A fascinating exploration of the afterlives of museums: Brown University’s Lost Museums Symposium:
…the symposium addresses the history of museums from a new direction: not their founding, but their disappearance. We know a great deal about how museums are born and how new collections come into being, but not nearly enough about how these fragile institutions pass out of existence, how artifacts decay and disappear as times and interests change.
Perhaps a trite comparison, but reading about this symposium brought me back episode of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow that I watched sometime in the 1990s. Among the varied items on display, was one that stood out: a couple had brought an elephant foot umbrella stand to be evaluated.
From the standpoint of the notion of a historical artifact, it was a fascinating piece. A stump of a leg, complete with toes and toenails, lined with brass. Aesthetically, for this particular modern viewer at least, it was ghastly. Ethically, it was horrifying. The Roadshow expert said as much himself: the piece was of esoteric interest, but within contemporary politics, had little resale value. (For those who might be interested, it looked something like this)
But what happens to pieces like these? To the collections they are in? What happens when collections are consolidated? What happens to the stories that such pieces tell? What new narratives emerge to take their place?
Too bad I’m nowhere near Brown University…. but for those of you who are, you can find the program here.
A friend directed me to a an article about a project developed by photo-based artist, Stacey Tyrell. Entitled “Backra Bluid,” the project is meant to explore the complexities of mixed heritage. In a series of portraits, Tyrell dons white face as a way of examining elements of her heritage that she has found it difficult to discuss outside of her immediate family. The project’s name itself – “Backra Bluid” – gestures to this mixture, drawing in the West Indian Creole word for white/master and the Scottish word for blood and kin.
In her own words:
“The characters in my images are a way of trying to subvert and maybe even co-opt the white mainstream gaze that I feel that myself and every other non-white person is constantly under,” she concluded. “Too often the term ‘black’ is used to describe millions of people worldwide without consideration that within that category there is a rich tapestry of thousands of cultures, identities and genetic makeups that are interconnected with other races. I really wish to contribute to a greater discourse that I feel needs to open up surrounding the very loaded notion of racial identity.”
These images are curious – pristine, posed, utterly unnatural… and too perfect. I don’t know what I would have thought if I’d passed one of them in an advertisement. Or even if I saw one hanging in a gallery. The effect, for me, emerges when I look at them one after another after another after another. Suddenly it’s as if the whole artifice of racial categorization opens up, blows apart, and resettles in a whole new way….
You can read more here.
A thought-provoking – and passionately argued – short video that makes one think about the role and function of life writing in a space where memory is actively being courted and created in the present.