My current role as Exhibition Officer at Elmbridge Museum means I have to come up with four temporary exhibitions for four very different spaces simultaneously. The museum collection is vast (nearing 50,000 objects) and I get to riffle through to compile interesting exhibitions and displays. I know, I am a lucky man.
The first exhibition I took complete ownership of – from theme, through object selection and installation – was this one: a short hard look at the Milk Marketing Board. The MMB was an agricultural cooperative, formed of dairy farmers, that marketed every single drop of milk in the UK from the board’s founding in 1933 until its closure in 1994.
I thought I would use the archival material that Elmbridge Museum holds and use it to illustrate a contemporary issue, rather than to tell a past story. 2015, as I was starting my position, was a year in which I was reading stories about dairy farms closing, about riots in Belgium and protests by farmers in the north of England. All of this was going on because the price being paid to dairy farmers for their product was so low. Vaguely knowing the history of the MMB, it was strange to see the situation that brought about the board’s formation replayed 80 years on. Apparently, 2015 was the year of an ongoing ‘milk crisis’.
What Milk, a temporary exhibition in Thames Ditton Library, does is attempt to fill the gap between 1994 and 2015, to revisit the MMB to think about what impact it would have on today’s agricultural situation. No questions are answered but a few are raised.
The project is broken down into three outputs: the physical display in Thames Ditton, an online exhibition (which was very fun to make) and folded exhibition handout – something Elmbridge Museum had never experimented with before.
It was really refreshing to be left to my own devices to experiment with how a museum collection could be interpreted and used. Although I only used photography, I felt it was important to give the project a legacy in the form of the website and literature and photography seemed like the most appropriate medium to work with to give the content continuity between the exhibition platforms. The idea of highlighting a lack of information through what is available isn’t exactly a new concept, but I hope that those who view the display or read about it online will draw links between the situation of the 1930s and today.
I also hope that the gap between the closing of the MMB and today will continue to be filled as people interact with the project and get in contact with stories and reminiscences of the company. The MMB was one of the biggest employers in the local area and many visitors to Elmbridge Museum’s displays have some connection to it.
P.S. I made that insert with nothing by mount board and tape….