UCL News


Army of researchers needed to investigate 'mystery object'

1 September 2009


quagga objectretrieval.com/" target="_self">Object Retrieval
  • UCL Museums & Collections
  • An artist wants to recruit an army of researchers to investigate a mystery object as part of a unique mass participatory event in UCL's main quad.

    Internationally renowned artist Joshua Sofaer wants staff from across the university to get involved in his interactive project Object Retrieval: You are the Routemaster, which takes place in October.

    The project will see an object from UCL's Museums & Collections become the focus of intense scrutiny for a week.

    Dr Sofaer said: "We want to get as many UCL staff as possible involved in this project and we are totally open as to who they might be or how they might approach it. Its direction and outcome depends on their participation, insight and imagination."

    Researchers from the arts and sciences will investigate the object from every conceivable perspective for 24 hours a day for seven days.

    Their input will create a complex network of information about the object, which will be on display in an adapted Routemaster bus in the main quad from Thursday 15 October to Wednesday 21 October.

    Contributions may take any number of forms including writing something about the object; being interviewed by the artist; phoning a colleague in San Francisco who will know about the object; sampling the object and imaging it with a scanning electron microscope; visiting the British Museum archives to gather valuable background data; translating a rare document from Hindi to English and so on.

    The identity of the object will remain a secret until Object Retrieval opens, but it could be anything from a priceless Renaissance artwork to the skeleton of the long extinct Quagga or a hunk of lava from the Great Cone of Mount Vesuvius.

    The project is inspired by the interdisciplinary nature of modern research as well as the challenges faced by today's museums to justify the value of their collections.

    And the scope of the investigation is not limited to the UCL community - Dr Sofaer wants the public to get involved, too.

    He said: "Londoners and other visitors will play a critical role in this event - we need their help to build an enormous biographical network of information around the object.

    "We'll be asking for their anecdotes, facts, memories, videos and other titbits of accumulated knowledge, while UCL's scientists, artists, engineers and other experts carry out a wide range of investigations."

    Simon Gould, UCL Contemporary Projects Curator, said: "We are convinced that any object, under scrutiny for seven days, 24 hours a day, will have a connection with every faculty, department and individual researcher on UCL's campus. It's up to these researchers to prove us right though!"

    Sally MacDonald, Director of UCL Museums & Collections, added: "Object Retrieval could provide a whole new way of thinking about museum collections in universities."

    For more information about how to get involved email Object Retrieval or visit the link above.

    Video and image: top right, Joshua Sofaer and others talk about the idea behind Object Retrieval; bottom left, could the mystery object be the skeleton of a long extinct Quagga?