Ghosts of The British Museum
Book Launch with Noah Angell

22.06.2024, 20:00

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Left: Noah Angell. Right: Front cover Ghosts of the British Museum: A True Story of Colonial Loot and Restless Objects.

Join us on 22 June for a Book Launch of Ghosts of The British Museum, a narrative non-fiction book written by Noah Angell that delves into the spectral unrest of colonial plunder within the world’s first national museum. Long before the project's current incarnation as a book, Ghosts of the British Museum was first exhibited at Rib from 2016-17. Angell will read from Ghosts of the British Museum and discuss the work with Maziar Afrassiabi and others in attendance. Signed copies will be available at Rib on a limited basis.

Ghosts of the British Museum: A True Story of Colonial Loot and Restless Objects is a newly published narrative non-fiction book which tells of unquiet objects, holy plunder, and restless human remains protesting their captivity within the colonial museum. Based on testimony gathered from scores of current and former museum workers, from senior curators to overnight security staff, Ghosts of the British Museum offers a reappraisal of the institution. Through the prism of the museum’s internal lore, a walk through its galleries, corridors, and storage spaces becomes a travelogue detailing the depths of the British Empire, revealing the world’s first national museum, and one of Britain’s top tourist attractions, as a site of profound spectral disorder.

In the British Museum I found that if you look past the displays and listen to staff, you’ll find that the ghosts proliferate unchecked, each new acquisition potentially adding to the hive of psychic unrest. They stage revolts against keepers and warders, and stew in quiet corners and cellars, their ​exile-​ induced heartache building and breaking in the maddeningly idle tides of museological time.

— Noah Angell, Ghosts of the British Museum, p.xxii

Ghosts of the British Museum is yet another opportunity for Rib to welcome the forces of the suppressed, on this occasion via stories of charged objects sparking unsolicited encounters, providing a model for how leisure and work, the time of the visitor and the staff alike are suddenly interrupted by the inexplicable. 

This work reminds us of Mathew Kneebone’s presentation Power Relations, which connected Rib’s electrical grid to the unpredictability’s of Californian outages, triggering in real-time blackouts, interrupting our daily operations and redirecting modes of spectatorship within our exhibitions for eighteen months. 

Both works point to manifestations of the suppressed and the unconscious of certain power relations, which find an outlet in the most private and mundane moments of a working day, perhaps also posing the question: “What are we doing?”.

Noah Angell is a writer and artist who works with orally transmitted forms such as storytelling and song. His work has taken him to the north of Norway, in partnership with Polarmuseet, to work with first hand accounts of Inuit who performed in live ethnographic displays organised by local sailor Adrian Jacobsen, to North Carolina to shoot his forthcoming documentary film on gospel singer Connie B. Steadman of the Badgett Sisters, and to the British Museum in London, where for years he has collected museum workers’ testimony of the ghosts that haunt the notorious colonial museum. Angell has written lecture-performance works which have been performed internationally at spaces all around the world. Born in the US, he was resident in London for over a decade and now lives in Berlin.