Accepted paper:

Through the co-curation looking glass: 're-viewing' fragility and envisioning sustainable futures. Early PhD findings on communities' curating maritime heritage in Scotland's Northern Isles


Catherine McCullagh (Heriot-Watt University)

Paper short abstract:

Co-curation transgresses boundaries and reveals blockades in diverse heritage dwellings. This first phase research assessment considers collaborative heritage interpretation and management as a cultural looking glass for communities envisioning sustainable futures.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents first findings from my PhD project, commenced in November 2016. Aiming to increase visibility and access to Orkney and Shetland's maritime heritages, my practice-based research includes co-curating a virtual learning and exhibition environment. Through this portal the archipelagos - currently imagined as romantically remote - are 're-viewed' as maritime communicants; cultural mirrors through which shifting global concepts of 'peripheries' and 'centres', 'insiders' and 'outsiders' are regarded. Reflecting heritage's participative turn, this co-curation transgresses boundaries and reveals blockades between cultural 'authenticity' and living tradition and between digital and embodied experiences. This early research phase assessment considers the constraints and freedoms encountered through collaborative interpretation and management of tangible and intangible heritage once set adrift and now dispersed throughout various community dwellings including museums, boat sheds, marine environments and households. Sharing findings from encounters facilitated throughout these settings, I aim to identify the visible and opaque dialogues between the diverse 'inhabitants' in the co-curation process. These include makers, museum curators, vocational and avocational sea-farers, island dwellers and buoyant visitors, 'objects of the sea' and myself; the researcher. Additionally, I am opening a window onto questions arising out of this research launch. Is unlocking the glass cases of the 'Authorised Heritage Discourse Museum' a valid process for generating communities' creative and critical responses to fragility. What can we learn about the role of heritage as a mirror to communities' processes of entanglement, exclusivity, specificity and cohesion? Might heritage co-curation offer a transparent, empirical model for envisioning sustainable futures?

panel Mat01
Walls of glass: visibility and transparence in materiality and metaphor