry and a bulldozer.

Click on any of the thumbnails to view as a full screen slideshow.
All images © Liam O’Connor

The final piece of work I made was a modern medal. Philip Attwood, Keeper of the Department of Coins & Medals, introduced me to the Museum’s modern medal collection, and, impressed by these objects, I wanted to make something in response. I was interested in the repetitious activities on the site, such as the picking up and putting down of clay or the construction of steel cages to reinforce the concrete, as the same process seemed to result in a slightly different outcome each time, a unique result. I had also been working a lot with objects taken from the site rather than making my own. With these two ideas in mind, Willie Shaw of Mace, the main contractor, donated a crane lifting chain, and PAD contractors separated the chain into its 800 individual links and stamped each one with a commemorative mark I had designed.

Once the building is complete all these medals will be displayed temporarily and each of the people who have worked on the project will choose a medal from this display, so the piece of work will disperse among everyone who has contributed to the building project.

Every Saturday in June a display of the work I have made will be open to the public. The works have all been tailor-made for the museum cabinets in this secret gallery usually closed off from public view. This room has always been important to me; on one side is the building site and on the other the Museum, for me it became a studio space where the influence of both cultures began to emerge within the work that I made.


See a selection of Liam’s work on display in the WCEC Model room, located off Room 66 on Level 3 of the Museum.
To find out more about Liam O’Connor’s work, visit liamoconnor.co.uk

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The British Museum acquires medals awarded to Captain Scott

Royal Geographical Society medal, awarded to Captain Scott in 1904
Philip Attwood, Keeper, Coins and Medals

The British Museum has a world-famous collection of around 70,000 medals, but it’s not often that we have the chance to get up close to a national icon. Just 100 years after Captain Scott of the Antarctic died during his ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic, the Museum has acquired a group of medals awarded to this internationally celebrated explorer both during his lifetime and posthumously. Together they form a glittering record of an extraordinary man.

Gold Royal Geographical Society medal, awarded to Scott in 1904

Gold Royal Geographical Society medal, awarded to Scott in 1904

The 24 medals always remained within the Scott family, passing from Scott’s widow, the sculptor Kathleen Scott, to the couple’s son, the well-known ornithologist and conservationist Sir Peter Scott. Following the death of Peter Scott in 1989, his widow Philippa Scott – also an active conservationist and an accomplished photographer – placed the medals on long-term loan in the British Museum, and, following the death of Lady Scott in 2010, they were allocated to the British Museum under the government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This arrangement has now been made permanent, and the medals now form part of our permanent collection. Descriptions and images of them all will soon be available on the British Museum’s website.

The medals include the gold Royal Geographical Society medal, awarded to Scott in 1904 as soon as news arrived in England of his first Antarctic expedition’s safe return to New Zealand. There is also a gold example of the special Scott medal commissioned by the Society from the sculptor Gilbert Bayes (illustrated here). This bears Scott’s portrait on one side, and on the other an Antarctic scene complete with penguins. This medal was presented to Scott at a ceremony held in the Albert Hall on 7 November 1904.

Also within the group are Scott’s Commander of the Royal Victorian Order neck badge, as well as Royal Victorian Order, Polar Medal and Legion d’Honneur miniatures.

Silver medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp, awarded in 1906

Silver medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp, awarded in 1906

Other awards come from geographical and other societies in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy and the United States, and reflect Scott’s international status as an explorer. The silver medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp, awarded in 1906 (also illustrated here), has globes on both sides and quotes from the Psalms: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof’. Other medals were awarded following Scott’s death during his Antarctic expedition of 1910-13 as testimony to his achievements and his bravery.

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