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Miniature Mountaineering at the Oriental Museum

(17 September 2018)

A new exhibition will star two vintage Action Man figures, fully equipped and dressed in appropriate climbing gear, as they re-enact famous Himalayan climbs at Durham University’s Oriental Museum.

Scaling the Heights opens on 21st September 2018, and explores the rich heritage of mountaineering by recreating historic Himalayan expeditions in miniature.

The exhibition is a collaboration between artist Stephen Livingstone and Durham University academic Dr Abbie Garrington with additional artwork created by artist Kate Livingstone. 

The Action Men have scaled the shelves of major collections including the Royal Geographical Society and the Mountain Heritage Trust, as well as some lesser-known libraries, including the Chorley Hopkinson Mountaineering Library at Allan Bank, Grasmere, and the extensive personal collections of climbing enthusiast Jeff Ford.

The exhibition showcases hand-made foldout artist’s books created by Stephen Livingstone, visually telling the tale of each climb, which will be displayed around the ground floor of the Museum. Meanwhile Kate Livingstone has contributed Japanese-style suminagashi prints, inspired by mountain geology, historic marbling techniques, and research in the mountain archives.

Associate Professor in the Department of English Studies, Dr Abbie Garrington said: “Each climb was selected because of its association with an important work of mountaineering writing, from Edward Norton's account of the fateful 1924 Everest expedition, through Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna of the early fifties, which is the biggest-selling mountain-related book of all time, to Peter Boardman’s prize-winning The Shining Mountain and Joe Tasker’s Savage Arena of 1982, both discussing their hugely impressive ascent of Changabang.

“We hope the exhibition might encourage visitors not only to visit the archives the Action Men have climbed, but to seek out copies of these fascinating books to learn more about these ambitious climbs.”

Alongside the new artworks, exhibition visitors will have an opportunity to find out about all the climbs re-staged in miniature, and about the archives and libraries involved. Artefacts and historic photographs associated with the climbs will also be shown, to give a sense of the mountaineering life across the years – from camping and catering in the field, to oxygen equipment and clothing to guard against cold, to diaries scribbled in high camps.

Stephen Livingstone said: “We wanted this exhibition to bring mountain archives and mountain literature to a wide audience through art-making, but we also wanted to say: we can all climb the biggest mountains, if only through play and imagination.”

Scaling the Heights opens to the public on Friday 21st September and runs until Friday 21st December 2018. For more details, visit the museum website: www.durham.ac.uk/oriental.museum/

The Oriental Museum is open Monday - Friday, 10am - 5pm and Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 12pm - 5pm. Entry to the museum is £1.50 for adults, 75p for children (five-16) and Over 60s, and free for children under five and students.