In(ter)ventions: object histories outside and inside the museum
Thursday 12 February, The British Museum (Raymond and Beverly Sackler Rooms), time tbc
Moving away from the focus on the moment of creation in many object histories, this one-day workshop on the theme of ‘in(ter)ventions’ will focus attention on how museum objects have been used, changed and re-contextualized over the course of their existence.
Important work in the emerging discipline of object studies has already stressed the essential instability of object meanings. In her 2004 collaborative volume, Things that Talk. Object Lessons from Art and Science, Lorraine Daston referred to ‘things’ as ‘those nodes at which matter and meaning intersect’. To have meaning, matter (that is the forms objects take and the materials they are made out of) has to be deemed culturally significant. But this can happen anew at different points in their lives. As Daston put it, ‘a good part of the work of thing-making is fashioning new pigeonholes: both literally and figuratively’. One example she gave here was ‘the plant kingdom brought inside and put into museum cases’.
The British Museum offers a unique setting in which to inquire further into this topic. Its vast collections encompass numerous objects which have been invested with various roles over the course of their existence before entering the museum. But the museum itself also plays an important and on-going role in the practice of ‘thing-making’; of making historical things relevant to modern audiences.
In this workshop it is our ambition to draw direct parallels between object histories before and after entering the museum. Looking at interventions with objects past and present, we want to put a spotlight on the inventiveness they entail.
The day will be divided into two sessions. For the morning session we invite proposals for 20 minute papers addressing individual or groups of objects that have had varied roles in their past. These histories might have left material traces on the objects themselves, or they might have been reconstructed through other sources. Preference will be given to those papers addressing objects from the collection of the British Museum.
For the afternoon session we invite proposals for papers addressing museum practice. From cataloguing and curatorial decisions to the sale of printed tea towels in the gift-shop, how does museum work continue to give objects new meaning? In particular, how do/should museum professionals navigate objects with varied histories?
The subject of this workshop is framed to capitalize on the British Museum’s unique expertise both in object-led research and in museum practice. We hope to receive contributions from students and staff members working across different departments at the Museum. We are also interested in receiving proposals from students, early career researchers, and museum and gallery professionals from other institutions.
*Please also feel free to print off and distribute this In(ter)ventions Flyer at your own institutions!*
We have received a number of requests for information from those interested in attending the workshop without giving papers. We will be posting registration instructions on the website once we have finalized the event schedule, likely in early December. Please keep checking as spaces will be limited!