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2004/2 Summaries

From Nordisk Museologi 2004/2, SUMMARY pp. 3-8

Eva Silvén

A performative museology

The text is based on a reading of the latest issue of Nordisk Museologi, the last one from the retiring edi­tor, where the museum practice is discussed in terms of process and performance. The author asserts that the journal reflects current issues of today's museology in general, not only from a Nordic point of view. But the journal is not just a mirror, some texts are crucially urgent, and Per-Uno Ågrens decade as editor ends up in a request to make better use of the museums' political and critical capacity.

Eva Silvén, fil dr i etnologi, Intendent
Nordiska museet, Box 27820, 11593 Stockholm, Sverige

From Nordisk Museologi 2004/2, SUMMARY pp. 17-24

Bo Nilsson

The Visual museum

Reflecting of some words mentioned by Per-Uno Ågren — "museums are visual institutions" — the author describes some areas developed out of this special aspect. These areas are all connected to the question how to use the technique of Photography in museum work. In the City Museum of Stockholm a special resource for handling with old as well as modern Photographic techniques was established in the beginning of 1980. The purpose was to work professionally with the traditional problems concerning Photography, such as storing, conservation, producing prints for exhibitions/ publications etc. The purpose also was to develop the use of Photography in order to support the public to make their own research in the museum collections. The author describes the ideological motives in connection with that matter and also how to use visual technics to make a better access to different kind of facts stored in the museum.
At last the national documentary project called EKODOK-90 is presented. The purpose with this project, among other things, was to describe the relationship between man and nature in the year 1990. The project also wanted to point out the role and the re­sponsibility of the Swedish regional museum what concerns environmental questions. Primarily it was a Photographic project.

Bo Nilsson, som nu lämnat museiverksamheten, har ar­betat vid Nordiska museet, Gotlands Fornsal, Stockholms stadsmuseum, Statens kulturråd och Stiftelsen Skansen. Han har deltagit i de statliga museiutredningarna 1986 (Museiförslag, Rapport från Kulturrådet 1986:3) och 1994 (Minne och bildning, SOU 1994:51).

From Nordisk Museologi 2004/2, SUMMARY pp. 25-36

Bjørnar Olsen

Steps towards a defense of things

The main concern of the paper is to discuss why things and materiality at large to such an extent have become marginalized - and even stigmatised - in contemporary social research. It starts off with a brief sketch of how this negative attitude towards things came to affect my own discipline, archaeology. Way back in time archaeologists loved material culture - one may even recall a certain obsession. In fact, it was a concern shared by several disciplines. However, our former allies soon abandoned the world of things and embraced the world of cultures, social systems, and ideas, accessible only, as we were told, by dialogue and participant observation. Throughout the first three quarter of the 20th century, anthropologist repeatedly reminded us that "in the last analysis, archaeology must be concerned with people rather than with things" (Leach). Thus, to study "just things" became a source of embarrassment.
The new interest in material culture witnessed in a number of disciplines during the last two decades can be read as a rehabilitation of things. It is argued, however, that the "new" material culture studies still keep thing's materiality (or thinglyness) firmly at arm's length and have subsumed themselves to hegemonic anti-material and social constructivist theories. If material culture has returned, it is as symbols, metaphors and texts. A subtext in most contemporary approaches is an implicit conception of culture as somehow "prior" to, or detached from, matter; that cultures, "already different", approach the material world in unique ways causing the variety of material expressions and meanings. Material culture and landscapes are read as sites of "inscription", as semiotic constructs always representing something else and more important than themselves.
Trying to answer the question of why the physical and "thingly" component of our past and present being to such an extent forgotten or ignored in contemporary social research, the author traces an effective history back to the Enlightenment legacy. This legacy (pace Kant and Descartes) left us with a notion of matter as passive and inert, while the human mind was seen as active and creative. Matter and mind belonged to separate realms, and the widening gulf between them made it impossible to grasp the things in-themselves. Thus, they were exiled from the knowable world. The curious fact that things became "conspicuously" present in the mundane world from the late 19th century onwards did not help much to their reputation. To the contrary, as philosophers and social theorists grew increasingly concerned with processes of withering and change: how mass production, factories and machines replaced craftsmanship and manual labour, and how social relationships, including labour and exchange, become increasingly mediated by the "emptiness" of money and commodities, things became symbols of these evil forces. Tellingly manifested in the Marxist (and social theorist) vocabulary of dinglich machen, versachlichung. Things became increasingly associated with alienation, dehumanisation, automatisation and inauthentic being, also as reflected in the "problematic" of the fetish.
This paper is written as a defence of things. Inspired by various "network" approaches I propose a "symmetrical approach" (pace Latour) conveying the message that if we cease to treat action, influence and power as a rare commodity of which only humans have possession, we may be able produce a more fair, interesting and realistic account of past and present collectives. Things, places and landscapes do not just sit in silence awaiting to be embodied with socially constituted meanings, but possess their own unique qualities and competences which they bring to our cohabitation with them - competences which facilitate a mutual exchange. If we accept that social reality consists of heterogeneous networks, co-acting webs of relations linking all kinds of materials, also things are assigned the properties to act. Returning again and finally to the concern expressed in the beginning, it is argued that a more fundamental cause for the silencing of things is to be found in the way the modern ontological constitution (by supplying us with such a priori dualities as mind-matter, culture-nature) has violated this relational and rhizome-like reality. This ontology can only be legitimised by processes cleansing, by splitting the mixtures apart in order to extract from them what comes from culture and what comes from nature. This passion for purity and negativities assigned things (as hybrids, works of translation) an ambiguous position within the modern constitution. In short, they become matter out of place.

Bjørnar Olsen, professor i arkæologi ved Tromsø Universitet
Adresse: Inst. for samfunnsvitenskab, Universitetet, N-9037 Tromsø.
E-mail: bjornaro@isv.uit.no

From Nordisk Museologi 2004/2, SUMMARY pp. 75-84

Eric Hedqvist

Early synthetic exhibitions in natural history museums

Many of us are by our reading of one of Kenneth Hudson's well known texts familiar with William Flower's new museum idea. One of its principles is that natural history museums should in their exhibitions shed light upon the natural laws and the evolution. Hudson has illustrated his report on this issue with a photo, which shows an exhibition in the main hall of The Natural History Museum in London. Intrigued by Hudsons text I have studied this exhibition especially. Its first exhibits were from the year of 1887.Photos in the archives of the museum demonstrate that the exhibition is to be regarded as an illustration of phenomena which might be explained by Darwin's theory of evolution. A similar exhibition existed at about the same time at The American Museum of Natural History in New York. These exhibitions were early instances of synthetic exhibitions illustrating the causal connection behind the phenomena. Contrary to what one might expect the two examples had little effect on the exhibition policy of the museums during the following years. Not until after 1950 did exhibitions, in which the causal connection made the coherence of the exhibitions, come to the front, at first at the museum in New York, later in London. I suggest that the museum method of explaining the phenomena was connected to the accession of collections, and bound to description and classification , the Aristotelian tradition. Another tradition, the Galilean, runs parallell to the causal or mecanic way of explaining and predicting the phenomena. According to Georg Henrik von Wright which one of the two traditions to which we join is a "choise of a point of view which cannot be further grounded". In these circumstances we easily understand the reluctance of the museum people to enter the synthetic exhibition trend.

Eric Hedqvist är doktorand i museologi vid Institutionen for kultur och medier, Umeå universitet, S-901 87 Umeå.

From Nordisk Museologi 2004/2, SUMMARY pp. 85-106

Annette Vasström

Stories of Denmark, the new permanent exhibition about Denmark, its history and population are the first of its kind in Denmark. The exhibition opened up in 2001 and this article describes the conditions for the construction of the exhibition, which covers an area of 1600m2. 37 rooms - of which several are situated in a building from the 18th century - encompasses a story of Denmark from the introduction of absolutism in 1660 until the welfare state of recent time (2000).
The small rooms however turned out a severe limit to many of the themes shown in the exhibition, such as industrialization and modern transport systems, because big objects just couldn't be placed in the rooms!
The budget was around 23 million DKK of which 16 million DKK were used exclusively for the exhibition, whereas the 7 million were needed for the restoration of the area.
The time for developing a concept, selecting the objects, finding the objects, creating a disposition for the single rooms and cases and finally writing the many texts was all in all 3 years from the start in 1999. How to tackle the task? We wanted to avoid the telling of a story, where the establishing of modern democracy and welfare policy would seem inevitable. Instead we decided to describe the conditions for changes in the overall frames for life (the creation of a state) as well as the different ways of life within this state. So at the same time we focused on 3 levels: the state, the different ways of life as well as individual persons.
Thus we describe three different periods: the absolutism from 1660 until 1848, the formation of the nation state and the growing democracy from 1848- 1930ies and finally the formation of the welfare state from 1930'ies until today.
The article describes in detail how you work together in a large institution to secure the establishing of the exhibition through a limited span of time. This included the work of colleagues from 4 different departments spanning from the curators to the architects, the designers, the conservation officers, the museum assistants etc.
A database helped to collect all the necessary information about each object including the text-labels.
The museum wished to display as much as possible of the very rich collections of 4-500.000 objects from the period. 5000 objects were finally selected, a high amount of objects in the often rather small rooms. The layout of each showcase and room was accomplished through a 3D-system that allowed the curator and the architect to plan each part of the exhibition in the "virtual room" of the computer.
Beside the showcases several interiors were built primarily showing the living conditions of different ways of life during the last 350 years.
Texts were written - perhaps too many? - on 4 different levels, where each room, each theme and each object got its own text. Often clusters of objects were also explained through a short text.
The exhibition did not use digital technology to supply the public with information. In that respect the exhibition could be blamed for being too conservative. The traditional way of labelling the objects was preferred however, because it was considered more flexible than a computerized version. In the future however it is obvious to use advanced technology such as gaining the necessary information through the mobile phone or a PDA.
The digitalized information technology was however used to create special homepages for the exhibition among other things to offer the educational system (schools etc) several opportunities to use the exhibition in the education.
Have a look on the website www.danmarkshistorier.dk
The media - especially the newspapers - took a greater interest than usual in the opening of the exhibition. The reactions however were mixed from appraisal to severe critics. Whereas almost all the journalists loved the large amount of objects, they equally criticized the exhibition for using to much text to explain the setting. Other pointed out that the collection of objects were too feminised - that is too many small and nice little things and not enough heavy machinery and big vehicles. Some thought we should have used more digitalized information - others were happy to find, that we had left that out almost altogether.
The question about the texts in the exhibition is a case of fighting the previous war. The National Museum had previously been heavily criticized for not telling enough about the objects and their context. Now instead we strived to tell as many stories around the object as possible - and ended up with too much text instead. The other critics - the lack of objects from the industrialization - is correct mainly due to the placing of the exhibition in far too small rooms. We strive to compensate that through the planning of new exhibitions in the outskirts of Copenhagen, opening up a new museum for industrial culture - a plan however utterly dependent on external funding, which is not yet secured.

Annette Vasström, Mag.art. i europeisk etnologi samt supplerende uddannelser i Sverige og Finland. Har undervist i museumshistorie og etnologi pä Københavns Universitet, Lunds Universitet og Åbo Akademi. Siden 1998 overinspektør på Danmarks Nyere Tid, Nationalmuseet.
E-mail: annette.vasstroem@natmus.dk

From Nordisk Museologi 2004/2, SUMMARY pp. 107-118

Ole Strandgaard

The article argues, that it is due time for the museums to develop a typology of museum exhibitions. Per-Uno Ågren is among the few museologists who have contributed to this. In 1982 and in 1992 he has put forward suggestions for a typology:

"The bulk-exhibition" which shows a complete material without a specific structure.
"The label-exhibition" shows the material sorted incollection categories each item labeled with number, origin, type, donor, etc.
"The thematic exhibition" shows and orders the items according to the environments from which they originate: Shops, homes, households etc.
"The narrative exhibition" uses the items as starting point for telling a story.
"The total exhibition" brings the tendencies from the narrative exhibition to perfection using all available methods and media; the similarity with scenography becomes obvious.

"The contextual exhibition" shows the objects in reconstructed environments.
"The isolating exhibition" where the aesthetics are the central and each object is shown as something unique.
"The systematic exhibition" where objects and paintings are shown in a scientifically defined order.
"The analytical exhibition": Objects are perceived as expressions of Mans technological mastering the world.
"The narrative exhibition": Man as individual, group or society is in focus.
"The meta realistic exhibition" combines objects from the real world as fragments or citations in new constellations in order to stimulate fantasy and suggest thoughts and ideas.
The present author suggests the two brought together into one table showing ascending level of abstraction from step to step (here starting with the lowest level):

The bulk exhibition
The systematic exhibition
The analytical exhibition
The narrative exhibition
The isolating exhibition
The meta realistic exhibition
The author introduces his own suggestion for a classification drawing on Ågrens classes:
"The accidental exhibition" is characterized by lack of order and has no other intention than showing objects. Incorporates Ågrens bulk exhibition.
"The presentation exhibition" takes us a step further in trying to show a collection as fits best.
"The lexical exhibition" is very factual and attempts to order the object in an encyclopedic way.
"The narrative exhibition" wants to tell a story and often wants to guide the visitor towards a preconceived cognition or experience.
"The associative exhibition" wants through its expressions to stimulate the visitor to create his own meaning.
Most exhibitors want to maximize two goals: On the one hand to provide solid, factual information and on the other to tell good stories and give nice experiences. Said in other words the exhibitors want to maximize both lexicality and narrativity.
If these concepts are used in a system of coordinates so that the x-axis shows lexicality and the y-axis narrativity a matrix is created where exhibitions can be placed according to there lexical or narrative properties.
The ideal exhibition will thus be found in the upper right quarter.
The analytical exhibition is placed in the upper left quarter, the bulk exhibition in the lower left and the pure narrative exhibition in the lower right.
The author calls the attention to an article by Jay Rounds who postulates that scientific theories as well as exhibitions can be placed on a dial where General represents 12 o'clock, Accurate 4 o'clock and Simple 8 o'clock. According to the "Impostulate of Commensurate Complexity" it is not possible to maximize more that to of the three ideals at the same time.
A theory as well as an exhibition which is General as well as Simple will always be popular, thus good exhibitions are "10 o'clock exhibitions" while 2 o'clock or 6 o'clock are boring.
The author finally argues that the exhibitors themselves must start to use classificatory terms in order to develop a theory of exhibitions.

Ole Strandgaard Rektor for museumshøjskolen siden 1988. Etnograf af uddannelse. Har arbejdet på Moesgård, Nationalmuseet og Odsherreds Museum.
E-mail: os@museumshojskole.dk

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