What story would your museum tell?

Posted: March 27, 2012 by mitsar in Mar 28

Throughout this semester we’ve discussed the value of objects. Who gives value to an object? How is this value quantified against other objects? What does this mean for the future of the object and the context in which its in? All these questions are discussed in Gurian’s article What is the Object of this Exercise? Gurian explores the role of objects in museums and how they come to be considered worthy of being displayed, preserved and used for educational purposes.

When we think about museum objects, we imagine them to be untouchable ancient relics, masterpieces from the art world or proof of long lost civilizations. These pieces are one of a kind and tell us the story of people from a distant time and place. We may not always consider that artifacts found in museums belong to or have meaning to a group of living people. Gurian discusses the idea that museum curators are now changing the way they approach, preserve and present artifacts according to cultural or spiritual practices. What is more is that we now consider other types of historical and educational institutions to fall under the umbrella of museums (including record archives, botanical gardens, aquariums and zoos, and private collections). But as Catalani points out in her article Telling “Another” Story, the implication of an object in a museum presumes a collective memory and tells a biased story, primarily from a Western point of view. The information that is presented to us is often given by historians or other academics and always in comparison to another object from another time and place.

It leads me to wonder how a museum might look from another “perspective”—although I’m reluctant to define that other perspective (Eastern? Tribal? Authentic? Personal? Etc.) It is clear from these articles that museums relate stories, but we must be careful to remember whose perspective the story is being told from.

In the article Mapping the Memories, McEachern discusses the District Six Museum in Cape Town dedicated to the inner city area in the South African city that had a history of tolerance and diversity. District 6 was home to the working and artisanal classes until its dramatic revitalization in the 1960’s making way for a primarily white neighborhood. McEachern discusses the large map found on the floor of the museum which provides the opportunity for former inhabitants to “re-possess the history of the area” and encourages people to contribute to the narration of the history of District Six. McEachern beautifully shows us how the preservation of history has gone beyond the bounds of academia by including the personal accounts of those who lived it, not observed it. I would have liked to read more about the other objects found in the museum and how those were related to the people.

So my questions to you are this:
1. If you had your own museum to tell the story about your life, what would YOU put into it and what would you exclude? Personally I would include my 2 bookshelves worth of books but probably exclude grades and transcripts to give the illusion that I’m really smart and studious. I would also include the long lineage of used and abused converse shoes piled up in the back of my closet.

a. And as a follow up: Assuming you were dead, or someone else was creating the museum on your behalf, what do you think they would put in it to describe your life?

2. What other types of institutions fall under the umbrella category or museums? And are there any that were listed in Gurian’s article that you would exclude?

3. The one thing all the articles touch on lightly is the journey of the objects before they enter the museum. Stolen artefacts, incomplete collections, unclaimed property; is the story behind the object’s journey just as important as its original context? This reminds me of the article we read on stolen art work during WWII.

  1. gablneus says:

    Cool Questions! Taking from McEachern’s idea of “space” as a museum, I would put my room on display. Nothing tells my story better than the place where I spend most of my time and the place where my belongings are. I realize, however, that I really would not want my room to be a museum, because it would no longer be my room. So I guess I would only do that after I die. Although it’s a pretty morbid thing to think about, I really love the idea of someone making a museum about me after I die. I guess it’s pretty narcissistic, but it allows me to understand why monuments and statues of people are such important honors. I also like the idea of people reading my journal after I die. I would never let anyone read it now, but I think that some subconscious part of me is writing it so that it can be found when I’m gone, and I think that this has to do with the desire to be remembered. I also think that all things that humans create are created to be shared.

  2. aresjoseph says:

    To answer question two, I would say that District Six itself can be converted into a museum, or perhaps the buildings or houses in District Six. Gurian stated that there is “a Universal relationship between Museum and Spirits” (163). In our class discussions we concluded that the spirit of the community can shift or change and that Museums are defined by their materiality. That meant that any space can be converted into a Museum; our homes, Zoos, and so forth. I think that even a store can become a Museum, or any space where materials are collected and gain meaning through analogy.

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