Mythmaking, Ashmolean Museum, 28th July 2019
Part of Offbeat Festival, Mythmaking is a unique kind of performance. Part walking tour, part storytelling performance, Mythmaking reminds us that, even in a treasurehouse of knowledge such as the Ashmolean, there are things we don't know. "Time is deep, and time is wide," as our tour guide said, and there are many artefacts that have fallen through the cracks of history, their provenance and story unknown.
That's where Mythmaking comes in. Six storytellers were given objects that the Ashmolean knows almost nothing about - often a rough age or location could be guessed at, but that was about the limit of the museum's knowledge, despite the best efforts of the resident researchers. The storytellers used these artefacts as a jumping-off point, making up stories on how they were made, the people behind them, and their significance to the society they may have come from - and, in some cases, to visitors to the museum today.
The pieces chosen were mostly sculptures, perhaps because these are more likely to survive out of their original contexts than less sturdy pieces - there were clay figures, a woman's face carved in mammoth tusk, and, intriguingly, a collection of eye-shaped tokens from an ancient temple to a long-lost religion. While the pieces followed a similar theme, however, the storytellers took them in a multitude of different directions. One told a Cinderella-inspired story featuring a mischievous trickster god, another told a comedy story about a staring contest (those eye-tokens were, he insisted, trophies for the winners of ancient staring contests), while another came up with a tale that made the audience think about the nature of museums themselves.
The performers' love of storytelling, and their fascination with the chosen artefacts, came through strongly throughout the event, tying the disparate stories together to into a cohesive whole. There were a few distractions early in the tour from the very enthusiastic jazz band playing downstairs, but the Mythmaking team dealt with this and with the other logistical challenges of the evening, making sure that there was plenty of space for the large crowd, and shutting the gallery doors to filter out the music (which, while good, didn't fit the calm tone of the event). For anyone who's interested in an alternative way to spend an evening, and a one-of-a-kind look at one of Oxford's best museums, Mythmaking is an excellent choice - keep an eye out for their future tours.