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EXHIBITION REVIEW: Fabricating Histories @ Discovery Museum, Newcastle

December 3, 2016 11:00 am

Runs from 12th November – 21st May

For more information, click here. 

Review by Robyn Colclough

Image Credit: Dr. Geof

Image Credit: Dr. Geof

The latest exhibition at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle explores the extent that inventions from the past shape our future. What if our world as we know it was different? With a strong focus on the Victorian period, as well as trends throughout the twentieth century, the Fabricating Histories exhibition takes a closer look at the past and its implications on modern life. With case studies focusing on nineteenth century inventors and pioneers, such as Brunel and Lovelace, there is much to discover in the ‘what-might-have-been’ world of the Fabricating Histories exhibit.
The Industrial Revolution was one of the main focuses throughout the exhibition, especially the impact of steam in both the manufacturing and fashion world. The numerous possibilities of powering machines through steam was imagined and explored in detail by inventors of the past. Indeed, some of the photos displayed in the exhibition were recently rediscovered in an archive of the work of pioneering Victorian photographer and inventor, Samuel Heracles Gascoigne-Simpson. One of these was the ‘Rhinomotive’, a huge steam-powered metal rhinoceros. The detail and magnificence of the photograph is a revolutionary spectacle, exemplifying the futuristic visions of many thinkers during the nineteenth century. The steampunk inspired clothing was an added treat for the eyes; the display showing the combination of Victorian fashion with science fiction and its cult popularity in contemporary times.
One of the most fascinating parts of the exhibition was learning about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and their work concerning the principles and programming of Babbage’s ‘Calculating Engines’, which predicted the modern computer by 100 years. Lovelace’s work as a mathematician, and her keen interest in technological advancements, was a breath of fresh air; her defiance of gender stereotypes epitomising the beginning of an early feminist movement during the 1800’s.


Transgender artist Phil Sayers’ questioning of her gender, ‘What if Ada had been a man?’, is one that is explored through his contemporary reincarnation of Ada through a painting. Would her name be more iconic if she were a man, comparable with that of Brunel, a revolutionary mechanical and civil engineer? Such questions made the historical exhibition not only a learning experience, but one which engaged the audience in questioning our past.
Overall it was an enjoyable and fascinating exhibition; the well-documented insight into the peculiar possibilities of modern life making it an interactive journey of discovery. Covering a range of topics, from the fashion world to the impact of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, there is plenty to absorb. The focus on the impact of these inventions in the region of the North East was often cleverly intertwined throughout the exhibit, making the history more relatable and even more enjoyable. The possibilities of our future are endless, and this was just one insight into how things could be very different.


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