Thursday, 27 February 2014

CURATOR PROFILE: AN ENCHANTING INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDRA KIM

BY: BRITTNEY SPROULE & KATHERINE HANNEMANN

As part of Irina Mihalache's Curatorial Practice course, we had the pleasure of speaking with museum professional and dress historian Alexandra Kim. She spoke about her role as former curator for Kensington Palace, specifically her work on its 2010-2012 exhibition titled The Enchanted Palace. She also gave us insight into some of the challenges and discoveries of her curatorial work as well as her growth and development as a museum professional.

Curatorial Practice (MSL 2000) group with Alexandra Kim (3rd from the left)
Photo Courtesy of Irina Mihalache

 

Getting Started

Kim described how she knew early on that she wanted to work in museums, in part inspired by her interest in the history of dress. She completed a BA in Modern History, followed by an MA in the History of Dress and an MA in Museum Studies. As she discussed her work, Kim spoke of her interest in the human connection with the past and reflecting on how people actually lived. She relayed that she always knew she wanted to be a curator, as it involved this very real research element: the ability to look into the past and also share it in the present with other people. For Kim, an exciting aspect of curatorial work was the question of how to help people understand the past in a creative way.

Before arriving at Kensington, Kim worked various contract positions, which led to the position of curator at a regional museum for over six years. This involved working with collections of dress textiles, art, and studio ceramics. When discussing her opportunity to work at Kensington following this position, Kim spoke of her readiness for "change and challenge," drawn to the possibility of new curatorial experiences that involved dress. As Kim discussed, working at Kensington made her realize just how different historic houses and buildings were in comparison to other types of museums.

In this setting, she was faced with several new challenges: among them, how to present the building alongside the collection and the implications of displaying objects in an iconic historic palace in contrast to other museums.

Queen Victoria's bedroom, installation by fashion designer William Tempest


Curating The Enchanted Palace at Kensington

In collaboration with the performing arts company WildWorks, Kensington Palace staged a multimedia exhibition throughout the palace's State Apartments titled The Enchanted Palace. This exhibition combined fashion, performance, and light installations to tell the palace's history in an engaging manner. Kim recounted her experiences working on this innovative exhibition.

[For a peek at the exhibition, check out this BBC audio slideshow]

When we asked Kim to describe one of her most memorable experiences curating The Enchanted Palace, Kim noted that she was "blown away" by how effective simple ideas could be. She discussed an example of the relatively low-tech process involved in projecting princesses' silhouettes dancing on the ceiling as part of one of the installations. In order to capture the silhouettes, Kensington staff members were filmed dancing in costume behind a sheet. Yet these simple elements composed a memorable and extraordinary scene, which caught visitors by surprise and even inspired some to join in the dancing.

"Hegerow" by artist Angela Singer
Part of a cabinet of curiosities featured in The Enchanted Palace

Because the exhibition was so collaborative in nature, involving the entire Kensington staff as well as the theatre company WildWorks, we asked Kim about the benefits and challenges of this process. Kim mentioned that, because the Historic Royal Palaces is such a big organization (in charge of five palaces and around 600 staff members), standard operating procedures are typically very well established. The challenge, then, was to change Kensington staff's accepted ways of working, and negotiating with colleagues to work with outside partners, including theatre designers and fashion designers (among others). According to Kim, although this process could be quite difficult at times, by the end, most people -- staff and visitors alike -- felt that it was worthwhile. 

As Kim recounted, all parties benefited from this collaborative approach, gaining the opportunity to see familiar objects in a familiar setting through fresh eyes. 

Finally, we asked Kim to share one thing she wished she knew as an emerging museum professional. Kim reflected that she is not a particularly outgoing person -- especially when she was starting out in her career. She "wished [she] had been braver in going out and talking to museum professionals about how they got to where there are," which, as Kim noted, often includes a mixture of many factors plus serendipity. Kim urged, the more people you talk to, the more things you find out that may help you. Further, she also found that people are very ready to share their knowledge and experience. 


We would like to express our gratitude to Alexandra Kim for her willingness to participate in an interview with Musings and for sharing her exciting stories with our class!

For More Information...

The Enchanted Palace
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/mar/25/princess-diana-home-enchanted-palace
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/02/enchanted-palace-art-kensington
http://www.wildworks.biz/1.5/projects/the-enchanted-palace/

1 comment:

  1. A great example of a re-imagined space! Perfect preface for the next post :) Kensington was reinvented to create a multi-sensorial memorable experience and what I found fascinating was the juxtaposition of a spectacular effect with certain very simple methods of curation and education.

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