Stories of water are stories of people

Before I started work at the Science Museum I didn't realise how much thought went into making museum exhibitions. I'd always thought that a curators job was to decide which objects to buy and then buying them.  When it came to the exhibitions I imagined curators  looking at a large selection in the stores and picking the ones that looked nice, writing a label quickly and then going back to buying objects.

It turns out that being a curator and selecting objects for an exhibition is more complicated than that. The field of museology looks at how objects are curated,displayed and the history and purpose of museums.

Recently I learnt that one of the themes in museology is that objects shouldn't be collected and displayed for their own sake but to tell the stories of  the people who worked with, owned or are associated with the object.

The Museum of Water at Somerset house is an exhibition that perfectly captures that idea of the importance of the stories of an object.

Water and our relationships with water can be  can be really complicated. Have you ever been caught in a rainstorm, then when you reached home taken off your soaked clothes and jumped in the shower. Think about that, because you have become wet with one source of water you have immediately wet yourself with water from another source. In the developed western countries we can simply turn a tap on and the water flows. Our toilets are plumbed in to mains sewers that take away the waste without us having to think about the cleaning and processing.  There are many places in the world where that simply isn't possible, dirty water spreads disease and kills people.

Industry throughout the world  uses massive amounts of water, often polluting it and taking away valuable clean water from communities. Our planet may be  71% covered with water but less than 1% is easily accessible fresh water. A tiny amount for a growing population.

Not enough water causes crops to fail and has lead to  economic hardship and starvation. Too much water washes away homes and lives. Water is needed but it must be the right amounts in the right place at the right times.   Our need for water was recognised recently as it was a contender in the 2014 Longitude Prize. After considering all the options it was the one that I chose and voted for. It didn't win but that doesn't mean that the need to carefully consider the water we use has gone away.

A lot of the stories around water on a global scale are well known and documented. Famine,floods, pollution, melting ice caps all regularly make the news. Water can also be very significant to people on a much more intimate level and its these often overlooked  stories that the Museum of water  displays.

Entering Somerset house on the South side close to the Thames on the Embankment. Walking around the narrow passages with a few nicely placed cue's as to what the museum might contain.

Umbrellas in a cupboard
Umbrellas in a cupboard - well why not

Sign saying a little of the Thames  leaked back in



The museum is dark and atmospheric. Buckets and and tin baths part filled with water,nicely done dripping sounds add to the effect without sounding false.


Tin Bath

The collection of the museum of Water are several hundred bottles of water that have been donated to the museum by members of the public.  It is through these bottles of water that the personal stories are told. There are stories of happiness,sadness, sickness,health, the sacred and the fun. Each bottle or container has a label written by the person that contributed the water. No voice of the curator or art speak here just honesty.

It was coming across a label that read "Rainwater from the day we said goodbye to my brother" was when it hit me  about how powerful the stories could be. A bottle of water from a person having chemotherapy who had to drink water after treatment and a urine sample of urine from a kidney patient needed for testing were other particularly strong stories that show that water is so much more than H2O. The science of  H2O was represented as a plasticene model used for teaching children and an Ice core sample in a freezer sat next to a child's frozen snowball connecting the serious to the playful.

The bottles on the bottom contain water from every bridge and culvert along the River Kelvin in Glasgow
The bottles contain the water, the cards tell the stories


As well as the many samples of water. Amy Sharrock asked what water haven't you brought.  Letting visitors tell stories of water that they couldn't collect. Whether because they didn't know to collect  or because the water is far away and not obtainable.


I would love to recommend a visit to The museum of water but sadly it  was a temporary exhibition closing  on June 29th. All the bottles are being stored and there may be further exhibitions in the future. So if you do here of one do go.

Even after leaving the fountains in Somerset House courtyard are a reminder of the museum in the gallery below

















More information about the Museum of water can be found at Museum of Water 

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