Bringing Collections Together
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
When Katarzyna Anna Kapitan and I set about curating a virtual exhibition that would span two museum collections, our challenge was to find a shared approach, a vantage point, or series of questions that could be used to make sense of two museum collections. What's more, Katarzyna specialises in manuscript studies and textual criticism, with a heavy emphasis on saga manuscripts copied after the end of Middle Ages. My own work, which at the time centred on the role of the Middle Ages in planetary place-making, was -- quite literally -- worlds apart. Sure, both of our works examined aspects of the reception of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, but across wildly different periods and geographies. How could we make an exhibition together? How could we bridge the divide between academic research and interpretation in a museums context? And what kind of story could we convey to an interested public?
Our solution was Writing Histories and Writing Futures, which we conceptualised as the paired wings of a single exhibition. Writing Histories would examine the awakening of scholarly interest in Old Norse literature, and its early use in writing the histories of the Scandinavian nations. Writing Futures would examine the use of the same cultural artefacts in imagining the future of the human presence in space. These two wings focalise the same central objects -- nineteenth-century artworks, antiquarian books, Viking-Age and medieval artefacts -- and, at the simplest level, examine how they have been used by people to think about their national identities, and to present themselves as they would like to be seen.
As an introduction to these paired galleries, we decided to curate a series of paired objects that would, through a little storytelling, introduce the reception of the Scandinavian Middle Ages to an interested public. Paired Objects comprises six object pairings, bringing together an item from The Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark, and an item from the National Museum of Iceland. Rather than present pairings based straightforwardly on the objects' provenance, or lines of direct influence, we aimed to combine items more creatively, the better to tell stories about Viking and medieval traditions and the modern artistic movements (in the visual arts, poetry, costume, and politics) they inspired.
Lorenz Frølich's Creation of Sjælland (1880-1881), Det Nationalhistoriske Museum, Frederiksborg Slot
For example, we pair Lorenz Frølich's ceiling painting at Frederiksborg Castle depicting the Creation of Sjælland (1880-1881), with a medieval plough from the Álftanes peninsula in Iceland. This pairing enables us to tell a story about settlement traditions in medieval Iceland, and the relationship between landscape and story. In pairing Niels Anker Lund's Holmgangen på Samsø (1872), and a Viking-Age sword from Kaldárhöfði in Iceland, we tell a story about weapons and their burial contexts. These object pairings enable us to bridge two important and complementary collections, while introducing themes in research and collections that are developed in the more focussed exhibitions that follow.