26 May, 2009

Manchester Museum to add live hermit to collection

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The artist Ansuman Biswas is to live in the museum’s Victorian Gothic tower for 40 days and nights – with only a computer modem for company

An artist will be unveiled as Manchester Museum’s first resident hermit, and will live in its Victorian Gothic tower for 40 days and 40 nights alone except for a computer modem connecting him to the virtual world.

Ansuman Biswas fears, however, that it may be too comfortable a gig. He has had previous stints as a weekend hermit for the National Trust, in a cave in a Staffordshire hillside at Shugborough Hall without electricity, running water or food, so the former store cupboard up the winding stair in Manchester seems downright decadent.

“I did think that fasting throughout the period might be interesting – but I think they were rather worried about that,” Biswas said. “So I will be taking rice and vegetables in with me, and there is a simple little kitchenette and a toilet in my quarters.”

The tower is part of the 1890 museum building designed by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of the Natural History museum in London, for the enormous university collection, which over the previous 70 years had already outgrown several buildings. It now houses around 4.5m artefacts, including an internationally renowned Egyptology collection, between the galleries and stores.

Biswas will be selecting 40 objects, and has been poring over cases of stuffed animals, dried botanical specimens and albums of prints and drawings but has not yet made his final decision.

Biswas will not just be meditating and composing music in his tower. On each day of his stay, from the end of June until early August, he will be concentrating on one object, and conducting an online discussion with the public about its significance – and its fate. Some of the objects he selects, some apparently trivial, some highly valued by the museum, may never make their way back to the collections.

“I will be developing a dialogue with the public, drawing attention to certain objects and ask why we care about them – and if we care about them,” he said. “As Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Biswas may have an electric kettle, but he will be making one very real sacrifice when he ascends his winding stair.

“I must say I miss my cave,” he said, “the wind and the rain and the beautiful views. I’m not sure if the tower actually has any windows which open.

“I’m not escaping anything in the world in this solitude. The worst bit of the world is yourself, and you never get away from that.”

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