EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W071)

Experience, witnessing, spectacle: performance and commemoration in the new museum

Location Auxilia AX1
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Anja Peleikis (Martin-Luther-University Halle) email
Jackie Feldman (Ben Gurion University of the Negev) email
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Long Abstract

The 'classical' museum, in which genteel publics came to peer in respectful silence at dusty artifacts selected by venerable curators, has undergone severe crisis. Falling numbers of visitors, massive expenditures, and competition from electronic media, all threaten its future. In response, museums have come to construct their edifices, exhibits and presentations to cater to public thirst for 'experience' in the here and now - both sensory and emotional.

Our panel seeks to explore museums as negotiated places of performance and commitment. How do museum personnel, curators, architects and designers mobilize local, national and global architectural elements, technologies and aesthetics to create and market a multi-sensory experience that will attract a broad variety of visitors? How do visitors actively engage with artefacts and images to fashion autobiographical and collective memories in the molds of various presents?

Insofar as many museums see commemoration as one of their main tasks, what communities and causes do they seek to legitimize through their performances? How do guides and narrators of various affiliations and subject positions present exhibits and negotiate meanings to create empathy or distance among visitors of a wide variety of (dis)engagements? How do tourism and commemoration mesh or conflict? To what extent do the presentations of curators, interpreters and guides impact on their self-understandings?

We particularly welcome papers that provide diachronic or comparative perspectives on museum policies and performances and visitor interactions with them. We ask that participants address moral and political as well as aesthetic issues in performing the past.

Discussant: Prof. Tamar Katriel (University of Haifa)

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

(Re)Constructing Cappadocia? Museum mediated memories and the interpretations of the shared past within the World Heritage Site of Göreme

Authors: Elizabeth Carnegie (Sheffield University)  email
Hazel Tucker (University of Otago)  email
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Long Abstract

The Byzantine history of the World Heritage Site of Göreme (inscribed 1985) has become embedded as the dominant narrative and key historic period formally interpreted within the 'open air' museum. By emphasising this Byzantine past, the site interpretation and formally trained local guides, who are invariably drawn from other faith communities, are highlighting how cultural memory and identity shaping can operate within museums as a powerful discourse, silencing certain narratives about the past and privileging others. Our paper considers these tensions from multiple viewpoints including from Islamic perspectives (locals and tour guides) and of visitors (cultural tourists and pilgrims from all over Europe) and explores the issues that impact on the experience and long term care and development of the site. In so doing our research discloses how these multiple narratives contradict, challenge and subvert the official WHS interpretation within the site which is written down and thus fixed.

Making the feelings concrete: the rule of experience at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Author: Irit Dekel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)  email
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Long Abstract

At the Holocaust memorial in Berlin one can often hear guides call to express feelings regarding its abstract, "non-authentic" form above ground and the detailed information center underground. This call to deal with the site by way of touring and reflecting on one's tour will be analyzed as the rule of experience in the site and in memorial museums at large. The opposition of knowledge (acquired underground) and feeling (above ground) does not pertain to a certain history but to the experience of visiting and revisiting its memory.

The rule of experience is a condition for entry to the site. Through this form of engagement, a new performative space is created, where one should present, document and discuss their feelings and thoughts, which the memorial provokes. It is an individual capacity that is facilitated by the presentation of individual stories (of victims and visitors), invoked and performed in public.

Museum as a place of self-knowledge

Author: Janusz Baranski (Jagiellonian University)  email
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Long Abstract

There is a need in museum practice to concentrate more on visitors than on properly applied scientific theory to museum objects. This will help to overcome difficulties in communication between the museum and the visitor and help to apply the old humanistic point of view which stresses the need of a kind of empathy related to other people and times. The general goal is to make museum a place which is visited as a result of the deep personal need of self-knowledge. To achieve that a number of reasons should be fulfilled, among others, contexts of visitor's experience should be taken into account, as well as the shift from scientific theory of respective fields of knowledge into "the language" of real things exhibited. The whole idea will be illustrated by the usage of the local Polish theoretical as well as practical approaches to the subject matter.

Exhibiting the Orient: 'post 9/11' representations of the Near East in UK museums

Authors: Derek Bryce (University of Strathclyde)  email
Elizabeth Carnegie (Sheffield University)  email
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Long Abstract

Since 2001, there has been a series of high profile exhibitions within nationally funded museums in the United Kingdom presenting not only cultural artifacts drawn from the Islamic and Ancient Near East, but Western generated representations of that very region. We debate the historical circumstance that provide the heightened sense of urgency and potency attached to these events amidst 'Western' interpellated anxiety about the proximity of Islam coupled with a neo-Orientalist will to power over the East. We wish to explore the extent to which these exhibitions may be a departure from traditional Orientalist presentations of the East by and for a panoptical, sovereign Western subjectivity, offering instead a lens through which that very subject position might reflexively and critically observe itself. Pursuant to this, a textual analysis of promotional literature and catalogues informs a series of interviews with key curatorial staff associated with the exhibitions.

Constructed, commemorated and contested narratives and histories: the modern museum and digital access

Author: Devorah Romanek (Maxwell Museum of Anthropology)  email
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Long Abstract

Museums have increasingly become sites of cultural transmission and identity work, where narratives and histories are constructed, commemorated and contested. It has been theorised that museums have been places of forgetting through acts of institutionalised remembrance, but through social, political and technological changes, museums have become institutions of nascent re-remembering. These political, social and technological changes (e.g. repatriation, digitisation and dissemination of collections, expanding/global audiences, etc.) have forced museums to undergo radical changes in practice, from how they use their collections, to who is invited to participate in programming their spaces. Comparing practices in two countries (the USA and the UK), and focusing on the impact of digitisation, this paper analyses the difference between the rhetoric versus the reality of such change in museum practice, as well as considering what these changes might mean to communities with the greatest vested interests, and how such communities adopt creative strategies for engaging with museums in light of shifts in museum practice.

Playgrounds of history, shrines of memory: guided tours as performances of citizenship in memorial museums

Authors: Anja Peleikis (Martin-Luther-University Halle)  email
Jackie Feldman (Ben Gurion University of the Negev)  email
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Long Abstract

Guided tours of national memorial museums are instructions in citizenship. Guides mediate between programmatic aims and curatorial choices of the staff and the perceived expectations of visitors. They not only transmit information, but authorize objects through personalization, academic distance or evocation of emotions. While museums invest in their selection and formation, guides often choose artifacts and employ feeling tones and techniques to engage various audiences. They may also transmit ethnic, religious, class or political subject positions.

We compare performances of the Holocaust/Jewish past in the Jewish Museum Berlin and Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. JMB promotes playful enactments of Jewish religion and history in the service of a multi-cultural vision of a harmonious German society. Yad Vashem asks visitors to commemorate Jewish victimhood and spiritual resistance in the Holocaust, while recognizing Israel as heir to Shoah legacy. Through guiding, we investigate the role of performance in transmitting the national past and present.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.