Ron Mueck and the Narrative of Scale

Ron Mueck is an Australian artist born in 1958 in Melbourne, Australia. After starting out his career as a modelmaker for children’s TV, he became internationally known in 1997 after he made his sculpture of Dead dad. His work focuses singularly on the human figure, which he presents to his viewers through uncanny and beautifully detailed fibreglass and silicon sculptures. These present his perspective on existential topics such as birth and death, touching heavily on vulnerable emotional states experienced during these experiences.

Researching Mueck has been a significant influence on my project, most predominantly in the scaling of my model of Edith Kramer. Originally debating between creating her head bust in full scale or an alternate size, Mueck’s Two Women model’s manipulation of scale pushed me towards undersizing my model.

Ron Mueck’s Two Women showing the under-sizing of the model against a visitor.
Close-up of the Two Women faces.

‘I never made life-size figures because it never seemed to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day’

S. Tanguy, ‘The progress of Big man: A conversation with Ron Mueck’, Sculpture, vol. 22, no. 6, 2003

Senior Curator of the National Gallery of Victoria, Alex Baker, explains how through manipulating the size of his models, it ‘intensifies the physical and emotional aura of his figures.’ Mueck expands that this is because it ‘makes you take notice in a way that you wouldn’t do with something that’s just normal.’ In the case of the Two Woman, Justin Paton instigates that their diminutive size inspires ‘a kind of protectiveness in viewers, as if we’ve become custodians looking down upon the inhabitants of a small world’ (2013, pg. 34). At the same time, we also feel strangely defensive of ourselves, as the women are positioned in a suspicious pose, as if they are silently judging someone in their presence.

Therefore, despite, or perhaps due to their small size, the Two Women inspire both careful attention and solitude from the viewer, building an emotional narrative. Combined with the realistically finished look, this ‘creates a tension between artifice and reality’ (Baker, A.) that overall, results in this model’s meaning and narrative.

As such, scale can be deemed as noteworthy to the narrative of a model. My representation of Edith Kramer centres around a narrative of quiet significance of a warm and caring woman who has helped many in her life, and afterwards. Thus, under-sizing her just as Mueck did with his figures in Two Women, will help me to frame her importance to the viewer. They will be invited, almost drawn, to a realistic representation of a woman half the size we would expect to find her in, promoting quiet introspection and respect. I almost want the viewer to want to step ever closer to inspect her from up close, letting their imagination participate in an object-subject interaction of curiosity, an imitation of the theories of artistic exploration that Kramer emphasised in her work.


Reflections on External Brief

The External Brief project has been a learning experience since the beginning. It has been particularly exciting to have the opportunity to work with a live client and to create a model that can have a use and a purpose for somebody else.

The most daunting aspect of this project, however, was the unpredictability that came hand-in-hand with learning to adjust pre-established working habits to fit new restrictions enforced by the pandemic. I believe I had the best intentions at the beginning of the unit when I was creating my project plan – I divided the work into certain stages that heavily emphasised the design process while leaving enough time to make the model. I portrayed this through a Gantt chart. In retrospective, however, I should have set aside more time as a fall-back for when the unexpected occurred. Additionally, I should not have underestimated the amount of time I would spend on experimenting with different ideas, techniques, and materials.

Consequently, the outcome has been affected. At the time of hand-in, the model is unfinished. It must be assembled on the planned stand and mechanism. A final layer of protective spray must be added to the model to protect the finish. The rest of the puzzle pieces must be finalised.

On the other hand, the outcome does meet the client brief. There is a recognisable form of an ammonite, which demonstrates water filling the animal’s chambers that ultimately influences its buoyancy. There is an interactive element as represented by the puzzle piece. Placing the puzzle piece into the chamber adds weight to the model. In this state, the model can be used to demonstrate the concept of ammonite buoyancy as a presentational model. It can be used by a handler to complement their explanation of the concept. There is definite opportunity for engagement with the model, which the audience can use to increase their understanding of ammonite buoyancy. Through this, the model does fit the context of immersive museums, and ultimately, The Etches Collection.

Once assembled and finalised, the model will also complement the context of the collection of the museum. The mechanism will add a secondary interactive element that will further increase audience engagement.

Lastly, The Etches Collection has expressed interest in increasing their online presence as a response to the current pandemic. In its present state, the model can also be utilised to create a short video demonstrating the concept of ammonite buoyancy, that can be published online.

In summary, my project management of this unit could have been improved by more realistic expectations of the impact of the new and the unknown. The outcome must be finalised to fulfil its potential, although it can be used effectively to represent the concept of ammonite buoyancy as of this current moment.

Immersive Museums – Summary of Research

After researching the concept of ammonite buoyancy which I would be portraying for my client, I began thinking more about what it means to actually make a model for a museum. The way The Etches Collection portrays its fossils is very innovative and engaging. Therefore, I believe my model should also reflect this. I found myself looking towards the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum in London, who often present information in a similarly innovative and engaging way.

Friction Slides in the Forces Zone at the Science Museum in London. This exhibition engages the visitor in active learning – they will experience the forces they are learning about by interacting with the objects.

Lisa Fontaine describes these environments as part of an “informal learning” experience. She describes that there are many contemporary museums who are starting to embrace this educational concept through “immersive and multi-media environments” (2014, p. 52). This immersion within a museum setting will often take the form of interactive models and exhibitions, that engage the visitors in the learning experience. The audience is no longer a passive observer of information, but an active participant.

I became really interested in why more contemporary museums are embracing immersion in their exhibitions. Fontaine explains that an interactive museum model will often add an additional element of interest to the subject, and even “help with comprehension and retention of the information.” (2014, p. 51) They also help in explaining more abstract information, such as scientific concepts as they can be “translated into concrete realities.” (2014, p. 51)

Importantly, they also create opportunities for collaborative experiences that can be experienced by numerous people at once, such as families or school groups. Shtulman and Checa conducted a study in 2012 during which they investigated the interaction of parents and children with a museum exhibition demonstrating an evolutionary concept. They found that “the more often the [parent and child] collaborated… the more often they generated accurate interpretations and explanations” (2012, p. 41)

Consequently, it can be summarised that “immersive” and interactive exhibitions result in a more engaging learning environment. They do this through an emphasis on person-centred design that acknowledges that meaning must be built into an exhibition in the context of the audience that visits.

How will I reflect this in my model?

The concept of buoyancy in ammonites is a relatively abstract concept that carries with it a rich history and narrative. This will be reflected by the benchmarks I am establishing for my model. These benchmarks will ensure the model will fill its purpose within the innovative context of The Etches Collection.

Benchmarks (please refer to attached flowchart):

Clear elements: The buoyancy concept must be the focus of the model. By keeping the different elements of the model to a minimum, the concept will be able to take centre-focus. This will also help to make the model accessible to a wider range of audiences as it will not be over-complicated.

Accurate: The information that the visitors will learn from the model must be correct.

Fun and engaging: This will help with immersing the visitors in the concept of ammonite buoyancy and make the information more memorable.

Additionally, the model will also have to be simple to up-keep and durable. As the main purpose of an immersive model is to be interacted with and handed, it must be robust enough to withstand time and usage. Special considerations must also be taken in the current climate – all components that would be regularly handled must be able to be disinfected easily.

Overall, the model I am making must be engaging and informative. Through this, it will work as a complementary aid to the surrounding collection of fossils, therefore emphasising the beauty and complexity of ammonites. Ultimately, I would like the model to demonstrate the passion The Etches Collection holds for the rich history of its fossils.

A flowchart demonstrating my process of establishing key benchmarks for this model. All benchmarks will ensure the model fits its required purpose for the client.

External Brief Overview

Brief overview

Alongside my Dissertation, I will also be working on an External Brief. This is a project that entails responding to a client’s brief. This project should simulate work as a professional Modelmaker, so the main learning goals are regarding communication with a client to create a model suited to their needs.

Who is the client?

I am making a model for The Etches Collection. This is an innovative museum housing a world class collection of fossils that were discovered by Steve Etches around the Kimmeridge area. It is a unique museum that educates visitors in new and engaging ways.

Who is their audience?

The museum has a wide audience that regularly visits the collection. This ranges from school-age children, to families looking for a great day out, to academics. Pre-COVID the museum saw a lot of group trips from schools, universities, or geological and paleontological societies. One of the main links between all their audience is their passion for prehistoric life.

What is the model brief, and what value does it hold for the client?

The museum would like me to demonstrate the buoyancy system inside the shells of ammonite. They have fossilised ammonite shells in their collection, but they do not have a model that demonstrates the intricacies of their buoyancy system. This model will complement the fossils on display and help to bring them to life for the audience. It will also help in promoting the museum’s passion for collaboration with the community.

The focus of this model should be the clarity of the concept, as well as the scientific accuracy of the information presented. It should also be robust – it should be able to withstand a reasonable amount of time with minimum upkeep. Above all, it should be fun and engaging for the audience.

While designing this model, I should keep in mind the wide range of audience that visits the museum. This model must be able to be understood easily by all. I will ensure this by researching the audience to find out how they engage with museum exhibitions and will find a compromise that will suit most needs. This will most likely present itself through the clarity of the model, which will be one of the main things I will be considering throughout the designing and making stages.