Discovering42 CIC was set up in September 2020 with a vision to establish a grassroots museum that uses interactive artworks crafted from upcycled materials to spark curiosity in science and the circular economy through play. Reimagining Reality is Discovering's pilot exhibition that opened in October 2021 in Bodmin, Cornwall. A disused town hall was transformed into a Tardis using a huge range of unusual waste materials, not just materials that people know can be recycled or reused. Old doors are used to create surreal passageways leading to an amazing array of over 20 exhibits, from a bike-powered record player utilising an old washing machine motor, a finite forest infinity room made with donated mirrors and a sand pendulum with a stunning window blind backdrop. Although the exhibition was bold in that everything was made from waste materials, it was done in an athletically pleasing and playful way, giving it a homely feel that enhanced the exhibition.
Before the exhibition was created, interviews with a cross-section of the local community were conducted to see if they felt the vision for Discovering42 would be of benefit. Cornwall has some of the lowest wages in the country and Bodmin specifically is in the 10% most deprived areas nationally (IMD), accessing the closest science museum in Bristol is at least a 2hour journey and cost prohibitive for many schools and families locally. Informal learning spaces are a key way to engage with topics people might not initially be drawn to or feel are not relevant to them. Showing everyday items reimagined, visitors often mention how the space is approachable and has inspired them to feel they too could start experimenting with reusing waste materials at home and in their schools.
The project received wide support and successfully secured funding from a Crowdfunder campaign, FEAST, Cornwall Council, Western Power, Spaceport Cornwall and Arts Council. Using upcycled materials and reused objects enabled the team to create a much-needed local resource for the community with an incredibly small budget. Materials used for the build of the exhibition and exhibits were sourced from second-hand markets and the Cornwall Scrapstore. To encourage a broad response to how these waste materials could be used, Natalia and Roy Jones worked alongside other local artists, Thomas and Gary Trussell, Dominic Allen, Reuben Evans, Jan O'Highway, Jack Stilling and Alexa Marshall, Emily Whitfield-Wicks, Daniel Lewis and Nicky Linzey. Art was used as a catalyst to reframe waste as a useful and finite resource. Beyond the exhibition, videos about each artist and their relationship with waste was shown on social media to extend this perception.
The challenge of creating an exhibition about environmental problems such as waste and climate change, is that it either only appeals to people that are already concerned or it can immediately switch people off if it feels they are being lectured to with the same narrative and solutions often heard. There is also the potential to leave visitors feeling disheartened and disempowered by the scale of the problems and not knowing how they can contribute.
"We felt it was important to go beyond what visitors see on TV or are taught at school and instead to use our unique position and resources to inspire visitors in a more immersive way. By using a multidisciplinary approach, we were able to draw in a diverse audience and engage people that usually feel either art, science or environmental issues are not pertinent to them." Roy Jones co-founder.
The exhibition has been very popular with 3058 visitors in the 42 days of opening, despite being a new organisation, having a micro venue and a very limited budget. The council has extended the lease allowing Discovering42 to expand its offer to include a series of workshops that provide opportunities to learn the skills needed to utilize waste materials and delve deeper into science with funky projects including anything from making robotic eyes to fairy lights.
"We want to encourage the circular economy in Cornwall, moving away from constant consumerism and a throwaway society. That has been the driving force for setting up Discovering42, to prove that we donrs"t need to wait for the ld"expertsrd" to create change, we must just get stuck in and we want to help others feel they can contribute too. We think it is important to upskill ourselves so that we all feel empowered to reuse and upcycle the materials around us in inventive ways. If we want a sustainable future, it starts with coming together as a community to do as much as we can." Natalia Jones, co-founder.
Discovering42 are working towards securing a permanent site, finding interesting collaborations and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
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