I won’t lie, I was far from enthused by the prospect of spending hours inside The National Technical Museum in Prague, but was outvoted by the males on our festive trip to the Czech capital. The National Museum, numerous art galleries, monasteries and libraries brimming with antique books were far higher on my agenda, but was pleasantly surprised and impressed. The museum is housed in an enormous concrete and brick building adjacent to Letna Park with views over the Vlatva river, and I was immediately won over by the gruff looking but utterly charming old(er) man who sold us our tickets and took the time to share much information about the museum with us! The collection is vast; comprising transport, architecture and civil engineering, printing, mining, astronomy, horology, photography and household appliances across six floors. The stand-out gallery is dedicated to transport and takes up the entire back of the building with a triple height exhibition hall filled with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, trains, planes suspended from the ceiling, and even a hot air-balloon charting the history of developments in Czech transportation. With fourteen large permanent displays as well as the temporary exhibition and only two hours allotted for our visit, we decided to focus on printing and architecture. The printing gallery mimics an antiquated print shop with typesetting blocks, printing presses from various periods, newspaper and bookbinding machinery, and outlines the role print material played in developing the country’s national consciousness. Similarly the architecture gallery documents the most significant buildings erected across Czechoslovakia over the last century via original models, plans, sketches, photographs of their construction and replicas – and I enjoyed recognising and learning more about the civic landmarks I had already visited or walked past in the city. Despite my reservations, this museum challenged my preconceptions and highlighted how important technical innovations are in all our lives in myriad ways.
The Round Tower has loomed over Copenhagen since 1642 when it opened to the public as a hybrid structure combining an astronomical observatory, student church and university library. Erected by King Christian IV, the listed building is 34.8 metres high and continues to soar above modern buildings in the city, offering a stunning panorama from a viewing platform at its apex. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by bright white walls setting off the stone brickwork spiral that steadily inclines all the way to the top of the tower – a sublimely unique and leg friendly alternative to stairs! Half way up the tower you reach the Library Hall which functioned as a book lenders until 1861, and now houses temporary exhibitions (currently an archival photographic display entitled ‘Visions and Beliefs’ offering insights into a century of Danish missionaries’ global projects between 1980 -1970). A few steps on from the Hall is a more practical feature within the building; an original toilet complete with nicotine stained arched ceilings following centuries of students’ pipe smoking whilst visiting the privy! As you continue to climb the tower, you reach the Bell Loft which not only houses the bells, but has been utilised widely by Copenhagen’s residents for everything from drying laundry to store tanned hides, dry herbs, paint theatre sets as well as dress-making and millinery. In 1880 the loft was even rented by Leiutenant Bernhard Olsen who created a peasant museum in the space! A final ascent directs you to a reconstruction of the 1700’s Planetarium inspired by Bayer, depicting a three dimensional model of the solar system with the sun in the centre orbited by six planets. A few more steps lead you onto a 360 degree outdoor viewing platform, offering scenic views across the city despite it being cloudy the day of my visit.
Seven large-scale photographic images dominate the top floor of The Photographers Gallery, making a bold impression by Noemie Goudal in her first solo London exhibition. All seven works on display in ‘Southern Light Stations’ are entirely new, previously unseen pieces created this year. As soon as you enter the Gallery you can’t help but notice the floor to ceiling observatory-style architectural structure which houses six glass stereoscopes. These cleverly display pairs of separate cloud images, creating a single three-dimensional image by depicting left-eye and right-eye views of the same scene. Clouds and the sky prove to be a recurring theme in Goudal’s work and indeed this exhibition as four of the large-scale photographic images show spherical objects (which could be the sun, moon, planets or other celestial bodies) floating above different landscapes including the sea, mountains, a desert/sand, and a beach/pebbly surface. After closer inspection you can also see ropes, scaffolding and other signs of construction around the spheres, alluding to the artists’ interest and research into early astronomy from antiquity, through to the Middle Ages and pre-Enlightenment. These spheres are accompanied by three photographic images of large-scale telescopic structures suspended above water; these ‘Towers’ are mythical, otherworldly and not dissimilar to some of the concrete structures that survive across Eastern Europe following the collapse of communism – and highlight Goudal’s desire to play with the real versus the imagined. The exhibition also plays with darkness and light as two of the spheres are very dark (perhaps referencing an eclipse) whilst the other two are incredibly light and almost merge into the clouds they are floating in. The fact that there is no interpretive information inside the exhibition space forces visitors to really look at the images, think about what they are viewing and question exactly what they may or may not be.