Something unusual was happening at the Museum of Cornish Life last week. It was busy, school holidays often are (particularly rainy ones), but this was different. The air was charged with noise and laughter – with kids, parents and grandparents trailing from installation to installation. The Museum’s collection was very much in a supporting role, as Animate Helston!, stole the limelight.
The week-long festival, in its second year, celebrated short-length animations with a wide range of techniques and content. It made for a wonderful experience, smashing both the possibility for a museum being a place of entertainment and learning.
It isn’t often that laughter rings through the former market halls of the museum space. Laughter has a magic quality to it, as it draws people in. Someone laughing would make another person pause, and then suddenly a couple of people laughing would turn into a handful, and they would all rest a while. This was the rhythm of the museum on the day I visited last week, not as a volunteer, but as a visitor.
There was a trail for the kids, with learning at its heart, but kids big and small were taken in. Through the different techniques of animation, there was a historical trail. The Zoopraxiscope by Eadweard Muybridge (yes, get that spelling!), was developed in the 1860s to prove that horses could ‘fly’ (or at least had four hooves off the ground when galloping). The wonderful 1922 shadow puppet animation by Lottie Reineger, capturing the gruesomeness of Grimm’s ‘Cinderella’. These were early forms of animation that have lead us to the richness that we have today, with plenty of examples running in the pop-up cinema.
I overheard different conversations, memories triggered by the animations (Mickey Mouse, Morph, The Pink Panther), but also a wider reflection of some of the ‘issues’, like in ‘A Whale’s Tale’, or even ‘Lowen’ (the charming story of goblin brothers who fought over a gem). People couldn’t believe that Spider-Eye was based in Cornwall, with high quality and high performing animations produced from a tiny studio in St Just. Conversations followed when the laughter had died down, and I like to think long after the museum doors had closed for the day.
Who would have thought that a museum could be a place of dreaming? At the Pixar screening, I heard one boy tell his Granny that he wished his drawings could come to life. She told him they could, and my heart melted just a little bit.
Perhaps my favourite animation was Museum of Change, where wishing was the driver of this perfect short. Parc Eglos school children released the dreams of objects in the museum… What would a sword dream of being if it wasn’t a sword, or a horse-whip, or a maybe a gramophone?
This was a museum at its best. Sounds blurred from different installations, people were laughing. Imaginations were piqued, eyes wide. Local hearts swelled with pride for the showcase work of Falmouth University, and a deepened affection for Penzance’s Jubilee Pool. This was a multi-layered, multi-generational experience, put together by a small team of people passionate about this quirky museum in the heart of Helston.