museum

Making the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) - reading between the lines of letters from the bank

“I learn to re-connect on an emotional level with my father’s letters”

MOOP participant, Philip Franklin used everyday documents to explore the unspoken parts of his family history. Here’s how he created his powerful piece for MOOP last year

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“Your father had no hobbies,” my Uncle Harold, his twin, said to me once, “unless as you say, drinking and smoking constitute hobbies, or playing Frank Sinatra records at earsplitting levels.” He was speaking of a time when chaos had descended on our family, when hurt and pain were the stuff of our everyday lives. 

Both my parents had been dead for more than twenty years, but the chaos had overtaken me again, and I realised that a damaging compulsion was leading me to the same downfall as he, a repeating pattern of memory, thought and action.

I was writing a memoir, inspired by Stephen Poliakoff and Alan Garner, based on a collection of letters sent by Barclays Bank – his employers – to my father over the course of his career. But the work was stalled – it was as though I was looking at our family history through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Then came MOOP.

Suddenly I am hearing that archives are “the secretions of an organisation” and learning of a mysterious world of inert plastic, linen tape and brass paperclips. But there is much more to come. I learn to re-connect on an emotional level with my father’s letters. Lucy asks – What isn’t in your collection? What is missing? And that unlocks an altogether different psychic space.

I investigate the words in the letters, daisychain them like Tom Phillips’ text re-creation “A Humament‘ (One day) (in his native heart) (Mr Franklin) (does more harm than good.)’

I experiment with sound. Bells, weird knocks, backward speech and birdsong. It is a process infused with anxiety. I listen for my mother’s voice on old cassette tapes. I am certain there is one of her calling upstairs when I was in my brother’s bedroom. I find it – she doesn’t call though. She comes upstairs and speaks to me – we have had a row and the air spits with tension.

One week our homework is – take some photographs that reflect any narrative in your collection or anything you have uncovered in your writing. I go on a photographic walk “in my father’s footsteps” around Brighton, Hove and Portslade, with my dying Vivitar camera/camcorder, the viewfinder broken so that the composition of my photos is a matter of luck. My father appears in some of the images, disguised as my own shadow or reflection. 

The former bank building where Phil’s father used to work

The former bank building where Phil’s father used to work

I develop the story as a performance piece. I am reluctant, nervous, but Jolie encourages me, pushes me. After the rehearsal I’m on a high. It rains, and I’ve left my glasses in the Marlborough. Jolie has left them behind the bar for me to collect – I feel like a star of the Fringe!!!

Hot days, and outside the Spire, everyone but me drinking beer; we are sanding boxes for plinths. Lucy, Barbara, Rose and Anonymous help me create my exhibit. My fingers are sticky with spray mount.

Then it’s the last day of MOOP’s pop-up museum. The responses have been unbelievable. I take a last look at my exhibit, which is due to come down tomorrow. My parents are present here, revealed behind layers of time I have stripped away.  

Philip Franklin will be developing “My Father’s Footsteps” for MOOP: STORIES – the Museum of Ordinary People’s return to the Brighton Fringe in May 2019 – on Tuesday May 21st at Phoenix Brighton, 7.30pm-10pm, along with other exhibits themed around “Legacy”.

Reserve tickets to MOOP: STORIES here

Making the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) - Diary entries from Anonymous

“Until recently, I didn’t allow myself to collect the objects I wanted. MOOP gave me permission to do this…Nay celebrate it.”

MOOP participant, Anonymous, traces back their thoughts and feelings about forming an exhibition for the museum’s launch last year. Here’s how they found the process

“Discarded/Reclaimed” by Anonymous

“Discarded/Reclaimed” by Anonymous

February 2019

Home from meeting MOOP regarding my second involvement in a MOOP event. So much suddenly in me I want to say, I’m shocked by this reaction. It’s like a big bang of expression that I did not expect could be in me. I feel energized and awakened. I will do my best to express what stands out in my memory of the first MOOP thing I did. I’ll do my best to be honest, as i feel it’s in honesty, that expression has its weight.

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1st big memory of last year’s involvement in MOOP

Meeting MOOP for the first time, I remember feeling eager that my collection be “good enough” to be invited into MOOP. Probably because of my childhood need for “Mu-ther” (said in a lobotomised orphan in a sepia asylum pic) to affirm me.

2nd big memory of last year’s involvement in MOOP

The first workshop session and agreeing the boundaries of the group. I proffered a rule. I was terrified. Throughout the process my unease would swirl through fear of judgement, anger, rejection from the group and from MOOP.

MOOP memory #3

The build. Unbelievably the collection of objects that my inner voices railed against at every sight, are going to be in a real room, with real people, casting their real eyes on it.

When I arrived, there was a lot of sitting around. I was soothed. Maybe it won’t happen after all?

We begin and it’s very hard work. I clash with someone. It echoes in my guts like swirling barb wire. Someone else is kind. That hurts too.

I plod and plod and do everything except the core piece that I’m meant to do. I call over MOOP’s chief build person. They say they like it all. This is the second time they’ve told me this. Like the first time, what I actually hear is: “that’s an ok selection of stuff, we both know only a small selection is good enough, I’m too busy to say more but its also too late to do anything about this, so just get some stuff into that box, pronto.”

I discard half the collection (into a bin bag, whoosh) I retain what I like the most and try to feel for the rest.

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Clock ticking, tension rising, inner rogues gallery all throwing their bits around. Eventually a selection is settled on. Momentarily. Then oscillations betwixt pride, shame and sweat.

People asking all day if I’m staying for “the opening”. Slowly I realise the opening is something for which people dress up, or are at least dust/debris free.

I go for a walk and, true to my “piece”, find some abandoned clothes that fit me perfectly.

No, I didn’t make that up.

MOOP memory #4

A friend of mine damaged an exhibit. I felt ashamed.

MOOP memory #5

After it was all over, we had a closing drink. I was shocked my piece would be coming back to me. I felt let down (“Mu-ther”). How could my soul be of no more interest to my parents?

I packed it away. I was surprised. Or the part of me that wanted to bin it was surprised I’d packed it away.

MOOP memory #6

I have a photo on my fridge of the final exhibit. It is beautiful to me.

Anonymous will be exhibiting “Discarded/Reclaimed” at each of the three events for MOOP: STORIES – the Museum of Ordinary People’s return to the Brighton Fringe in May 2019.

Reserve tickets to MOOP: STORIES here

Call-out for contributions for a future MOOP exhibition

We want to hear your stories about everyday household items for an exciting project

Image: Vanveen JF

Image: Vanveen JF

This is an appeal from the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) for you to take part in a special project taking place in Brighton later this year.

We are calling out for people to tell us a story behind a household/everyday item.

Look around you. At the seemingly mundane items you’re surrounded by. Is there an object that means something more?

A potato peeler? A toothbrush? An ancient mobile phone you no longer use? An old newspaper you’ve kept?

What does it mean to you? What memory or feeling do you associate with it? What’s the story? Who or what does it remind you of?

Image: Dani Rendina

Image: Dani Rendina

We all give objects layers of meaning – they are the props of our everyday lives. They become damaged, loved to death, carefully preserved, used religiously, or are barely touched. These objects become artefacts of our personal history. This is the magic in the mundane.

Image: Fancycrave

Image: Fancycrave

All you need to do is write to us at museumofordinarypeople@gmail.com, telling us what the humble everyday object is, and describing the story or memory associated with it as honestly and in as much detail as you can.

We want to understand the emotional resonance behind the object. Why is this a story you’d like to tell

Please also say if you would prefer to remain anonymous.

Thank you!


An Ode to My Ears: audio, intimacy and the Museum of Ordinary People

MOOP volunteer Poppy Falk reflects on her love of podcasts and audio pieces that act as windows into people’s lives and capture fleeting, magical moments before they disappear

Artwork by Ted Whitehead

Artwork by Ted Whitehead

To capture sound, the most ephemeral and fleeting of the senses, seems to me, the most magical technological invention. Prior to the invention of the phonograph in 1877 “Sounds passed by you, like a waft of perfume. Sound was fleeting. Uncapturable.”

To be able to transmit and transport a sound environment from its origin to an alternate space; to catch your friend’s joyous cackle - enabling it to resonate beyond the minds of those that heard it; to be able to share thoughts of those who will never meet, never share a conversation, story or idea with; an expansion within consciousness within your own headphone bubble. We are part of a technological era that enables us to experience one another world’s whilst we wash up, commute, tidy etcetera, layering our daily lives with multiple realities. 

This is an ode to my ears; as the electrical signals decoded by my brain have kept my heart warm in some of its coldest times, have immersed me in others laughter when I have had none of my own, and allowed me to be in the company of others thoughts whilst alone.

In the last couple of years, I have spent every spare moment listening to the podcasts. As a medium, they allow the space for endless conversation, whereby the minutiae through to the mundanity of life can be explored. I believe that the success of podcasts lies within the intricate intimacy they utilise, whereby, an everyday conversation between friends is both shareable and desirable. These everyday conversations, act as an antidote – as the Museum of Ordinary People acts as an antidote to elite and celebrity culture, by capturing and documenting the audio ephemera of the every(wo)man.

In this piece, I am going to take you through couple of pieces of audio that capture this aforementioned antidote, by broadcasting personal thoughts and everyday conversations, creating an intimate bond through the sound waves and headphone wires. 

We are part of a technological era that enables us to experience one another world’s whilst we wash up, commute, tidy etcetera, layering our daily lives with multiple realities

Firstly, is the podcast Radio Diaries, which uses first person diaries to share “extraordinary stories of ordinary lives”, a mission close to MOOP’s heart. This episode shares some audio letters; a trend that began in the 1930s, where individuals would record themselves in booths and send the tiny, lightweight disk as a talking letter to a loved one. Tom Levin began collecting the audio letters in 2011, the resulting Phono Post Archive is at Princeton University, and is the first and only collection of audio letters.

In hearing letters meant for a specific individual, we get a small insight into the couple’s relationship, or their relationship to their family, ranging from reconciliation to a marriage proposal. 

Artwork by Ted Whitehead

Artwork by Ted Whitehead

Also, Love + Radio. In this episode, Diane Weipert becomes fixated on watching the lives of her new neighbours play out through their curtain-less windows. The story is one of all-consuming voyeurism, which moves from jealousy to empathy. Listening to this piece, I became like Diane, whilst her eyes could not advert the window, I could not advert my ears; both of us fascinated by what happens in the lives of ordinary people. 

In other instances, Love + Radio gets to the core of human intimacy, by broadcasting listeners clandestine actions on the secrets hotline. Audio’s ability to foster this trust, due to the anonymity it can hold, and entice empathy from the listener, due to how we listen to podcasts, means that podcasts often capture what TV and other formats cannot.

Research has shown that the majority of people listen to podcasts with headphones, shaping the intimate, individual, empathic experience. Unlike radio therefore, podcasts are made with the intent of people listening individually, allowing themselves to be submerged in alternate worlds, Love + Radio’s tagline “listen with headphones on” is a nod to this.

*I could write about this endlessly, but instead I’ll let you advert your eyes, and focus on your ears.

**Other podcast/radio suggestions: Don’t Log Off, The Listening Project, Heavyweight, Swipe Left Swipe Left, The Heart

*** If you are working on an audio project that captures the magic and mundanity of everyday life, let us know about it! Email us on museumofordinarypeople@gmail.com – we’d love to hear from you

MOOP loves: "Dutty Ken: The Man that Created the Scene and The Atmosphere"

MOOP volunteer Poppy Falk felt compelled to tell the story of a legendary Bristol landlord. She describes the process – and the strange serendipity – that led to her creating an audio piece in memory of Louis Hayles (aka Dutty Ken)

The Star and Garter pub, Montpelier, Bristol – formerly run by Dutty Ken

The Star and Garter pub, Montpelier, Bristol – formerly run by Dutty Ken

The strange timings in this project began as soon as it started. It was early February in 2017, I was a student doing a radio module and time was running out to come up with an idea. As my mind cast to home, I thought of the pub at the end of my road, run by local legend “Dutty Ken” (Louis Hayles). I got on the train home to Bristol with the intention of going to the Star and Garter pub to ask Ken if I could interview him.

Shortly after getting into Bristol, news had broke that the landlord, DJ and general vibe bringer had passed away, and tributes began to pour in. The area was devastated at the loss of such a prominent member of the community. I was too late. I was also very aware of the fact that this wasn’t about me, and I worried carrying on with the project would be insensitive, however I talked to my tutor, Al Riddell, and he suggested that it could become a remembrance piece.

As someone who had grown up in the area, and often lost my mum to late-night locks-ins at the pub, I had heard many stories about Ken. Thus, the piece is an exploration of Ken’s style, personality and his impact on local musicians, DJs and artists. It follows two members of the community, first, ‘Hatty’, my mum and a Montpelier resident for 15 years, who regularly frequented the pub, and who had endless tales of nights spent there and her sadness at Ken’s passing. Secondly, ‘Mark’, who knew Ken for 27 years, 22 of those he spent working as a DJ for the Star and Garter, Mark’s stories show Ken’s duality; a kind, well-spirited man, who’s temper flared at times. Although I wasn’t able to interview Ken personally, I was lucky that his vimeo had a lot of videos, so the audio of Ken’s voice and music throughout is from this archive.

I made the piece with the intention of it being shared with my local community, as a way of reminiscing about a man who had a huge impact on the area we co-exist in

The next temporal consequence was that my hand-in day was the same day as Ken’s funeral. I waited a little bit to share it, as again, I felt weird about the timing, but ultimately, I made the piece with the intention of it being shared with my local community, as a way of reminiscing about a man who had a huge impact on the area we co-exist in. I shared the project on Facebook and much to my relief, it was really well received.

Two years on, as I write this, the fog of mystery and concern over the future of the pub lifts. With many cultural venues being made into luxury flats, locals worried the same fate would attack the Star and Garter. However, the estate agent’s sign outside which originally read “site acquired for development” has now been crossed out to read “site acquired to stay a pub.” The new owner, Malcolm Haynes, who was instrumental in the return of St Paul’s Carnival, and has worked on Glastonbury festival since 1990, is currently renovating but plans to keep the vibe the same. Hopefully, in Mark’s words, the pub will remain: “a link to a bygone era in the midst of all this changing area.”


Click here to listen to Poppy’s audio piece: “Dutty Ken, The Man that Created the Scene and the Atmosphere”

We love hearing about projects that celebrate the lives of ordinary people.

Email us on museumofordinarpeople@gmail.com to tell us about yours.