People leave traces…

Dealing with  memory is a precarious task as it does not behave rationally, with the ability to conjure itself at whim and collapse even more easily. When meaning does falter the process of reconstruction relies on the cues of its association.

‘We move so fast that memory is something we can only try to grasp.’ Ai Weiwei 

This lecture dealt with how material objects become conduits to memory. Most clearly an example is photographs, which confronts us with an immediate emotional reaction, whether good or bad. Even more personal is that of textiles and clothing, which Emmanuel explained has the intimate relationship with our bodies, but is taken for granted. Holding onto these physical objects expresses a desire to grab hold of the past and make it tangible. Cloth with the ability to be held, smelt and touched gives a sensorial connection to memory and in turn a sense of nostalgia. Stewart comments on this, ‘The double function of the souvenir is to authenticate a past or otherwise remote experience and, at the same time to discredit the present’ (Stewart, 1984)

There arises a problem once we considered what happens when the museum deals with memory through object. The very task of conservation is diminishing to memory as it’s efforts lie in try to render something untouched and unblemished. When object are needed a ground history, this therefore meddles with trying to sanitize history also. If narratives are recorded in this way, when whoever holds the memory is gone, loss is the only option. The effect here is that true meaning is lost, and without which the museum validates in our minds a constructed vision of the past: nostalgia.

When dealing with how museums display difficult issues of the past, the Foundling museum is a relevant example. Having visited the museum I saw how the curation does not look to render non-existent the struggle of the past. The Foundling hospital was an institution that took in children whose parents could no longer care for them, not through a lack of love but due to circumstances of extreme poverty. The system of the tokens is particularly poignant, as we had considered in the lecture an object’s ability to hold more than its physical worth. These tokens existed as identification for the reclaiming of a child, who would be rechristened and removed from their original identity. Thomas Coram opened the institution as a hope for these children however the history is not faultless. The introductory gallery of the museum illustrates the children’s ill treatment and hardships however this was their only hope. Some of the interviews from the foundling children revealed harrowing tales of struggle and the notion that they believed they were never loved by their parents. The problem here is that these parents gave the little that they had, often shreds of cloth from the garment on their body with the hopes they could be reunited. These objects, that were the only proof of their parents affections were concealed from them yet are now displayed on show for everyone except those children to see.coram-t184-correction

At the museum a group of us were ableto speak with a volunteer who explained how one of the opulently decorated rooms was designed with the intention of manipulating parents. Many of these women being prostitutes and with no other hope were made to tell of the circumstance and beg for their child to be accepted. All the while aristocrats watch on in spectacle. The room is also adorned in biblically referenced painting to convey the idea of lowly people having to give away their child, making a parent feel even worse for the situation. To imagine how the scenario would have played out is heart wrenching and were told has brought many to tears. However by presenting the history in such a way we are able to devise a more truthful image of the past. The museum seems to addresses the desire to better these children’s lives but does not give false nostalgia instead divulges its flaws.

Bibliography

Foundling Museum. (1759) Inscribed copper token.[Online image] Available at: <http://www.historyextra.com/tokens- image> [Accessed 18 Dec 2013]

Foundling tokens. [Online image] Available at: <http://www.culture24.org.uk//history-and-heritage/work-and-daily-life/art28219&gt; [Accessed 17 Dec 2013]

Stewart,S. (1984) On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Giganitic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Duke University Press

Banks, N S.  (2012) Memory Martathon at the Serpentine. [Internet]. Available from:<http://www.d-talks.com/2012/10/memory-marathon-at-the-serpentine/&gt; [Accessed 17 December 2013]

Collecting the Exotic

From the previous lecture I have become intrigued by the process of putting the ‘exotic’ on display and how this is linked with the action of Collecting. Although I discussed the aspect of the presentation of the Orient within visual culture quite lengthily I felt the need to delve into the multifaceted way this collecting takes place within Western society. Through reading Baudrillard’s ‘The System of Collecting’, it dawned on me the significance of trying to acquire such things and especially when dealing with living people, how collecting takes something from its original context and transforms it into a ‘piece’ for exhibtion. The narratives crafted and given to represent the differences between East and West, one viewed as ‘subject’ and the other ‘object’, leaves something to be possessed.

Colonialism to me is extremely problematic, I cannot fathom how a tiny nation on one side of the world can have such unrelenting power and hold over much bigger nations thousands of miles separate. The question of authority is what troubles me most, who gives this power and how can the infiltration of foreign land with the intent of control ever be just. I can’t help but imagine that the narrative would be entirely different if the roles were reversed, with those that inflict this upon others feeling attacked.

http://www.cap-concours.fr/enseignement/preparer-les-concours/concours-de-crpe/la-formation-de-grands-empires-coloniaux-mas_his_56I found this illustration to be poignant, the animated quality is exaggerated and stereotypical in its representation of characters  with the intention of a satirical tone. This physical cutting and claiming is an act of power.  The concept of dividing land is one that I have genuinely contemplated before. When looking at the world map, it makes no rational sense that the organic shapes of the land could be dived with such harsh straight lines, as if someone has taken a ruler directly to the printed image. If so, who? and with what motive? When reflecting it is clear, these manmade alterations are only present in certain regions and this is often related to politics. When dealing with geography, the inhabitants of these lands are irrelative and come as a part of the package, either to the hindrance of the conquerer or benefit through means of exploitation.

Being shown such examples was hugely upsetting, especially with the story of Sarah ‘ Saartjie’ Baartman. Her hardship seems exemplary of the brutality of the western world. Having thought she would be admired for the ‘beauty’ she was told she possessed, her role within western exhibition was purely about ridicule. Her physical appearance was shown as a kind of freak show, diminishing her humanity by presenting her as a collected primitive being. Often it is  through the process of presenting another as low, that one looks to elevate themselves. However in such a abhorrent display, it seems to me that the ‘exhibitors’ were the ones who were truly savage.

Hagenback’s human zoo’s use a collected troop of ten or eleven individuals to represent a whole (seen above: Sudanese troop). This live exhibition compromised of choreographed dance, native huts, eating rituals by hand and any other practice that seemed sufficiently ‘foreign’ and barbaric. Thereby generating a performance for the white spectator to confirm the western narrative given of these people and their culture, not in order to learn but to judge. Those involved were easily replaceable, all needed was a skin colour, as all else was designed. In this form of collecting people for display, the desire is not to prevent something from becoming obseilte.  These individuals will still exist irrespective of how the west tries to intervene, it is about conquering and being able to posses.

Within display the most obvious way of demonstrating ownership over a culture is through the ‘souvenir’ and the way these collected objects are presented as ‘Other’ especially within the idea of taxonomy.  The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is a overwhelming example of this. As it lies unchanged, the various exotic objects are grouped through this one defining factor that they are foreign and typically primitive. Not being able to change the exhibit stop us from forgetting that at a time this was completely acceptable. In a way this then becomes an exhibit of how people tell stories of the past.

In response to these ideas I visited Leighton House to examine first hand how efforts to present the oriental world, are diminished in the hands of westerners that curate this information with their own intent. Unlike a museum the furniture and objects are seen in situ. What is intriguing is that the entrance and main entertaining quarters are decorated in an Arab style. The outstanding beauty is indisputable yet there is an air to wariness I tried to poses as I took this in. This grandeur is used to add importance and value. However as I explored the rest of the house and looked to be more critical, the traditional western design complemented by these elements of orient, that were said have been imported specifically, evoke a sense of souvenir of cultural education. By being able to posses the Eastern beauty and design it is as if has been conquered and the collectors takes what they want from this foreign world but is still able to maintain their western value and superiority.

As well as this adaptations are seen in the presentation of the arab ceramic art, where deers are incorporated into a motif tiling detailing. This evidences western perspective disregarding the culture it displays, where in actuality, such art does not depict animate creatures due to specific beliefs. It seems as though within the western world there is no respect for the cultures we destroy in museums and collections. Much of the information provided about the house was about restoration and this led me to reconsider the concept of mummifying to send a human into eternal life. By laying these tiles and creating this installed collection of a home, Leighton cements his name but also a twisted and corrupt narrative of the Eastern culture he is said to have admired.

Bibliography

Leighton House Museum: London

Images

En Chine Le gâteau des Rois et… des Empereurs. (1898) [Online image] Available at: <http://www.speurders.nl/overzicht/kunst-en-antiek/zeefdrukken-en-tekeningen/politieke-spotprent-en-chine-le-gteau-des-rois-et-137208865.html&gt; [Accessed 25 Nov 13]

Pitt Rivers Musuem, Oxford, England. [Online image] Available at:

<http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g186361-d215644-i55378784-Pitt_Rivers_Museum-Oxford_Oxfordshire_England.html&gt; [Accessed 25 Nov 13]

<http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/governance.html> %5BAccessed 25 Nov 13]

<http://www.shopcurious.com/curious-trends/Cabinets-of-curiosity-revived.aspx> %5BAccessed 25 Nov 13]

Sartjee the Hotentot Venus. (1810) [Online image] Available at: <http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1490165&partId=1&people=108609&peoA=108609-1-7&page=1&gt; [Accessed 25 Nov 13]

South Sami at the Hagenbeck Zoo. (1926) [Online image] Available at: <http://sciencenordic.com/sami-never-sold-their-souls&gt; [Accessed 25 Nov 13]

Sudanese troupe at the Hagenbeck Zoo. [Online image] Available at: <http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/of-other-races-inhuman-zoos-and-fallacy.html&gt; [Accessed 25 Nov 13]

 

Orientalism & Visual Culture

Today’s lecture was extremely compelling to me as we considered the concept of Orientalism. Although I have never explored this idea theoretically, I have always had a curiosity or interest in questioning how the western world sees and comments upon what is different. Seeing this within modern society, it is enlightening to reflect on how this ideology has played out, developed and been dealt with throughout time.

It seems as though Westernisation as term has evolved from dictating geographical location to defining what is ‘progressed’ and ‘better’. This therefore infers that the opposite might give the term Eastern connotations of being primitive and low. Edward Said proposes the term ‘Other’ as the way in which all that is derivative of the Orient is viewed by western society. He comments on the mixed relationships Europe has with this society of ‘Other’, often its own cultural contestant. In order to better understand this we need to question perspective and what the vested interest could be in presenting the ‘exotic’ in such a critical way. Despite this there have been western figures such as Abraham Antequil Duperon and Baron de Mantesquien that have studied and looked to complex Eastern systems in order to critise and bring to focus the short comings of Western democracy.  Those who were truly committed to exploring and presenting the Eastern world objectively often had their work suppressed due to its displacement within the established narrative of the time. These theorists had visited the subject of their study and ingrained themselves in the language. Instead of learning from this authentic research it is instead the manufactured work of James Mill, ‘The History of British India’ who’s ideologies became the fundamental drive behind the shaping of Britain’s India policies. The desire to present an India that was archaic and static suited economic position by concluding the citizens were not ready for self government. In the same way, this is a narrative that is still apparent today: when we look to the Middle East, and how the need for democracy served as an excuse for invasion.

Whilst considering how the west views ‘strangers’, it is crucial to take a shift in viewpoint and consider how we too are viewed as ‘other’ to someone else. Western literature, art and knowledge especially within the 19th century portrayed the Orient as a sensual, mystical, barbaric, undemocratic and irrational realm: everything the narrative of the West was not. The problem here is that these narratives can be turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy with enough fuel.

Paintings are instrumental in understanding, visually, how the West looked to degrade and position themselves above the Orient within history. These images shown and discussed within the lecture provoke some very curious reflections of the presentation of women within this division of global society. An extraordinary numbers of points of discussion arise with these images yet these are only a few excerpts  from the whole crafted narrative of the age. Within each, a commonality is seen in how skin colour and tone is exaggerated to immediately distinguish importance and status. Even within this culture, that is viewed as beneath western society, there is a hierarchy, with the black woman of Gerome’s Moorish Bath, exposed physically, subservient, at the very bottom of this ranking.With Ingres’ Odalisque with a Slave, the title immediately evokes roles of power and servitude. The reclining nude female is clearly a courtesan, being waited on by the people of the eastern world she seems to be set in. Her body is open and she appears aware and comfortable with the gaze of the viewer. The hypocrisy here is that within Delacroix, The Women of Algiers the women are more covered in contrast yet their posture and type of clothing suggest immorality and intends to questions their worth. Seen sitting relaxed on the floor, in these primitive poses they are entirely stripped of their femininity as women of the age would not have been seen on the ground, their clothes would simply have not allowed for it.

These images are aligned with the narrative of the time to propagate meaning and to exist an affirmation of white superiority. Even if this is not seen literally in the scenario of the painting, the way the western painter controls his subject and presents these women of the Orient, demonstrates layers of prejudicial and exploitive behaviour of the western world. Ingres’ The Turkish Bath of 1862 is an overwhelming example of this attitude. These foreign women are seen in an almost fantasied manner, the composition suggesting the very idea of a peephole. Their bodies relaxed convey oblivion, therefore leaving them vulnerable and inferior to their western onlooker. The concept of the ‘gaze’ is that the act of looking is never neutral, whoever poses it holds power especially if the watched person is unaware. It is the body of ‘Other’, where the sexual frustration of the west is played out, thoughts that were not subjected to their own women. Unless they were courtesans the middle and working class women of the time were not sexualised, their clothing oversized as if to dwarf or cage the woman. Not only is the presentation of these women in such work of art massively contemptuous, these men use the tools of visual language to manipulate a situation to suit their base desires. Seen again through imagery, within the animated movies Pocahontas and Mulan these oriental tales are presented by westerners of imagined worlds, that even the native would not necessarily recognise.

This judgement of sexual immorality was not solely reserved for the women, within literature the scenario of a black man assaulting a white woman speaks volumes of the division between these worlds- how ‘other’ is the enemy and not to be trusted. Individuals from the Orient region were presented in this prejudicial light and often within visual language degraded to the status of animals. The film King Kong was often critiqued and thought to be about questioning the ‘irrationality’ of interracial relationships.

This exploration truly resonated with me and issues discussed when addressing Delacroix’ image Turk Smoking on a Divan fed their way into how I viewed works later in the gallery space. The anonimity of the title Turk serves to disregard the people as a generic whole, becoming cartoon images to the narrative. When sitting down the western man is still active, in roles of reading and writing, whereas here the man is entirely relaxed, passive and his purpose is inconsequential. On a visit to the Tate Britain, I saw how curation affects meaning. In a room that presents very ‘British’ people, a painting featuring Indians stood out. The curators  simply give the accompanying text, ‘This unruly sporting event exemplifies the looser moral codes of British colonial life’. This sense of depravity is unavoidably obvious in the picture, but I query whether this is due to the artist’s interpretation and possibly a  vested interest. Within the chaotic scene there is so much to take in but also much to analyse. What strikes me immediately is the distinction, the  Indians squatted on the bare ground are seen as heaving mass of bodies and the westerners clearly uncomfortable, seated on a higher level. Their bodies and their gaze are seemingly directed away from the natives and looks of distain are blatant on the faces of the pristinely dressed western men. With these men entirely separate and disengaged from the chaos this indicates it is solely the Indians that are corrupt and barbaric.  This presentation of the time seems to me as yet another act to reduce people to a set of judgements that allow for their mistreatment by a condemning society. One that does not itself accept but forces acceptance from others whose entire customs and beliefs are trivial within the manipulated pursuit for personal gain.

Bibliography

Images

Delacroix, E. (1832) Turk Smoking on a Divan [online image]. Available at: <http://www.imagekind.com/A-Turk-smoking-sitting-on-a-sofa-by-Delacroix-art?IMID=0d3d87df-faab-4965-a487-4db3cf97d51f&gt; [Accessed 15 Nov 13]

Delacroix, E. (1834) The Women of Algiers (in Their Apartment) [online image]. Available at: <http://makeyourideasart.com/art/masters-of-art-eugene-delacroix-1798-1863/&gt; [Accessed 15 Nov 13].

Gerome, J. (1870) Moorish Bath [online image]. Available at: <http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/moorish-bath-32124&gt; [Accessed 15 Nov 13].

Ingres, J. (1842) Odalisque with a Slave [online image]. Available at: <http://keephistoryalive.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/art-history-wednesday-la-grande-odalisque/odalisque-with-a-slave-ingres/&gt; [Accessed 16 Nov 13].

Ingres, J. (1862) The Turkish Bath [online image]. Available at: <http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-ingres-turkish-bath-granger.html&gt; [Accessed 16 Nov 13].

Zoffany, J. (c.1784-6) Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match. Oil on Canvas. London: Tate Britain.

Books

Mill, J. (1997) The history of British India. London: Routlege/Thoemmes.

War & Conflict

Within discussions on the Museum’s role in providing a narrative of history, it is intriguing to bring this idea to the context of conflict. I visited both, the Imperial War Museum and National Army Museum to consider how these institutions deal with presenting such a violent and delicate subject matter. When retelling historical events the museum’s purpose seems to be to piece together the remnants of information and objects to complete a story. These two establishments use the tools of curation to complete this task but with very contrasting perspectives in result.

From the onset, looking to the names of these institutions begins to unravel the narrative to be revealed. With the titles ‘Imperial’ and ‘National’ there is an immediate sense of importance and authority over the information they provide. The inclusion of ‘War’ suggests the area of exploration is much broader in comparison with that of the ‘Army’. When the intention is to represent the Nation’s army, is there any other way to do this than patriotically? This was my immediate thought however I was not aware what span of history they would cover inside and it is often seen that the detachment of history allows for the critique of ones own people.

When first exploring the collection what is most obvious in the display in the amount of objects used to craft the narrative of the Army’s journey through history. This gives an impression of a thorough and reliable account however as the individual rooms uncoil themselves within the museum the detachment of the glass case has an effect on the responses we develop. I saw this notably in the display of weapons. The intended narrative was suggested to be in evolution of the tools of war and their design. This is problematic when thinking warily that each of these actual swords had featured within the hand of person in battle and had most probably claimed the life of another. Now, they sit removed from their original meaning as one amongst many, admired for their intricate ‘beauty’.

Contrastingly the IWM presents the ‘A Family in Wartime’ display as an inclusive experience, with interactive elements including models, video and audio devices.  The museum expresses the idea of individuals within this landscape of war as their apparent prevailing narrative tool. By focusing on a single family the curators seem to create a narrative indicative of the hardships of many during wartime. In telling the story, including personal details, of each family member and their associated narratives, of being a wife, child or father, they become vehicles for information about the army, healthcare and food rationing system etc. to be revealed.

By putting a face behind the history, the information becomes personable and therefore heightens the emotion when the struggles are revealed. The display consists of different domestic installation, with noteworthy objects featured and isolated in a more selective manner. The presentation also includes an abundance of photographic portraits to reinforce this family narrative. This is possible due to the technical advances of the age whereas the Army museum makes use of mannequins to illustrate their narrative of warfare scenarios. In comparison to the honest eyes of a young girl, these plastic and dated bodies feel like costumes, taking away from the severity of the subject matter in hand. The efforts to humanize are based in the desire to provoke emotional catharsis or response. Although the Army museum does not seem to achieve this so effectively in the permanent collection, I found this more so in the IED exhibit. Emmanuel addressed the issue of museums becoming like shops, with meaning lost in the presentation of objects. Here when presenting a soldier’s uniform the objects retain their power, with the two shoes placed together next to other kit and personal tokens. Instead of coming across as a ploy to present a ‘best of’ example’, the response is empathetic as we can relate to this simple yet symbolic imagery.

To further consider the emotional aspect of addressing issues of conflict, the IWM’s display of the Holocaust is unavoidably affecting. From the very entrance, that warns that children under a certain age should not enter there is an immediate sense of mood and gravity. The irony here is that curator tries to control who views this chapter of history within the museum due to issues of sensitivity, when the exhibit sees largely how these horrendous acts were inflicted upon children of these very ages. Aspects of the display are extremely upsetting however we constantly see many atrocities broadcasted across the news everyday. By having a power over this physical space they maintain control however this seems to feed on a issue Emmanuel discussed, where often political correctness is not about facing up to history but rather trying to negate it.IMG_8095

The text and the written word that feature alongside the atmospheric visual and audial display provoked the most emotional reaction in myself. Whilst being surrounded by instruments to provide information the dim lighting maintained a feeling of austerity. The introductory text speaks- without cold detachment- of the ‘massacring’ and ‘mass extermination of a whole people’ and immediately sets a tone that is maintained.  The information is possibly so effective in engaging emotional response due to the brutal honesty, with graphic descriptions of violent acts pasted in large text on the walls illuminated in spotlight. As the sequential layout that tries to piece together the fallout of the Nazi regime unfurls, quotes from individuals that were persecuted and from media with their brutal condemning voice pull emotionally on the viewers. What was especially poignant was that although such hatred was repulsive to hear now, this was commonplace during the time. By dehumanising the Jewish people through language and by categorising them using symbols, it was shown how it became easier for the Nazi’s to control their troops to commit such heinous actions upon fellow human beings.

Clothing and letters were also presented carefully within cases. The way the ephemera was displayed within the space felt less like confinement of dated historical objects but rather as the belongings of an individual to be remembered and safeguarded. The concept of masses of similar objects displayed together creates its own narrative, evoking realisations of the scale on which the brutality took place. The emotional impact of this display provoked the query as to why visual aids and objects are so prevalent in the retelling of history. If we didn’t have this material evidence would history collapse and these events be any less important? With the news being a curated narrative of its own this is where the museum’s importance comes into practice. It is not enough just to feel the magnitude in the moment; it is the resonance that is crucial. In a way, these ornamentations of lighting and object display make the subject matter more emotionally charged and  raw. In situ of this space we physically have to face up to the pasts, in contrast to the news and the ease with which we can change channel.

On reflection although war and conflict are sensitive issues I now realize they are possibly the most important to explore. It is only by learning that we can implement change. Often with the gallery or museum, display is about reveling in the beauty and splendour of world. However we cannot only look to history for spectacle, the process of looking back and thinking forward should be akin. In both museums there is an awareness of war and conflict over time, historically but also at present. It is then dissatisfying to me that there should even be a contemporary section, when the purpose of learning history is so that it is not repeated. In as much as you see the evolution of warfare, it is clear the destruction is greater but the accountability is less as weaponry takes not only a single life but masses within a single action.

I wonder why it is that as a society we find it matter of fact to condemn the atrocious actions of the past yet circle around issues that are overwhelmingly present today. As we assess the presentation of conflict passed, it occurs to me to question how today’s stories will be seen and remembered. Will the narrative be the same which we are shown today or will it have completely changed, where ideologies accepted now are possibly universally condemned. Will the museums of the future give either a more evaluative reflection of our faults or a  skewed reality for the sake of a desired narrative? It is said infamously that ‘History is written by the victor’. It is then the question as to who does the act of retelling. Are curators influenced by political message or can they explore these issues more critically? If we really were to try, I wonder whether curation could reshape and challenge an accepted idea or narrative.

Bibliography

National Army Museum: London

Imperial War Museum: London

A Changing World. [Online image] Available at: <http://www.nam.ac.uk/exhibitions/permanent-galleries/changing-world-1784-1904&gt; [Accessed 3 Nov 13]

National Army Museum. [Online image] Available at: <http://www.coolplaces.co.uk/places/uk/england/london/chelsea/2908-national-army-museum&gt; [Accessed 3 Nov 13}

The Pathology of Collecting

‘My Favourite Things’

The museum sets out a democratic society and we have discussed in depth the effect of this curation on meaning. This problem leads us to the realisation that it is the personal collection therefore that is more truthful about culture. When the individual decides the value, they are able to set up their owns narrative, featuring objects not ‘meant’ for a museum. Richard Wentworth’s work Questions of Taste 1997, explores this very concept and the subjectivity of value attributed to collected objects. Here the debris of capitalist culture found outside the British Museum is seen side by side with the debris of history. Wentworth questions what it is that makes the artefacts of the past worthy of being suitable museum pieces, and not disposable.

Richard Wentworth, Questions of Taste 1997

Richard Wentworth, Questions of Taste 1997

Both objects here are containers for liquid and we can contextualise the plastic bottle as a drinking implement. In contrast the ceramic jug has ceased to exist with this purpose and is transformed into a mere object through what Baudrillard defines the ‘process of passionate abstraction we call possession.’ ( Baudrillard, 1994, p.8)

Within pop culture the subject of collecting is overwhelmingly topical and popular. When I went to look for video examples of personal collecting I was bombarded by a mass of sources. It is relevant to question why it is so popular and broadcasted, whether this is due to collecting being a norm or rather a new form of entertainment through the act of passing judgement at the expense of others. I found two, very different, examples to be compelling narratives of collector’s habits and mind sets.

What resonated with me most in these two videos was that within both collections, and indeed many of the videos, we see grown adults collecting object with more childish connotations. It is interesting to see how with the habit there is a regression to childlike comforts and its purer joys. Texts that explore the pathology of collecting show that it is an action intrinsically linked with psychological issues. It provokes the query as to how this re-emerged interest and overcompensation looks to deal with possible traumas. It is possible this theme is linked with the concept that, ‘the activity of collecting may be seen as a powerful mechanism of compensation during critical phases in a person’s sexual development’  (Baudrillard, 1994, p.9) Collecting is widely seen in children and often it’s reappearance is considered to be rooted in such issues.

In the christmas example, the act of display is central whereas with the Sci-Fi themed collection the sheer scale resorts in the boxing up and external storage solutions. There is no particular sense of display, Bellomo even comments on not wanting to anger viewers with how the more ‘valuable’ items are stored away. The problem here is one of purpose, the toy like Wentworth’s ceramic jug becomes divested of its function. This is seen further in the desire to find an item in ‘mint’ condition, only to be retained in this state.

With their Christmas inflatable collection Steve and Kristy show the level of their commitment to the collection and display. The monetary and sacrifices of time are clearly seen. The relationship between the collectors and the objects double sided. On one hand the collector gives the objects meaning within the context of a collection and in turn the act of collecting becomes the collectors own life’s purpose. The two are reliant to each other.  By atributing such personal attachment to the objects, the collector’s almost give life to them, which brings the possibility of death. As we see the inflatables worn out with age and Steve physically burying the plastic ‘body’, it is then true: ‘we have to concede that time is indeed objectively irreversible, and that even those objects whose function is to shield us from this fact must in due course be snatched away by time’ (Baudrillard, 1994, p.16)

Collections are not formed with an end in sight and it is significant that these two selected object of collection may never even be inflicted to this. With the object choices, there is an open door to many different divergent objects that are now so  easily accessible through the internet. Baudrillard’s text The System of Collecting, discusses the guilt that surrounds the habit by noting, ‘and without exception…they will maintain about their collection an aura of clandestine, of confinement, secrecy and dissimilation, all of which give rise to the unmistakable impression of a guilt relationship.’ (Baudrillard, 1994, p.9) . However as social media progresses we see a rise the social acceptance. The text having been published in 1994, we see a major shift in this aspect of research, with the internet creating forums for people to connect through their compulsions. This is seen in  both videos where Mark talks of his ‘fans’ and the mass of travellers that journey to observe the inflatables collection. The inflatable collectors self profess the obsession and present it with a tone of light hearted self-mocking. Talking about these compulsions publicly derived from the desire  to normalise them.

When collecting has evolved to be social, and Sci-fi memorabilia being a massive consumer market, for which there are specific stores, communities and aesthetics that it maintains. I wonder whether the action is an introverted or extroverted activity? The origination of the collection comes a personal desire and will be played privately or publicly respectively of how it is received. This is grounded in the notion that, ‘ although the collection may speak to other people, it is always first and foremost a discourse directed toward oneself’. (Baudrillard, 1994, p.22) With this reflection I seem to have come full circle and question again why is collections of the scientific or historical ‘better’ education than that of the inflatables or Sci-fi pieces. The differences is one is accepted as a universal narrative of being valuable and the other deemed distasteful and even unhealthy.

Bibliography

Video

FlophouseFilms (2009). COLLECTABLE SPECTACLE “Mark Bellomo” 2 0f 18 [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWdO6Bu3SUs&gt; [Accessed 1 Nov 2013]

spaulcottonplant (2012). TLC My Crazy Obsession- Christmas in Cotton Plant [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWxLPFZEZBo&gt; [Accessed 1 Nov 13]

Books

Baudrillard, J. (1994) The System of Collecting. In: Elsner, J & Cardinal, R. The Cultures of Collecting. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Images

Hiller, S. (1969-2011) Homage to Joseph Beuys, series of felt-lined cabinets containing antique bottles of holy water. [online image]. Available at: <http://nihilsentimentalgia.com/2013/07/28/%D9%A0-susan-hiller-the-transformative-potential-of-investigation-%D9%A0/&gt; [Accessed 31 Oct 13].

Wentworth, R. (1997) ‘Found modern Panda cherryade bottle with ancient Egyptian Bes Flask’ from Questions of Taste installation. [online image]. Available at: <www.jamesputnam.org.uk> [Accessed 1 Nov 13].

 

Flâneuring

As I continue to work from my collection I am continually noticing and taking the time to find objects that convey my concept. This has tied in well with the acts of flanerie we explored within the first blog task. On reflection the time when I walk the slowest in my everyday life is on my way out or back home through the rural lanes, without the rush of traffic or crowds of people urging a sense of haste. In these short journeys I uncover different fragments dispersed and embedded into the ground within various locations.

With the extensive amount of rain recently, the loosening of the floor surfaces allows for these natural materials to be revealed. There is a constant cycle of debris being depressed into the ground and in turn a process of other matter being overturned and resurfacing. Although the actual objects and materials I discover are very distant to the more urban make up of the Chinatown/ Soho setting, there are also similar surface characteristics. In many of these rocks there is this tension between coarse outer layers and a much smoother patterned internal designs, that mimic qualities within my rough guide imagery but in a more organic colour palette.

Although I enjoy finding these small treasures I still feel conscious about stopping abruptly, or walking a few steps back to pick up things that caught my eye. In doing so I question why is it so uncomfortable and why such an action is judged. Although the roads I walk are mostly quiet and empty a paranoia comes over me when I go to collect an object, in particular the rocks that are more buried than I originally anticipated. The longer it takes to loosen the fragment from the clutches of the muddy ground, the more awkward the act becomes. In instances where I have hesitated or been unable to collect something that could have been promising I felt a sense of regret and even loss for an item I had never even held. If we continue to be rushed and concerned with the opinions of others we allow these fragments of beauty to be lost forever. If not me, who else takes the time or cares enough to rediscover them.

These fragments become small traces of the whole and although they can never properly exist in this context again I wonder whether they can be isolated from this loss and achieve their own individual meaning. With these ideas arising I am starting to see that many of  these objects become purposeless in this state and whether this is because, the view now is, it is better to have never known this object existed than to realise it in its defeated, ‘lesser’ form.

Mining the Museum

From Emmanuel’s lecture exploring the concept of the gallery as a space of control, the task is now to think critically about how curation affects the history we are given. Something is unsettling to me when I truly consider why it is so uncomfortable to question this institution that promises to give insight into what is unknown. Why have I never considered what it is that gives four stone walls and grand museum titles the power of the information to be taken as fact? In thinking about how museums and exhibitions are curated, I now see how anything that is ever edited is done so with the intention of an individual or set of individuals to create a desired narrative, so why not in this context also. On reflection too many times I have been to a museum and found out something truly fascinating that I then go on to tell someone else. In the question ‘did you know…?’ the premiss is that we believe what we have been told is entirely trustworthy without questioning.

With this in mind I visited the Tate Britain’s  BP sponsored ‘Walk through British Art’ display. Being able to reflect on the lecture discussion, the power of the museum was immediately apparent when I explored the collection. With museums, and this one in particular, designed architecturally to look like temples and churches of the ancient world, the associated sanctified demeanour which we adopt evidences the authority we give to the institution.  By adjusting what we see and how we behave, how we react is then not completely unadulterated.

‘Museums shelter not so much objects as meanings, and their work is that of articulating, linking and arranging them in a network of significance. ‘ – Thomas Keenan, No Ends in Sight

(http://www.manss.com/en/Project/Tate-Britain-Signage)

Tat Britain. [Online image] Available at: <http://www.manss.com/en/Project/Tate-Britain-Signage&gt; [Accessed 20 Oct 13]

The display is ordered chronologically and begins with a group of historical paintings. In order to critically evaluate what narrative is being conveyed I looked to the images shown as well as the text that accompanies them. The labels are positioned not directly underneath the work but much closer to the floor. In a way this is an immediate positive step as it allows the viewer to see the work as they chose without a preconceived idea of how they should react. Despite this there is also a sense of anonymity that is not so reassuring. At a glance we have no idea who these people are or why they should be featured.  Within the labels the information given is also sparse, with more detail on the acquisition of the work rather than the subject or even the intention of the artist. The title ‘Portrait of a woman in Red’ struck me as I questioned who the curators intended to present as important.  This is particularly problematic as this exhibition sets out to explore ‘British’ Art and here the curators directly reveal in contradiction that many sitters favour foreign painter for their level of skill. With the subject often anonymous the apparent importance is with the named artist, who in many cases was European. Although many of subjects are unnamed they still convey a sense of power and prestige, this is controlled by the strikingly similar compositions of the works. They all seem to feature a very direct gaze and tilt of the shoulders, which create the most flattering view possible. The pose then feels contrived, ornamented with deliberate imagery to convey the sitters own intended narrative.  Now, looking to the lack of information I began to consider that it does not leave the floor open for thought but rather the curation is more controlled. With less text to question, we accept the visual narrative we are given, of these men and women being highly regarded figures despite being nameless.

With the grouping organised by date, it became relevant to consider what this was trying to say of the era. Are these the ‘best’ examples of people of the age and what does the term ‘best’ even mean? Is it the defined in most accurate or most pleasing illustration? This notion brings me back to concept of mapping and what parts and types of people are left off when documenting a certain time or place. The layout also led to some unusual curation choices. The juxtaposition between Wright’s painting of the erupting Vesuvius against an image of a child and his dogs was particularly unusual. In the idea of taxonomy these works wore placed together due to the age’s interest in nature. I really responded to the painting by Wright due to its vivacious energy. The text given expresses the painter’s desire to create a sense of impact and immense power of the natural force unfurling its dangerous wrath. However despite recognising this their decision to present these images together seemed to diminish this intention and trivialise the grave subject matter. The museum here removes something out of its original context and recontextaulises it with its own created narrative that seems undeserving to the work it recognises.

‘Artists look at museums, Museums look at themselves’ Lisa G.Corrin

Museums make us feel safe because they are about continuum. As I reflect, their authority seems to be like that of a textbook, where the printed word has a validity or power as it feels established and part of history itself. It is worrying to question these institutions as possibly by doing so could allow the meaning given to collapse. In both cases what is seen is not to be queried as it teaches us what we should know in order to become better educated or cultured.  From this thought I began to consider the concept that when knowledge is power, then the true power is in the hands of those editing what should be known.

IMG_7815

Hatoum, M. (1985, 1995) Performance Still. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, mounted on aluminium. London: Tate Britain

 Although this work is featured within a later room in the display due to its more contemporary dating, I found something very curious about its curation. The work immediately compelled me through its deliberate choice of display, resting on the floor, detached from the wall. The image represents bare feet almost shackled by the shoes tied with the laces, now dragging behind . To me the image evokes issues of identity and control. This journey of walking on the bare ground is emphasised in this style of display. However intriguingly in front of the work features a line of display tape. When the curation engages us to relate, with our feet on a similar level bringing us closer to a state of empathy, this line that is a prerequisite of distance is problematic. Due to curator concerns of the piece being vulnerable to possible damage it can be understood the distance is for the safety of the work. Nonetheless, whilst the photograph speaks of oppression we see this confinement again ourselves, with our viewing experience also being controlled as if we too are shackled by the institution that has brought us this very work. In a way the museum creates its own unintentional narrative about institutions of control. With those in control, seen in the image by the cold hard industrial boots, with a weight and power over the everyday man, the bare feet being a raw and universal commonality we share.
Bibliography
Duncan, C. (1995) Civilising Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums. New York: Routledge
Keenan, T.  No Ends in Sight. In: Borja-Villel, Manuel J. and Hanhardt
Wilson, F. Corrin, L. ed. (1954) Mining the Museum: an installation. New York: Contemporary
Images
Gheeraerts, M. (1620) Portrait of a Woman in Red. Oil paint on oak. London: Tate Britain
Hatoum, M. (1985, 1995) Performance Still. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper, mounted on aluminium. London: Tate Britain
Wright, J. (c.1776-80) Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples. Oil paint on canvas. London: Tate Britain