23 November 2009
Off the wall
Manga comes to life at the British Museum’s Room 3
Room 3, a modest space just to the right of the front entrance to the British Museum, houses rotating ‘Object In Focus’ exhibitions that spotlight a specific object or set of objects in the collection, writes Jane Cheng.
The purpose of the rotating display is not only to engage visitors immediately with the museum’s otherwise overwhelming catalogue, but also to allow curators to experiment with new exhibition techniques.
Recent Room 3 exhibitions have featured interactive components, which offer visitors the chance to play the world's oldest board game or watch object conservators at work. But the current show, ‘Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure’, displays six new two-dimensional works by renowned Japanese manga artist Hoshino Yukinobu. The graphic nature of the objects combined with the license to engage visitors unconventionally has made for an exhibition in which the notion of ‘interaction’ has been transferred - or expanded - to an unusually active dialogue.
Most immediately remarkable are the enlargements of Yukinobu's drawings on the walls and floor of the room, surrounding the viewer like an IMAX film. These serve a threefold purpose, as explained to me by curator Timothy Clark and designers Jonathan Ould, Nicholas Newbery and Sarah Marshall: they are easily legible from the main entrance to the museum, they immerse visitors in the emotional world of the story, and they emphasise the careful detail of Yukinobu's brush technique, which can be observed in actual-size on the other side of the room.
The juxtaposition of hugely enlarged with minutely detailed asks visitors both to lean in closer and to step back: itself a motion that reverberates with the action-packed content of the manga, especially in the case of the bullet train on the floor. Medium-sized reproductions of the drawings are mounted along the wall to explain the story.
At the back of the room, set apart from the towering visuals by bookshelves, is a reconstructed ‘manga kissa’, or manga coffee shop. This display offers a respite from the action and a chance to understand more about how manga works in its native medium and setting.
If a visitor remains in the room for more than a few seconds, he or she absorbs the same manga in a variety of settings, each appropriate to a different aspect of the art. The concentrated nature of the exhibition - the small number of objects, the modest size of the room, the foregrounded exhibition techniques and the variety of viewing situations - requires one to consider how graphics work to evoke emotion and fulfill fantasies.
‘Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure’ runs until 3 January 2010 at Room 3 in the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG.