“trucked rocker…” from “…concerning the inept and yes, foolhardy barricading of wayward denizens…”, residency, physical installation with interactive AR extensions, Oxygen Art Centre, Nelson, BC, 2019

Museum 3.0

This is the first in a series of posts I’m going to make on what I am calling Museum 3.0. Or One persons junk is another persons weapon – towards a manifesto that existentially blows up museums and galleries to calibrate for an emerging present.

As an Irish born, Canadian raised and residing person, I recognize that any gleanings of insight about museums and galleries and such are inevitably delimited by my Western-centric lens. Nevertheless, I have been considering the conceptual foundations of museums and galleries more than I normally do, due to the nature of my most recent work in production, which is a revisiting of the museum cliche, a Cabinet of Curiosities. 

This Cabinet project is interesting for me in that it is a return to my roots, as my foundation in design was in exhibition design. (Before my architecture studies, I worked on both the Ontario and Canada Pavilions for Expo 86. And after graduating I worked on the Hockey Hall of Fame. Each of these projects was with the English exhibition designer Ken Young’s Design Workshop.)

The cabinet project that I am presently creating – “Doctor Kali Gehry’s Cabinet of (in)Curiosities & Ecstatic Nonsense” – is intentionally nonsensical. Absurd.

But I ask myself, how are existing museum narratives, even “decolonized” museums, not considered as nonsense?

In widening my lens, I am wondering, perhaps we need do more than superficially “decolonize” the institutions of museum and gallery?

Over the last few weeks especially, I am likening the present situation of museums and galleries as analogous to Police departments for people of colour in the USA. We/they have been “reforming” these police forces for 150 years and explicitly racist police atrocities continue. Maybe the answer is to actually, literally dismantle the police in order to reimagine what might replace it. Is it really possible to “decolonize” an institution who’s underlying premise is colonialist, without first dismantling and emptying the institution? I used to think in this way only metaphorically, but now i think of it literally also….

As Sam Jacob writes in an astute ArtReview article, Could Empty Museums Be a Good Thing?:

“…But equally it (emptying museums) might offer an opportunity to explore alternative possibilities of the museum: to reverse the Enlightenment trajectory of the museum as a site for the top-down production and policing of knowledge, as a public space, in which history is a spectacle, disseminating the aura of the authentic, so that the past is used to fabricate the future, a future fixated with objects. Most of all it offers the chance to accept doubt and to project questions into the spaces in which history is narrated. Which, in turn might lead to a different kind of public space in which many more narratives might be explored.”

We are all ingenuous in our understanding of culture and history. We are highly selective in choosing our narratives and therefore understandings of the world. Most of us can acknowledge that these understandings are problematic in that, fundamentally, they are written from the “winners” perspective. One’s selected and adopted psychological and cultural “perspective” is a manifestation/embodiment of one’s values. Indigenous people, and other colonially oppressed people the world over, have not been given the opportunity to continue practicing their traditional values because the colonial oppressor has rammed this new culture down their throats. Is it even possible for such assertively structured narratives to make room for alternate narratives, narratives with foundations assembled from completely different assumptions?

Over the next while I am going to make some suggestions for some museum 3.0 savvy exhibitions. But first, in another post, I want to note some of the outmoded assumptions still structuring museums and galleries.