Friday, 9 March 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Michelle Lee

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 

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Michelle Lee is a third-year Anthropology student at the Yale-NUS College. As our  Radio Malaya Exhibition Research Intern, Michelle built on existing research generated for the exhibition Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations about Art, as well as conceptualizing video interviews with personalities featured in the exhibition.

As one of the research interns for Radio Malaya, I organised the exhibition bibliography and carried out research on performance art in Singapore. As someone with limited art history background before this, and who have had relatively little exposure to the art world, this truly gave me a crash course on the history of art in Singapore. When reading sources written at different points in history, what truly fascinated me was how intently people have been thinking and writing about art and its role in contemporary society at every given point in time. By reading critical essays, I came to appreciate how Singaporean art has influenced and been influenced by society and politics throughout the decades, and how it sheds light on history.


Reading up on the Trimurti artists

A research interest that I had the chance to develop further during this internship was performance art in Singapore. Performance art has always intrigued me because of its elusiveness and the impossibility of preserving it. With the guidance of my supervisor, Sidd, I tried to untangle the relationships between alternative art and the state, art, and funding, international and local, and performance and not-performance. The end result of this task was a literature review, which really challenged me as I had to read through lots of sources, find and select the most useful, read through them and try to understand the dense language, and then summarize each one concisely. It really impressed upon me how much research and thought goes into every single exhibition, and gave me a taste of what it would be like to be a researcher or art historian.



Using a microfiche machine for the first time!

One highlight of the internship was the conservation workshop. I was completely fascinated by all the small nuances and details that have to be holistically taken into account when preserving an artwork, such as historical origin, materials used, museum environment, and artist’s intent. We got to interact with the artwork in a very hands-on manner, including using UV and infrared light and handling actual porcelain artifacts. Throughout the workshop Lawrence, one of the conservators, would ask us to figure out why an artwork appeared a certain way, or had to be preserved in a certain way, thus getting us to participate in the half-forensic science, half-art criticism puzzle of conservation.


Interns at the Baba House

Another highlight was the field trips. We visited NUS Baba House, the National Gallery, and had a more in-depth tour of the NUS Museum itself. Not only did these trips expand the scope of my exposure beyond the immediate area of art history I was researching (e.g. by teaching me about Peranakan culture), this also helped me think more critically about how different museums curate exhibits, create narratives, and utilize space.

I came away from this internship with a newfound interest in museums and potentially working in one. I also greatly appreciate the friendships I formed with the other interns, as well as the support and encouragement from the museum staff, especially Sidd and Michelle. Thank you NUS Museum for a wonderful December filled with art and nice people, and you can be sure I'll be back!  

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