Embracing the Global Contemporary: A Carnival Museum for Britain
This speculative paper surveys carnival museums of the world from Uruguay, through to the USA, Canada, Italy and Austria to consider the possible impact of a new museum for Britain, the Global Carnival Museum. I engage with possible meanings in terms of affects giving rise to the popularising of carnival on the streets of Britain, but also to an increasingly distinctive carnival presence within museums and galleries. When artist, Hew Locke, states in interview that his performance art piece, ‘Give and take’, part of the ‘Up Hill Down Hall’ (performances by Locke and Marlon Griffith) is about ‘tensions in carnival’, how indicative is this of the ‘new sense of global inclusion which respects, preserves and enhances cultural specificity’ that we would wish to debate – if not herald – today? While much of the earliest debate concerning carnival focused on the reception and on-going hostilities to carnival as a West Indian phenomenon, more recent geographies of carnival indicate its growth beyond London, particularly Luton, Leicester, Leeds, Cardiff, among many locations. Taking into consideration this ‘ascendancy of the people’s culture’ (Moore and Johnson), one might ask: can globalisation – as culture – be shown to be responsive rather than altogether uneven, after all? The artists of ‘Up Hill Down Dale’ recognise carnival as ‘ritual of resistance’, ‘festival of otherness’, ‘performance art’, ‘medium of artistic production’ and much more. Moreover, like practitioners such as Pax Nindi actively extending the geography of carnival practice in the UK, they are passionate about carnival. By radically altering the aesthetic and affective agenda, might the Global Carnival Museum point the way to understanding how museums might ‘act in the today’ in light of past realities but also to secure the futures that might be negotiated?
Badass Programming: Sex Talk in the City @ MOV
The exhibition Sex Talk in the City at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) wanted to make the case that ideas about sexuality shape not only people, but cities. This 2013 project tied compelling historical narratives to current issues of sexuality, grounding them in the Vancouver context. It also examined how notions of sexuality pervade our lives, in the form of public events and spaces, laws, objects, and images. The exhibition integrated issues of sexual health, diversity, and education. It featured diverse perspectives while highlighting issues and concerns often shared across age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientations and expressions.
This presentation situates Sex Talk in the City in the context of an institutional makeover and explains how a theoretical discourse calling for more inclusive and reflexive interpretive practices inspired the project. It also discusses subsequent curatorial strategies adopted at MOV to pursue the de-marginalization work initiated with Sex Talk in the City.
Dr. Viviane Gosselin is Senior Manager, Curatorial and Curator of Contemporary Culture at the Museum of Vancouver, and Research Associate with the UBC Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness. In her work as senior curator with the Museum of Vancouver, Canada’s largest civic museum, Viviane seeks to expand the museum’s role as city resource, cultural hub, laboratory and catalyst for learning, social interactions and civic engagement. Viviane serves on the boards of ICOM-Canada (the national body of the International Council of Museums) and the History Education Network/Histoire et éducation en réseau (THEN/HiER). She is the co-editor of Museums and the Past: Constructing Historical Consciousness (UBC Press).
Indigenous museologies: Walking into the future looking into the past
In debating the museum of now, it is well to remember that our analysis should extend beyond the western heritage practices that still dominate the literature of museum studies, and encompass those peoples colonised by Europe in the nineteenth century who were consigned by museums to the timeless ethnographic past. For indigenous people today, once denied a history and excluded from the present, the global contemporary is a vital concern. And, despite the legacy of the colonial museum, so are museums. The extraordinary emergence of indigenous museologies in recent years demonstrates the continued relevance of the museum, but not as we know it. As we review 50 years of scholarship in our field, what can we learn from the experience of those parts of the world where new forms of museology are developing that draw on non-western frameworks? This keynote reflects on a new project exploring the indigenising and decolonising museologies that are emerging around the Pacific rim in postsettler nations – the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – as museums, heritage management, and public history intersects with native and tribal ways of being, doing and knowing. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori concepts have reshaped the ways in which collections are managed, exhibitions are developed and staff engage with communities. In the Māori view, the past is positioned in front of the viewer, and the future is behind us. By documenting the transformation of museum work through these different views of time and space, this project aims to ‘recall’ or revise museology at arguably the most critical juncture in museum history since the birth of the modern museum.
Conal McCarthy is Associate Professor at Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.
On the Nowness of Now, or Museums in the Age of the Global Contemporary
The title of my talk alludes to both a publication and a project, which, though very different, triggered me to think about museums and their relationship to questions of first, the present and second, co–presence. I am interested in what forms of interconnected present – the Global Contemporary – we now inhabit, and the role that museums can and do play in this moment.
The “Nowness of Now” derives from the sharp-witted, satirical critique of museums under the British New Labour government set out in Giles Waterfield’s novel The Hound in the Left Hand Corner. Writing in response to the contemporary museums scene of the 1990s, Waterfield bemoans their obsession with keeping up with the times. He satirizes the fixation on the newness of Now, and museums’ frantic response to popular hype and the growing pressure from government, demonstrating how this actually impeded them from fulfilling their presumed role. The second part of my title refers to an art project at the contemporary art space ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, which explored the emergence of “Global Art”, in the “Global Contemporary”. For the scholars behind this project, the project was intended to ‘examine the way in which globalization, both with its pervasive mechanisms of the market and its utopias of networking and generosity, impacts upon the various spheres of artistic production and reception’ [as well as its impact on] ‘everyday life beyond the art world.’
I will explore how this novel and project both mark out specific moments when museums were acting in the Now and were addressed by the idea – even if problematic in its formulation – that we now inhabit a world that is interconnected.
I will use these examples as an entryway to think about what constitutes the Now that museums should respond to, and the relationship between that concept of Now to the concept of the Global Contemporary. I will contend that our global contemporary moment, at least from a European lens, is, in part, marked by a dystopian imagination, organised around neo-liberal retrenchment and increasing xenophobia. In this context, museums’ role can, and perhaps must, go beyond adopting social justice models that respond to growing inequality; museums can also help us imagine other possible futures as we try to fashion them.
Wayne Modest is the Head of the Research Centre for Material Culture at the National Museum of World Cultures, Netherlands. He was previously Head of the curatorial department at the Tropenmuseum; Keeper of Anthropology at the Horniman Museum, London and Director of the Museums Department of the Institute of Jamaica. His most recent publications include: Museums, Heritage and International Development (with Paul Basu, 2014); Museums and the Emotional Afterlife of Colonial Photography in Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of Photographs (2014); Museums and Communities: Curators, Collections, Collaboration (with Viv Golding, 2013) and Slavery and the (Symbolic) Politics of Memory in Jamaica: Rethinking the Bicentenary in Representing Enslavement and Abolition in Museums (Routledge, 2011). Together with Tim Barringer he is co-editor of the Victorian Jamaica, a critical exploration of the visual and material culture of Jamaica during the period 1837 to 1901. Victorian Jamaica will be published by Duke University Press in the beginning of 2017.
Islam and Museums: Presenting the Glocal?
This paper will contrast the engaged work with faith groups and living cultures of museums in London, Dublin, Glasgow and Amsterdam with the ‘Islamic art’ fetish of new galleries in New York, Berlin, Paris and also the V&A. It will ask if museums in Muslim countries do it differently. Finally it looks at contemporary Islamic art faith and cultures as an integral component rather than separate issue in a compartmentalised, essentialising and distancing view of Islamic culture still too dominated by the academic art historical world, the art market and their values.
Why are we so challenged by the evolving, non-monolithic nature of faiths that increasingly develop glocal character whether in the suburbs of Paris, Tower Hamlets or Birmingham, Leicester or Malmo? Isn’t it the job of the local or national museum to capture this and act as a platform for its understanding?
Museums and the battle for human rights
Despite their air of immutability, human rights are constantly in flux, always in negotiation, shaped and reshaped by an ongoing interaction between a global discourse of universal rights for all and local interests, agendas and normative ideas about fairness. On a daily basis, throughout many parts of the world, attempts by groups to claim or exercise rights that have been routinely violated or withheld provoke counter responses by those seeking to maintain the status quo. What part do – and should – museums play in this ever changing landscape of rights struggle, negotiation and reconfiguration?
Drawing on research carried out over the past 10 years into the ways in which museums have represented (and often overlooked, marginalised and misrepresented) gender and sexual diversity, Richard Sandell shows how the work of museums is intimately bound up with broader processes through which human rights are claimed, denied and reshaped. His focus on LGBTI rights is used to make the case for museums of all kinds to take up an active, mindful and purposive engagement with contemporary human rights concerns.
Richard Sandell is Professor of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. His research, frequently carried out in collaboration with museums, focuses on the potential for museums to support social justice and equality. I am especially interested in the emergence, over the past two decades, of an ‘activist museum practice’ (Sandell and Dodd 2010) and in exploring the social agency of museums and, in particular, their potential to tackle prejudice and engage audiences in debates pertaining to contemporary human rights. Current projects are exploring museums’ increasing engagement with sexuality, gender identity and LGBTQ history and culture and developing new, progressive narratives of disability within museums.
If you could see through my eyes
The complex manner in which museums select, curate and discuss objects produces a highly selected and politically constructed view of the past. This privileges some lives over others and often coats these decisions in a veil of neutrality, presenting them as universal truths.
It has been argued that ‘[o]mission from the museum does not simply mean marginalization; it formally classifies certain lives, histories, and practices as insignificant, renders them invisible…and, thereby casts them in the realm of the unreal’ (Conlan, 2010).
Museums have the potential to open up their interpretation to include these omitted lives, but many seem to be struggling with how to do this. Through a series of case studies exploring how museums are – and are not – addressing lgbt lives and experiences, this talk will explore some of the issues involved in, and possible solutions to, making museums more welcoming, representative and truthful.
Matt Smith is an artist and curator. Solo exhibitions include Queering the Museum at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (2010-11), Other Stories at the University of Leeds (2012) and Milk at Aspex (2010). He talks regularly about his practice (Tate Modern, 2012, Valand Academy Gothenberg, 2012) and has been invited onto a number of discussion groups including Craft Curating at KHIB Bergen (2012), Museums and Ethics, Leicester University (2012) and Craft in the Expanded Field, University of Westminster (2013). He completed an AHRC-funded, practice-based PhD examining Queer Craft at the University of Brighton, co-directs Unravelled Arts and was the V&A’s ceramic artist in resident in 2015/2016.
Responding to the global contemporary in museums – learning to live with difference
Museums have long been called upon to respond to the pressing issues of the global contemporary – to the legacy of colonialism, to the massive displacement of peoples across the world and the increasing pressures on our environment as the result of our carbon rich lifestyles. There is, by now, a history of this response, which has been well documented in the many analyses of the more inclusive and collaborative practices that have emerged since the 1980s. What is perhaps not so well understood is that these responses are passing into history and that we are not doing the same museology as that which characterized the new museology of the 1990s and early 2000s. Museums, I want to argue, are exploring new ways of responding to these calls because the problems have become worse and they require new approaches to address them. In this paper, then, I want to provide you with an initial interpretation of what the contours of these new responses might be, and give you some examples from my own part of the world – Australia. In particular I will be arguing that the problem is no longer cast simply as the need for more tolerance, or more knowledge but that there is now a recognition that normative ways of being need to be challenged. The new practices then, are not simply about the inclusion of diverse points of views and the representation of difference. The emerging practices I am interested in are in fact concerned with a destabilization of the assumptions that support the normalized sense of self that is routinely performed in our everyday lives and which stop us from being able to engage in intercultural understanding. In this paper I will be exploring how museums are helping us to deal with the global contemporary by undermining our established sense of self in order to reconstitute it in new relations to those we normally see as ‘other’.
Professor Andrea Witcomb is Deputy Director at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI), Deakin University, Australia
Abstracts for all sessions are now online – click on the abstracts tab at the top of the page.