Participation and the Museum

Final Reports


The working group "Bringing back the objects"

The Museum of World Culture is faced with the ambitious task to bring back their huge collection from the storage into the galleries. This task is associated with several questions, concerning political, ethical, museological, aesthetic and of course practical issues.
To get down to the nitty-gritty, the challenge condensed in few words is:
*How can we link old local objects to global contemporary issues?
*How could participatory ways to present these sensitive, sometimes holy objects look like?
*How can we deal with the problematic colonial history of the collection including the lack of correct information about the objects?
*How can we protect the objects from being injured, materially and/or non-materially, by the impact of light, people etc.?

During our two weeks in Gothenburg, we tried to develop some ideas, which might support the museum to make a progress on this interesting mission. On the one hand we worked with superordinated concepts, which are attending all the projects. On the other hand we made concrete proposals for realization, which are inspired by these concepts.
We do not use the following terms as technical ones, but just try to give an idea, what we are talking about.

The Wabi Sabi Approach or Against the All or Nothing Principle
Most phenomenons and processes in our universe, including  our ordinary life, are gradual. What follows for meeting challenges is, that imperfection is better than nothing. The Japanese concept “Wabi Sabi” even celebrates imperfection as the core of beauty and, what Is especially important, as an assumption for progress.  Acting, i.e. starting a project and sticking to it instead of waiting or giving up because of the lack of perfection is a great starting point. In addition, being honest and sharing persistent problems, so others may help, seems to be a recommendable way to solve these problems and allows the concept of participation to unfold beyond traditional institutional hierarchies. Furthermore, this is especially convenient for working processes in which you have to collect data, like in museums and archives.

Humanization, Participation and its Advantages for People and Content
Dealing personally with issues, making decisions and being responsible lets things become meaningful to people. The concept of participation is inspired by this psychological insight. The conventional borders between professional and layman, between producer and consumer, between artist, curator and visitor blur more and more. Participating people become so called Prosumers (=producer+consumer). The idea of participation is not just to connect people more personally to exhibition contents, but also  to gain information and thus to improve the resulting collection.
One way to create an individualized access to the collection's objects might be to humanize them. By doing so, objects get biographies, families, friends and much more. They become alive and their importance to people increases. This “getting to know” the object (like getting to know a person) might encourage people to do a more profound research on individual objects, thus making them more interesting and personally meaningful. Another convenient outcome of this approach would be the possibility to tell the problematic colonial history of the collection in a serious as well as playful way.

Different needs – different spaces: From storage to Open Research Space
Irrespective of all the challenges mentioned above, the storage is already well managed and provides the possibility to visit it in very individual ways. It is definitely desirable to preserve all these potentials and use the experience and expertise of the current conservators when the objects move to the museum.
Because people as well as objects are different, it would be helpful to establish different spaces for different target groups and different objects in the museum. Some of these might be:

* A spiritual house for guests of honor
like people with personal connection to particular objects. It seems to be necessary to provide a protected area, where small groups can get an intimate atmosphere for religious and spiritual practices and rituals.

* The work space for researchers
like academics with a particular interest in certain objects, who need to work with the objects alone or together with colleagues from all over the world, after a short introduction by the conservators.

* The experimental lab for everybody
like families, children and school classes, who need an intensive mentoring. Here it might be interesting to also provide the opportunity to learn by doing how do produce replicas or learn  handicraft skills.

* The virtual space – an open online collection
Having the opportunity to meet the objects even though you can not visit the museum physically, to look at them again or to “stay in contact” with objects, you have become acquainted with, it is important to provide a well-structured, personalizable online collection. There you might create photo albums with your favorite objects, discuss with other users or provide information about particular objects, you have knowledge about. The online collection is also important for people who work with pictures, like journalists, students or researchers do.

In every case it would be fruitful to have a multi-direction-communication between visitors, staff, journalists, ordinary-life-experts, children, academics and everyone who's interested, in order to collect information, knowing that as well as knowing how and create meaningful meetings between people and objects.

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