Wednesday, 7 May 2014



First off, welcome back to Musings for the summer!! I haven’t written much for the blog during the semester, but now I will be sharing Wednesday’s slot with Jaime and am pretty excited! I had wanted to do exhibition reviews as a theme for my posts, but since I’m in Ottawa for the summer (yay!) I may stray a bit from that because most of you wont be able to actually see any of the exhibits I’ll be visiting and reviewing. That being said, I couldn’t NOT do one right off the bat; so this week I’m looking at Witness: Canadian Art of the First World War at the Canadian War Museum.

Canadian War Museum Witness
The entrance to Witness 

Witness, is one of two art shows at the Canadian War Museum. The concept was to display works of art inspired by the experiences of the First World War. Soldiers, civilians, and others took to art as a way to express themselves. These were not always professional artists, though some of the works had been commissioned as official war art. There were beautiful giant paintings, but also tiny drawn on scraps of paper. Compared with Transformations (the other art show), which was strictly landscapes done by two different artists, Witness has a lot more room for interpretation and, in my opinion, can reach a wider variety of audiences.
Canadian War Museum Witness
An example of some of the art in Witness 
I saw proof of this in the interactive elements of the exhibition. It is not overly common to find interactive elements in art galleries, but part of what makes Witness unique is that it is an art exhibition in a museum which is definitively not an art gallery. I think that many visitors (particularly families, or even teenagers) would be pleasantly surprised by the activities they could do. There was a “Draw Your Own Canadian Flag” because A.Y. Jackson submitted a few designs for consideration in the 1960s. There are Post-Its with certain paintings on them; visitors are encouraged to make their own art with the designed Post-Its as inspiration. Finally, (my personal favourite) a magnetic scavenger hunt is available. A magnetic floor plan is given with pieces illustrating parts of paintings. Visitors search for these paintings and stick the pieces to the corresponding place on the floor plan. If they find all the hidden details there is a prize, of course! Perhaps the most inviting are the 8 iPads with an app to draw, and be inspired by the works of art around them. These “paintings” can be uploaded to the cloud, and then shared with the community.
Canadian War Museum Scavenger Hunt
A Volunteer Interpreter shows me the scavenger hunt

I liked these activities because it gave different age groups a chance to interact with the art in a way they most likely hadn’t been able to before. They are encouraged to think about what the art means to them, look closer to find details they might have missed, and be creative in their own right. Witness is unique to the Canadian War Museum; an exhibition dedicated strictly to art is a new venture for them. I think that the interactive activities provided do a good job of bridging the divide between an object based museum and these art shows.
Canadian War Museum Flags
Some visitor flag artwork on display!
However, visitors don’t realize these activities exist until they are already in the exhibition. I wish some better advertising was done outside the exhibition space to draw visitors in, especially younger families. Witness has a lot to offer, but I feel like it might get missed by the majority of the visitors.

What do you think? Do these interactive elements seem useful? Engaging? Would you suggest anything else? Have you ever seen an art installation in an object-based museum? What did they do?


  1. Thank you for bringing news from museums in Ottawa :) I think what is so interesting about Witness is the flexibility with which the idea of interactive-ness is used, engaging visitors with things as simple as post-its and as technologically fancy as ipads with drawing apps. I particularly like the idea of the magnetic map, because it provides spatial memories for visitors, in addition to the quest.

  2. A couple of years ago I watched a short film that documented the process of analyzing art and messages written by Allied soldiers in tunnels before they went into battle. From what I can remember, the analyst discovered their mood at the time and specific personality traits. It was fascinating to learn about how soldiers dealt with fear, grief, anxiety, and excitement through creating tunnel art. Were there any elements that addressed this in the show? Here is a link to an article, however I cannot locate the film.Thank-you for sharing Meaghan!

  3. Great post Meaghan! I was so excited to read about some of your experiences at the War Museum! Keep them coming :) I like the juxtaposition of art with museum that the "Witness" exhibition brings to the table. Not only is the content of the exhibition obviously relevant to subject matter of the museum, but it also offers new perspectives (as you said) either for those who are more interested in artworks over, say, artifacts as a general rule and also a different perspective from which to view the first world war - perhaps through a more emotion based/personal experience based lens, as portrayed by the artists.

    I think people (myself included) are sometimes more inclined to think of historical events like the world wars as represented through the objects uncovered from the actual time/places of the event. However, as I learned when I was doing a bit of background research on the "Degenerate Art" exhibition, artists have long been channeling the strong emotions, feelings, and experiences brought on by war and strife and portraying them in fine art media. What an extremely personalized and quite intimate way to approach these historical, tumultuous events. Often, artists of particular works were not artists prior to the war at all, but instead soldiers or any other number of those directly and/or indirectly involved with the events of WWI who found the creation of art as some kind of release for what they had experienced. A great example of how art can be used as a therapeutic outlet.