Non-representational and anti-didactic: the ethnographic exhibition as collage
(Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
This paper considers recent attempts to transgress the understanding of ethnographic exhibitions as a matter of representing the Other. By consciously approaching the exhibition as a collage we may envoke mutual existential themes in the display of familiar and unfamiliar objects.
Paper long abstract:
The realisation that we are today engaged in a world of global interconnectedness of an unforeseen scale has caused ethnographic museums to reconsider their aim and practice. A number of ethnographic museums are now focussing on our mutual global interdependence rather than cultural diversity - displaying our global entanglement in questions of global trade, HIV/AIDS, climate change etc. But parallel to this development, it is possible to trace an approach to exhibition making that aims at establishing another kind of mutuality in the jumbling together of the familiar and the unfamiliar. This approach embraces the kind of co-operation between anthropology and the surrealists of the 1920s and 30s described by Clifford (1986). If the montage may work as a new ideal in ethnographic filmmaking we may argue that the collage is the ideal of this kind of exhibition making - the juxtaposition of apparently opposed worlds on the same plane bringing forth mutual existential themes suppressed in our everyday practical concerns. Such an approach challenges the use of the exhibition as media and demands an awareness of the inherently constructed character of the exhibition. In accordance to the subject matter, this paper will reflect on the use of collage in contemporary exhibition making by applying on a single plane a number of disconnected and diverse cases - concrete examples of uses of collage in ethnographic exhibitions, Alfred Gell's (1996) imaginary exhibition of traps and modern conceptual art, and an analysis of the multiple agencies involved in the creation of an exhibition.
Transcultural montage: the uses of filmic montage in conveying diversity and mutuality