Tim Howard, a curator at the Museum of Precious Things, had a very tricky phone call with the person in charge of funding. The museum has been losing visitors and something needs to change. The team of protectors and collectors don’t usually interact with visitors, but after looking at the recent TripAdvisor reviews we think we might be able to do something about the problem - starting by looking through the collections of objects in the basement.
We represented the observations on fallen leaves from the tree and raindrops as if they were tears from the statue. They were both lonely and missed the visitors.
We thought we ought to spend some time improving the garden. There had been plants growing in there which provide decoration, shelter, food and medicine. In fact we became intrigued by one particular area of the garden where there was only one plant left growing and others were coming soon. What could this mean?
Archie was the expert on this plant and told us how something is extracted from the centre of it which may be used to prevent and treat cancer. Lillie told us that it’s petals make medicine for coronavirus patients.
Some of the Trip Advisor reviews had mentioned the museum garden as looking uncared for. Someone even said she loved to visit and sit in the garden to be surrounded by nature, but wouldn’t come now. We created photographs of the garden as it used to be in reviews and when it was at its best. There were two things we noticed which would have seen all of the changes - an old oak tree and a statue.
We wanted to see if they could tell us anything and set up some drama.
We were told that the conditions were finally right after 5 years to collect the plant from South America. However we would have to be willing to go to the driest inhabited place on Earth! Well of course we had to say yes - this plant could turn out to be the most amazing drug in the world. As long as we prepared for the trip we would be okay. The city of Arica looked quite built up and not much seemed to be growing there. But then we saw where would have to go - the Atacama desert!
Now we weren’t so sure! Aneesa told us about scorpions and yes, Archie said the plant is guarded by scorpions. Lillie also told us about storms in places like this. We were still determined to go even with the risks and set off.
Unfortunately, our fears came true and we flew into a storm on our way to Santiago. The turbulence was terrible and the captain couldn’t see or steady the plane enough to land. We were delayed by over half an hour. Some of the passengers were terrified and lots felt ill. We were relieved to finally land safely and continue on with our journey to the Atacama desert.
Finally we reached our destination and met environment expert Carmen Flores. Her family lived in the village of Diego del Almagro and had been effected by the storm. Her grandfather had found it very difficult to breathe and many homes were now without power. She explained to us why the Atacama desert is so dry, but that rain was coming and this would cause the plant we were here to find to start to grow.
It was too late to go into the heart of the desert now with a two hour trip there and two hours back. She suggested we return to our hotel, study the shepherds trail and meet her again in the morning. She would take us as far as the hand which guides and then we would continue on without her.
We had made lots of notes whilst Carmen as talking to us. We knew that the plant would take two days to bloom after the rain and then a further two days for the seeds to form. We would need to find the dormant seeds quickly and then plan what to do as we couldn’t stay in the desert for four days. Perhaps we could stay in the village and help the residents to clear up after the storm… We made our plans.
Carmen took us along the start of the shepherd’s trail until in front of us stood a gigantic hand sculpture. Someone was scrubbing at it - it was graffiti on it! The person was not happy and said to us, “It’s people like you who are ruining this place.” We explained what we were here to do and this seemed to anger them more. The plant should be left for their people to make medicine from, not others. They said we could not continue on along the trail and should return to the village…
We offered to help clean the sculpture and explained what we were here in the desert to do. The local villager was pleased to hear that if we found the plant we were looking for, we could collect some seeds for the villagers. So…
Then we continued along the Shepherd’s trail seeing rock all around us and stones blown around by the storm. We began to notice lots of red dots and knew we were approaching the home of the red scorpions.
There were the scorpions - we were in the right place! Then would you believe it, the rain started and the scorpions disappeared! Some of us decided to camp out for the night and make sure the area was protected. Others returned to the village to rest and eat, ready to take a shift in the desert the next day.
On the second morning, one of our team noticed the seeds were ready. The rest of the team arrived and the careful collection of seeds, petals and desert ground began. Everyone was so excited!
After a two hour journey back to the village, we shared the seeds with the villagers and one started planting some outside his home in the hope that he could grow the plants to collect the nectar for medicine for the Atacamians. Then they wouldn’t need to go in to the heart of the desert.
The team returned to the UK on a smooth flight!
Away from the story, we looked at different climate areas by studying two world maps - a climate map and a map of countries. We know that the climate of Chile in the Atacama Desert area is dry, it the climate of the UK is temperate. What does this mean and will we be able to grow the Lluvia del Desierto in the museum garden?
Away from the Mantle, we used push pins, pencils and paper clips to create this work by puncturing holes in sugar paper. We liked the feel of the bumps made and the sound of the popping through the paper!
What we really liked was when the light shone through our designs on the window.
We also looked at the work of Sol Lewitt who sets himself “rules” to follow when making patterns. We followed a set of rules and then enjoyed breaking them by adding extra colour and pattern. It was amazing how many different patterns we could create by starting with the same rules.
We continued looking at artists using pattern in their work. Rachel Parker is a designer who sells her work to companies who make mugs, notebooks, curtains, clothes and so on.
We were inspired to create a nature or geometric shaped design in our sketchbooks like her and used pic collage to repeat our motif. However the elements of the design didn’t match up!
We watched her create a square tile with a pattern on and then repeat it with the design matching up on each repeat. So we had a go!
We expanded our design using the photocopier and joined 4 tiles together to make a larger pattern. They look so impressive!