Heritage and Contemporary Art
Artistic and research projects in Museums of Material Culture
Exodus Stations questions heritage, museums of material culture and their history through the perspective of contemporary art. It organises research and artistic projects that are set in natural history, history, ethnology and cultural artefact museums. Contemporary artists are invited to research in the photographic archives of these museums and follow the history of these museums and the way in which they contributed to the production of knowledge. The projects results from collaborations between artists, museum curators and other researchers. Starting from the visual archives and the way in which the objects and the history has been represented, the artists discover how historic objects have been politicised, valued, stored, transmitted and instrumentalised. The project is meant like a critical tool of self-evaluation of institutional policy, cultural and historic narrative, public education. The results of the projects are directed to museum audience, to specialised and non-specialised public. The artistic output will be shown in the museums (installations, screenings, talks, workshops) and aims to stimulate the critical reception of history and its objects. They provoke the viewer to find alternative ways in which history can be read and interpreted. Many of these installations result in devices that are implemented permanently or temporary in the museums and represent new display structures. Each project is also issuing a small publication. A theoretical edited volume is in preparation.
In order to follow these intricate histories, EXODUS STATIONS proposes in each of these specific museums a case-study: joint researches where artists and museum’s curators affiliate their methodologies of work. Each case study is developed in the photographic archives of these museums and diffuses its results on a triple platform: exhibition, symposium and a small publication. Following the phase of artistic residences and research in the archives, the artists show the results of their work in an exhibition – which is included as a temporary exhibition in the museums that have been scrutinised. The small publication which accompanies the case-study aims to extract the essential questions of the research, to present excerpts of the museum’s archival material (some of it never published before) and present succinctly the artistic approach. Along with the temporary exhibition, the publication is available in the museum’s shop. In this way, these new layers of interpretation are added both to the collection items and to the existent museologic display system – and made available to the museum’s regular audience.
The specificity of this project is the fact that the museum collections under examination blend material that has been collected, presented or valued either as artistic material and/or as ethnologic material – depending on various changing factors. The case-studies in these mixed collections, aim to trace the history of these fluctuating classifications and to determine the politics behind these various conjunctures of collecting – that determined the changing identity and patrimonial value of the objects. Under focus are mainly collections which have been initiated in colonial times, but also more recent collections – either from the time of Independence movements or from post-colonial contexts. Nevertheless the project is not only bound to a colonial context, but investigates also other mixed ethnologic-artistic collections which have been founded in times of political turmoil or authoritarian regimes and follows their political statement. The material under research are (mainly) visual or written sources on the history of the collections and their various forms of being exhibited: we compare early photographs that depict the images in their original context with more recent ones, shot along the object’s trading and collecting parcourse. We investigate institutional policy and cultural questions from founding texts or archival documents: images of their various display forms in time, images from the various institutions that hosted them, images that help us reconstitute founding histories of the museums and the original agendas of their founders – which themselves reflect on the collection’s identity, self-representation strategies and larger historical mentality.
The project turns around issues of representation related to museology – in other words on systems of display of information and their cultural and philosophical significance at different moments in historic time. While watching various representations in time of the same objects or different ways of photographing and exhibiting the same collections, we become aware of changing ideologic frameworks and of cultural politics, of shifting scientific awareness of cultural difference, of influential personal visions and of the immense load of correlated information that every objects carries within its visible carcass. We learn also about the museum as an archive that at the same time hides and safeguards information and about the political power of visual techniques of occulting or oscillating information. Similar to the artistic practices that are part of this project and punctually intervene on specific subjects, museums – as ambivalent spaces of exotization and approximation – framing systems. They can be seen as complex dispositives that make possible a re-connotation or a partial re-invention of history.
This project – devoted to the representation of patrimonial objects and to their various contexts of meaning and belonging – is mainly an exercise of methodologies. It aims to develop some techniques of analysis and display which are considered innovatory as they are the outcome of conceptual’s art own of understanding and making visible the meaning of objects. Working on a visual level (in the sense of transmitting information to the museum’s audience in a visual way) the project aims to identify methods and approaches with which conceptual art usually operates and that can be applied to critical museology. A final exhibition and publication will go beyond the information extracted from these museums’ case-studies and will be devoted to the display of these methods of distilling, interpreting and making visible to the large audience layers of critical information that surround the convoluted history of objects. This project is embedded in my research period at Collège d’études Mondiales, FMSH in Paris and its generous support.