Issuu on Google+

Museums Marginality and the Mainstream


Published in Canada Copyright Š 2012 Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the authors. National Library and Archives of Canada Information Available ISBN 978-0-7714-2971-2 For best viewing, view on Adobe Acrobat Reader, with Page Display Settings at Two-Up Continuous, and Show Cover ticked.


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream grew out of a course of the same title, taught collaboratively between the University of Western Ontario and Queen’s University in 2012. Students enrolled in both universities considered recent scholarship on museums and display, recognizing that art museums and exhibitions have come to be seen as more than aesthetic arenas; they are now recognized as powerful ideological and political tools. The class provided a forum for discussion of the issues that generated this view and resulted from it. In doing so, it also provided an opportunity to examine the impact of recent debate on what has been described as “the poetics and politics of museum display.� Students from both classes finally met in Toronto halfway through the class. Paper topics were presented and brainstormed in an all-day session. In April 2012, a conference, also titled Museums, Marginality and Mainstream took place at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. All of the authors in this publication presented their papers. Eventually the papers were gathered together here, so that they can enjoy a life beyond the class.

Jeffrey Barbeau, Managing Editor, Kingston, 2012 Dr. Lynda Jessup, Kingston, 2012 Dr. Kirsty Robertson, London, 2012


Table of Contents Lara Fullenwieder Enacting Loss: Didactics, Digitization and Democratization in Where are the Children.ca

8

21

Melissa Ruhloff Canada Invented; Inventing Canada Not Exhibited

Helen Gregory The Souvenir And The Collection: Taxidermy, Photography, And The Archetype Of The Colonial Hunter In The Exhibition nanoq: flat out and bluesome

33

Jordana Franklin Continuing the Tradition: Sex Workers Inside of the National Gallery

49

Angelique Roy Ask Not What You Can Do For Art, But What Art Can Do For You

62

Erin McLeod By a wing and a Tale: Authenticating the Archive in Mohamed-Said Baalbaki’s Al Buraq I: The Prophet’s Human-Headed Mount

75

Jane Becker Nelson Big Bambu: A New Wilderness Experience Atop the Met

90

Stephanie Radu Exhibiting, Digitizing and Narrating Mobility and Displacement. A Cross-Media Reading of Journeys: How Travelling Fruit, Ideas and Buildings Rearrange our Environment

102

Samantha Angove We Come in Piece: Parody and Parallels in the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art Narrative

117

Stephanie Wittich Marketing the Middle Ages: Museums and the Medievalisms of Online Consumption

132


Laura Ritchie Painter-Work vs. Art-Work: Leila Pazooki’s Fair Trade and Dafen’s Oil Painting Village

143

Stephanie Anderson Group of Eight, Meet the Group of Seven: A Visual Arts Strategy for the 2010 G8 and G20 Summit Meetings

164

Sarah Murray You Can Take the ‘Street’ Out of Street Art, But…

179

Morgan Skinner Subverting Expectations in Political Documentation

193

Danielle Van Wagner (Human) Remnants of Display: Colonial Objectification of Bodies in the Pacific Cultures Gallery

201

Cierra Webster The Perfect Moment of Hide/Seek: The Politics of Queer Art in Museum Spaces

218

Zaira Zarza Exporting a Nation/Shipping an Island: Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today in Montreal

232


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER ONE

Lara Fullenwieder

Enacting Loss: Didactics, Digitization and Democratization in Where are the Children.ca In the midst of a geopolitical shift toward contrition and apologies for the ideological and tangible casualties of globalization, the role of the museum and the memorial have morphed with the trends, motivated by a social impetus to acknowledge difference and loss. In this era, which seeks to metabolize the violence of the past and turn it into the identifying collective characteristics of the nations of our present, a concept of collective memory has formulated to account for the role commemoration plays in national identities. According to Timothy Brown, “collective memory can … serve a general need to reconstruct the world. Rather than recall an accurate moment from the past that attempts to re-establish what was lost, memory becomes a malleable substance that is continuously expanded and adjusted to the needs of the community as it attempts to reconstruct out of the fragments of the past a more sustainable future” (251). On an institutional level, in the form of memorials, archives and collections, this role has been put onto museums. As Irit Rogoff aptly states “the nineteenth-century project of collecting and archiving, the twentieth-century Modernist project of cannon formation, and the turn-of-the-twenty-first century’s insistence on staging memory have in this instance given way to a performative mode. Plenitude, the museum’s hallmark, has transformed into lack” (Rogoff 64). The institution which formerly signified collection and accumulation is increasingly called upon, not only to stockpile, but to interpret its contents: arranging and presenting them in ways that speak to, rather 8


Lara Fullenwieder

then re-entrench, the socio-political divides that have characterized recent global development. In an attempt to come to grips with these violent histories – particularly that of the Holocaust, but increasingly in cases of genocide, extreme violence and human suffering under the aegis of some conglomerate of a nation – the social imperative to remember, to never forget has become the new museum mandate. In the words of Andermann and Simine “To relegate something completely to the realm of historical knowledge seems nothing short of shying away from our moral responsibility. So the obligation to remember is taken to its literal extreme: visitors are asked to adopt memories in order to be able to respond emotionally to the past and museums take on the role of facilitators in that process by providing experientially oriented encounters with memory media and technologies”(6). Although traditionally the artifact has been the nexus of museum power and draw, the superficial affective capacity of the artifact is now being imported into multimodal technologies for simulacra and embodied experience. Through technology, the aesthetic affective capacity of the artifact can be transferred, transmuted or translated into new media, increasing its scope and audience. In the critical dialogue, a discussion of new or post museums has arisen to characterize the spaces, sites and institutions that endeavor to up hold this mandate of memory. In this effort, personal memories and stories have figured centrally, as a way to engender identification and witness within the viewers. As Andermann and Simine argue “autobiographical storytelling is part of the museum’s newly perceived function of giving voice to the individual fate and transforming bystanders and later generations into ‘secondary witnesses’… the stated aim is to facilitate experiential learning, to invite emotional responses from visitors … as if ‘reliving’ their experience, in order to thus develop more personal and immediate forms of active engagement” (6). Thus, favoring the private individual narrative of personal experience over a generalized ‘historical’ account of events, the new museum attempts to foster personal identification with past violence and transgressions, arresting the distant singularity of the past with the immediate emotional parallels of the present: bringing the moments into ‘real-time.’ However, identification with these violent histories is particularly fraught with moral ambiguities, as the original violence are most often characterized or brought on by cultural difference. Rogoff urges that “a critical perception of the possibilities for museums to engage with Cultural difference must therefore recognize the shift from the compensatory projects of atoning for absences and replacing voids to a performative one in which loss is not only enacted but is made manifest from within the culture that has remained a seemingly invulnerable dominant.” In other words, the challenge for new museums is not only to enact or perform loss, as new museums seek to do, but also 9


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

to substantiate that loss, or parallel it with some shift or voluntary reorganization of the initial hegemonic structure: in this case, the traditional authoritative cultural institution of the museum. She encourages museums to ‘unravel their boundaries’ (2002, 65), thereby perforating their own entrenched limitations in favor of opening up the gallery or art world to new spaces and modalities. In short, the museum cannot only add new modes and histories to its contents, but rather, but take it down its walls, so to speak, and acknowledge its own absences or loss. Contrition and Commemoration in Canada: Educating the Archive In this contemporary paradigm of contrition, the Canadian Government’s initiatives have been many, but none has been so elaborate as the attempts to reconcile and respond to the history of residential schools, Indian day schools or industrial schools in Canada. Beginning with efforts to illuminate the abuses and silenced dissent against residential schools, in 1991, public recognition in 1998 and a public apology in 2008, there have been a number of temporary institutions put into place to deal with the aftermath of this history. Since its public acceptance, the governing body of Canada has made several efforts to redress this history, both as an international example of an indigenous truth and reconciliation commission, and as a local attempt at closure. Cultural production has factored largely in official efforts to indigenize mainstream forms of healing, testimony and witness. According to the Aboriginal Healing foundation, “Culture is good medicine. Individuals who had previously resisted interventions responded to culture-based outreach and healing mediated by survivors, local personnel and Elders” (Degagné 2007, S53). One of the cultural productions of the AHF is the Where Are the Children exhibition, debuted in 2002 and digitized over the last two years. The exhibition is comprised of 118 archival photos, didactic text panels, maps, classroom paraphernalia, and government documents. Jeff Thomas, the curator of the exhibition and a photographer himself, said in an interview recently, “The only mandate that I was given was that they wanted to address the intergenerational impact. Actually, the exhibition came about from public forums that they were having across the country. They were getting a lot of questions from youth … voicing their frustrations at the fact that they would ask questions…and nobody would talk about it (Thomas 2012). The purpose of the exhibition was largely educational, meant to inform indigenous communities about the residential school history and its ongoing impact on contemporary Aboriginal identity. For Thomas (2012), he said “this was a unique opportunity as a curator, as you’re developing an exhibition specifically for the Indigenous community and it’s going to travel out to all those Indigenous communities.” As he states on the 10


Lara Fullenwieder

website, part of the issue in creating an exhibition from archival photographs, meant to depict the violence of residential school history, is that the images obviously are not framed as such; rather, they articulate the racial constructs and colonial ideas of the time. In his words, right from the start there was concern of convincing people of the foundation that I could make these photographs work… the library and archives’ position is that they are a repository: they don’t comment on what they have in their collection. So this was a unique partnership because they are kind of stepping outside of their comfort zone (Thomas 2012).

In order to subvert the limited gaze of the historical archive, Thomas (2012) brought what he called “more of an indigenous philosophy” to his praxis: things are all related to one another, so when I look at these photographs, to me they come alive. So the natural response to them is to find that connection … it took a long time because there was no existing framework for that, you know. People look at historical photographs as part of the past, but then what I do is think ‘well, what do they say to us today.’

Looking back to archival photographs from earlier research in his practice, Thomas said that he found these ‘connections’ in constructing the original framework for the images through government documents and quotations of the time. Thomas sought to map the ethos of colonialism that led to residential school policy, and therefore to show the ways in which that social conditioning continues to inform aboriginal identity through silencing. Thomas (2012) states, I realized that people were looking that the residential schools through newspaper reports, TV reports and things like that, but they weren’t getting the history, and they weren’t getting the link to why those schools existed in the first place: what was the mindset that actually put those schools in place? It was colonialism and the racism that comes along with it: the need to assimilate or ‘deal’ with the ‘Indian problem.’

By constructing this dialogue between images and policy, Thomas began to consider the narrative role that survivor voices might play in the exhibition, through the images and through tours or their presence with the exhibition. Embodying what Rogoff calls the unravelling of institutional boundaries, the exhibition was always intended to be mobile, mutable and foundational. Thomas fully intends it to 11


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

be subject to the preferences and personal histories of the communities it visits: “it had to be collapsible … it could go into any space, and [so] that people who didn’t have a museum or gallery could put it up in a drop in centre, or anything like that. It had to be easily edited down” (Thomas 2012). In his words the idea was to create a space so that you would get just enough information for people to be able to talk… It was putting the emphasis on them to be the storytellers, and because that is where the break was: because silence was such a strong part of what those children experienced in school. And, like with any people experience that type of oppression, how do you begin to transform them? Well, you take their voice away… That was the idea, of what was really important: creating this space for survivors to tell their stories (Thomas 2012).

Thomas is insistent upon the importance of changing the exhibition or gallery to fit the Aboriginal audience, or as he puts it, his responsibility to create an audience for the work. Part of the original exhibition was a number of small photographs, which were blown up two or three times their original size, so that people could see the details they might have missed in the original. Entitled Reading Photographs, this component is intended to subvert the conventional exclusion promoted by a belief in art’s inherent ability to communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Instead, Thomas states that audiences are made, and with this mentality, approaches photography as ritual: “when I looked at Indigenous ceremony and things like that, it all came from somebody making observations about the work around them. Then they interpreted it. Then it would become a rituals, and that would become a ceremony for the community…Photographs can do the same thing, but you have to be able to take the time for that, and study it” (Thomas 2012). In the case of the travelling gallery show, audiences had taken the time, through intergenerational impacts or family history, to become familiar with the impacts that they knew Residential Schools had. Familiarizing them with photography, in its capacities as a ritual as well as a document, in the gallery is seemingly made easier by the investment that survivor-visitor’s have in the images. Anticipated this attachment, Thomas was encouraged that some communities responded with and contributed to the exhibition with their own materials or archives. For example, on his visit the Prince George opening, the community put together a location specific version of Where Are the Children, complete with a video interview that a 12-year-old girl was able to do with her survivor grandmother. He recalls that at the end of the video, the grandmother produced a large photograph of her school’s building and began pointing out the different spaces and rooms, explaining to her grandaughter her experiences and memories associated with that room. Essentially, this exchange 12


Lara Fullenwieder

encapsulated and illustrates the ideal outcomes of the exhibition. At that moment, Thomas states, it is as though the survivor grandmother and her granddaughter were actually two young girls sharing experiences. In this exchange, facilitated by the photographs and the recorded documentary of the interview, the survivor child begins to speak; her voice, affect and testimony are mapped onto the cartography of archival history: renaming and resignifying these institutional spaces with the experiences they affected in her life. Although Thomas’ philosophy of photography and memory or history is similar to the way in which discourses of memory theorize photographic function, it is important to interrogate the way in which memory theorists characterize witness and post generations of testimony and to consider the specifics of photography and memory in an Indigenous epistemology. In the discourse of memory, there is an acute focus on the function of photography, particularly as it related to post memory generations or the subsequent members of a community particularly formed by a focussed event in the past. Stemming predominantly from a rich psychoanalytic epistemology of exchange as well as the fervent study of images and their effect after the holocaust of WWII, this discourse is based in a WesternLiberal understanding of identity and individual (Wilson and Kennedy 2003, 127). As Marianne Hirsch argues, in a discussion of the WWII holocaust legacy, images have become the cornerstone of family memories and survivor histories. She states, “more than oral or written narratives, photographic images that survive massive devastation and outlive their subjects and owners function as ghostly revenants from an irretrievably lost past world” (Hirsh 2008, 115). She points out that there is not only an investment in images, but also a personal stake, “ownership,” or “guardianship” that is invested in a “living connection” with that past as it passes into history (Hirsch 2008, 104). However, in the context of Where Are the Children the focus of on photography is subtly shifted from an honoured representation of past events or a monument of experience to a template onto which the living experience of survivor memory and post-generation experience should be added. This subtle and yet profound shift in stance is also due to the fact that unlike post-memory generations of holocaust survivors, whose experiences inform this discourse, the intergenerational effects of Residential School histories are not phantasmagorical or ‘ghostly,’ but medically and socially documented as present and ongoing. Therefore, Thomas’ philosophy functions according to a shift in focus of this conventional understanding of photographs and their audiences. Instead of characterizing the exchange between viewer and photograph as individual, affective and transactive, he speaks of function as an exchange between photograph, viewer and community. In one anecdote, he spoke of an interview with a friend’s grandmother. Present for the interview, the friend noted afterward that she had no idea her family had 13


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

this history: the photographs that her grandmother produced were in the family albums, but the exchange took place in stories. This interview occurred before the opening of Where Are the Children, and Thomas pinpoints his post-interview exchange with the granddaughter as formative in his understanding of how an Indigenous philosophy could accommodate healing through photographs. He states, this familial environment “addressed that idea of healing. How do you get people to talk about things in a way that I think is more Indigenous in a way then it is therapeutic or going to see a psychiatrist … In the original exhibition, we actually had a display case that had all the component for making a family photo album” (Thomas 2012). By positing the family and community as central to this act of witnessing testimony through photography and display, Thomas adds depth to conventional perception of photography as cathartic and of affective exchange with art as inherently personal. Digitizing the experience: Wherearethechildren.ca When the digitization of the exhibit began, it was to harness the Internet’s capacity to meet wider audiences, but it also offered up a host of new materials and options for representation. As you enter the HTML iteration of Where Are the Children, a voice welcomes you and explains the different available services. There is a bookshelf for teaching resources. These are resources for classrooms, or in learning environments, to supplement existing histories of residential schools and Canadian policy. They focus on helping contemporary learners understand the chronology and historical facts about Indian policy, while also speaking to the culture of racism that lead to their genesis, and the negative and positive experiences that stem from these attitudes and actions. There is a three dimensional Tour of a Mohawk Residential School, which gives visitors the opportunity to ‘Visit’ an example of the institutional spaces, virtually. The Projector option uses the trope of classroom presentations to organize videos of student survivors and their testimonials. The Maps section uses the concept of cartography to trace the chronological, geographical and historical movement of residential schools across Canada, depicting the development of policy and implementation. Finally, The Exhibition section features a virtual rendition of the original travelling exhibition, virtually organized according to the same principles as the three-dimensional exhibit. It is organized into its original sections, filing photographs under headings such as ‘Home,’ ‘Leaving home,’ etc: a structure that Thomas says, parallels the steps that the children took as they moved into the institutional spaces. As Thomas indicates, “I’ve always seen [Where Are the Children] as multidimensional, in a way. So now it’s finally gotten to that point” (Thomas 2012). 14


Lara Fullenwieder

Digitally, the exhibition allows for a virtual three dimensionality, particularly with the inclusion of the survivor testimonies. Embodying Rogoff ’s call for an ‘enactment of loss,’ the original exhibition dismembers or appropriates traditional aspects of the museum as well as information specific to each community to best engage its audience. Likewise, its mandate places little concern in the unification of voice and experience, seeking instead to pluralize it with the voices of community members and survivors. In the digital iteration, this important component is even more available. As Paul Arthur points out, “Web 2.0 provides an ideal environment for productive polyphony or…for dialogism and multivoicedness (heteroglossia) to be activated in ways that are either not possible or much more difficult to achieve in the physical spaces of museums and memorials” (Arthur 2009, 67). The only unified voice is the colonial narrative that led to these policies, which is still differences in its multimodal expression: images, quotations, government documents. The presence of this monolithic racist discourse reiterates the relevance of these issues and experiences in the present milieu, as an informing force to present policy. Likewise, as Andreas Huyssen argues, hyper “speed destroys space, and it erases temporal distance. In both cases, the mechanism of physiological perception is altered. The more memory we store on data banks, the more past is sucked into the orbit of the present, ready to be called up on the screen” (Huyssen 1995, 253). This presentism of digital discourse echoes Thomas’ own assertion that images should not, or cannot, be relegated to the past: that they speak to the present. By using digital media to engage with experiences previously associated with past policy and events, their impact and intertextuality can be experienced in real-time. In the case of wherearethechildren.ca the colonialist discourse of racism and assimilation can be viewed as it arguably is: inextricably linked to the present moment. Although there are multiple possibilities associated with the digitization of gallery and museum spaces, there are no doubt drawbacks to the hyper empathy associated with realtime experiences. Although there are arguments for the accessibility of the World Wide Web, the isolation associated with the singular nature of web browsing subverts the positive community elements of Where Are the Children. As Haskins quips, web “interactivity can nurture narcissistic amnesia no less than communal exchange” (6). In short, the digital divide can give the impression of the immediate understanding and self-serving knowledge of the experience of the other. Meanwhile, it is actually obfuscating the existence of the other by usurping and embodying their experience through empathy, rather then understanding the other’s experience as unrelated to the viewers own experience, but still relevant to the viewers identity and existence. Thomas (2012) indicates a similar concern: “I have a bit of hesitation on the website from the perspective of new visitors. It is almost too much like being in the school, too much of an activity in a way.” 15


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Here, Thomas indicates that the website may be too much ‘like’ school, not in the sense that Benjamin Bower (1999) means when he suggests the “reliving of events” through “museumification,” but rather that the site is too didactic, too controlled. It lacks the strategic absences or contemporary parallels that prompt viewers to forge connections between the present and the past. As in his photography, he insists on the importance of connectivity and context—which is sometimes remote in digital ‘contact’. He says “what I see missing from the website, is that activity that gets people thinking about connections, and [showing viewers] how to make them” (Thomas 2012). Similarly, Wakeham and Henderson (2009, 13) point out, within the domain of Canadian politics, the shift toward a symbolic or performative enactment of national reconciliation risks occluding the crucial need for redistributive justice for Indigenous peoples as well as a reckoning with the overarching and ongoing structures of colonialism.

Therefore the artificial understanding and empathy associated with only experiencing the exhibit digitally, without the contextual and connective experience between individuals in the gallery, may be too symbolic to have real effects in engaging with the legacy of colonialism and racism in Canada. Going Viral: Community-Generated Possibilities for Where Are the Children However, these drawbacks can be subverted if digitization takes one further step toward virtual interactivity: there are other, yet-unexplored benefits to the digital domain. Considering Wakeham and Henderson’s argument for the importance of recognizing the overarching land and sovereignty based discontents of the residential school history, as well as Jeff Thomas’ call for the recognition of residential school’s ongoing effects on aboriginal communities, the digital sphere offers significant opportunities for community engagement and self determination that have not yet been tapped. The possibility of the digital contribution of survivors and community members to a user generated component of the website would embody many of the connectedness and interactivity that Thomas is so excited about in the travelling exhibition. As Haskins (2007, 5) points out, the internet levels the traditional hierarchy of authortext-audience, thereby distributing authorial agency among various institutions and individuals involved in the production of content and preventing any one agent from imposing narrative and ideological closure upon the data.

16


Lara Fullenwieder

Not only would users have the opportunity to contribute to the histories and archives, through the addition of wiki elements of the site, or a forum for public contribution, but also the traditional disjuncture between the institution and the community—a relationship so fraught and compromised historically between government institutions and the First Nations communities of Canada— is counterbalanced in this system. As Haskins (2007, 5) argues “the boundaries between the official and the vernacular, the public and the private, the permanent and the evanescent will cease to matter, for all stories and images will be equally fit to represent and comment on the past.” This possibility for multiple histories to coexist and engage with the archival history would offer the diversity of individual experience as well as accommodate the diverse cultural histories—those which are all too often glossed over in an effort to ‘sum up’ Indigenous peoples as a unified binary of Canada, rather than plural discrete nations. Likewise, it would encourage the kind of intergeneration engagement that Where Are the Children was initially intended to spawn, as survivors and elders may not have the same command of technological communications as younger members of the community. Thomas’s dream of survivor narration of the photos could be made possible in ‘wikiresponses,’ while local exhibitions could be appended to a site forum, or even the maps section, tracking contributions from nations across Canada. With the virtually unlimited space associated with the Internet, there is less risk of simplifying or pairing down contributions. As Haskins (2007, 18) states, online memorializing, thanks to the technology’s capacity for virtually unlimited storage and potential to engage many diverse audiences in content production, appears to mitigate against the ideological ossification associated with official memory practices and the fragility of vernacular memorial gestures.

Particularly in the context of Residential School history, where the ‘legacy’ or intergenerational effects of first hand experiences are still ongoing, it is important that any monument, archive or exhibit relate the breadth of experience, while also allowing for continual development. Perhaps most importantly, this model engages with the imperative of selfdeterminacy and sovereignty that Wakeham and Henderson call for, in its unmitigated leveling of institutional hierarchy: no image is limited to one single caption, but instead a multiplicity of inscriptions and histories can be associated with it. The Internet is not only didactic, when user contribution is opened up; as Arthur (2009, 72) points out “apart from storytelling in the narrative sense, online commemoration can enable a kind of rebuilding and reconstruction of community through user contributed photographs, objects, and other digitized ephemera.” 17


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Here, Arthur speaks specifically to the phenomenon of user contribution to a community formed in violence or destruction. Digitally, the remembered place or event can be reconstructed through sundry artifacts or the compilation of its relics enacting its fragmentation, as well as from the conglomeration of stories from its former inhabitants or fellow witnesses. However, in the context of residential schools and Indigenous self-determinacy, these phenomena can also reconstruct a collective history, while maintaining the individual experiences that comprise it. An Indigenous archive of stories, artifacts, visualizations and naming of spaces can digitally manifest itself, enacting decolonization virtually, while simultaneously re-entrenching community connections through co-operation. The sheer accessibility and pervasiveness of the World Wide Web allows for the unification of geographically divided groups, as well as the wide dissemination of the knowledge that is contributed. As Arthur (2009. 73) proposes, “in the same way that retrieved everyday items displayed in war museums seem to overflow with emotion, these virtual collections of significant objects seem to speak louder, and have more impact, than they possibly could have before.” To add to his words, these objects and collections could inevitably speak louder than before, and also, perhaps, louder than any physical institution has the capacity to do. In this way, community contribution to the website can difference the narrative of nationality and identity, allowing user contributors to author their own archives and narrate their own nationalities. Conclusions As memory, commemoration, and contrition become increasingly significant in the policy of Western democracies, and officiated action on these fronts becomes more formative of imagined national identities, performative and embodied theorization of museums and art institutions must take into account their inherent roots in Western discourses of witness and testimony. Turning towards the example of curators such as Jeff Thomas, who seek to re-inscribe the community component of memory and identity and to indigenize their praxis within the museum discourse, we need to consider the political implications of institutional structures and their formation. In their evaluation of reconciliation in Canada, Wakeham and Henderson seriously consider the ramifications and possibilities associated with culture: identifying culture as a crucial point, at stake within the reconciling process in Canada (2009, 19). By considering the ways in which culture is at stake— in the Canadian process, but also in any institutional problematic that centers on difference—we can begin to consider the ways in which culture can be used to critique culture, and therefore to rebuild it. In their words, “not only must cultures 18


Lara Fullenwieder

be reinvented in defiance of colonial assimilationist policies, they must also - and indeed already do - contribute to the revitalization of Indigenous communities” (Wakeham and Henderson 2009, 20). Jeff Thomas echoes this sentiment, in looking back upon the Where Are the Children exhibition. Thomas cites imagination and critical thinking as one of the greatest costs associated with Residential Schools, and therefore insists on how crucial they are to cultural production that seeks to address, form and engage the indigenous community in Canada. He points out the complete shut down and disregard of indigenous ways of knowing and cultural production. In his words “that’s the problem: that people cannot get over the idea that their thoughts and ideas are important” (Thomas 2012). Even in his own work, he says, the need to make room for play and imagination is intrinsic to his praxis. The challenges faced by the Jeff Thomas in generating Where Are the Children were monumental, as the tools at hand are formed and generated out of the same colonial mechanism that seeks to subvert the phenomenological history of the children, in favor of the imperial history of the Industrial school project. Through his curatorial organization of the images, and use of historical documents, Jeff Thomas seeks to indicate the absence of children’s voices, narrate the gap in history, and invite rather then tell survivor stories. With the digital expansion of this and other similar exhibitions, multimodal possibilities and technologies are added, which offer things such as survivor testimonials, but the original structure and control of the institutional space become compromised: control becomes minimal in the digital museum, as users/visitors gain virtual control over the space and their navigation of it. Although there has been speculation that this movement toward digital museums and archiving subverts the most positive aspects of traditional monuments and museums, benefits to content, expanse and authorship/readership far out number the negative. In the case of the digital archive, the greatest thing at stake appears to be the analogue institutional structures, which arguably were never structured to accommodate difference or feature loss in the first place. For Indigenous histories and cultural production, the digital landscape affords a rich and discursive ground for self and community expression, outside the normative colonialist discourse: a particularly poignant place for the critique of national and geographically based boundaries, and the practice of self-determining production. Works Cited Andermann, Jens, and Silke Arnold-de Simine. “Introduction: Memory, Community and the New Museum.” Theory, Culture & Society 29.1 (2012): 3-13. . Arthur, Paul. “Trauma Online: Public Exposure of Personal Grief and Suffering.” Traumatology 15.4 (2009): 65-75. .

19


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Brower, Benjamin C. “The Preserving Machine: The “New” Museum and Working through Trauma -- the Musee Memorial Pour La Paix of Caen.” History and Memory 11.1 (1999): 77-. Brown, Timothy P. “Trauma, Museums and the Future of Pedagogy.” Third Text 18.4 (2004): 247-59. DeGagné, Michael. “Toward an Aboriginal Paradigm of Healing: Addressing the Legacy of Residential Schools.” Australasian Psychiatry 15 (2007): S49-53. Haskins, Ekaterina. “Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 37.4 (2007): 401-22. Henderson, Jennifer, and Pauline Wakeham. “Colonial Reckoning, National Reconciliation?: Aboriginal Peoples and the Culture of Redress in Canada.” English Studies in Canada 35.1 (2009): 1-26. Hirsch, Marianne. “The Generation of Postmemory.” Poetics Today 29.1 (2008): 103-28. Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories : Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. New York: Routledge, 1995. Kennedy, Rosanne and Tikka Jan Wilson. “Constructing Shared Histories: Stolen Generations Testimony, Narrative Therapy and Address.” World Memory : Personal Trajectories in Global Time. Eds. Jill Bennett and Rosanne Kennedy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Rogoff, Irit. “Hit and Run--Museums and Cultural Difference.” Art Journal 61.3 (2002): 63-73. Rose, Gillian. Visual Methodologies : An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. 2nd ed. ed. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 2007. Thomas, Jeff. Personal Interview. March 2012.

20


Melissa Ruhloff

CHAPTER TWO

Melissa Ruhloff

Canada Invented; Inventing Canada Not Exhibited

Inventing Canada, an exhibition organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and financed by the ‘Canadian Friends of the Hermitage,’ was to correspond with the 2002 Team Canada trade mission in Russia and was scheduled to exhibit at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. However, the exhibition was cancelled. This essay investigates the cancellation of Inventing Canada, highlighting the unique constraints and opportunities for managing Canada’s global image via the visual arts, specifically those surrounding the exhibition in the early 2000s. Inventing Canada would have possibly exhibited historic artworks such as, The Fire in the Saint-Jean Quarter, Seen Looking Westward (1848), Joseph Légaré’s depiction of the significant cultural event; Theophile Hamel’s portraits of Monsieur Isaac Dorion (1810-1886) and Madame Isaac Dorion (Virginia Dareche), née Adélaide Huot dite St-Laurent (c.1854); as well as Group of Seven Modern landscape paintings, Lake and Mountains (1927) by Lawren Harris and Falls, Montreal River (1920) by J.E.H. MacDonald. In addition, Inventing Canada would have possibly included contemporary artworks, among them Edward Poitras’s Coyote (1986). Coyote, as the Trickster, was created from the bones of seven other coyotes and is often times used by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal performance artists as an alter ego. Coyote has allowed Poitras to reject the binding circumstances of history and examine life’s many contradictions from a determinedly contemporary perspective (Martin 2004). 21


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Inventing Canada would have possibly exhibited other contemporary artworks such as Rebecca Belmore’s Rising to the Occasion (1987-1991), a dress made from a beaver house, trinkets, trade goods, and fine bone china. Belmore paraded the dress, “made from the wreckage of British colonialism” during the Duke (Prince Andrew) and Duchess of York’s (Sarah Ferguson) official visit to Canada in 1987 (Moser 2008). Also potentially included were regionalist Greg Curnoe’s What if Daily Life in Canada is Boring? (1987), a large, black-on-neon-blue text work; Jin-me Yoon’s Souvenirs of the Self (1991) (printed 1996), a project of six postcards in which Yoon photographed herself as a “typical” tourist in various sites around Banff, Alberta. Souvenirs of the Self questions ideas of belonging and the constructed relationship in Canada between landscape and identity (Yoon 2012). Finally, Inventing Canada would have possibly exhibited Liz Magor’s Burrow (1999), which “raises questions of shelter, home and homelessness in the context of a nostalgic return to nature that has come up against the alienated reality of contemporary life” (Hill, 4). Inventing Canada would have possibly brought artworks and objects – historic and contemporary – from diverse cultural backgrounds into conversation with each other and within one exhibition. Inventing Canada would have been a retrospective of Canadian art at a very particular moment in time when narratives of crises had given way to a more confident questioning of the way in which nationhood had been constructed in Canada. Interestingly, Inventing Canada would have possibly been accompanied by an audio tour, guided by the Trickster, an element that originated from Poitras’s Coyote as the crux of the exhibition. Thomson Highway – Cree1 playwright, novelist, and children’s author – defines the role of the Trickster as that which “straddles the consciousness of Man and God, translates reality from the Supreme Being, the Great Spirit, to the people and back and forth” (Ryan 1999, 3). Generally, the Trickster, a supernatural figure (god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal) appears in various guises and typically engages in mischievous activities. The Trickster, usually conceived as a culture hero,2 is important in the folklore and mythology of many Indigenous peoples. Explanations of the abovementioned artworks and elements of Inventing Canada began with “Inventing Canada would have possibly…” for two reasons. Firstly, the inclusions of particular artworks were tentative, for they did not belong to the organizing institution’s permanent collection. Secondly, as mentioned Inventing Canada was cancelled, and metaphorically speaking, “buried alive,” with zero evidence of its conception or potential existence. All that remains is Richard William Hill’s (curator, critic and art historian) unpublished essay, intended to coincide with the exhibition.3 Why exhibit Inventing Canada in Russia? Inventing Canada or any international 22


Melissa Ruhloff

exhibition participates in cultural brokering. Cultural brokering is defined as “the act of bridging, linking or mediating between groups or persons of differing cultural backgrounds for the purpose of reducing conflict or producing change” (CulturalBroker). In other words, Inventing Canada would have acted as a go-between, one that would have advocated, in this case, on behalf of another group, institution, or country. The “ability of a country to persuade and attract followers through the attractiveness of its culture (literature, film, music, theatre, dance, and the visual arts), political ideals, and policies” is known as “soft power,” a term coined by the American scholar Joseph S. Nye, Jr (Potter 2009, ix). In Canada, soft power is most often associated with Lloyd Axworthy’s tenure as foreign minister (1996-2000), when it became the leading concept for the Liberal government’s human security agenda (Potter 2009, ix). Soft power opposes hard power or coercion through military and economic control (Potter 2009, ix). Evan H. Potter, a former special communications advisor in the Policy Planning Secretariat at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade4 and author of Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power through Public Diplomacy (2009), suggests that greater security and economic prosperity is guaranteed through the implementation of soft power as corollary or alternative to hard power (Potter 2009, ix). Potter attributes this need for countries to employ soft power to, advances in communications technology, the intensity of the global information flow associated with accelerated globalization, as well as the blurring of domestic and international public policy spheres (Potter 2009, 4). Potter argues that Canada requires a distinctive brand to successfully depict itself by way of its soft power (Potter 2009, 5). The visual arts and other classical forms of culture adequately portray this brand, for they “represent but one track for projecting a country’s identity, albeit an important one, since artistic expression can reach the broadest global audience” (Potter 2009, 6). One might think that Inventing Canada with its edgy display of unsettled Canadian art and art history reflected a realistic image of Canada, which could be mobilized as a distinctive branding strategy. Instead, in cancelling Inventing Canada, what was produced was a soft – low, subdued, gentle, or melodious – representation of Canadian art and art history; a “whispered art history” to adopt Robert Filliou’s (French Fluxus artist) terminology (Wallace 1993). “Whispered art history,” the title of Filliou’s 1963 poem, has been used to describe aspects of Canadian art history; the Western Front in particular and other artist-governed initiatives in general (Wallace 1993). A “whispered art history” can be used to describe the outcome of the cancellation of Inventing Canada, a representation of Canadian art and art history. Many factors contributed to the 2001 cancellation of Inventing Canada: first and 23


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

foremost, its hosting institution and its representative. As previously mentioned, the Art Gallery of Ontario was fronting Inventing Canada, however it would have been exhibited at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The exhibition was to have been part of an exhibition partnership between the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Hermitage that dates from 1998 through to 2005. Artworks and objects were sent on cultural exchanges between Canada and Russia, carrying with them varying aesthetic and political messages (Balfe 1987). For example, Treasures from the Hermitage Museum, Russia: Rubens and His Age (2001) was the first of three exhibitions that travelled to the AGO. Following was L’Invitation au Voyage: Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso from the State Hermitage Museum, Russia, and Art of Imperial Russia: Masterworks from the Court of the Czars. By exhibiting artworks of universal significance (Old Master paintings) that speak across cultural boundaries, so too does their discerning patron (the AGO) or owner (the Hermitage) (Balfe 1987). Also, activities of this nature promote increased market participation among traditional artists and arts organizations, as well as other arts and cultural organizations, such as historical sites, museums, theatres, and art galleries (Walker 2003). A group made up of Canadian businessmen, the ‘Canadian Friends of The Hermitage’ planned to finance Inventing Canada and continue to “provide invaluable assistance in implementing many development projects of the State Hermitage Museum” (Hermitage Museum). Brian Wallis (1986, 29-30), in “The Art of Big Business” reminds us, “Most corporate sponsors finance exhibitions based on centrist ideals and uncontroversial subject matter. Hence the proliferation of tame exhibitions of Impressionist painting, generic theme shows, and historical exhibitions with few direct ties to the social and material culture either of the art exhibited or of the present day.” Keep this notion in mind. Sent to the AGO to work with Hill,5 Anna Hudson (Associate Curator of Canadian Art), and Michelle Jacques (Associate Curator of Contemporary Art) – the co-curators of Inventing Canada – was Dr. Alexander Babin, Chief Curator of the Department of Western European Art at the Hermitage.6 In conversation, Hill remembered that Dr. Babin, who did not recognize contemporary art as art, believed Poitras’s bones belonged in a natural history museum and not an art museum. Somewhat similarly, the space allotted to Inventing Canada at the Hermitage was makeshift, which would have given the exhibition a tradeshow-like feel. While Babin may have played a role, the cancellation of Inventing Canada had much to do with the combination of its political context and its satirical nature. As previously mentioned, Inventing Canada would have been a diplomatic exhibition organized to correspond with the 2002 Team Canada trade mission to Russia and Germany, lead by then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and designed to promote Canada’s business ties with the European countries. Russian President Vladimir 24


Melissa Ruhloff

Putin and Chrétien would have attended the opening of Inventing Canada at the Hermitage – literally, a “cross-cultural meeting ground” – to adopt Ruth Phillips’s terminology from Museum Pieces: Toward an Indigenization of Canadian Museums (Phillips 2012, 71). Potter (2009, ix) writes, The Team Canada trade missions around the world during the years when Jean Chrétien was prime minister were a manifestation of this attempt to mine the synergies of federal and provincial activities abroad and to promote a single, unified image of Canada. Of course, provincial governments – primarily Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta – also have their own specific international agendas to promote trade and investment and cultural relations.

Clearly, institutions have their own specific international agendas to promote trade and investment and cultural relations. However, as James Clifford reminds us in “Museums as Contact Zones” (1997), “In the politics of postcolonialism they [museums] have served as spaces in which knowledges produced within Western disciplinary traditions may be contested by members of Indigenous, immigrant, and diasporic communities, and where discrepant assertions of truth can be symbolically aligned or harmonized.” This notion, although removed from its Canadian context by exhibiting in Russia, clearly made Babin uncomfortable. It was not just Babin who was uncomfortable. A certain sense of discomfort was registered by the AGO, particularly with the exhibition title. While Hill was adamant that the title remained Inventing Canada, others pushed for Imagining Canada, which would have taken some of the edge off the exhibition by aligning it with an imaginary or fantastical projection. The title, Inventing Canada was Hill’s idea and was meant to portray the idea of a constructed Canadian identity. Similarly, the exhibition sought to present Canada as ideological construct rather than natural fact (Hill). Essentially, Inventing Canada would have suggested an alternative to generalized versions or superficial representations of Canadianness (Hudson 2005, 12). Ultimately, the AGO was uncomfortable with a diplomatic exhibition and its title that did not exude traditional Canadian nationalism. Instead, Inventing Canada touched upon issues such as British colonialism, ideas of belonging, and challenged the traditional categorical distinction between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artworks. The Canadian political context of Inventing Canada is relevant here and evident in the debate surrounding the titling of the exhibition. At the end of the twentieth century, Canada was consistently considered to be in some sort of ‘crisis of identity,’ and the ‘crisis’ was particularly fierce and brutal (Mackey 1999, 8; Hage 1996; Lattas 1990). Canadian cultural events of the 1990s, such as Elijah Harper’s stunning 25


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

defeat of the Canadian government’s Meech Lake Accord, the Mohawk standoff at Oka, Quebec, and the October 1995 Quebec referendum, which brought contested definitions of Canadian identity to the fore, strongly contradicted any notion that there was or could be a unified notion of Canadian nationhood. As explained by Eva Mackey (1999, 8) in The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada: A settler colony with official policies of multiculturalism and bilingualism, Canada has an official national culture which is not ‘homogeneous in its whiteness’ but rather replete with images of Aboriginal people and people of colour. The statesanctioned proliferation of cultural difference (albeit limited to specific forms of allowable difference) seems to be the defining characteristic of Canada.

Mackey argues that while tolerance and thus multiculturalism have much to do with the construction of Canadian identity and are characteristics used to distinguish Canada from other nations, cultural difference and pluralism are managed internally so as to reproduce the structuring of differences around an unmarked, yet dominant, Anglo-Canadian core culture (Mackey 1999, 3-4). Essentially, multiculturalism implicitly constructs the idea of a core English-Canadian culture; Canadian tolerance masks intolerance. Mackey also establishes that specific to Canada, power and dominance function through more liberal, inclusionary, pluralistic, multiple and fragmented formulations and practices concerning culture and difference (Mackey 1999, 5). After Hill’s initial conception of the title, Inventing Canada, he began to think of the satirical possibilities within and surrounding the exhibition and thus referred to Inventing Canada thus developed as a parody of a diplomatic exhibition. Parody can apply to “a work of literature or another art that imitates an existent piece which is well known to its readers, viewers, or listeners with satirical, critical, or polemical intention. Characteristic features of the work are retained but are imitated with contrastive intention” (Hoesterey 2001, 13-14). Satire – the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice or folly – is not only present in certain artworks previously mentioned, but also strongly permeates Hill’s essay for the exhibition catalogue. The Honourable Coyote, Minister of Propaganda and Tourism, fictitiously concludes the tour with, The next step is tricky but important. I want you to stay relaxed. And I want you to burn this painting [Lake and Mountains] into your minds eye. Memorize every detail: the swelling volumes of the mountains and clouds, the patterned ripples of the lake, that lone piece of wood. Are you feeling Canadian yet? Of course you are. 26


Melissa Ruhloff But I can take you farther. I can put you so in touch with the true north that you’ll know it like you’ve lived here all your life, like you’ve lived here for generations, like you’re an Indian whose people have walked these shores since time immemorial. To go all the way you’re going to need to close your eyes. Just have that image right inside your head. In Canada this takes years of training, but my method works real fast. No need to spend your childhood visiting the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Just put that chilly northern image right there in your mind. Or better yet, in your heart. Okay, everyone’s eye’s closed? Good. [At this point security footage indicates that Coyote begins to move amongst the audience without interrupting his monologue, deftly slipping his fingers into pockets and purses to abstract wallets.] Boy, you guys are good at this. You’re going to really feel like Natives all right. Okay now, while holding that image in your mind I want you to start singing Oh, Canada. That’s the final step, but remember to keep those eyes closed. So all together now starting on three: one, two, three…[Coyote slips out of the museum while the audience sings] (Hill, 7).

Hill (3)7 also wrote through the voice of Honourable Coyote, Of course free trade and globalization are helping. I bet you didn’t know that I was the one who negotiated NAFTA? You bet. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said to me, “Coyote, I want you to go down there and make us a good deal. And don’t forget to do something to protect Canadian culture too, eh?

Allan J. Ryan explains in The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art, “Just as the mere mention of the Trickster by a narrator can trigger in an audience ‘the expectation that this particular performance will cause important ideas to come alive in exciting ways,’ so too does the presence of the Trickster signal that some aspect of the story will require ironic interpretation” (Ryan 1999, 9; Toelken 1969, 225). As demonstrated, Hill cleverly addresses solemn issues, relevant to Canada, however through a lens of humour. Hill refers to the constructed relationship between Canada’s wilderness and its identity by insinuating one can feel Canadian by looking at Lawren Harris’s Lake and Mountains (1927). Hill also refers to the McMichael, renowned for exclusively collecting Canadian art and exhibiting works by the Group of Seven. Perhaps most discordant is Honourable Coyote stealing the wallets – carriers of personal items such as money and identification documents – of museum visitors to make them feel like Natives to Canada. When former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney asks Honourable Coyote to protect Canadian culture, Hill (3) then questions, “What the heck is it?” implying that Canada lacks a distinctive 27


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

culture, different from America’s. In its entirety, Inventing Canada would have worked to destabilize established myths of Canadian nationhood as symbolized by certain artworks within the exhibition; most specifically the Group of Seven landscape paintings, which are linked to the Canadian myth of tolerance, amongst many others that circulate the troupe, which offer a ‘narrative of nationhood’ (Mackey 1999, 2). As previously mentioned, Canada’s proliferation and thus tolerance of cultural difference (albeit limited to specific forms of allowable difference) seems to be its defining characteristic. To return to the notion of nationhood, “Since Canada, because of its particular history, could not and cannot fit the identity model of European nationhood, it, like other settler colonies, has had to look for alternative models of nationhood and national identity, and has had to do so “across competing forms of ethnicity and against a history of occupation and dispossession of the original inhabitants” (Mackey 1999, 13; Bennett et al. 1994). However, according to Potter (2009, 5-6) and his views on nationhood, national identity, and distinctive branding, a tactic previously mentioned, It is, therefore, essential that an accurate image of Canada be projected to the world, one that reflects Canada as a modern, sophisticated, creative, diverse, tolerant, caring, and technologically advanced society based on a largely peaceful compact among its three founding peoples- the Aboriginal population and the French and English settlers. This image is essential for Canada (as the most trade-dependent of all Group of Eight (G8) countries) to export its products and services; to attract portfolio and direct investment, to attract talent in the form of students and skilled workers in order to maintain its economic growth, and to gain international respect that will, in turn, allow Canada to play an important role in maintaining international peace and security.

It is no wonder Inventing Canada was cancelled. The juxtaposition of historic and contemporary artworks, as well as the bringing together of artworks and objects from diverse cultural background into conversation with each other and within one exhibition would have facilitated a destabilization of Potter’s above-mentioned ideals and would have worked to re-contextualize, reconfigure, and redefine Canada’s art history through its soft power. Likewise, Canada’s political history would have been re-contextualized, reconfigured, and redefined. Also, and obviously, the exhibition’s satirical disposition combined with its political context would have been a contentious exhibition at the Hermitage, not surprising considering Russia’s tumultuous political past. Mackey reminds us “to speak of culture and identity in

28


Melissa Ruhloff

Canada is to speak ‘not only of a terrain that is fractured and contested, but also of a terrain whose identity as Canadian is in dispute’” (Mackey 1999, 9; Allor et al. 1994). Inventing Canada did just that. As noted earlier, the AGO and the Hermitage had an exhibition partnership. Also noted, visual representations are a key element in symbolizing and sustaining national, federal, and institutional communal bonds. Exhibited at the Hermitage in place of Inventing Canada was Tom Thomson (1877-1917): Paintings from the Collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada (2004), an abbreviated version of an already circulating exhibition of artworks by Tom Thomson, who was closely linked with the Group of Seven, though not an official member. The exhibition featured fifty-eight paintings and oil sketches created by the artist in the period between 1910 and his death. Accordingly, the title of the exhibition, Tom Thomson (1877-1917). Paintings from the Collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada is strikingly similar to the titles of the exhibitions sent by the Hermitage to the AGO, which promoted the organizing institutions, while symbolizing and sustaining communal bonds between them. Interestingly, Tom Thomson (1877-1917) opened in the Alexander Hall of the Hermitage. Dedicated to the memory of Emperor Alexander I and the 1812 War, the Alexander Hall displays a combination of variations on the Gothic and Classical styles, and differs greatly from the exhibition space assigned to Inventing Canada. The Hermitage, together with the AGO, the National Gallery of Canada, and The Hermitage Foundation of Canada Incorporated, organized Tom Thomson (1877-1917), with sponsorship from Barrick Gold Corporation and the Department of Canadian Heritage Museums Assistance Program. Remember, “Most corporate sponsors finance exhibitions based on centrist ideals and uncontroversial subject matter. Hence the proliferation of tame exhibitions of Impressionist painting, generic theme shows, and historical exhibitions with few direct ties to the social and material culture either of the art exhibited or of the present day” (Wallis 1986, 29-30). Important to note, Barrick Gold Corporation is the largest pure gold mining company in the world with its headquarters in Toronto, Ontario. Barrick Gold Corporation is currently undertaking mining and exploration projects in Russia. Relationships between the National Gallery of Canada and institutions alike, such as the National Museum of Canada and the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO) with the Group of Seven are deep-rooted. The Group of Seven was institutionalized because of their close association with the abovementioned authoritative cultural organizations. For example, the National Gallery of Canada has supported some members of the Group of Seven by means of purchases since 1912. The Group’s history was promoted locally, for their first exhibition was at the Art Gallery of Toronto in May of 1920. This regional history was also promoted 29


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

nationally by the National Gallery of Canada, which assisted with touring the Group of Seven’s exhibitions in the United States and Western Canada (Jessup 2001, 136). Wallis (1994, 266) argues in “Selling Nations: International Exhibitions and Cultural Diplomacy” that through the engineered overproduction of certain types of images or the censorship or suppression of others, and “through controlling the ways images are viewed or by determining which are preserved, cultural representations can also be used to produce a certain view of a nation’s history,” evident in Tom Thomson (1877-1917). For some, the local landscapes convey an idiosyncratic national identity for they conjure up an image of Canada’s “North”- a longstanding formulation, amongst many others, of Canadian identity (Hill 2012, 42). For others, Group of Seven landscape paintings represent a parochial image of Canada; the Group of Seven and the cultural producers with whom they aligned themselves with, while appearing to be all-inclusive and speak for the nation as a whole, worked from an urban perspective characteristic of Ontario regionalism (Jessup 2002, 144). For example, J.E.H MacDonald encouraged members to sketch beyond Toronto and so artists escaped their Studio Building in the city, ventured to Georgian Bay and Algonquin Park, and captured their subject matter. While novelists, poets, explorers, and ethnologists made Canada tantamount with its North, the Group of Seven did so at the level of “high culture” with galleries and museums as their vehicles (Francis 1997, 62). To conclude, three statements will be considered. The first comes from a publication circulated by the DFAIT in regards to the 2002 Team Canada trade mission. The publication notes, “Opportunities for Canadian business in Russia reflect our geographic and climatic similarities, with vast natural resource wealth, widely distributed urban settlement, and remote service transportation and communication networks.” The second comes from the online exhibition archive of the Hermitage, “Tom Thomson (1877-1917). Paintings from the Collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada:” Although his [Thomson] paintings present the wilderness of Canada, the Russian visitor to the exhibition will experience something familiar and close to hand. Thus Thomson’s Sunset brings to mind a study of the same name by Arkhip Kuindzhi in St Petersburg’s Russian Museum. Thomson’s March (spring of 1916, Ottawa) and his winter landscapes may be compared with the paintings of Konstantin Yuon, Isaak Levitan or Igor Grabar. One of Thomson’s last important works, The Jack Pine (winter of 1916-1917, Toronto) evokes associations with Russian painting, in particular with the works of the Vasnetsov brothers and Ivan Shishkin (Hermitage Museum).

30


Melissa Ruhloff

According to both statements, not only do Russia and Canada share similar geographies and climates, but also artistic styles. By contrast, when asked about the negation of Inventing Canada and the Canadian art historical implications, Hill responded: I suppose there’s always going to be an audience for that kneejerk nationalist response to Group of Seven and landscape paintings but it’s just not the reality of the society we live in at all, it’s really not. I saw our work at the AGO as trying to think about a space that can only work if you open up more questions around the historical art and the contemporary art and you use contemporary ideas and artworks in conversation with historical artworks…I’m not going to deceive myself into thinking that the world is going to be set on fire by seeing Edward Poitras’s Coyote with the Group of Seven at the Hermitage- but if you’re going to have that opportunity to speak in that space, then why not try to do something interesting and challenging.

In conversation, Hill defined that ‘space’ as “the kind of blurry space that museums occupy all the time between their intellectual objectives and their political, diplomatic role.” Inventing Canada would have related to the social and material culture of its potentially exhibited artworks and Tom Thomson (1877-1917), which represented Canadian art and art history at a very specific time and place exemplify this blurry space that museums occupy. Notes 1

The Cree, one of the largest groups of First Nations/Native Americans in North America, primarily

live in Canada 2

A culture hero can refer to a mythical or mythicized historical figure that embodies the aspirations

or ideals of a society or is a mythical figure considered by a people to have furnished it the means of existence or survival. 3

Due to the nature of Inventing Canada, certain information was appreciatively obtained by means of

“The Vacant Lot: Who’s Buying It?” – furthered by an interview I conducted with Hill. 4

The DFAIT, more commonly known as Foreign Affairs of International Trade Canada is a department

in the Government of Canada. DFAIT is responsible for foreign policy and diplomacy, as well as import/export and international trade policies. 5

Hill came to the AGO through the Canada Council’s Aboriginal Curatorial Residency program and was

later hired in a full-time permanent position. 6

Also valuable to the project were Douglas Worts (interpretive planner), Linda Milrod (Manager of

Exhibitions and Publications), and Dennis Reid (Chief Curator of Historical Canadian Art). 7

Important to note, Hill felt comfortable in using the Trickster as he grew up on stories featuring the

character for he is of Cree ancestry.

31


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Works Cited Balfe, Judith Higgins. “Artworks as Symbols of International Politics,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 1, no. 2 (1987): 195-217. Francis, Daniel. National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History. Vancouver, British Columbia: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997. Hill, Charles C. “Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.” In The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century, rev. ed., edited by Anne Whitelaw, Brian Foss, and Sandra Paikowsky, 39-58. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2010. Hill, Richard William. “The Vacant Lot: Who’s Buying It?” Hoesterey, Ingeborg. Pastiche: Cultural Memory in Art, Film, Literature. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001. Hudson, Anna. “The Art of Inventing Canada.” Canada’s History 85, no.3 (2005): 11-12. Jessup, Lynda. “Bushwhackers in the Gallery: Antimodernism and the Group of Seven.” In Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity, rev. ed., edited by Lynda Jessup, 130-152. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2001. Jessup, Lynda. “The Group of Seven and the Tourist Landscape in Western Canada, or The More Things Change…” Journal of Canadian Studies 37, no.1 (2002): 144-179. Mackey, Eva. The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada. London; New York: Routledge, 1999. Martin, Lee-Ann. Edward Poitras: Being in His Own Time. March 17, 2004, http://www.canadacouncil.ca/prizes/ggavma/gx127240203513437500.htm?subsiteurl=%2Fcanadaco uncil%2Farchives%2Fprizes%2Fggvma%2F2002%2Fedward_poitras-e.asp (accessed March 30, 2012). Moser, Gabby. Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion. July 24, 2008, http://www.canadianart.ca/online/reviews/2008/07/24/rebecca-belmore/ (accessed March 30, 2012). Phillips, Ruth. Museum Pieces: Toward an Indigenization of Canadian Museums. Montreal, Quebec: McGillQueen’s University Press, c.2012. Potter, Evan H. Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power through Public Diplomacy. Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, c.2009. Ryan, Allan J. The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art. Vancouver, British Columbia: UBC Press, 1999. Walker, Christopher, Maria Rosario Jackson, and Carole E. Rosenstein. Traditional Arts in Economic Development. March 1, 2003, http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/410812_culture_and_commerce. pdf (accessed May 18, 2012). Wallace, Keith. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front. Vancouver, British Columbia: Arsenal Pulp Press, c.1993. Wallis, Brian. “The Art of Big Business.” Art in America (1986): 28-32. Wallis, Brian. “Selling Nations: International Exhibitions and Cultural Diplomacy.” In Museum Culture: Histories, Discourses, Spectacles, rev. ed., edited by Daniel Sherman and Irit Rogoff, 265-281. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

32


Helen Gregory

CHAPTER THREE

Helen Gregory

The Souvenir And The Collection: Taxidermy, Photography, And The Archetype Of The Colonial Hunter In The Exhibition nanoq: flat out and bluesome

Taxidermy is the art of preserving and stretching the skin of an animal over a sculpted form to create a simulacrum of the original living thing. The term is derived from the Greek taxis (meaning arrangement or order) and derma (meaning skin), suggesting by its very definition, issues of ordering and the blurring of boundaries, surface, and meaning. Taxidermy is at once subject and object: it was previously a living creature, but has been killed and, as a result of human activity, transformed into a “thing� that has been possessed, preserved, categorized, and represented as a mimesis of its former self. It resists classification, and transgresses the boundaries of art, science, nature, and culture. In the context of the museum collection taxidermic animals are polysemic, open to multiple meanings and interpretations as a consequence not only of their very nature but also of the mutable and dynamic life of the museum itself. This effect is amplified when artists make interventions into institutional collections, both disrupting and illuminating the narrative of acquisition and cataloguing to which these specimens have been subjected. The artists Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson examined these

33


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

dynamic qualities in their installation nanoq: flat out and bluesome (2004), in which they attempted to locate every taxidermic polar bear in the United Kingdom. They photographed them in the place and condition in which they were found, and researched and documented their provenance. Ultimately, the ten bear specimens that were stable enough for transport were displayed at Spike Island Gallery, a center for contemporary art in Bristol, England, along with the photographs and documentation. nanoq: flat out and bluesome was an exploration of the shifting values and meanings that the polar bear specimens had accumulated over time, from their original acquisition during the height of British Imperialism, until the present when these specimens were found stored in dusty museum basements, standing guard in stately homes, or acting as mascots in pubs or candy factories. Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson (2006, 14) hoped that the project would “generate a discourse in which audiences were able to consider their relationship not only with the polar bears themselves, but to the history of their collection, presentation, and preservation.” As a result of their acquisition during nineteenth century hunting expeditions, these polar bears were located at the nexus of a field of interrelating influences including sport hunting, photography, trophies and souvenirs, and natural history collections. Shifts in attitudes towards these practices have resulted in a questioning of the use of taxidermy in contemporary museum display as well as of its value as a didactic tool. Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson foregrounded these shifts by decontextualizing the taxidermic polar bears: they removed the bears from their un-natural habitats, both museums and private homes, and placed them in the sterile white environment of glass vitrines within the white walls of a contemporary art space. Prior to working on the nanoq project, Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson were working on another project at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. They had been photographing polar bears that, along with much of the museum’s natural history collection, were in storage in the basement of an adjacent building. The warehouse space was filled with exotic specimens that were no longer exhibited because the museum had made the decision to only exhibit indigenous species. Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson began to think about these specimens as evidence of a lost period in history when animals were brought back to the United Kingdom as the spoils of expeditions fuelled by national pride, a quest for knowledge, and the imperialist impulse to conquer and acquire. They began to question the histories of the animals that had been relegated to museum storage spaces. Because of changes in attitudes towards how museums use both traditional systems of display and new technologies for representing animals, these forgotten specimens had ceased to serve any clear purpose. The artists also made the conscious decision to limit their inquiry to a single country, and to consider “issues of colonial pillaging through a single animal – the polar bear” (Byatt 2006, 15). 34


Helen Gregory

The exhibition that developed from this line of questioning, nanoq: flat out and bluesome, was conceived in four parts and developed over three years between 2001 and 2004, when it was first exhibited at Spike Island. The first part of their process was to conduct a survey of taxidermic polar bears throughout the United Kingdom, with the assistance of museum curators, gallery staff, and natural history collection managers. The thirty-four polar bears that they located were photographed in situ, and as much information as possible regarding their provenance was gathered and documented. Thirdly, Wilson and Snaebjornsdottir organized the transportation of ten of the bears to Spike Island, where they were exhibited in large glass vitrines, stripped of any previous context. During the exhibition, the artists and Lucy Byatt, director of Spike Island, organized a one-day conference called White Out, which examined the various themes elicited by the project including, museology and display, taxidermy, the colonial impulse, arctic exploration, trophy hunting, and shifting conceptions of wilderness and the environment. The conference included lectures by prominent writers on museology and the condition of the animal in contemporary culture (including Steve Baker, Michelle Henning, and Garry Marvin), as well as a screening of Robert Flaherty’s 1922 documentary Nanook of the North. The fourth element was a publication, which brought together the information gathered during the project: the photographs, the bears’ provenances, and essays written by the academics of various disciplines who had lectured at the conference. One of the primary focuses for the artists as well as those for those who participated in the conference and contributed essays to the catalogue was in exposing the now forgotten realities that constituted the bears’ past lives. By documenting the histories of the bears, Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson not only addressed the current meaning embodied by the bears, but they also addressed the legacies of the hunters who shot them, and the expertise of the taxidermists who had mounted them. The artists were well aware of the historical complexity that underlay the acquisition of the bears, describing how eighteenth and nineteenth century impulses demanded the newly built museums be stocked like Arks with taxidermic representations of every conceivable species. These demands were fed and met by equally enthusiastic pioneers and explorers who ventured into newly discovered territories and landscapes, inaccessible to all but themselves. The expeditions were underpinned, not least financially, by the weight of ‘science’ and ‘education,’ yet the hunger for the trophy and a reputation for heroism was very often the motivation for individual hunters (Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson 2006, 15). The idea of the animal as trophy is also tightly intertwined with issues of both masculinity and the souvenir. The animal itself may be taxidermied and kept as a souvenir of the hunt, and a photograph documenting the moments after the kill may also serve a similar function. Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson exhibit the polar 35


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

nanoq: flatout and bluesome installation, Spike Island Gallery, Bristol, England, 2006

 

Lord and Lady Curzon on a Hunt, 1903

  36


Helen Gregory

bear specimens in tandem with two types of documentary photography: the large format contemporary photographs that they took to show the situations in which the bears were found, and historical photographs documenting the hunting and capturing of some of the bears featured in the exhibit. The artists’ choice to exhibit the taxidermic polar bear specimens alongside documentary photography draws attention to the historical relationship of photography to sport hunting. Since the late 1850’s, explorers, soldiers, and hunters used the camera to capture images of dead of animals not only for the purpose of showing the skill of the hunter, but also for the purpose of scientific documentation. According to James R. Ryan (1997, 99) in his book, Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire, The colonial hunter was one of the most striking figures of the Victorian and Edwardian imperial landscape. Frequently pictured posed with a gun beside his recently killed prey, or surrounded by skins, tusks and other trophies of the expedition, the hunter is, to present-day eyes, the archetypal colonial figure.

The act of big game hunting was deeply entrenched in both the Victorian belief in the authority of man over nature, as well as in the British imperialist project of geo-political expansion. Photographs of hunters standing over their slaughtered animals not only represented a conquest of the animal but also of the colonized nation itself, and consequently the animals became emblematic of a greater victory. Garry Marvin’s examination of the relationship between the hunter and the hunting trophy acts as a counterpoint to the argument that hunting is a symbolic act of the domination of both nature and foreign lands. Marvin argues that for the hunter the trophy is a souvenir of a particular experience characterized by an intense involvement with nature in which he or she takes on the role of predator. He suggests that, It is in the manner of acquisition and in its relationship to the hunter, in terms of authentic experiences, that the hunting trophy might be interpreted as a souvenir – a material object from elsewhere, and from another time, that is imbued with meaning and memory when brought home…An object is not a souvenir because of some essential quality it has, or because of what it is; it only becomes a souvenir when it enters a relationship with a person (Marvin 2011, 209).

He goes on to argue that the hunting photograph is akin to the tourist’s souvenir photograph in that it captures both an event and also a place of significance at a particular moment in time. As in the tourist photograph in which the subject is shown facing the camera, and with his back turned away from the place of 37


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

significance, the hunter is also depicted at a particular angle. He is similarly shown facing the camera, not looking at the animal, and frequently standing over it. Marvin asserts that the hunting photograph captures the specific relationship between the hunter and the hunted, in which the hunted animal is no longer one of many, but a very particular and personal animal that is the possession of the hunter. The polar bears featured in nanoq: flat out and bluesome are all very particular animals, whose stories were once entwined with those of the men who hunted or captured them, but have now been displaced by the narrative of the museums who collected them. As a result of these twinned histories, the polar bears concurrently function within the categories of both souvenir and collection. Susan Stewart describes the souvenir as an object that possesses the capacity to serve as a trace of an authentic experience. She argues that, “Within the operation of the souvenir, the sign functions not so much as object to object, but beyond this relation, metonymically, as object to event/experience” (Stewart 1993, 136). This is to say that souvenirs don’t stand in for another object or group of objects; they stand in for and become the locus of a memory of an authentic experience. The polar bears featured in nanoq: flat out and bluesome are the souvenirs of nineteenth century hunting expeditions. However, they have been severed from these memories as a consequence of the passing of time, and the transferring of ownership. Stewart goes on to say that the souvenir does not function, “without the supplementary narrative discourse that both attaches it to its origins and creates a myth with regard to these origins. What is this narrative of origins? It is a narrative of interiority and authenticity. It is not a narrative of the possessor” (Stewart 1993, 136). The polar bears are only able to function as souvenirs when they maintain a connection to the narratives of the hunters/possessors. Many of the bears in the nanoq project have been removed from the context that originated the “myth” of the hunt and re-contextualized as specimens in museum collections. As such, they have ceased to function in the capacity of souvenir. One notable exception is the pair of polar bears that stand on either side of the entranceway at Somerleyton Hall in Essex. The bears were shot by the first Lord Somerleyton, Sir Savile Crossley in 1897 on an expedition to Wiches Land, east of Spitzbergen in Svalbard. On this expedition a total of fifty-five polar bears were shot; two were brought back alive and possibly kept at zoos. Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson made two visits to Somerleyton Hall, where they met the current Lord Somerleyton who explained that the bears had been shot by his grandfather. Lord Somerleyton had also recently re-discovered a set of lantern-slides documenting the expedition: They were stored in their original box and the slides were indexed on the lid with numbers and brief, descriptive titles. These descriptions alone were enough to evoke 38


Helen Gregory a sense of the particularity of the expedition and to indicate how the contact with polar bears had engaged the fascination of the party whilst the slides themselves allow graphic insight into the shooting and capture of respective bears (Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson 2006, 123).

While the lantern-slides would also have functioned as souvenirs, no memento would have more effectively captured the authentic experience of the hunt than the taxidermied body of the bears themselves. The slides, while capable of evoking recollections through pictorial representations, would have paled in comparison to the visceral memories embodied by the actual bears. In contrast to the images of violence and conquest depicted in hunting photographs are Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson’s photographs of the polar bears in their current (dis-)locations. While the majority of images of the polar bears show them on display in museum displays or dioramas, others are shown wrapped in plastic and held in storage, serving as little more than dÊcor in private residences, or standing guard over bottles of liquor behind a bar. Every image elicits a sense of pathos. Many of the bears have been posed in aggressive stances, rearing on their hind legs to show their impressive size, claws extended, and lips pulled back into a snarl exposing their huge teeth. The impulse to pose the spoils of the kill with such aggressive posture can be linked to issues of masculinity associated with sport hunting, as well as the Imperial desire to portray oneself as the heroic conqueror. In contrast, the bear located in a private residence in Somerset, appears to have suffered worse indignities than being posed in an unnaturally aggressive stance. It was once the mascot at the Fox’s Glacier Mint candy factory and now stands sporting a red hat and holding a basket of illuminated tulips, inside a Victorian home. Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson (2006, 124) write, Once through the foyer the polar bear stands at the far end of a corridor at the foot of the stairs. There is something simultaneously sad and humorous about it. The taxidermist has given the bear a gentle smile. The fez and the basket of plastic flower lights are an addition by the present owners from their collection of antique artifacts. It was perhaps the torn off claws on its right paw that abruptly return one to the reality of the spectacle.

Little information is provided about the Somerset bear and it is unknown whether it was originally kept as a hunting trophy. The smile may have been the result of the Victorian penchant for anthropomorphism in taxidermy, or perhaps it was purely unintentional. Its history has largely disappeared, and only the visceral quality of the torn flesh on its paw reminds one that it was once a living animal. 39


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

 

Pulling Out Dead Bear, Lantern slides of Spitzbergen, Sir Savile Crossley, 1897

40


Helen Gregory

 

Somerset Bear, private residence, photographed by Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson in 2004

41


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

The image of the damaged paw recalls Steve Baker’s (2000, 54) assertion that the postmodern animal “seems more likely to be that of a fractured, awkward, ‘wrong’ or wronged thing,” which only emphasizes the schism between the animal-ness of the polar bear and the human-ness of the viewer. Michelle Henning writes, in the catalogue for nanoq: flat out and bluesome, “The tragedy of the polar bear is not just its hunting down, but also its sad resurrection as these taxidermy artifacts, and the indifference and forgetfulness associated with the places in which the artists find them” (Henning 2006b). The forgetfulness is particularly evident in the bears that have been consigned to storage spaces. Not only have these bears have been severed from their histories, no longer associated with the people, places or events surrounding their acquisition, they no longer even serve the didactic function of their visible counterparts. Ludmilla Jordanova (1989, 23) examines the link between museums and the acquisition of knowledge, and the role that museum objects serve. She argues that there is an implicit idea that knowledge can be gained by looking at an object, that the object itself has been positioned as the source of knowledge. This is particularly true in natural history museums due to the historically privileged position of looking and observation in the acquisition of knowledge within the sciences. She posits, “In order to gain knowledge from museums, viewers, whether they are aware of it or not, both reify the objects they examine, treating them as decontextualized commodities, and identify with them, allowing them to generate memories, associations, fantasies” (Jordanova (1989, 23). Viewers assent to the authenticity of what they see, while recognizing its fabricated nature. In the context of the museum collection, the viewer creates fictions for the polar bears, likely imagining them in an authentic, pristine version of the artificial arctic habitat in which they have been presented. When specimens, such as the polar bears, are positioned in dioramas that create a simulacrum of their natural habitat, attention is distracted from their taxidermic and historical realities and viewers readily accept the fiction with which they are presented. By re-contextualizing the bears in a contemporary arts space, and accompanying them with documentary photography, the artists draw attention to both the taxidermic quality of the polar bears, as well as their historical legacies and contemporary positions. By reuniting the bears with their colonial pasts, Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson force us to confront the reality that the bears embody. Rachel Poliquin (2008, 131) argues that “the postmodern animal is ‘most productively thought of as an embodied thing,’ and while it may take various forms – live animals or taxidermied creatures, either whole or disjointed, in installations, sculpture or performance – its essence is always most fully realized through an encounter or, more precisely, a confrontation with a viewer.” Here Poliquin elaborates on Steve Baker’s suggestion that the encounter is the most profound 42


Helen Gregory

when it takes place in a space shared between the animal and the human. Although it is a space characterized by unequal power relations, the natural history museum (and in the case of nanoq: flat out and bluesome, the contemporary art space) represents a space shared by both man and animal. It is precisely such an encounter between the gallery visitor and the polar bears in the nanoq exhibit that forces the viewer to acknowledge the history of museum specimens. According to Baker (2000, 52), “The postmodern animal is an awkward thing: its art and its animality do not sit easily together.” As a result of being presented in the guise of an art installation, the bears are imbued with yet another layer of meaning. Having been stripped of their museum contexts, the polar bears force the viewer to relinquish any fictitious narratives that they might have imagined. The encounter between human and taxidermic polar bear is informed by the artists’ gesture, which illuminates the fact that not only were animals hunted in the name of heroism or science and later acquired by museum collections, but also that others were hunted specifically for the purpose of being taxidermied and placed in dioramas. Michelle Henning writes that living animals were “sacrificed in order to enable its perfect reconstruction as a mannequin inhabiting its own skin, for the purpose of an exhibit intended to inspire in its audience a love of nature and its desire to protect it” (Henning 2006b, 140). While it was the hunter who was responsible for the killing of the animal, it was the taxidermist who was responsible for obliterating the reality that was the dead carcass, and infusing it with a semblance of life, blurring the line between object and subject. As a result of the taxidermist’s art, Lucy Byatt (2006, 15) asserts, “each specimen begins to take on a new identity. These are no longer polar bears – they are renewed objects representing polar bear-ness.” In addition to their “polar bearness”, they also carry the semiotic weight of multiple meanings: they exemplify the blurred boundaries between subject and object; alive and dead; specimen and artifact; trophy, souvenir, and collection. Taxidermy possesses a complex matrix of cultural associations: on the one hand it brings to mind hunting trophies, and on the other, it is associated with the preservation of biological specimens in natural history collections. The polar bears featured in the nanoq project embody this duality, as almost all of them had been hunted in either the name of sport or science, or a combination of the two. The idea of hunting for the advancement of knowledge merely provided a thinly veiled disguise of virtue, obscuring the reality of a hunt that was equally an act of constructing the persona of the heroic hunter. The killing of animals in the name of science was regarded as being for the greater good, and necessary for the preservation of nature. Donna Haraway focuses on this conflation of naturalism and hunting, where the act of killing an animal for display was regarded as an act of conservation, in her seminal article, 43


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Worcester Bear, photographed by Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson in 2004

nanoq: flatout and bluesome installation, Spike Island Gallery, Bristol, England, 2006

44

 

 


Helen Gregory

“Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 19081936.” She examines the dichotomy embodied by the diorama, which maintains the appearance of realism, while belying the artifice and effort that went into its construction. In her case study of Carl Akeley’s dioramas in the African Hall of the American Museum of Natural History, Haraway also interrogates the sexist, racist and hierarchical structures that underpin the construction of both the dioramas and the accompanying fictions to which viewers acquiesce.1 She describes the dioramas as depicting “the moment of origin where nature and culture, private and public, profane and sacred meet – a moment of incarnation in an encounter of man and animal” (Haraway 1984-85, 23). This encounter is twofold, encompassing both the moment when the museum visitor encounters the taxidermic animal and its accompanying constructed narrative, as well as the moment of encounter between the naturalist-hunter and the living animal, the moment of origin that sets the animal’s fate. Akeley personified the role of naturalist-hunter, believing that specimens were required to embody and disseminate knowledge. Although he, like many hunters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, believed in the conservation and dignity of nature, his writings reveal the underlying connection between hunting and masculinity. Recalling the intimate relationship between hunters and the hunted described by Garry Marvin, Akeley’s descriptions of his hunting exploits reveal “the tales of a pure man whose danger in pursuit of a noble cause brings him into communion with the beasts he kills, with nature” (Haraway 1984-85, 45). This image of the hunter killing animals for the greater good brings us back to the hunters who killed the polar bears in nanoq: flat out and bluesome. During the period of British imperial expansion, and its conquest and domination of both nature and other cultures, the museum became the ideological and material product of the hunting lifestyle lived by the archetypal colonial hunter.2 Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson’s project alerts us to the fact that, in many cases, this legacy of colonial hunting expeditions has left the polar bears and other “exotic” taxidermic specimens in a state of institutional limbo. Although major museums have the financial resources to maintain their dioramas and collections of taxidermy, collections held in smaller museums have been left in a position of vulnerability. While museums like the Kelvingrove, where Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson made some of their initial research, have merely stopped exhibiting nonnative species and put much of their collection in storage, other museums have destroyed their collections of taxidermy altogether. The Natural History Museum in London continues to exhibit taxidermy but maintains an ambiguous position and distances itself from its colonial history by accompanying it with explanatory panels that act as a moral disclaimer. The signs read:

45


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream The Museum is concerned about the conservation of animals in the natural world and no longer collects skins for taxidermy displays. The specimens in these displays are from the Museum’s historic collections – consequently some are faded or show other signs of their age. We feel it is more appropriate to rely on these collections for display, even though they may not fully reflect the natural appearance of the living animal (Poliquin 2008, 125).

Contemporary museums rarely seek to expand their collections of taxidermy, and consequently it is becoming progressively obsolete as a didactic tool. Occasionally an animal will die a natural death and will be deemed worthy of preservation through taxidermy, but for the purpose of public education, museums are increasingly relying on film, video, and interactive displays that accurately portray animals in their natural habitat without harming them. Michelle Henning (2006) argues that the increased use of film, video and new media in museums has been accompanied by a shift towards incorporating the museum visitor into the exhibit through interactivity. This has had the effect of changing the relationship between the body of the visitor and the museum exhibition. The emphasis has shifted away from the object as a source of embodied knowledge towards the experience of the viewer, which has consequently led to the visitor’s body replacing the museum artifact as the thing that is examined within the display space. These experiential exhibits rely less on the authenticity and specific provenance of the individual objects than on their “corroborative power” to aid in the constructing of narratives. Such narrative based exhibits emphasize the coherence of a story and generalized truths over specific artifacts (Henning 2006, 91). The integration of new media has also changed the way that material artifacts function within the museum. The interactivity as performed by the museum visitor has shifted away from an engagement with the actual physical, material world towards an increased interaction with technology and representations of the world. The engagement with objects as sources of embodied knowledge has been displaced by representations of the objects. It is the movement away from the primacy of the object that has stripped taxidermic specimens of their didactic power. In many museums, one is as likely to learn about an animal through photographs or video as one is to encounter an actual preserved specimen, and consequently many taxidermic animals have been consigned to storage or disposed of altogether. By removing the polar bears from their contexts of storage rooms, hallways, and museum vitrines, and re-situating them in the white cube of a contemporary art space, Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson force the viewer to confront the polar bears, creating a bodily relationship beyond that of the traditional museum experience. Steve Baker (2000, 53) argues in The Postmodern Animal, 46


Helen Gregory The literalism of the thing matters: its presence, its objecthood…it is an embodied thing, whose space includes and incorporates the viewer’s body. Unable to quite contain itself, it creates something (a physical space, a situation), which comprises and binds the bodies of the viewer and the thing itself to form a new, awkward and explicitly non-modernist whole; only the viewer’s presence completes the work.

In the exhibition nanoq: flat out and bluesome, the confrontation between the body of the viewer and the body of the polar bear creates an almost palpable physical and spiritual relationship. It connects the viewer to both the hunter and the hunted and elicits a visceral response that supersedes that of an interactive museum experience that privileges representations over authentic objects. The polar bears instigate a return to the primacy of the visual, and correspondingly of observation of an authentic object as a source of knowledge. By situating the polar bears inside sleek glass cubes, Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson mimic both the trope of the Victorian glass vitrine, as well as the glass window of the diorama. While dioramas mimetically simulate the appearance of realism and require viewers to accept a prescribed narrative of nature, these polar bears are stripped of artifice, severing all illusions of naturalism. The inclusion of photography showing the polar bears in their usual “habitats,” as well as their “biographical” information, forces the viewer to renounce any fictional narratives they had previously accepted. The polar bears serve to critique past collecting practices while acknowledging their value. It seems inconceivable today that hunting an animal for the purpose of displaying it in a museum could be thought of as an act of conservation, yet ironically, the time may come to pass when the museum is the only place where we can observe polar bears. Frederic A. Lucas wrote in 1883, “Man is a great destroyer, and our wild animals, and especially the larger ones, are being rapidly civilized from the face of the earth. Sooner or later the time will come for many of them when their mounted forms preserved in our museums will be all to show they once existed” (Star 1992, 279). Polar bears were once symbols of strength and power, both of their own innate strength and that of Britain as a colonizing nation, but they are now emblematic of the decline of their own natural environment and an intense vulnerability. Notes 1

Haraway focuses on the example of Carl Akelely, who was both hunter and taxidermist. Renowned

as a pioneer in naturalist taxidermy, Akeley travelled to Africa in search of gorilla specimens. During the first few days of the expedition, Akeley and his hunting partners killed or attempted to kill many of the gorillas that they saw. Although Akeley believed in killing as few animals as possible, his vision

47


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream required killing a perfect male specimen, and a surrounding group of females and young. After acquiring sufficient specimens, they used film and photography to document other gorillas in their natural habitat. Akeley was genuinely passionate about Africa, and believed that hunting was a form of preservation. Haraway writes, “The vision that Carl Akeley has seen was one of jungle peace. His quest to embody this vision justified to himself his hunting, turning it into a tool of science and art, the scalpel that revealed the harmony of an organic, articulate world.” 2

Haraway makes the connection between the “Anglo-Saxon, male, heterosexual, protestant, physically

robust, and economically comfortable” sportsman and the museum with its program of education that reaffirms the hunter’s state of manhood, 38.

Works Cited Baker, Steve. The Post Modern Animal. London: Reaktion Books, 2000. Byatt, Lucy. Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson. “Introduction.” nanoq: flat out and bluesome, A Cultural Life of Polar Bears. Snaebjornsdottir/Wilson. [Exhibition catalogue]. Spike Island Gallery, Bristol: Black Dog Publishing, 2006. 13-19 Haraway, Donna. “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in The Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908 – 1936.” Social Text. No. 11 (Winter, 1984-1985): 20-64 Henning, Michelle. Museums, Media, and Cultural Theory. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press, 2006a. ______. “Skins of the Real: Taxidermy and Photography.” nanoq: flat out and bluesome, A Cultural Life of Polar Bears. Snaebjornsdottir/Wilson. [Exhibition catalogue]. Spike Island Gallery, Bristol: Black Dog Publishing, 2006b. 137-147 Marvin, Garry. “Enlivened Through Memory: Hunters and Hunting Trophies.” The Afterlives of Animals. Ed. Samuel J. M. M. Alberti. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2011. 202-217 Poliquin, Rachel. “The Matter and Meaning of Museum Taxidermy.” Museum and Society. Vol. 6, No. 2 (2008): 123-134 Ryan, James R. Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire. London: Reaktion Books, 1997. Star, Susan Leigh. “Craft vs. Commodity, Mess vs. Transcendence: How the Right Tool Became the Wrong One in the Case of Taxidermy and Natural History.” The Right Tools for the Job. Ed. Adele E. Clarke and Joan H. Fujimura. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.

48


Jordana Franklin

CHAPTER FOUR

Jordana Franklin

Continuing the Tradition: Sex Workers on Display at the National Gallery, London In 2009, writer Michael Hall noted an emerging trend amongst galleries and museums that strictly collect historical works of art. These institutions were beginning to exhibit contemporary art. He stated: “Such exhibitions help dispel any fuddy-duddy associations of Old Master collections and can attract new and younger audiences, which often (certainly in the UK) has important consequences for funding” (Hall 2009, 13). That year, the conservative National Gallery in London, England followed this trend by displaying The Hoerengracht. The installation, created in their Berlin studio by Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz between 1983 and 1988, is a portrait of the profession of prostitution, an imagined scene based on the narrow streets of Amsterdam’s red-light district. The exhibition appeared to signify that the institution was progressing forward, as it was the gallery’s first contemporary installation and unabashedly engaged with the controversial topic of sex work. As a contemporary installation, it differed greatly from the gallery’s permanent collection of European paintings produced between 1250 and 1900. Although this seems to suggest that the National Gallery is beginning to shed its conservative roots, The Hoerengracht exhibition ultimately revealed that it continues to operate as it always has, which is in a continuous struggle to reconcile its disparate foundational roles. The Hoerengracht was installed in the Sunley Room from November of 2009 to February, 2010. The exhibition transformed the room into an immersive space and the overhead lights were covered to create the illusion of night. In producing the 49


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

work, the artists placed eleven mannequins inside of constructed window interiors to represent the resident sex workers. They attached glass cookie boxes to the mannequin’s heads to reference the idea that their bodies are for sale but not their minds. In this example of assemblage art, they also included details that blurred the boundaries between the gallery space and the outside world. For example, they rested bikes along the illusory sidewalk and meticulously decorated the window interiors with details such as sheets of wallpaper, personal items, and discarded cigarette butts. In total, the installation measured approximately forty-two feet by thirteen feet and was more than ten feet tall. The title, The Hoerengracht, was derived from the name of Amsterdam’s fashionable district, The Herengracht, which translates into Gentleman’s Canal. By adding one letter, the artists transformed it into the Dutch word for Whore’s Canal (National Gallery 2009a). A month after the exhibition closed at the National Gallery, it was installed in the Amsterdam Museum, where it was on show until August of 2010. Although both institutions displayed the same work, they executed their exhibitions in different ways. The artists wanted the installation to provoke viewers to contemplate their own feelings about prostitution (Kienholz, press release, 2010). As a result, the work itself does not overtly condemn nor condone the profession; it aims to simply present it. However, amidst this ambiguity, the institutions’ positions on the matter are reflected in their exhibition choices. These positions are closely linked to the role that the museums were created to fulfil and to the cities in which they reside. The Amsterdam Museum, formerly the Amsterdam Historical Museum, was created to showcase the story of Amsterdam from the past to the present. This is the story of a city where prostitution has been an accepted practice for centuries; a city that prides itself on its tolerance (Amsterdam Museum 2012). In alignment with this, the museum declared that it was neutral regarding the status of prostitution (Goddard 2010). In addition, at the official opening of The Hoerengracht, the director of the museum shared his own positive experiences speaking with the sex workers in the Amsterdam neighbourhood. Although his speech was light in tone, it had strong implications. The work was initially created in the mid 1980s before Edward Kienholz’s death in 1994. As a result, the sex workers are represented as historical figures, stuck in the past. In addition, their presence is suggested through the use of objects, such as mannequins and personal belongings, rather than living bodies. The director’s speech reminded visitors of the living sex workers who were practicing their profession a few blocks away from the exhibition. When The Hoerengracht was displayed in Amsterdam, the fact that it was created in the 1980s meant it served as a historical document of the district. Prostitution 50


Jordana Franklin

in the city has been publicly tolerated for centuries and was officially legalized in 2000. However, over the past few years, the municipal government has been making changes to the neighbourhood, known in Dutch as the Wallen, reducing the number of sex workers while increasing the number of mainstream shops (Goddard 2010). As a result, the Amsterdam Museum’s exhibition functioned as a commentary on the gentrification of the neighbourhood amid a tolerant society. This contrasts with the role the exhibition played in the United Kingdom, where prostitution is alternatively considered to be a criminal act. Nonetheless, the National Gallery stood by its decision to include art about the profession. The exhibition was subsequently fraught with tensions and contradictions, vacillating between condemning the commercial sale of sex and offering the opinion that it should be legalized. In 2009, the year The Hoerengracht first opened, the former National Gallery director Charles Saumarez Smith wrote a book on the history of the institution. His historical writings help account for the conflicting sentiments expressed in the exhibition. Smith (2009, 29) noted that there was a mixture of motives and ideas behind the gallery’s establishment, which have not yet been reconciled. He asserted that the institution has always been uncertain about the nature of its intended audience; whether it is meant to cater to connoisseurs and collectors or the broader public, including even those who are impoverished (Smith 2009, 27). The Gallery claims that it wishes to cater to everyone but has consistently found this expressed desire harder to carry out in practice than in theory. These unresolved questions can be traced back to the origins of the gallery. When the National Gallery first opened in Trafalgar Square in 1838, it aimed to exhibit its collection to the entirety of the nation’s public in the hopes of elevating the masses through culture (Prior 2002, 82). According to a British parliamentary committee, such an institution was an important tool for national improvement and social order (Prior 2002, 84). One can see remnants of this foundational principle today on the gallery website, which states that it operates with the goal of making the museum accessible to the widest possible audience (Access 2012). In accordance with this, the gallery has indeed attracted a diverse audience over the course of its operations. This may seem surprising for an art institution, as institutions of this nature are often criticized for their cultural exclusivity (Zohlberg 1994, 49). As Vera Zolberg (1994, 51) states, the art museum public tends to be comprised of individuals who are better educated, older, and more affluent than visitors to other types of museums. In addition, The London Museums Hub commissioned the consultancy firm of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre to conduct a study in 2008 on the museum market in London. This study found that the people who had visited a museum or gallery in the past twelve months were more likely to be of White ethnic background and from higher social grades than the general London population 51


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

(London Museums Hub 2008, 7). Therefore, at first glance, it may seem as if the National Gallery has democratized the art museum experience as compared to other art institutions. However, there has consistently been an inherent conflict between the gallery’s goal, motivated by public idealism, and the lived reality of contending with a public that it had overly idealized. This conflict manifests itself whenever the gallery concerns itself with marginalized groups, such as members of the city’s industrial working class and sex workers. In these instances, its role as a cultural institution exhibiting high art and its foundational principles of promoting social order clash with its public mandate. For example, the written materials that the National Gallery released to accompany The Hoerengracht exhibition contained disparaging comments regarding the subject of prostitution but also included Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s (2009) statement: “I would like the viewer to remember while walking the streets, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’” According to the exhibition labels, Kienholz wanted to use the work as a vehicle to advocate for the rights of the sex workers in the hopes that prostitution will eventually be more widely legalized (Kienholz 2009). She believes that the women deserve police protection, which can only happen in the absence of persecution. For example, sex workers have reported that their working environment in the red-light district in Amsterdam is significantly safer than in cities like London or Paris, where prostitution is illegal and therefore not regulated (Gregory 2005, 59). Despite this pronouncement, the Press Release described the red-light district with terms such as sleazy and seedy (National Gallery 2009b). Similarly, the gallery website stated that The Hoerengracht showed, “the most vulgar, ugly and ramshackle aspects of society” (National Gallery 2009c). In addition, although the exhibition curator Colin Wiggins stated that the artists created The Hoerengracht without imposing their own judgments, he presented the work as a depiction of exploited women trapped in a dreadful profession (“Kienholz at the…” 2009). Prior to the exhibition opening, he gave a behindthe-scenes tour of the installation. During the tour, he was adamant that the artists left it open for visitors to form their own conclusions but he led viewers toward his personal negative perception of prostitution. For example, he offered the idea that the resin on the windows referred to the women’s tears and that the surrounding garbage alluded to their position as trash (“Kienholz at the…” 2009). In his discussion of the installation, he also acknowledged that the cookie boxes framing the mannequin’s heads were meant to signify that the minds of sex workers are not for sale. However, he stated that artworks were open to interpretation and that he personally viewed the boxes as a device that signifies the pain inflicted upon the people represented. 52


Jordana Franklin

These statements ran counter to Nancy Kienholz’s assertion that these women are entitled to safely act in their profession. Her proclamation empowers sex workers by suggesting that they can operate as active agents rather than as perpetual victims. As discussed above, prostitutes working in the red-light district reported that the neighbourhood provided a safe haven distinct from other European cities where they were repeatedly subject to violence (Gregory 2005, 59). The individual window interiors also allowed them to professionally engage in sexual acts in the comforts of their own space (Gregory 2005, 97). However, Wiggins’ statements suggest that the sex workers on display are tragic figures trapped in their profession by unfortunate circumstances. Alternatively, the Amsterdam Museum’s assistant curator Roosmarji Deenik remarked that The Hoerengracht presented a romantic view of the area rather than a vulgar and ugly one (Goddard 2010). She explained this position by discussing how prostitution is imbedded in the roots of the Dutch nation. In an interview with Toronto Star critic Peter Goddard (2010), Deenik noted that prostitution, “owns a dubiously privileged place in Holland’s seafaring history going back to the country’s booming trading days in the 17th century when the city provided a nightly meeting ground for thousands of sailors prepared to pay for sex and women prepared to provide it for a profit.” She also stated that the exhibition featured normal looking women partaking in everyday leisure activities such as smoking a cigarette or reading a magazine (Goddard 2010). This interpretation was a far cry from Wiggins’ assertion that they were tragic figures trapped in their misery. The visitors’ responses to the two manifestations of The Hoerengracht reflected the disparate attitudes expressed by the respective museum organizers. Blogger Paul Laster’s (2010) review of the exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum stated that it depicted the district with empathy and wit, while a writer commenting on the National Gallery exhibition stated that it was a grotesque, seedy and greasy portrayal of the district (Jones 2010). In addition, Peter Goddard noted in his review that the Amsterdam Museum reminded him that the illicit act of prostitution is more innocuous than other illegal acts conducted in the district. He stated: “The Hoerengracht offers a zone of comfy eroticism that’s a world away from the less salubrious activities of money laundering and human trafficking that found a foothold in the area in recent years” (Goddard 2010). His perspective was vastly different from the National Gallery’s statement that the exhibition represented the ugliest and most ramshackle aspects of society. Despite these varying reactions, visitors to both institutions were directed to physically experience the exhibition in a similar manner. Visitors to the National Gallery and the Amsterdam Museum were invited to walk through the three dimensional space of The Hoerengracht, consequently immersing themselves in the 53


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

work. However, the National Gallery strove to establish a distinction between their museum visitors and the types of people who frequent the red-light district as patrons. Their preoccupation with the morality of their audience can be traced back to the initial discussions about the formation of the gallery in the eighteenth century. At the time, people believed that there was a connection between aesthetic taste and moral virtue (Prior 2002, 70). These early discussions revolved around the idea that people who could agree upon a unified aesthetic taste for the nation were learning to replace their private interests with the interests of the public, thus contributing to the security of society (Prior 2002, 71). Conversely, those that sought out sensory gratification and fell outside the community, such as the lower classes and those driven by bodily forces, were viewed as a danger to society (Prior 2002, 71). In addition, as people were increasingly being exposed to art, the state began to use culture as a vehicle to define acceptable forms of social activity and to regulate social morals (Prior 2002, 79). Although such views have naturally developed and changed over time, one can see traces of these initial perceptions on the gallery’s didactic panel that stated: “The Hoerengracht is a piece for voyeurs” (National Gallery 2009a). In The Everyday Lives of Sex Workers, Katherine Gregory states that there are two categories of people who frequent the red-light district: voyeurs and customers (Gregory 2005, 54). She differentiates between pedestrians who strictly gaze at the sex workers in the windows and clients who pay for their services. Gregory notes that everyone carries with them a corporeal sensibility toward the desirability of prostitutes but it is the consumers who allow themselves to be compelled by such forces (Gregory 2005, 54). The didactic panel in the National Gallery placed the visitors in the role of the voyeur, clearly indicating that this was not a place for those driven by these bodily forces; the same types of people who had once been viewed as a societal danger. In one instance, a client did appear in the installation. The artists included a life-size photograph of an unsuspecting man that they saw in the Amsterdam neighbourhood. Visitors were invited to look at the photograph in conjunction with viewing the sex workers on display. This set up a distinction between the museum attendees, who were strictly positioned as viewers, and those that would engage in the act of prostitution, as if to say: You are not them. You are just looking. Alternatively, in his review of the exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum, Peter Goddard noted that in the red-light district, it is the prostitutes who are the voyeurs and the pedestrians who become the objects of the gaze. Goddard (2010) stated: “You’re in their world, and that’s the source of their power, such as it is. They are the real voyeurs, posed implacably in their storefront windows. You’re just a bundle of walking need.” The Dutch institution’s exhibition choices heightened this inversion of spectacle and spectator. In Amsterdam, The Hoerengracht was 54


Jordana Franklin

shown in conjunction with works of art that placed both viewers and artists in the role of the prostitute such as Marieken Verheyen’s How Much? This work, created in 1989, uses a hidden camera to film the street from a prostitute’s point of view, thus temporarily positioning the viewer as the sex worker. The title of the work refers to how often the woman was asked about her fee. Viewers were subjected to these repetitive questions and temporarily experienced the world from her perspective. The museum also exhibited Marina Abramovic’s Role Exchange from 1975. Abramovic documented her experience switching roles with a prostitute over a four-hour period. She spent that time sitting in a red-light district window while the sex worker attended a gallery opening in Abramovic’s stead. In the end, the two women split the three hundred dollar artist fee from the gallery. The artist selected a woman who had worked in her profession for the same length of time that Abramovic had worked as an artist. She used the work to suggest a comparable relationship between artists and sex workers in that both women had to perform in their profession and subsequently became the site of spectacle (Novakov 2003, 32). Abramovic additionally wanted to comment on the relationship between the red-light district windows and the frames of a painting, both of which enclose the desires of the spectators and mark the interiors as sites for visual consumption (Novakov 2003, 32). These accompanying works placed sex workers on a level similar to that of both an artist and a visitor. The National gallery similarly connected The Hoerengracht with other artworks on display. However, they did so to convey an alternative message. The institution justified exhibiting the controversial subject matter by stating that it formed a dialogue with the permanent collection of 17th century Dutch paintings, many of which engage with the theme of prostitution. Although the artists did not create The Hoerengracht based on this correlation, it nonetheless became the crux of the exhibition. The catalogue and didactic panels focused on the relationship between The Hoerengracht and these Baroque paintings, such as Jan Steen’s A Woman at her Toilet, 1663. According to the gallery, the subject’s undressed state and her surrounding objects indicate that she is an occupational ancestor of the women who populate the contemporary installation (National Gallery 2009a). Similarly, they make a connection between the Kienholz work and Pieter de Hooch’s Musical Party in a Courtyard, 1677, which displays a couple surrounded by female musicians. The panel links the red colour of the central woman’s dress to the colour traditionally associated with the harlot figure of Mary Magdalene and to the distinctive red light that glows in the Amsterdam district (National Gallery 2009a). Prior to The Hoerengracht exhibition, The National Gallery had consistently presented these Dutch genre scenes by focusing on the visual components of the paintings rather than on their content. In 1997, the gallery published Utrecht 55


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Painters of the Dutch Golden Age to accompany a traveling exhibition entitled Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht during the Golden Age. In this text, author Christopher Brown (1997, 41) discussed Dirck van Burburen’s The Procuress, 1622, by focusing on the artist’s use of light, space, modelling, and line. His references to the subject of the painting, the commercial sale of sex, were secondary to his description of van Burburen’s compositional choices. By aligning the women of The Hoerengracht with the figures in the Dutch paintings, the institution positioned the sex workers on display as passive bodies who are there to be gazed upon. They subsequently become the objects of vision instead of active agents (Berger 2010, 50). In “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger (2010, 50) notes the ways in which representations of the nude female body in European paintings are indicative of how women are judged as visual sights in everyday life. Historically, these painted nude figures were acutely aware of being seen by a spectator and thus experienced their nakedness in relation to the viewer. In referring to the nude subject, Berger (2010, 50) states: “She is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her.” This European painting convention differs from non-western artistic traditions, such as that of Indian art, Persian art, and African art, where women and men are depicted as equally active participants in sexual intimacy (Berger 2010, 51). European paintings, by contrast, contained representations of women as passive objects susceptible to the male gaze. Berger (2010, 52) states: “This unequal relationship is so deeply imbedded in our culture that it still structures the consciousness of many women.” He sums up by noting, “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (Berger 2010, 50). By relating The Hoerengracht to paintings from the European tradition, the gallery has positioned the women featured as passive sites for visual consumption. Furthermore, according to noted art historian Svetlana Alpers (1997, 63), the Dutch painters used the prostitutes’ actions as a vehicle to distinguish between virtue and vice as well as order and disorder. For example, brothels were viewed as the negative alternative to the orderly home, while the financial transactions involved in prostitution represented a perversion of the proper use of money (Alpers 1997, 63-64). Therefore, although Nancy Reddin Kienholz wished to advocate that these women should be allowed to practice their occupation without persecution, the gallery aligned the sex workers with representations of the degradation of order and morality. Such tensions are reminiscent of the early days of the institution, when the government and the gallery trustees discovered that there was a gap between the rhetoric behind the National Gallery project and the messy realities of urban life (Prior 2002, 91). In 1838, the gallery moved from its initial residence in a private 56


Jordana Franklin

home on Pall Mall Street to its current central location in what became Trafalgar Square. This new spot seemed more amenable to the gallery’s aim of improving the nation and refining the lower classes by exposing everyone to the arts. However, the institution’s central location soon became problematic due to its proximity to London’s industry and army barracks. In response, the architect Charles Purser expressed his anxiety by stating, “our National Gallery may not be prostituted, in its virgin purity” (Prior 2002, 89). As the largest city in the world at the time, London produced a great deal of industrial detritus, which was entering into the gallery space and sullying the surface of the pictures (Prior 2002, 89). The gallery became heavily invested in discovering the root cause of the dirt (Prior 2002, 90). It eventually blamed the problem on the fact that the indiscriminate masses were now occupying the museum space, rather than the cultural elite as it had been at Pall Mall. People began to conceive of the crowd as a turbulent mass of dirty working class bodies rather than as potential receptacles of heightened taste. In addition, impoverished individuals had begun to use the space for basic utilitarian purposes, such as shelter and as a clean place to eat. This was all seen as diminishing to the concepts of cultural purity and the Kantian pure aesthetic (Prior 2002, 89). As a result, these people were perceived to be threatening and destructive to the art, both symbolically and physically. Nick Prior (2002, 90) states, “the city was inserted into the discourse of cultural management through the promiscuous image of the crowd.” The gallery began to fear that the lower classes would cause damage to the middle classes, and by extension, the nation (Prior 2002, 92). In response, the trustees felt a need to reclaim the space, and discussions began about the best ways in which to do so (Prior 2002, 92). They debated moving the gallery away from the city centre to a pastoral area near Hyde Park and South Kensington in what Nick Prior termed purification through gentrification (Prior 2002, 93). They also questioned implementing an admission price, which would deter those without the necessary funds from entering the gallery. Ultimately, no drastic decisions were made because the trustees were unable to consolidate their vision of accessibility for all with this desire to rid the gallery of lower class individuals. Charles Saumarez Smith (2009, 7) wrote that the National Gallery has a strong sense of its own history. However, he states, “this history has in the past been curiously under-articulated, as if the institution does not wish particularly to analyse or investigate the circumstances of its formation in order to present itself as in some way eternal” (Smith 2009, 7). In the absence of such examination or discussion, he notes that it continues to operate based on the beliefs of the past without opening itself up to questioning them. If one compares the present period to the past, specifically the year 2009 to the early years of the gallery, one can see 57


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

how certain beliefs have endured. It is telling that terms such as “promiscuous” and “prostitution” were employed to describe people that the gallery deemed to be undesirable. This resonates with gallery’s recent treatment of The Hoerengracht subject matter. Compared to the Amsterdam Museum, it distanced itself from sanctioning the act of prostitution. Although the display demonstrated that it has begun to open itself up to less traditional forms of art, the gallery’s continuous investment in preserving social order has consistently prevented it from truly accepting all members of society. Despite the subject of the exhibition, living sex workers were not encouraged to visit or participate in the show in any way. According to the Senior Information Manager at the National Gallery, the institution’s interest in the exhibition visitors was strictly based on quantity (Morton 2012). In total, they calculated that 223,183 people were in attendance. However, despite striving to attract a new audience interested in contemporary art, they did not track the types of people that encompassed this audience, nor did they register whether or not any sex workers were present. Furthermore, practicing sex workers do not appear anywhere in the display. The exhibition labels boasted that the mannequins were cast from life. However, the artists cast those using friends and visitors to their Berlin studio while they used standard shop dummies for the heads. As a result, these living women were notably absent from the National Gallery despite the various representations of them. This absence, in conjunction with the institution’s expressed attitude toward prostitution, gives credence to Irit Rogoff ’s (2002, 64) assertion that; “ambivalences and disavowals always seem to surface when museums engage with issues of cultural differences.” Rogoff (2002, 64) states that this specifically occurs when contemporary cultures struggle to co-habitate,” In this case, the struggle was between the cultural elite who frequent United Kingdom art institutions and those who engage in the profession of sex work. Rogoff (2002, 64) notes that exhibitions of this nature should not simply represent the marginalization of certain groups without implicating themselves in the process. Although London prostitutes are subject to systemic acts of violence, the National Gallery refused to engage with the ways in which the institution is embedded in a culture that perpetrates this marginalization and assault. In 2008, a study was conducted in London that examined the prevalence of brothels in the city. The study’s co-author Helen Atkins (2008) stated, “for most women involved in prostitution, the reality is a cycle of violence and coercion, perpetuated by poverty and inequality.” In addition, due to the pervasiveness of prostitution in the absence of regulations, the deputy leader of the British Labour party Harriet Harman noted that many of the girls were underage and victims of human trafficking (Atkins 2008). 58


Jordana Franklin

Despite all this, the National Gallery separated itself from the contemporary reality of London prostitution by not including any references to practicing sex workers. In addition, while the Amsterdam Museum’s presented the work as a comparison between the red-light district in the 1980s and the present day, the National Gallery compared it to a seventeenth century artistic tradition, further burying it in the past. Rogoff (2002, 66) notes that museums often, “dismiss the continuation of those communities,” which are presently living a short distance from the institution itself. She goes on to state: “By insisting that the events commemorated are part of a historical past, the museum cuts itself off from contemporary parallels and limits the range of our understanding of just how complex and far reaching those communities might be” (Rogoff 2002, 66). The gallery presented The Hoerengracht as a historical recreation of the red-light district in the 1980s without referencing the current state of London prostitution, thus limiting the potential for the exhibition to make an impact on the community of practicing sex workers. The varying responses to the exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum and the National Gallery demonstrate that placing a provocative and controversial artwork in a conservative and traditional establishment does not indicate that the museum has changed. Evidently an institution can significantly impact an exhibition, but a single exhibition cannot significantly impact its exhibiting institution. Therefore, it is the gallery itself that must make the decision to undergo a transformation. However, in this case, the gallery did not unfold itself in any way. Instead, it simply followed the additive model of inserting the histories of other groups into the Modernist narrative. Rogoff (2002, 66) notes that this model is problematic because it ignores, “the conflict between hegemonic and marginally located cultures.” In the process of displaying this exhibition, the museum followed the trend Charles Smith noted of never opening itself up to questioning itself. As a result, the exhibition was subjected to the struggles that have plagued the institution since its inception. In trying to understand the rationale behind representing the red-light district in the National Gallery, visitors to the Kienholz exhibition echoed Michael Hall’s sentiments. A writer for The Independent attributed the unlikely pairing to the institution’s desire to appear current in order to justify receiving government grants (Darwent 2009). Another reviewer assumed that it was meant to attract a new type of audience interested in more cutting edge works in an effort to compete with the Tate Modern less than 3 kilometres away (Jones 2009). Neither commentator suggested that the work was installed to benefit the sex workers represented. Despite all this, Nancy Reddin Kienholz and the National Gallery did collaborate to exhibit The Hoerengracht. Clearly both parties believed there were benefits to displaying this work. And it may be that this is a small step in the right direction for the conservative institution. However, until the gallery reconciles its conflicting ideals, 59


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

contemporary works such as this will continue to be fraught with contradictions, which will ultimately be detrimental to the artist’s aims of advocating for the represented subjects.

Works Cited “Access.” National Gallery. Accessed March 6, 2012. http://www.nationalga llery.org.uk/visiting/ access/. Alpers, Svetlana. “Picturing Dutch Culture.” Looking at Seventeenth Century Dutch Art: Realism Reconsidered. Edited by Wayne Frantis, 57 – 67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. “Amsterdam Museum.” Amsterdam Museum. Accessed March 16, 2012. http://en.amsterdammuseum.nl/nl/home-ahm-en/museum-visit. Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones, 49-52. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. “Brothel industry is ‘spreading.’” BBC News, Sept. 4, 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_ news/7597232.stm. Brown, Christopher. Utrecht Painters of the Dutch Golden Age. London: National Gallery Publications, 1997. Darwin, Charles. “The Hoerengracht, National Gallery, London.” The Independent, Nov. 22, 2009. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/the-hoerengracht-national-gallerylondon-1825235.html. Goddard, Peter. “Amsterdam museum exhibit illuminates the ladies of the night.” The Toronto Star, July 2, 2010. Gregory, Katherine. The Everyday Lives of Sex Workers in the Netherlands. New York and London: Routledge, 2005. Hall, Michael. “The modern Old Masters: we are often told that Old Master galleries need to break down boundaries between the art of the past and that of today--but who actually benefits from this argument?” Apollo (Dec. 2009): 13. Jones, Jonathan. “The National Gallery Takes on the Tate Modern with Ed Kienholz,” Jonathan Jones on Art Blog from The Guardian, Nov. 11, 2009 (1:50 p.m.). http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/ jonathanjonesblog/2009/nov/11/ed-kienholz-hoerengracht-national-gallery?intcmp=239. Jones, Jonathan. “Pornographic art? Nothing unusual at the National Gallery.” Jonathan Jones on Art Blog from The Guardian, Feb. 5, 2010 (2:32 p.m.). http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/ jonathanjonesblog/2010/feb/04/the-hoerengracht-national-gallery. “Kienholz at the National Gallery: a tour with curator Colin Wiggins.” YouTube video, 5:00. a behindthe-scenes tour for Culture24. posted by “Culture24,” Nov. 17, 2009. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=6p2y_nlsmYg. “Kienholz – The Hoerengracht.” Amsterdam Museum. Accessed March 16, 2012. http://en.amsterdammuseum.nl/nl/home-ahm-en/organisation/press/2009/kienholz-thehoerengracht.

60


Jordana Franklin Laster, Paul. “The Hoerengracht: Amsterdam’s Red-light district in 3D.” Flavorwire (blog), Aug. 25, 2010 (11:00 a.m.). http://flavorwire.com/113594/the-hoerengracht-amsterdams-red-light-district-in-3d. London Museums Hub. “Insight: A Survey of the London museums market.” London:

2 0 0 8 ,

1-20. The National Gallery. “Kienholz: The Hoerengracht.” London: National Gallery, 2009a. Exhibition labels from an exhibition at the National Gallery, London, November, 2009 through February, 2010. National Gallery. “Kienholz: The Hoerengracht.” London: National Gallery, 2009b. Press release from an exhibition at the National Gallery, London, November, 2009 through February, 2010. National Gallery. “Kienholz: The Hoerengracht;” National Gallery, 2009c. Accessed March 10, 2012. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/kienholz-the-hoerengracht. Novakov, Anna. “Point of Access: Marina Abramovic’s 1975 Performance ‘Role Exchange.” Woman’s Art Journal 24, no. 2 (2003): 31-35. Prior, Nick. Museums and Modernity: Art Galleries and the Making of Modern Culture. Oxford & New York: Berg, 2002. Reddin Kienholz, Nancy. “Kienholz: The Hoerengracht.” London: National Gallery,

2 0 0 9 .

Exhibition labels from an exhibition at the National Gallery, London, November, 2009 through February 2010. Rogoff, Irit. “Hit and Run Museums and Cultural Difference,” Art Journal (Fall 2002): 63-73. Smith, Charles Saumarez. The National Gallery: A Short History. London: Frances Lincoln Limited Publishers, 2009. Zolberg, Vera. “‘An Elite Experience for Everyone’: Art Museums, the Public, and Cultural Literacy.” 4969. Museum Culture: Histories, Discourses, Spectacles. Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

61


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER FIVE

Angelique Roy

Ask Not What You Can Do For Art, But What Art Can Do For You This paper examines the implementation and objectives of the National Gallery London’s “Inside Art” programme, in terms of what George Yúdice (2003, 11) describes as the recent “expanded role for culture.” This expanded role is one in which culture becomes a resource to be exploited for social, political, and economic pursuits. In effect, the “Inside Art” project appears to exchange the walls of the prison for those of the gallery thereby illustrating the potential of art through the reconceptualization of both institutions involved. First, the art museum places itself in a new position, which is that of a social agency offering the means through which rehabilitation can be realized. Meanwhile, the prison is transformed into an institution in which the visual arts make possible creativity and self-reflection, modes of expression otherwise not available to incarcerated youth. As an instructional programme, “Inside Art” can be understood through comparative examinations of the educational and therapeutic roles of art, which serves to distinguish the project from traditional art therapy. While educational strategies such as the one employed by the National Gallery London are a growing priority in today’s art museum, the provision of a greater degree of substantive information to the general public could more accurately convey the value of such a prison arts programme.1 In her recent study, Measuring the Social Contribution of the Arts, Eva Cox suggests that calculating the results of art activities is not a simple task. While she states that statistical information is often expensive to amass and not always accurate in 62


Angelique Roy

conveying the perspective of participants, it is necessary to understand the value of such information when considering both funding and effectiveness (Cox 2008, 199). Without substantial data pertaining to ongoing arts and cultural programmes, it would be impossible to determine whether a programme should continue to be funded or whether it should be abandoned in favour of a potentially more effectual alternative. So, Cox (2008, 199) argues that methods including “observation, indepth interviews, focus groups and even some forms of before and after measures to more accurately record and explore changes in viewpoint” should be considered. While these methods for measuring the social contribution of an arts programme are absent in the National Gallery London’s project, it may still serve as an exemplar of how educational outreach programmes designated for young offenders may be improved to assure the prolonged positive impact on participants. Through detailed records of the programmes results after each year of completion, the Gallery project could affirm the benefits to involved institutions, participants, and the general public. The second annual exhibition, “Inside Art: Creative Responses to the Collection by Young Offenders,” was held in 2011 in the Learning Gallery of the National Gallery London. This exhibition was the result of a yearlong outreach programme, known as “Inside Art,” which was offered by the National Gallery Education Department and was developed in partnership with Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution Feltham, an all-male juvenile prison located in west London. Thirty young men from the age of fifteen to twenty-one participated in this education-centered programme. Throughout four art workshops held in 2010, young offenders were exposed to large-scale prints of the Gallery’s collection and were encouraged to engage in practical art-making activities including sculpture, painting, printmaking, and drawing (Inside Art 2011). Freelance artists associated with the National Gallery delivered these sessions, which aided participants in dealing with issues of style and technique as represented in the Gallery’s collection. Leaders of the workshops, in consultation with Gallery officials, determined both themes for discussion as well as the choice of media to be used by participants. It is from these workshops that the artworks of the young offenders were collected and displayed in the National Gallery throughout February and May of 2011 (Inside Art 2011b). During a seminar hosted by the National Gallery in April of 2010, professionals from the Gallery, the Feltham Institute, and representatives from the Koestler Trust, London’s leading prison arts charity, the Youth Justice Board, and the National Children’s Bureau met to discuss the impact of the project on those institutions involved. The records of this seminar concluded that participants, visitors, and staff relayed positive feedback regarding both the development of the participant’s

63


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

life skills and the ‘thought-provoking’ nature of the display (Inside Art 2011c). However, the information provided on the National Gallery website, which acted as the public face of the exhibition, taken together with the media coverage of the project lacks quantifiable evidence to support the above-mentioned claims. Statements made by National Gallery officials often included generalizations suggesting that participants demonstrated improved skills in problem-solving, communication, and self-awareness, stating that: “there is a growing body of research to demonstrate that all of these insights can help to reduce the risk of reoffending” (Inside Art 2011b). The absence of substantive evidence pertaining to the outcome of the programme inhibits the proof of its success for the public. The 2011 programme was the second of its kind made possible by a three-year grant from the LankellyChase Foundation. The Foundation, established in 2004, promotes participation in the arts for individuals who struggle with mental and physical health issues, as well as economic hardship (LankellyChase). Funding is provided to organizations that foster a creative arts environment to vulnerable youth from the ages of eleven to twenty-one. The Foundation offers grants in a minimum term of three years providing anywhere between ten and fifteen thousand British pounds in subsidy (LankellyChase). In describing the types of programmes for which funding is provided, the LankellyChase website states that: “the institution must offer young people the best participatory experience possible aiming to move the participants from a negative to a positive world view, from hopelessness to a realization that they have something to offer society” (United Kingdom 2012). As clearly outlined on the National Gallery London’s website, the primary objective of the 2011 programme was to ensure that the artworks within, and created for, the Gallery would remain accessible to a wide-ranging public. The claim was also made that the visual arts impart the potential for imaginative expression vital to the reintegration of juvenile offenders into society (Inside Art 2011c). Sociologist Vera Zolberg (1994, 52), suggests that: “in many cases the main purpose of establishing educational programs of whatever scale is to qualify for state and national grants of various kinds.” This claim may hold true for the National Gallery’s “Inside Art” project as it receives upwards of fifteen thousand British pounds per year, an equivalent of almost twenty-four thousand Canadian dollars in funding. While the exhibition was intended to attract a larger audience, drawing the general public to view the National Gallery collections as a whole, the programme itself may have also been strongly desired by the Feltham Institute to restore its deteriorating reputation. In 2000, the prison had suffered from calamities of murder, suicide, and excessive violence, the result of which was five changes in directorship of the institution within a period of eighteen months (Kelso 2000). Paul Kelso, correspondent for London’s Guardian reports that speculations of the 64


Angelique Roy

unethical behaviour of Feltham’s prison-guards arose after the devastating events of 2000. These events included participation in games known as ‘Gladiators’ and ‘Coliseum’ in which bets were placed on the pairing of unsuitable cellmates. As the largest young offender’s institution in England, over thirty thousand young men go through the doors of Feltham each year (McGavin 2004). In an article in the London Evening Standard, chief feature writer David Cohen described the Feltham Institute as akin to a vacation resort for young offenders. After speaking to select offenders from the Institute, he asserted that many wanted to go to Feltham (Cohen 2009). Here, they would have access to a private television and stereo, attend the gym regularly, and have ample time to socialize with other inmates. If noted for exceptional behaviour, an offender could be released as early as two months into his sentence. According to Cohen, this marks a decrease in the authority and deterrence provided by penitentiaries, as detainment is increasingly seen by youth as a badge of honour (Cohen 2009). The Feltham Young Offenders Institute recognized the culmination of this public perception in 2009, incidentally the same year that marked the outset of the “Inside Art” programme.2 Given the circumstances surrounding possible reasons for the partnership between the National Gallery London and the Feltham Institute, it could be argued that the programme was mutually beneficial for institutions involved; there is ample indication that the programme realized aspirations of amassing financial resources and public recognition. However, it would appear as though the National Gallery London, as a renowned institution in the nation’s capital, sought to aid a struggling organization through resources that could be provided by the Gallery itself, as well as through external funding. As both institutions desired the development of their respective educational practices, the partnership was the result of ideal conditions. As previously stated, the “Inside Art” project speaks to what George Yúdice describes as the “expanded role for culture.” Cultural institutions, government sectors, and corporations are increasingly implementing programmes of this nature as a means of harnessing the capabilities of the arts in social, political, and economic reform (Yúdice 2003, 11). The question at hand becomes: how can art better serve society? Yúdice (2003, 1) explains that, in contemporary society, culture is now being invoked to solve a vast array of problems. The “Inside Art” outreach programme thus appears to function in this capacity as a contributor to social welfare. This is achieved through the very nature of the project, as it undertakes a dual role of promoting both accessibility to art and the role of art in the reduction of offenses committed by youth. Culture is reshaped into a restorative resource—a commodity at society’s disposal as a cure for social dilemmas in public and private sectors. Yúdice expands on this notion in reference to the development of arts

65


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

programmes in community centres that adopt utilitarian objectives for the arts, which replace the traditional aspects once valued (Yúdice 2003, 9). The arts, and in the case of the “Inside Art” project, the visual arts, have been reframed within contemporary society so that the once-held primacy of aesthetic, contextual, and historical value is displaced. The objectives of the 2011 exhibition at the National Gallery London appear to coincide with the viewpoint presented by Yudice in that the arts are deployed to fulfil multiple duties conventionally identified with community services. Meekums and Daniel (2011, 209) also recognize the utilitarian function of art in their study, Arts with Offenders: A Literature Synthesis in which they claim that the arts are used with offenders both within the prison and the community to: “heal, educate, reform, or to improve self-esteem, emotional literacy and aid socialization by providing creative opportunities for self-understanding and expression.” Thus, it would appear as though art is being used primarily as an asset for social improvement. Charles Dorn and Penelope Orr (2008, 46), authors of Art Education in a Climate of Reform, explain that during the period of 1927 to 1947 in the United States, the role of the arts became centered on usefulness rather than aesthetics. No longer considered an end in itself, art became the means to an end and was viewed as a practice that was intended to serve a greater quotidian purpose. As a utilitarian resource, art serves a purpose for those who adopt it not only on an individual level, but within the community as well. So, while art as commodity is particularly manifest in contemporary society, it is a role that has continued to take shape over the past several decades. It is this role of the arts that has taken precedence and has become a global phenomenon within art museums and other cultural institutions seeking to demonstrate concern for social well-being. Art museums and other such institutions are now following the government’s model by making the public a priority and retiring dated mandates in order to do so. As part of a tactic to increase visitation and to view the arts as capable of realizing utilitarian goals, directors often use terms including ‘creative laboratory’ and ‘cultural centre’ to describe the institution and its ability to generate a new and expanded audience (Dorn and Orr 2008, 46). Chris Gibson (2008, 43) explains that since the release of Paul Keating’s policy statement, Creative Nation, in 1994, governments on a national and municipal scale have begun to frame the arts within commercial terms. As funding becomes progressively more difficult to secure, institutions utilizing the arts have had to work in a cutthroat funding-sector, all seeking to bring the most to the table economically and culturally. This is to say that, in an unstable economic environment, arts programmes must provide desirable and beneficial results especially for those organizations providing the funding. Gibson, like Yúdice, argues that the arts are now perceived as an “antidote to social problems of crime, prostitution, unemployment, and poverty” (Gibson 2008, 51). 66


Angelique Roy

No longer is art appreciated as an end in itself, but rather is advanced in terms of its social efficacy. An exploration of the educational method employed within the “Inside Art� programme demonstrates the utility upon which it is founded. The programme is described as a practical learning exercise for its participants (Inside Art 2011a). Each of the four art sessions held at the Feltham Institute focused on a particular theme that aided participants in both creatively responding to the collection and communicating their interpretation and understanding of it. Select participants chose to compare the technique of several artists, for example, those of the Renaissance with those of Impressionism, while others chose to explore various methods of gilding, portraiture, and collage (Inside Art 2011c). As an educational effort, the objectives are intended to address not only the participants, but also the audience. By demonstrating that these marginalized individuals have access to the means through which behavioural disturbances can be alleviated, the public is given the impression that they are able to assist in the rehabilitation process by attending the exhibition. The Gallery appears to position the issues surrounding juvenile delinquency at the forefront of social awareness by capturing public attention. In generating specific yet limited information to the public, the Gallery attempts to draw attention to a social reality while simultaneously conveying how art may be the ideal remedy. However, exposing the contents of the art museum to a larger audience is not a new concept and has been a necessary objective of public museums since the nineteenth century. Museum Studies specialist, Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (1993, 133) explains that, in Britain in the twenty-first century, it is now necessary for these institutions to maintain records of attendance in regards to demographics, visitor satisfaction, and costs associated in developing programming. The museum experience is of primary importance to educational departments of art institutions that seek to increase attendance through programming and events that will appeal to the general public. The mandate of the National Gallery London is clearly outlined on its website. In addition to maintaining and enhancing a collection of European painting, one of the primary objectives is to ensure that the collection remains accessible to the public including, but not limited to, scholars, students, and those with a general interest in it (Access 2012). Hooper-Greenhill (1999, 7) suggests that art institutions in England, notably those in London and the midlands, are historic awe-inspiring buildings that are also disquieting to those uneducated in the history of art. Through the organization of broad-based exhibitions and programmes, the National Gallery seeks to transform public opinion on the art museum while simultaneously asserting to visitors and funding agents that the arts have a utilitarian function capable of accommodating civic interest. 67


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

The mission of the National Gallery London has been to have the collection remain accessible to the general public since its inception in 1824.3 During the nineteenth century it was rare for a gallery to be founded outside the parameters of an already-prosperous princely collection. As an institution striving to be appreciated by the general public and not solely by those well-versed in the fine arts, it was necessary for an audience to be created (Hendy 1960, 11). Eventually the Gallery would open to the public seven days of the week with free admission, which is a policy that remains in effect today. While public accessibility has been an essential component of the mandate of the National Gallery London since its founding, it is plausible that the increased educational and outreach activities were a result of the development of London as a global city. The city’s mayor, Ken Livingstone, initiated this shift after the tragic terrorist attacks on city public transit in 2005. Doreen Massey (2007, 1-4), social scientist and geographer, describes this reinvention of the city as the development of a “London ‘we.’” She argues that the cultural and ethnic diversity of London ignited the desire to create a united city regardless of social position, race, and income (Massey 2007, 5). What this indicates for the National Gallery London is the conscious recognition of its identity as an icon of the city. By increasing public programming the Gallery fulfils its mandate to maintain an inclusive space while simultaneously contributing to the creation of a global city. Understanding the objectives and methods of art education is elemental in recognizing the approach and intentions of educational programmes as they are executed within the art museum. As a scholar in the study of art education at the University of Kentucky, George Szekely (1982, 34) claims that art activity for offenders provides not only the means for self-exploration required for prisoners to make significant life-improving decisions, but that the use of art media allows the public to see these prisoners as individuals. As such, art activity through art education is a bifold process in which both those on the inside and those on the outside can understand and relate to one another through art. In his article, Art Education in Correctional Settings, Szekely speaks of art education based on the observation of such processes over a period of five years. He claims that a successful prison art programme requires the involvement of a community in order to provide interplay as well as an audience between those who are incarcerated and those who are not (Szekely 1982). These programmes precipitate a sense of pride in participants for his or her creative authorship through the establishment of exhibitions and media coverage. This pride is developed from a sense of accomplishment and positive recognition that is achieved by focusing on participant’s as artists as opposed to offenders. This enables the offender to place him or herself within the community, and it is through the positive recognition that ensues that reintegration into 68


Angelique Roy

society is made possible (Szekely 1982, 36). The educational component of art activity allows the participant to earn a sense of accomplishment that may not have otherwise been achieved through academic standards and pursuits. While the “Inside Art” programme appears to be in accordance with the guidelines as developed by Szekely, an important question to be asked is what happens when this sense of inclusion and importance disappears?4 When positive reinforcement declines, what are the consequences? These are questions that are seldom addressed in the literature surrounding art educational practices within the capacity of prison art programmes. The National Gallery’s “Inside Art” programme confirms that it fosters an open and exploratory approach to art activity for participants, however the information provided by the institution suggests an approach that is much more formal, calculated and pedantic than expressive. While the terminology used in public information provided by the National Gallery such as ‘increased communication’, ‘self-esteem’, ‘development of personal and social skills,’ and ‘use of imagination’ all contain associations with art therapy, there appears to be no connection between the outreach methods involved and therapeutic practices (Inside Art 2011b). In such regard, the programme’s educational approach is distinct from that of art therapy. Art therapy is a psychotherapeutic method that uses a variety of art media in generating discussion and communication with and amongst patients (Smeijsters et. al. 2011, 46). It was first established in the United Kingdom during the 1940s and 1950s when the use of art therapy within corrective institutions was beginning to be recognized as a distinct practice. From the 1970s onward, art therapy became a popular method of engaging individuals in creative self-expression (Edwards 2004, 34-37). The practice of art therapy offers a casual approach to art and gives patients the liberty to choose which method they would prefer to work in—painting, drawing, and other media— which are presented to them upon beginning the session. Patients are encouraged to design anything that they choose to create personalized images of reflection. This freedom of expression aids the art therapist in discerning areas to be addressed including home and family matters, or educational and social matters (Riley 1999, 55). Art therapists note that adolescents, in particular, engage more effectively with therapists through symbolic images than through verbal interaction. The artwork allows the individual to express the emotions, opinions, and circumstances that surround their behavioural tendencies (Riley 1999, 55). Unlike the educational practices of art appreciation where emphasis is placed on aesthetic values and iconographic contemplation, art therapy privileges the process of art production. Art therapists do not require patients to incorporate specific artistic elements into their artworks, and as a practice, there is no value placed on 69


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

the interpretation of an artwork (McNiff 2004, 76). Rather, the patient is able to convey the value or inherent meaning of a work through those descriptions that he or she chooses to provide. Shaun McNiff, a specialist in the field of art therapy, suggests that it is through the prescribed methods of artistic interpretation that stereotypes of clinical study become imposed on a patient’s creation. He states that, through this process, the aesthetic elements of colour, style, texture, and shape are ignored in favour of classification systems that segregate individuals based on labels of quality and meaning that are irrelevant in therapeutic practice (McNiff 2004, 79). What this explanation of art therapy demonstrates is that while the information surrounding the “Inside Art” programme suggests the use of therapeutic methods for self-expression and increased communication, in actuality, this method is minimally employed. There is no evidence of the psychoanalysis of the artworks by offenders as the focus is instead placed on the contemplation of artistic themes. The process then, becomes remotely academic, as participants must transform art interpretation into personalized expression. Roy W. Persons (2009, 433), Clinical Psychologist at the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center (BJCC) in Virginia, suggests that the employment of art therapy programmes within young offenders institutions creates a safe space for offenders that has significant positive effects for those incarcerated. Persons conducted a study of the impact of art therapy on serious juvenile offenders over a thirty-two month period that involved forty-six young men from the age of sixteen to twentyone. Despite claims of success, Persons (2009, 434) does not deny that regardless of the therapeutic practice, it is often the case that more than sixty percent of offenders that participate will reoffend and be reinstitutionalized within three years of their original release. Though this statistic speaks for itself, Persons argues that participants often display significant results of recovery through self-expression by means of artistic production and consultation. The study involved both individual and group sessions for young men of voluntary participation that averaged between two and ten hours of therapy per week for up to a two-year period. The goals of the programme were to engage young offenders in using art as a creative outlet for expression as a means of overcoming personal tribulations. As a result, participants were able to identify critical issues surrounding their disobedience including identity issues, parental relationship issues, and issues of personal freedom and use of time (Persons 2009, 435-37). During sessions, the therapist refrained from criticizing a patient’s works and encouraged a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere that prohibited negativity from one patient to another. With the establishment of such an environment, participants began to actively engage in a dialogue with one another and shared 70


Angelique Roy

personal commentaries on their individual creations (Persons 2009, 437). A primary concern for prisoners was finding a meaningful use of time. Boredom becomes a potential threat to prisoners as it puts them at greater risk to become subject to harmful activities including violence and substance abuse. Through art therapy, the prisoner engages in an activity that occupies their time and aids in the reduction of inside conflict. It is the art therapist’s responsibility to ensure that this time is being used appropriately and that discipline is enforced while maintaining safe space for expression and personal exploration (Persons 2009, 442). What this study demonstrates is that art therapy is a process through which patients are not only able to visually express themselves, but one in which they are able to communicate their anxieties and obstacles within a controlled and supportive environment; an environment in which the artistic product is not as crucial as the message it conveys. An examination of art education and art therapy demonstrates how each approach differs while both simultaneously strive to enrich the lives of those involved. Both approaches yield beneficial results, however, each is distinct in the final goals desired for participants. While art education seeks to create an inclusive environment within the museum space where individuals are exposed to the history of art through a variety of art activities, art therapy is a medical practice for those individuals struggling with mental, social or even physical complications. It is evident that both approaches to the edification of individuals through art activity is one in which art becomes a resource to be used for greater means. Due to the complexity of the circumstances surrounding the imprisonment of juvenile offenders, the implementation of an outreach programme, such as “Inside Art,” for this cause is one in which the measurable effects of therapeutic treatment would perhaps prove more beneficial to offenders seeking to recover and re-enter society. The “Inside Art” programme hosted by the National Gallery London exemplifies the changing status of the arts within contemporary society. Removed from the context of aesthetic contemplation, the programme demonstrates how the utilitarian function of art now masquerades as efficacy. In an attempt to recontextualize both the art museum and the juvenile prison as agents of social reform, the notion of what art can do for an individual takes precedence. The claim can hardly be made that art education for juvenile offenders has a detrimental impact on participants in the programme or visitors to the exhibition. However, the information provided to the public by the National Gallery London regarding the success of the programme for participants is inconclusive. Through the provision of statistical information and primary participant accounts, the outreach programme may be further developed to provide a greater degree of measurable and quantifiable effectiveness. The “Inside Art” programme will draw to a close in 2012 and will mark the third year of its implementation. As a grant-sponsored 71


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

programme whose primary objective is to precipitate a sense of accessibility to the Gallery collection, “Inside Art” demonstrates how the role of utility in the arts eclipses all others in the realm of the social. Notes 1

Given the nature of this paper, there will be no specific discussion of any one artwork

created within the 2011 “Inside Art” programme at the National Gallery. For this purpose, there are no images found at the end of this paper. For a slideshow of select images from the exhibition, see Guardian News and Media Limited, “ Inside Art: Education,” The Guardian, accessed March 14, 2012 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/gallery/2011/feb/01/ prison-arts-national-gallery.> 2

This claim is based on information collected from the National Gallery, London website

and the article regarding the Feltham Institute written by David Cohen (2010) in the London Evening Standard. See also Inside Art 2010. 3

Nick Prior (2002, 81) explains that beginning in 1824, the Gallery was open four days

a week to the general public and closed Sundays, with Fridays and Saturdays reserved for students and copyists. 4

For many offenders involved in prison art programmes, the results are often advantageous

and result in the establishment of a career as an artist. This is not, however, always the case. There remains a slight controversy surrounding this issue in terms of the very notion of the prisoner developing a career while incarcerated. While this issue is one of significance, for the purposes of this paper, it will not be examined.

Works Cited “About Her Majesty’s Prison Service.” Justice.gov.uk.http://www.justice.gov.uk/about/ hmps/index.htm (accessed March 14, 2012). “Access Statement .” The National Gallery, London. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/ about-us/organisation/policies/access-statement/access-statement (accessed March 14, 2012). Adamson, Edward. “Art for Mental Health.” In The Social Context of Art. Creedy, Jean. London: Tavistock Publications, 1970. 3-4. Andersen, Lisa and Kate Oakley, eds. Making Meaning, Making Money: Directions for the Arts and Cultural Industries in the Creative Age. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2008. Bennett, Tony. The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London: Routledge, 1995. Cohen, David. “Feltham Young Offenders Institute is a badge of honour, it’s more of a test than GCSEs.” The London Evening Standard. October 20, 2009. http://www.thisislondon. co.uk/news/feltham-young-offenders-institute-is-aabadge-of-honour-its-more-of-a-testthan-gcses-6720230.html. 72


Angelique Roy Cummings Howard, Margaret. “Case Study: Painting in the Treatment of a Middle- Class Juvenile Delinquent.” American Journal of Art Therapy 40 (2001): 40-45. David Edwards, Art therapy. London: SAGE, 2004. Dorn, Charles, and Penelope Orr. Art Education in a Climate of Reform: The Need for Measurable Goals in Art Instruction. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2008. Gorelick, Kenneth. “Rapprochement Between The Arts And Psychotherapies: Metaphor The Mediator.” The Arts in Psychotherapy 16, no. 3 (1989): 149-155. Hendy, Philip. The National Gallery, London. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1960. Hirsch, Barron M. “Art as Therapy for Juvenile Delinquents.” Leonardo 7, no. 4 (1974): 337338. Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. The Educational Role of the Museum. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1999. “Inside Art: Creative Responses to the Collection by Young Offenders.” 2010. London press release. January 2010. On National Gallery, London website. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about-us/press-and-media/press-and-media/pressreleases/inside-art. “Inside Art: Creative Responses to the Collection by Young Offenders.” 2011. The National Gallery, inside-

London.

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/

art-2011 (accessed February 26, 2012).

“Inside Art—Creative Responses to the Collection by Young Offenders.” 2011a. London press release. January 2011. On National Gallery London website. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about-us/press-and-media/press-and-media/pressreleases/inside-art-2011. “Inside Art Projects.” 2011b The National Gallery, London. http://www.nationalgallery.org. uk/learning/outreach-projects/inside-art (accessed February 27, 2012). “Inside Art Seminar: The role of the arts in the criminal justice system: a case study from the National Gallery and HMYOI Feltham.” 2011c The National Gallery, London. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/outreach-projects/inside-art-seminar (accessed February 27, 2012). Kelso, Paul. “Boys Behind Bars.” Society Guardian. November 23, 2000. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2000/nov/23/socialcare.crime. Lanier, Vincent. “The Teaching of Art as Social Revolution.” The Phi Delta Kappan 50, no. 6 (1969): 314-319. Liebmann, Marian. Art Therapy and Anger. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008. Lusebrink, Vija B. “Art Therapy and the Brain: An Attempt to Understand the Underlying Processes of Art Expression in Therapy.” Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 21, no. 3 (2004): 125-135. Massey, Doreen. World City. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007. McGavin, Harvey. “Feltham Guards Laid Bets on Fights in Cells.” The Independent. May 29, 73


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream 2004. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/feltham-guards-laid-bets-on-fightsin-cells-6168895.html. Meekums, Bonnie, and Jennifer Daniel. “Arts with Offenders: A Literature Synthesis.” The Arts in Psychotherapy 38 (2011): 229-238. Miles, Roger S., and Lauro Zavala. Towards the Museum of the Future: New European Perspectives. London: Routledge, 1993. Persons, Roy W. “Art Therapy With Serious Juvenile Offenders: A Phenomenological Analysis.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 53, no. 4 (2009): 433-453. Potterton, Homan. The National Gallery, London. London: Thames & Hudson, 1977. Ragsdale, J. Donald. Western European Museums and Visual Persuasion: Art, Edifice, and Social Influence. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2009. Riley, Shirley. Art Therapy with Adolescents. London: Jessica Kingsley, 1999. Rose, Karel, and Joe L. Kincheloe. Art, Culture, & Education: Artful Teaching in a Fractured Landscape. New York: P. Lang, 2003. Sherman, Daniel J., and Irit Rogoff, eds. Museum Culture: Histories, Discourses, Spectacles. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994. Szekely, George. “Art Education in Correctional Settings.” Studies in Art Education 24, no. 1 (1982): 33-42. “The LankellyChase Foundation: About Us.” The LankellyChase Foundation. http://www. lankellychase.org.uk/about-us/3 (accessed March 7, 2012). “The LankellyChase Foundation: The Arts.” The LankellyChase Foundation.

http://

www.lankellychase.org.uk/programmes/2 (accessed March 6, 2012). Smeijsters, Henk , Julie Kil, Han Kurstjens, Jaap Welten, and Gemmy Willemars. “Arts therapies for young offenders in secure care—A practice-based research.” The Arts in Psychotherapy 38 (2011): 41-51. United Kingdom. LankellyChase Foundation. Information for Applicants 2009-2014 Guidelines. Harwell, Oxfordshire, UK: LankellyChase, 2012. Venable, Bradford B. “At-Risk and In-Need: Reaching Juvenile Offenders through A r t . ” Art Education 58, no. 4 (2005): 48-53. Yúdice, George. The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

74


Erin McLeod

CHAPTER SIX

Erin McLeod

By a Wing and a Tale: Authenticating the Archive in MohamadSaid Baalbaki’s Al Buraq I The Prophet’s Human-Headed Mount A sacred site. An archaeological dig. A curious find. Myth meets history – and war – unearthing more questions than answers. What really happened? What is really happening? Artist Mohamad-Said Baalbaki’s ambitious Al Buraq trilogy interrogates archive, museum and media representations shaped by what the artist describes as “haphazard histories” (Wilson-Goldie 2011a). Baalbaki’s trilogy isolates an Islamic myth – that of the infamous Al Buraq – within Western museological display, subjecting all elements to a fictive historic framework set in the early twentieth century at the height of “European colonial ambitions in the Arab world” (Bank 2011). What Baalbaki reveals is how “reality is dependent on power,” on cultural convention and on the “context of reception” (Universität 2009). Despite its period setting and authentic-looking details, Al Buraq effectively highlights a continuing and contemporary story of geopolitical instability in the Middle East of which the now Berlin-based Lebanese artist has first-hand experience. At the heart of the Al Buraq trilogy is this sense of instability, the intermingling of the categories of “original, reproduction and forgery” and the roles played by the artist, the institution and the visitor in “distinguishing those categories” (Nadine K 2010). Baalbaki’s first instalment of the trilogy, Al Buraq I The Prophet’s Human-Headed Mount, debuted at the Maqam Gallery in Beirut from late 2010 to early 20111 and introduces a most fantastic story: in 1914, on the eve of World War I, German 75


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

archaeologist Werner von Königswald was excavating an Islamic burial ground near the Temple Mount at the base of Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Upon digging up an old battered suitcase Dr. von Königswald discovered within what appeared to be the skeletal remains of a large creature with two boney protrusions on its back. Beyond his field of knowledge, von Königswald sent the curious find back to Germany, and enlisted the expertise of colleagues. Professor Hans Wellenhofer, a Palaeontologist in Berlin, took a staunch and epistemological approach; he saw a malformed horse in the bones, and busily collected records of other such disfigurements to substantiate his theory. At the behest of von Königswald he cast plaster copies of the bones and sent those along to Ornithologist Heinrich Ralph Glücksvogel in Munich. An altogether flightier character, and a specialist in the study of birds, Dr. Glücksvogel envisioned some giant flying creature – a horse perhaps – but most certainly winged, like the Pegasus of classic Greek myth. Scientific and theoretical debates buzzed between the men as their research inventories accumulated. Was this a malformed horse? A gigantic bird? Or both?2 The specificity of the discovery site weighed upon their deliberations: the Western Wall or Wailing Wall is also known as the Buraq Wall in the Muslim faith. Could the bones possibly belong to the mythic Al Buraq, the winged, human-headed horse of Islamic lore who, in the 7th century, is said to have guided the Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and back again? How is it then, that these bones were buried in an old suitcase, and who could have placed them at this sacred, albeit contested, site? What are the implications – historical, cultural, spiritual, scientific, geographic – of this exceptional find? These questions remain unanswerable, left for visitors to the exhibit – whom Charles Garoian (2001, 235) would describe as “critical participants” – to process from their own personal orientations. For Garoian (2001, 235), this kind of participation generates a “dialogue between viewer and museum” where “new cultural myths” may be performed. Al Buraq I The Prophet’s Human-Headed Mount seemingly reactivates a nearly century-old archive of correspondence, research and photographs surrounding von Königswald’s archaeological dig, as well as related curio and even a replica skeleton of the winged beast. The narrative however reveals that the “original” bones, as well as the scientists, were ultimately lost during the World Wars and subsequent bombing of Berlin into the 1940s; this is where the archive abruptly ends although the story undoubtedly continues. Most interesting to me is how the exhibition’s historical facts and falsities inhabit (and inhibit) the unanswerable questions emerging through the archive. On one hand, history as a concept becomes unreliable through an unfinished archive with uncertain origins; on the other hand, an ancient myth is made plausible through the materialization of bones and other objects, albeit reproductions, but substantiated nonetheless by expert hypotheses... 76


Erin McLeod

which also happen to be fictionalized! As if frozen in another time, Al Buraq I is displayed in the material finery of elaborate antique wood and glass specimen cabinets, lined in rich red velvet, just as it could have been in the 1920s and 30s at the Berlin Museum of Natural History where Dr. Wellenhofer worked. Why then, would this display be exhibited in a contemporary Beirut gallery? For visitors to this exhibit the fact of its historical fabrication may come as less of a surprise than the effects of its display. Part of the value of an exhibit such as Al Buraq lies in how its cultural contingency destabilizes its purported historical ground in Western museological practice. East meets West in the narrative, while West meets East in the physical exhibit on show in a Beirut gallery. The rich material impact of the exhibit therefore acts as the object base, much like improvisational props, for more ethereal, fantastical play by a visitor who brings his or her own cultural perspective(s) to the world of Al Buraq I. First and foremost a painter from a well-established family of painters in Lebanon,3 Baalbaki has only recently moved into more conceptual terrain with the Al Buraq trilogy.4 Growing up amidst the Civil War in Beirut, Baalbaki invests his work with legacies of instability and personal injustices, but also plays between themes of re(dis)covery and relocation, further influenced by Baalbaki’s art education in Berlin. The Al Buraq trilogy is in no small sense a merging of Baalbaki’s parallel worlds and invokes a precedence of institutional interventions harkening back to earlier (Western) art practices of the 1960s and 1970s, notably the institutional critique of Marcel Broodthaers and his Musée de l’Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles, or Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles.5 European postwar artists Joseph Beuys and Christian Boltanski, for example, fictionalized their own biographies as artistic rewritings of past traumas.6 In other words, there is a history of artists messing with history. These artists among others produced an era of art which memorialized as much the struggle to reconcile their immediate history(ies), as that history in and of itself. This contextual convolution was further exacerbated by artists’ engagements with materiality in an attempt to grasp immaterial loss, which, in the Conceptual movement of the 1960s moved beyond Freud’s (1995, 584-89) modernist lexicon of the transposition of the ego from a (lost) object to a new one. One contemporary of Baalbaki, German artist Iris Häussler, also engages with these precedents, using accumulations of found objects to stage the existences of fictional identities. Häussler’s elaborate installations pose as scenes of real life discovery, such as her most recent He Named Her Amber (2008-2010), a collaborative excavation project about a nineteenth-century Irish scullery maid in the historic Grange House at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Unlike Baalbaki, Häussler goes to great performative measures to convince visitors to her installations that her characterizations are, or were, authentic people. Häussler pretends to be an 77


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

archivist, or scientist, or museum tour guide (but never an artist), to trick her visitors into believing in her characterizations; in this way visitor participation is prompted and shaped until the revelatory “aha” moment when the ruse is revealed, when what is thought to be artifact is revealed to be art. While Baalbaki’s installations are similarly elaborated with seemingly authentic objects, he allows visitors to engage in his open-ended narratives on their own terms, without necessarily having to fool them. The visitor’s grasp of the transposition between art object and artifact object may waffle, may find no finality at all. Wilson-Goldie suggests there are undoubtedly some visitors who may not partake of every didactic panel and narrative clue in Al Buraq (such as Dr. Glücksvogel’s name translating to “Lucky Bird”) and will come away from Baalbaki’s exhibit believing the Al Buraq archive to be historically genuine, while at the same time asking, how can this be? (Wilson-Goldie 2011a). In the Al Buraq trilogy, the appropriation of (Western) natural history display, the fantastical skeletal beast and its subsequent authorial and scientific debates raise critical questions about the institutional constructions of art and artifact. Each component bears its own legacy of “truth” in looking, but in considerably different ways. Art objects posing as archaeological and archival artifacts play between real and mythical, authentic and counterfeit. Artifacts revealed to be art (i.e. props in a fictive archive) implicate the museum/gallery visitor who invests in these constructions, whether it is naively, or through a willing suspension-of-disbelief within the immersive staged space of the exhibit. Through an orchestration of objects Baalbaki invokes imagined histories through a liminal “presence” which appears authentic through museological display. In “The Art Museum as Ritual,” Carol Duncan identifies a museological adaptation of the sacred by the secular as a means to inspire contemplation and the kind of pure aesthetic appreciation so valued in the Western Enlightenment era; however she sees something more at work. By way of anthropologist Victor Turner’s understanding of liminal space as somewhere other than that of the everyday, Duncan (1998, 477) suggests a performative potential in how the museum visitor can “move beyond the psychic constraints of mundane existence, step out of time, and attain new, larger perspectives.” This notion of “stepping out of time” almost like one steps off a moving sidewalk, suggests a necessary pause or slowing of time and space. This reflective pause is crucial to the world of Al Buraq, as the visitor is faced not only with the legitimizing force or push of history by Western science, but also the imaginative pull of the Buraq (cultural) myth. These are competing authorities – where historicity is actualized through tangible objects presented within the institutional space, and myth is validated by its cultural endurance, despite the distorting lens of another culture. Myth then has an invitational power, providing access into more detached historical settings, something educator Geraldine Dimondstein (1992, 49, 50) calls a “cultural 78


Erin McLeod

kinship”: One of the dynamics of Western society is the outdating of symbols, rupturing the consistency of the meanings of the past. Lacking a unified belief system and a consensual audience, symbols become inert, burn out, and lose their cogency. The result is that they must be redefined continuously.

At the same time myth “lives on the thin edge between fantasy and reality” and is therefore ever open to renewal (Dimonstein 1992, 50). In a telling exchange in Al Buraq I, cultural myth gains authority through the tangible evidence of the mysterious beast’s (reproduced) bones, while the scientific theorizing of the German experts, one leaning towards malformation and the other towards myth as the official explanation, are exposed as culturally conditioned and perpetually debatable (Museumsbauhütte 2009, 28-30). For the visitor to the Al Buraq exhibition there is an experiential aspect in following the discovery and subsequent correspondence of the experts, played out through the displayed letters, journal entries and many related objects of experimentation and study. This level of engagement does not require an investment in the objects as historically authentic, but rather requires the visitor to invest in the potential of these accumulated items to give credence to the experts’ debated theories, or to add “value to wishful fantasy” (Lowenthal 1998, 6). The staged historical museum display of the Al Buraq trilogy, interpretable through contemporary galleries both East and West in locale, provides the conceptual space for visitors’ narrative explorations. The experience of the exhibit, not the supposed evidence, is the key. As David Lowenthal (1998, 6) states, “(Fabrication) destroys nothing, not even faith when the fake is found out.” Lowenthal (1998, 6) suggests the fabrication of heritage, in the “bad sense” of “telling lies and tall tales,” is an entirely modern conception based on the desire “to promote the power of the empire” by investing divinity in kingship, and adding sanctity to one’s legacy. The Al Buraq trilogy, set amidst an era of tremendous political fluctuation in the East and the West (i.e. the fall of the Ottoman Empire, World Wars, British infiltration in the Middle East), unravels this desire. Revisiting Duncan’s notion of the museum as ritualized space, Al Buraq again concentrates the problematic of this “sanctified legacy” in its fabricated museum staging. This fabrication of heritage has thus informed the interpretation of cultural objects, which, as Lowenthal (1998, 6) continues, became “exemplar of other sacred translations – fragments of bone and dust that were easy to fake, easy to steal, easy to move, easy to reassign to new saints as needed.” In this way heritage is differentiated from history which seeks to “convince by truth” and aligns more 79


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

closely with an idea of myth as an “imaginative record” (Lowenthal 1998, 14, 17). Lowenthal (1998, 18) suggests there is a complementarity between fact and fiction, which allows museum visitors to “locate (our) own private stories within a larger collective narrative” which lends “cosmic meaning to our own quests.” The Al Buraq trilogy in particular highlights this complementarity through the convergence of cultures within a staged (Western) museum setting – a setting which is further subject to the variances of contemporary museums and galleries in cities of the East and of the West. With respect to the era of the early twentieth century in which the Al Buraq narrative is primarily set, the natural history museum is a site which conflates the seeming polarities of fact and fiction, or history and myth, particularly through the study and display of anomalous specimens. The science of teratology, the study of animal malformation, is a branch of comparative anatomy made popular at the turn of the century in Europe, Germany, France and Britain. In 1900 anthropologist D.S. Lamb (1900, 286) recognized how easily culture could fill in for the indeterminacies of science: “To see the monster, and deify or demonize him, and set him up in the classic pantheon and give him some realm to rule over, suggests a process of involution instead of evolution.” In line with the character of Wellenhofer, Lamb (1900, 288) was inferring this involution was a regressive movement, as myths “in their origin (are) not so much myth as hyperbolical history.” Yet in a strikingly appropriate turn for the narrative of Al Buraq I, Lamb (1900, 288-89) also recognized a certain conscious logic in the imaginative reach to interpret what cannot be empirically explained: Wisdom comes from the brain, so Minerva springs full-armed from the head of Jupiter. In that dawning self-consciousness which led to crude introspection the power of thought was a marvel. It bore one strongly from earth to heaven, and that with infinite swiftness. What else could it be but a winged horse, Pegasus? No wonder he was associated with exploits of danger as well as with poets.

Evelleen Richards explores the development of “transcendental anatomy” within Victorian scientific naturalism and identifies its distortion through the “positivist historiography of dominant Darwinians” of the late nineteenth century. She considers how these morphologies have been further distorted through social and institutional factors which bestowed immense authoritative power not (at all) to the anomalous body, but to its classificatory representations, or illustrative othering (Richards 1989, 376). This illustrative othering is particularly powerful in the Al Buraq exhibit, as the masterful quality of the scientific drawings of the debated skeletal beast offer a disquieting aesthetic aside. A British medical journal from 1891 80


Erin McLeod

substantiates Richards’ (1891, 441) assertion: “Without illustrations the value of any systematic work on teratology would be slight.” The Al Buraq archive incorporates several found images of the mythic Al Buraq, but the precise-looking illustrations presumably created by the scientists are notably only of the skeleton – and not Al Buraq as a fully envisioned figure. These illustrations thus serve to bolster the empirical existence of the bones, while leaving the rest of their living embodiment ambiguous. By the early twentieth century more questions were arising surrounding potential linkages between biological malformation and the persistence (transcendence?) of cultural myths, exemplified in this 1902 article: It would be a most interesting line of investigation to apply this principle of selection to the mythologies of other nations, and more especially to those of the East, and to the gods worshipped by primitive peoples. The results might be of unexpected service in clearing up moot points in comparative mythology and racial folklore. At any rate, if some even of these speculations turn out to be true, it may be said Saepe visae formae Deorum (Saepe 1902, 672).

If this creature was more than an unfortunately formed equine, how does the fantastical figure of Al Buraq, with the body of a horse, the wings of a bird, and the head of a human fit into a teratological framework? Would this humanheaded mount be classifiable as human or as animal? Garoian employs Barthes’ “metaphoric association between the human brain and the institution of the museum” to express a “double-meaning” where the human brain is both an object and a memory repository for objects (Garoian 2001, 234). Barthes “parodies Cartesian disembodiment by exposing the absurdity of disconnecting the brain’s and museum’s intellectual operations from the larger contexts of the human body and the body politic” (Garoian 2001, 234). The figure of Al Buraq, as a composite creature serving multiple purposes in Baalbaki’s narrative, evocatively extends the mind/body paradox. Ali A. Mazrui explains that historically few Muslims would “blaspheme” by creating an image “of the Prophet Muhammad himself. But what about al-Buraq…?” Muslim artists “have not always resisted the temptation of trying to represent Islam’s ultimate “flying horse.” Was al-Buraq a bridge between Mecca and Jerusalem or between heaven and earth?” (Mazrui 1994, 56). For Baalbaki, the figure of Al Buraq, itself an amalgamation of human, bird and animal parts, would seem to embody a bridge between Western and Islamic ideologies, or cultural “authenticities,” where art and artifact, history and myth, reality and fiction, conceptually merge into the activities of collecting and archiving (Universität 2009). Al Buraq, conceived as it is through the archive, may also embody a response to 81


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

much of the “reconceiving” after the 1920s of the “modern states in the Middle East from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire” (Wilson-Goldie 2011d). Architect Eyal Weizman has identified a history of competing realities in the mapping of contested landscapes in the West Bank, referring to the “morphology of topography” in the development of new mountainous Israelite settlements (Kastner et. al. 2002-03). Notably, the recurring motif of the suitcase in Baalbaki’s work symbolizes “immigration and departing” but also “the decision to stay and settle” (Shalhoub 2011). This instability between departing and settling reflects Al Buraq’s oft-disputed journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back again. If Al Buraq returned to Mecca, why were the bones found where they were….in a suitcase no less?7 Has Al Buraq returned to (re)claim a Muslim site that has been most hotly disputed in modern history between Jewish and Palestinian groups?8 Such questions speak as much of contemporary contestations of the sacred Wall site as ancient ones, while interjecting a colonial (and confounding) attempt to classify a Middle Eastern myth within Western epistemological parameters. Like Garoian’s adaptation of Hooper-Greenhill’s opposition to the “chronology, ordering structure and developmental flow” of modern museums Baalbaki seeks to question past-to-present representations as they are simulated and generalized within the museum environment.9 The Al Buraq project complicates the notion of the (found) original because the mysterious bones Dr. von Königswald purportedly found “no longer exist” within the narrative, but do persist in the form of copies; yet these copies, because they reference no true original, are the first and only set of bones to reference the past. If the existence of the original bones is to be believed, then Dr. von Königswald’s discovery is only a re-discovery, because the bones were unearthed in a suitcase, indicating someone else, potentially a contemporary of Dr. von Königswald, discovered the bones before him, and planted them in the suitcase at the site of the archaeological dig. Furthermore, most of the Al Buraq narrative is presented through the written hearsay of Wellenhofer and Glücksvogel…set amongst contemplative objects comprised predominantly of Al Buraq-themed idols, statuettes and ornaments, and of course, the endorsement of the host museum. The visitor must recognize his or her participation in the making of meaning within this museum-within-a-museum space, and once this complicity is fully acknowledged, art overcomes the artifact; the two no longer operate as distinct entities. Self-consciousness becomes the visitors’ primary memory of this kind of engagement, which overtakes the fiction of the narrative, pushing the art experience into the realm, potentially, of political, critical agency. This revelation extends all the what if possibilities of the fictive narrative into the broader institutional spaces of the museum; authenticity becomes contingent on “cultural codes,” and less conclusive when “works of art represent the potential to dialogue with history” 82


Erin McLeod

(Garoian 2001, 236). So it is that Al Buraq I presented an ancient Islamic myth through the views of early twentieth-century Western science in the context of a contemporary Beirut gallery. Al Buraq II Chimerical Kingdoms however rearranges these perspectives. Shown at the Georg-Kolbe-Museum in Berlin in the spring of 2011 Al Buraq II begins to unravel not the epistemological improbability of a human-headed horse, but rather the authenticity of the archive and the reliability of the museum. In Chimerical Kingdoms the story, that: In 1920, the Museum of Natural History in London was commissioned by the British government to make a “Buraq preparation”, to be officially presented to Hussein bin Ali, Emir of Mecca and leader of the Arab Revolt, in thanks for the Arab-British cooperation in the First World War. It was to symbolise the Emir’s dream of uniting Mecca and Jerusalem under his rule. In 1921, the Emir refused to come to an agreement with the British; London thereupon withdrew its financial support and the ‘Buraq project’ was discontinued (“Burak II” 2012).

Again displayed in a Western historical mode, Chimerical Kingdoms carries the story on through World War II, after the archive was abruptly silenced through the deaths of the scientists and the destruction of the “original” bones. Allied bombing damaged much of the Berlin Museum of Natural History, but much of the correspondence and research documents of von Königswald, Wellenhofer and Glücksvogel were amazingly salvaged along with same suitcase that once contained the bones at the base of the Buraq Wall (Museumsbauhütte 2009). The materials were donated to the Natural History Museum in Beirut in the 1940s and later moved to the National Museum of Beirut where (ironically) the archive was thought to be safest during the city’s increased social unrest in the 1950s (Museumsbauhütte 2009). This unrest fed into the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), and subsequent Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006, directly impacting Baalbaki and his family (Wilson-Goldie 2011a). By 1976 the Al Buraq archive could not be accounted for, as likely to have been forgotten, as looted, vandalized or cemented over when the Museum site literally became the demarcation point between warring factions (Museumsbauhütte 2009). And yet… Al Buraq I and II have come to light, while the final instalment of the trilogy, Al Buraq III The Exhibition that Never Took Place, is still to take place, promising to bring “the story of the professors and the creature they studied to an end.”10 I would like to return briefly to Lamb’s 100 year-old notion of involution, as a kind of detrimental bodily enfolding, or malforming, which sits in seeming contrast with the modern mode of evolutionary progress hailed in traditional natural history display. Within the Al Buraq narrative, the natural history museum operates only 83


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

as a conceptual site, denied its material history through its destruction, and thus its reliability and authenticity to become yet another casualty in Baalbaki’s epic story. Despite, or in spite perhaps, of this historical entropy, the Al Buraq myth prevails, ever adaptable, and applicable where history is otherwise contested. Vera Frenkel (2007, 121) asks, “How is it possible, on either the individual or the institutional level, to make or display art about horror, to connect with the next generation in ways that go beyond victim narratives or the placing of blame?” In danger of having the same exclusivity that it has historically imposed upon its objects, the museum has had to excise itself from its modernist origins, in order to maintain relevance with an increasingly diverse and culturally savvy public. As its autonomy was divested to this broadening audience, the museum could no longer operate like a mausoleum, where art and culture would go to “die” in the sacred quiet of hallowed halls (accessible to a privileged few). This death, or objective detachment of the art object from the time and context of its social life, was more prudently meant to manifest something like an afterlife, in the “illusory sensation of direct contact with the act of creation, the fiction of a canvas as fresh and as present as the day it was painted” (McClellan 1999, 6). This afterlife effect of the museum, though once intended to historically define a culture by its reduction to an object, also suggests a transformative potential dependent upon the visitor’s varied approximations. This potential is particularly potent in the environment (or even the staged environment) of the natural history museum. By 1922 prominent scientists like Walter Libby understood the evocative, synecdochic power, of the object specimen to unleash one’s “scientific imagination,”11 or what artist Häussler has adapted as “haptic conceptual.”12 The visitor might expect a sensory engagement with a tactile object, but may be less conscious of the conceptual encounters, where an object or specimen, as Libby wrote, “has value not as representing an individual but as symbolizing a group (and for a group). Each concrete object, like a word in a catalogue, serves to recall a concept” (Libby 1922, 436; my emphasis). This concept, even when empirically framed, is perpetually vulnerable to the cultural inflections of the museum’s institutional ideologies, from traditional to contemporary modes of display, and now to virtual modes of museum access, which becomes a significant method of partaking in Baalbaki’s trilogy, especially to those lacking the capacity to follow his exhibits across cities and cultures. I like to believe that culture, even as it is translated through the historical terms of the museum, is fluid and transformative and is always open to new social enactments. As Georges Bataille (1930, 300; my emphasis) recognized in 1930, “We must realize that the halls and art objects are but the container, whose content is formed by the visitors.” Similar to Duncan, Garoian (2001, 234) believes that it is “within the liminal, contingent, and ephemeral spaces” of an “embodied pedagogy” 84


Erin McLeod

that new museum myths are performed. Garoian (quoted in Frenkel 2007, 125) has suggested, “…by performing the museum, viewers challenge the museum’s monologic practices through the discourse of their memories and cultural histories, thereby introducing narrative content that would otherwise remain ignored.” In this way Baalbaki’s unfinished archive acts as a never-ending story.13 The visitor must also be activated in this process of authenticating the archive, because “to reshape is as vital as to preserve” (Lowenthal 2007, 19). Of the era encapsulated within the Al Buraq trilogy Baalbaki has said, “The colonial powers offered us chimerical kingdoms, countries that were fake, that didn’t exist. The history is haphazard, unstable” (Wilson-Goldie 2011a). When this instability is refocused as a strategy for critiquing museum contexts the narrative conflict of malformation-or-myth holds ever promising possibilities (Wilson-Goldie 2011a). Notes 1

Adding to this notion of instability, the Maqam Gallery was forced to close its doors after

an extended run of the Al Buraq I The Prophet’s Human-Headed Mount, due to a raise in rent at its Saifi Village storefront location. At the same time, Beirut’s art scene, according to Kaelen Wilson-Goldie’s (2011a; 2011c) championing, is experiencing a boom. 2

Wilson-Goldie provides the most detailed overview I’ve seen of the main narrative as it

is presented in Al Buraq I, which I’ve elaborated on here with further information from museum and gallery write-ups (Wilson-Goldie 2011a; Museumsbauhütte 2009). 3

Al Buraq is said to have been tethered to this Wall by Mohamad, at the Dome of the Rock.

A brief description of Al Buraq follows, translated from the Hadith: “Then a white animal which was smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey was brought to me.” (On this AlJarud asked, “Was it the Buraq, O Abu Hamza?” I (i.e. Anas) replied in the affirmative). The Prophet said, “The animal’s step (was so wide that it) reached the farthest point within the reach of the animal’s sight. I was carried on it, and Gabriel set out with me till we reached the nearest heaven.” (Volume 5, Book 58, Number 227) 4

Baalbaki comes from a strong artistic base: his brother Ayman, uncle Abdel-Hamid and

cousin Oussama are all painters still primarily based in Lebanon (Wilson-Goldie 2011e). 5

Since the 2006 War, Baalbaki’s work has taken a more “conceptual turn” (Wilson-Goldie

2011a). 6

Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers’ epic conceptual museum, Musée de l’Art Moderne,

Départment des Aigles (1968-1972), “reversed the traditional practice of participating in a museum exhibition... Rather than display his “own” work, as is customary, (Broodthaers) followed the curatorial procedure of borrowing objects from elsewhere and grouping them together to illustrate a particular theme or subject” (Rorimer 1995, 21). 7

Beuy’s use of ritual practices, as well as his performances of How to Explain Pictures to

a Dead Hare, 1965 are notable with respect to Baalbaki’s ethos. Boltanski’s Monument series 85


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream of photograph shrines in the 1990s are also informative to the contemporary practice of falsifying memory. 8

“In the Quarnic text itself, the story is as spare as it is vague, referring only to the Prophet

being carried by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque. The details about the winged steed and the wall come from the supplemental narratives of the hadith and accounts of the Prophet’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr” (Wilson-Goldie 2011a). 9

“It was the pronouncement by Mutawakel Taha, the Palestinian Authority’s deputy minister

of information that “there is no archaeological evidence that the Temple Mount was built during the period of King Solomon…. One can only conclude that Al-Buraq Wall is a Muslim wall and an integral part of the Aksa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif ” (Cooper and Adlerstein, 2010, 229, 13; Ethnic NewsWatch, p. 15). 10

Hooper-Greenhill employs Foucault’s (1984, 87) notion of “effective history” which

“differs from traditional history in being without constants,” perpetually unstable and potentially transformative. See also Garoian, 2001, 236. 11

The title of the third installation of the trilogy is mentioned in Wilson-Goldie’s article,

however I have not come across any further documentation about this proposed exhibit; Baalbaki has not yet confirmed any details, leading me to question if this third installment will ever materialize – perhaps its title says it all (Wilson-Goldie 2011a). 12

Libby devotes a chapter to the scientific imagination in his 1917 book, Introduction to the

History of Science, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2003. 13

Mark Kingwell (2006) developed this term to describe Häussler’s mode of practice. “Haptic

conceptual” refers to an experience which “is profoundly physical and moving, where you feel it in your body, and it is at the same time a conceptual piece, a piece which forces one to reflect on the nature of art, the nature of one’s experience of art, and finally, maybe most deeply, the nature of one’s selfhood.” See also Kingwell 2008. 14

I wonder if Baalbaki might also be referencing The Neverending Story, or Die unendliche

Geschichteis, the German fantasy novel published in 1979 by Michael Ende. The similarities are certainly compelling. The story’s main action takes place in a parallel fantasy world which is being destroyed by the Nothing; in the real world this Nothing equals growing social apathy and people’s lack of imagination. The protagonist, a young boy named Bastian, is aided in his quest to stop the spread of the Nothing by a talking “luckdragon,” a giant, white-winged beast named Falkor. Incidentally, the edition I have portrays Falkor with a horse’s head and main, and a dragon’s tongue.

Works Cited Cooper, Abraham; Adlerstein, Yitzchok. “Who’s Wall Is It, Anyway? Well, Here Are Some Facts,” Jewish Exponent; Dec 30, 2010; 229, 13; Ethnic News Watch, p. 15. Dimondstein, Geraldine. “Mythology Is Not a Child’s Fairy Tale; It’s a True Inner Meaning 86


Erin McLeod of an Event: Discovering Cultural Kinship through Metaphoric Connections,” Art Education, Vol. 45, No. 3 (May, 1992), pp. 48-53. Foucault, Michel. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” The Foucault Reader, Vintage, 1984, pp. 76-100. Frenkel, Vera. “A Place for Uncertainty: Towards a New Kind of Museum,” in Museums After Modernism, Strategies of Engagement, eds. Griselda Pollock and Joyce Zemans, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 119-130. Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia,” The Freud Reader, ed. Peter Gay (London: Vintage, 1995), pp. 584-589. Garoian, Charles R. “Performing the Museum,” Studies in Art Education, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Spring, 2001), pp. 234-248. Hilal, Sandi; Petti, Alessandro; Weizman, Eyal. “The Future Archaeology of Israel’s Colonisation,” Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, Issue 20 (Spring 2009), pp. 16-26. Kastner, Jeffrey; Najafi, Sina; Weizman, Eyal. “The Wall and the Eye: An Interview with Eyal

Weizman,” Cabinet Magazine, Issue 9 Childhood Winter 2002/03. http://www.

cabinetmagazine.org/issues/9/wall.php Kingwell, Mark. “The Legacies of Joseph Wagenbach,” Opening Gambits: Essays on Art and Philosophy, Key-Porter, Toronto, 2008, pp. 124-132. Lamb, D.S. “Mythical Monsters,” American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr.

-

Jun., 1900), pp. 277-291. Libby, Walter. “Conceptual Thinking,” The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 15, No. 5 (Nov., 1 9 2 2 ) , pp. 435-442. Libby, Walter. Introduction to the History of Science, 1917; reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2003. Long, Joanna. “Book review: Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. By Eyal Weizman,” Cultural Geographies, ISSN 1474-4740, 07/2010, Volume 17, Issue 3, 419-420. Lowenthal, David. “Archives, Heritage and History,” Archives, Documentation and Institutions of Social Memory, essays from the Sawyer Seminar, eds. Francis X. Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg, The University of Michigan Press, 2007, pp. 193-206. Lowenthal, David. “Fabricating Heritage,” History and Memory, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 5-24. Lowenthal, David. Possessed by the past : the heritage crusade and the spoils of history. New York: Free Press, c1996. Mazrui, Ali A. “Islam and African Art: Stimulus or Stumbling Block?” African Arts, Vol. 27, No. 1, Memorial to John Povey (Jan., 1994), pp. 50-57. McKee, Jesse. “Mythographies Archaeologies Circuitries: Other Ways of Curating,” Border Crossings, 2010, pp. 60-67. “Monsters And Teratology,” The British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1599 (Aug. 22, 1891), pp. 87


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream 440-441. “Museumsbauhütte, Zwölf künstlerische Museen und Museumsentwürfe” (Museum Building Workshop, Twelve Art Museums and Museum Designs), catalogue, Werkbundarchiv - Museumder Dinge / The Museum of Things, Berlin, November 22, 2008 to March 2, 2009, pp. 28-30. “Mythology And Teratology,” The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2150 (Mar. 15, 1902), pp. 671-672. Rabinowitz, Dan. “Politics of Place and Space; Review of Daniel Bertand Monk: An Aesthetic Occupation: The Immediacy of Architecture and the Palestine Conflict,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Summer 2004), pp. 110-112. Richards, Evelleen. “The “Moral Anatomy” of Robert Knox: The Interplay between Biological and Social Thought in Victorian Scientific Naturalism,” Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 373-436. Rorimer, Anne. “Reevaluating the Object of Collecting and Display” in The Problematics of Collecting and Display, Part 1, Janet Catherine Berlo, Ruth B. Phillips, Carol Duncan, Donald Preziosi, Danielle Rice, Anne Rorimer, The Art Bulletin,Vol. 77, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 6-23. Shalhoub, Lulwa. “The suitcase: Baal’s sense of an ending,” Arab News, October 12, 2011. Universität der Künste Berlin, “Pilot phase of the Graduate School 2008/2009, MohamadSaid Baalbaki,” http://www.udk-berlin.de/sites/graduiertenschule/content/pilot_phase_of_the_graduate_ school_2008_2009/fellows_of_the_pilot_phase/mohamad_said_baalbaki/index_eng.html Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen. “Baalbaki on the sincerity of painting,” The Daily Star, May 21, 2011. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Art/2011/May-21/Baalbaki-on-the-sincerity-ofpainting.ashx#axzz1vYMdERLQ Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen. “On the politics of art and space in Beirut,” Tate Papers, Issue 12,

2009.

http://www.tate.org.uk/research/tateresearch/tatepapers/09autumn/wilson_

goldie.s.htm Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen. “Mohamad-Said Baalbaki: flights of fantasy,” The National, January 7, 2011a. ______. “Raed Yassin: Memories are fiction,” The National, March 4, 2011b. http://www. thenational.ae/arts-culture/art/raed-yassin-memories-are-fiction. ______. “A bouquet of new spaces and work,” December 27, 2011c, and January 5, 2012, The Daily Star http://www.archileb.com/article.php?id=542. ______. “Baalbaki on the sincerity of painting,” The Daily Star, May 21, 2011e. http:// www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Art/2011/May-21/Baalbaki-on-the-sincerity-of-painting. ashx#axzz1vYMdERLQ

88


Erin McLeod ______. “Mohamad-Said Baalbaki: Maqam Art Gallery,” Artforum No. 49, Vol. 7 (Mar, 2011f), pp. 286-287. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_7_49/ai_n58569287/.

89


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jane Becker Nelson

Big Bambú: A New Wilderness Experience Atop the Met Five days after Earth Day in 2010, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York unveiled its thirteenth rooftop installation, Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú. Identical twins and longtime artistic collaborators, Doug and Mike Starn built a monumental bamboo environment from thousands of fresh-cut bamboo poles and miles of rock climbing rope, blurring the boundaries of architecture, sculpture, and performance. Visitors witnessed the artists at work throughout the exhibition’s eight-month lifespan, watching the structure constantly evolve as it eventually soared more than 50 feet above the rooftop terrace (Press Kit 2010). Big Bambú also offered visitors the chance to make an excursion into the heart of the sculpture. Guided hikes along elevated pathways wound through the bamboo habitat, making adventurers out of museum visitors and turning the Met’s roof into a wilderness area. In this paper, I examine Big Bambú as a simulation of the wilderness experience: an urbanized, institutionalized reproduction of a national park excursion. Big Bambú’s path is its central interpretive device, drawing upon ways of seeing and understanding extant in the exhibitionary ordering of wilderness areas and museums. From a historical perspective, Big Bambú and the nineteenth century wilderness project express an antimodern impulse to temper what is perceived as over-civilized modern life by seeking solace in a place of restorative physical and psychological retreat. This paper also considers the contemporary environmental movement in light of, and as informed by, the historical foundations

90


Jane Becker Nelson

of the wilderness tradition. By evaluating the ongoing legacy of North American wilderness and its relevance to contemporary environmentalism, I critique the Met’s appropriation of Big Bambú as “green marketing” for the museum and examine the exhibition’s ability to follow through on the museum’s engagement with environmentalism. Many art historians have written about the visitor’s path through traditional museum exhibitions in order to reveal how carefully choreographed gallery processions can advance a particular narrative reading of the work on display. When considering Big Bambú, it is important to remember that every visitor’s experience on the roof was preceded by an encounter with the Met at street level. The visitor’s ascent up the museum’s grand staircase led into a bombastically neoclassical Roman Revival building. As Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach (1980, 448-69) have revealed, the Met’s architectural rhetoric serves to affirm the museum’s, and the nation’s, inclusion in the legacy of Western civilization, and advances the story of citizenship encoded in the ritual walk through its halls. Big Bambú visitors were ushered from the monumental foyer into a ceremonial procession through the museum, in this case, one that sent them to the fifth floor via the elevator in the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries. This brief walk functioned as Big Bambú’s prologue. Stepping out of the elevator onto the Met’s roof, visitors were enveloped by a radically different architectural rhetoric. A sprawling thicket of bamboo poles of varying widths and lengths was punctuated by colourful nylon rope. The exhibition’s text panel and the museum’s press kit were replete with words such as forest, living organism, microcosm, organic, adaptation, and evolution, and this lexicon was picked up in the extensive media coverage that the exhibition received. As such, visitors were primed for an interpretation that linked the installation to an encounter with the natural world. Big Bambú’s wilderness image was further reinforced through contemporary cultural associations that equate wilderness with sport and adventure. A team of 16 rock climbers assisted the Starns throughout construction and could be seen straddling the gaping distance between the poles or dangling on the edges of the sculpture. As the crew lashed new joints, they sustained the installation’s perpetual process of growth. The “evolving” nature of the exhibition was described in all press materials as if to suggest the installation was not human-made, but a growing biological system with its own life force. The builders-cum-rock-climbers deepened Big Bambú’s wilderness association through their link to outdoor adventure, specifically bouldering, a popular recreational rock climbing activity practiced at gyms and executed in extreme wilderness locales. Big Bambú visitors could wander beneath its tall bamboo canopy or take a tour along a network of internal, elevated pathways. Small group tours began with a trek up a bamboo ramp and a brief talk by a museum guide. A path to the north 91


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

offered a view that reached all the way to the George Washington Bridge, and the southward loop offered a contemplative rest in a bamboo chair overlooking Central Park, framing a view of the park’s ancient Egyptian obelisk, “Cleopatra’s Needle” (Sculpture 2010). Big Bambú’s interpreted path functioned much like a path through a gallery, and the invitation for visitors to climb to great heights before taking in spectacular views of the city was central to its narrative. From their elevated position, visitors gazed out over the neighbouring Central Park, a space that W.J.T. Mitchell (2002, x) explains is “consumed (and was designed to be consumed) as a series of picturesque tableaus or ‘landscapes’ derived from European landscape painting.” Mitchell (2002, viii) observes that “if a landscape, as we say, ‘draws us in’ with its seductive beauty, this movement is inseparable from a retreat to a broader, safer perspective, an aestheticizing distance….” The panoptic view from the Met’s roof created a distance between the visitor and the world, thus constituting the world as picture-like. In his exploration of nineteenth century world exhibitions, Timothy Mitchell reveals how Europeans increasingly ordered the world through what he describes as an “apparatus of representation,” constructing elaborate displays to replicate distant places of empire. “The effect of such spectacles was to set the world up as a picture. They ordered it up as an object on display to be investigated and experienced by the dominating European gaze” (Mitchell 1998, 455, 459). Just as one captures a scene in a photograph, a lofty and removed vantage point seizes a landscape and grants the viewer a sense of ownership. W.J.T. Mitchell, along with Timothy Mitchell and others, has revealed how the European gaze and the tradition of landscape representation in art are linked to imperialism and an era when metropolitan cultures saw their destiny reflected in the “unbounded ‘prospect’ of endless appropriation and conquest,” ideals identical to the myth of the American frontier and the construction of wilderness (Mitchell 2002, 20). Given the tangled relationship between gazing at a landscape, constructing the world as exhibition, and the rhetoric of museum display, it is not surprising that the Met played a critical role in establishing Big Bambú’s “apparatus of representation,” to reuse Timothy Mitchell’s phrase. In fact, it was curator, Anne Strauss, who requested that the pathways be accessible for museum visitors. Strauss visited the Starn’s warehouse studio in Beacon, New York while the artists were playing around with a prototype. She received a behind-the-scenes tour on the internal paths, which were a structural necessity, but not originally intended for viewers. When she invited the Starns to bring Big Bambú to the Met, she made sure the pathways would be open to the public (Rosenberg 2012). Strauss’s curatorial request made the exhibition interactive, a key element that established museum visitors as gazing consumers of the surrounding landscape and active participants in a touristic wilderness experience. Strauss’s role mirrors that of wilderness park managers who 92


Jane Becker Nelson

Big BambĂş installation view, March 2010, Photo by Doug and Mike Starn

Big BambĂş installation view, March 2010, Photo by Doug and Mike Starn 93


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

design educational paths for natural environments that call attention to cultural and historical features in the landscape and frame scenic views. Both the museum curator and the park manager design paths that sanction a particular narrative and encourage a universal interpretation of the encounter. At the curator’s urging, Big Bambú not only replicated pictorial conventions of landscape representation within the history of Western art, but reproduced for visitors the European gaze and its position of power. The rooftop tours and the sweeping vista they provided were available to all museum visitors with their admission fee. As Bourdieu’s sociological study of museums has pointed out, a museum visitor’s habitus, a set of socially acquired dispositions, not only determines the likelihood of attendance, but indicates the extent to which they will engage with the exhibitions once inside the galleries (1991). Vera L. Zolberg (1994, 56) argues, “Because art museums have come to stand for the idea of excellence in a highly valued form of culture, to the extent that they fail to distribute their cultural capital in an understandable way to visitors who lack the habitus of the regular public, they help to perpetuate the status quo.” In other words, Big Bambú’s wilderness experience provided the position of power associated with a scenic experience to a privileged audience, thereby perpetuating means of exclusion already rampant in the museum, and wilderness, as I later reveal. Inside Big Bambú, visitors confronted rough terrain, undulating platforms, steep inclines, and rustling leaves, which helped establish the imaginary landscape as wild and untamed. Labyrinthine paths and rickety walkways heightened the thrill of the experience. Touring visitors were required to leave their belongings behind, including bags, purses, wallets, smartphones, and car keys. This restriction was intended to protect the visitors wandering below the paths from falling objects, but it had an important effect on the visitors inside: it untethered them from the interruptions and reminders of their everyday lives, much like tourist experiences purportedly do. Big Bambú’s fictional wilderness functions on the same principle as tourism – that it is, as Ning Wang (2006, 65) explains, “a quest for experiences that are in contrast to… daily experience.” More specifically, as John Urry (2002, 9) points out, “the tourist is seeking authenticity in other ‘times’ and other ‘places’ away from [their] everyday life.” Visitors commented on the sense of escape and exoticism Big Bambú provided. One woman exclaimed to a news camera, “I felt like I was in Costa Rica!” and another noted the “primal” quality of the experience (Rousselle and Vogel 2012). New York Times art critic Karen Rosenberg (2012) reported that “sound is one of the stranger elements of the experience… the rustling sounds overhead make you feel very far away.” Visitors did not simply look at a painting representing a picturesque landscape or a “primitivist” fantasy as they would in the galleries below, they literally enacted the travel experience, stirring up 94


Jane Becker Nelson

the emotions of escape, retreat, and authenticity with which tourism is associated. A fascination with the wilderness retreat as a form of restorative travel was one of many reactions against rapid modernization in the eighteenth- and nineteenthcenturies. Now described by the term antimodernism, historian Jackson Lears (1981, xiii) defines the impulse as a “recoil from an ‘overcivilized’ modern experience to more intense forms of physical or spiritual experience,” typified by symbols and experiences believed to exist in pre-industrial societies. Antimodernism didn’t reject modernity completely, nor were antimodernist’s actions defined simply by escapism. Rather, physical and psychological retreats eased the adjustment to a culture of consumption by retaining and exalting authentic experiences in a bid to find meaning and purpose in a rapidly transitioning world. Lynda Jessup (2002, 14647) explains that “wilderness emerged as… the preferred landscape of elite, urban tourists hoping to return to what they saw as an elemental environment untainted by civilization.” Wilderness’s value was constructed in response to the rapid pace of industrialization and loss of “virgin” land, land that had, in fact, been inhabited by Native peoples for thousands of years, and more recently by rural folk such as farmers, miners, lumbermen, and professional hunters (Jacoby 2001, 1-7). Promoters of wilderness preservation forcibly removed Native and rural populations from their homes, and ascribed value to their newly fashioned recreation areas based on the “illusion that they were seeing their nation in its pristine, original state, in the new morning of God’s creation” (Warren 2003, 223). Present-day values toward the natural world are inextricably linked to these ironic ideals, an association that troubles many contemporary environmentalists. In the words of environmental historian William Cronon (2003, 213), wilderness was, and still is, seen as “an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the only place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness.” In his seminal essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness, or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” Cronon (2003, 216) goes on to reveal the ugly underbelly to wilderness and its “pervasive and, potentially… insidious” relationship to the environmental movement. In upholding wilderness as the only authentic state of the natural world, we allow ourselves to neglect – or worse, abuse – the home environments we actually inhabit. Cronon (2003, 226) argues, “In its flight from history, in its siren song of escape, in its reproduction of the dangerous dualism that sets human beings outside of nature, wilderness poses a serious threat to responsible environmentalism….” When we withhold value from our everyday surroundings and simultaneously extend value to distant wilderness areas that are free of humans, we further inscribe the Cartesian dualism that positions humans as distinctly separate from nature. This philosophical divide is at the heart of destructive environmental actions that lead to the pollution of water and air, and the destruction of ecosystems, and the overuse 95


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

of plants and animals as “natural resources,” as well as social abuses performed in the name of wilderness preservation. This is the trouble with wilderness, and it reveals the complex history behind Big Bambú’s alignment with wilderness. Susan Stewart (1993, 133) explains in her book, On Longing, “As experience is increasingly mediated and abstracted, the lived relation of the body to the phenomenological world is replaced by a nostalgic myth of contact and presence.” The nostalgic impulse searches for something lacking in the highly mediated present by grasping for a “fictive domain” embedded in the past. There is nostalgia behind the construction of North American wilderness in its longing for ‘virgin’ land, just as there is a yearning for youth in the Starn’s playful, child-like endeavor to build a high art tree house with a team of young rock climbers. Big Bambú’s element of nostalgia was further reinforced by the work’s title and its peculiar spelling, taken from American stand-up comedians Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong’s 1972 comedy album. Cheech and Chong were known for their pothead humor and gained a broad following in the 1970s and 80s as representatives of hippie culture. The album’s title referenced a brand of cigarette rolling paper used for smoking pot, and the original LP sleeve contained a rolling paper of vinyl record proportions. As teenagers, Mike and Doug Starn sported long hair, as they do now, and were nicknamed Cheech and Chong by their friends. As the namesake for the Starn’s solo debut at the Met, this may seem like a provocative flag to wave atop of the U.S.’s first, and arguably, most conservative, survey art museum. It only serves to reinforce the touch of rebellion wrapped up in the nostalgia for youth that permeates the installation. When the Starns were asked about the visual inspiration behind Big Bambú in an interview with curator Anne Strauss, they revealed its origins: Doug: What I think might have been an influence for us growing up in the ‘60s, is those National Geographic specials. There was an episode that was—what was the name of that tribe? Mike: The Vanuatu in Pentecost. And one of their rites of passage for the young men is, well, they build a tower around a palm tree, and they build it out of sticks and vines and— Doug: In our memory, it’s completely chaotic and crazy. You know, we’ve looked it up since, and it’s pretty rigid. But it’s still a crazy and insane-looking structure. Mike: And they’d climb up and tie vines to their legs and jump off. And it’s been given credit as the— Doug: —origins of bungee jumping (Press Kit 2010).

The bamboo towers described in the Starn’s interview are created for Nagol land 96


Jane Becker Nelson

diving, a ritual of the indigenous people of Vanuatu, a Pacific island located off the east coast of Australia. The springtime rite of passage for Vanuatu’s young men is associated with yam cultivation and the dive toward the earth is thought to encourage the yams’ growth. When the BBC released David Attenborough’s series of documentary films “People of Paradise” in 1960, this tradition became an idealized vision of a culture unspoiled by the effects of globalization, and it encouraged the commodification of the Nagol ritual as a tourist spectacle (Tabani 2010, 313). Land-diving imagery was available to the young Starns through environmental and anthropological filmmaking, and its insatiable appetite for destinations and traditions perceived as primitive. Primitivism’s early effect on artists is widely recognized in the work and lifestyles of Paul Gauguin, Emily Carr, Pablo Picasso, and others (Jessup 2001). A fascination with the “primitive” in art created a demand for objects gathered by anthropologists in the field, and it initiated a flow of objects from “pre-modern” cultures to the West. Art historian Ruth Phillips points out that the emergent traffic in objects was accompanied by a traffic in concepts that has been extremely influential in reshaping artistic practices in the West. Phillips persuasively demonstrates how the contemporary genres of assemblage, installation, and performance are derived from models encountered by field anthropologists and imported back home. All three genres seek to reintroduce magic, ritual, movement, sound and associative meaning to the gallery space, elements that had been removed by the decontextualizing impulses of formalism (Phillips 1994, 108). This dimension of primitivism’s ongoing impact on contemporary art highlights the thread that links Big Bambú to earlier intellectual movements, adding yet another layer of antimodern sentiment to the project. Lears (1981, xiii; emphasis mine) explains that “antimodernism was a complex blend of accommodation and protest which tells us a great deal about the beginnings of present-day values and attitudes.” As expressions of antimodernism, primitivism and the construction of wilderness also inform contemporary values. In fact, Cronon argues that the ideologies that shaped wilderness form the very basis of contemporary environmentalism. This is why wilderness remains at the heart of environmental debate, and why Big Bambú functions as a symbol of environmental consciousness at the Met. But what motivation did the Met have in staging a backwoods getaway in the middle of Manhattan, and what did the museum have to gain from the Starn’s exhibition? Not only is the symbolic wilderness experience that Big Bambú replicates aligned with environmentalism in the public consciousness, the bamboo itself is a renewable resource and fashionable material in green consumer products. Its positive reputation comes from the fact that, unlike hardwood trees, bamboo regrows after harvesting, just like grass does after mowing. The Starn’s 97


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

trendy choice of medium may explain the abundance of fashion, design, and architecture publications that praised the installation, not to mention the fact that artists are widely seen as arbiters of style (Chiorino 2010; Holmes 2009; Rinne; 2010; Sokol 2009; Browne 2010). The mainstream press also described the project in laudatory, if vague, terms when it hailed Big Bambú as “ecologically correct,” with the power to provoke meditation on “the meaning of growth, the intersection of the natural and the man-made, sustainability…” (Wilkin 2010). Through these powerful associations proliferated by the media, Big Bambú operated like a kind of “green marketing” for the museum. The Met is not alone in aligning itself with environmentalism. In fact, many major international art museums have staged exhibitions that confront the rising threat of global environmental concerns in recent years. Karla McManus (2009, 137) points out that as concern for ecological sustainability increases, its visual representation has become prominent in the art institution. For instance, the Royal Academy of Arts in London opened Earth: Art of a Changing World in 2009 to address the impact of climate change debate on contemporary artists’ practices. Rethink, a series of contemporary art exhibitions, took place in Copenhagen ahead of the UN’s 2009 Climate Change Conference. In a very recent display of a museum’s environmental allegiance, the New Yorker reported on March 12, 2012, that the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York joined the Paris Opera and the Tate in London in keeping bees on their urban rooftops, signalling a concern for the bees’ threatened habitat, local food systems, and an awareness of the more-than-just-human world. “Roofs,” the beekeepers say, “are the great underutilized resource in New York City” (Up on the Roof 2012, 22). This is a striking comment in the context of the Met’s rooftop exhibition series. Arguably, these exhibitions do as much to brand the museum as “eco-friendly” as they truly engage environmental concerns. Big Bambú capitalized on a persistent human desire to flee our “over-civilized” lives and get away from it all, a desire evident in the nineteenth century wilderness project and contemporary tourism that Big Bambú resembles. This visual declaration of antimodern sentiment revealed a stunning juxtaposition between the Met, bastion of modernity, civilization, and progress, and what Susan Stewart (1993, 23) calls the “disease of nostalgia,” that pervasive human desire to escape all that the Met represents. Claudio Minca and Tim Oakes (2006, 18) uncover a complex paradox of tourism that applies to wilderness, and most certainly to Big Bambú. They observe that people travel in order to “transgress, if only for a day, the boundaries and routines that order [their] lives,” and yet travel becomes “a routinized homage to shoring up those boundaries….” Similarly, the Met attempted to break out of its conservative reputation by staging Big Bambú, yet in so many ways the installation actually reified the boundaries and routines of traditional exhibition apparatuses 98


Jane Becker Nelson

and their conventions of privilege and dominance. Returning to the idea of Big Bambú’s path functioning like a gallery procession’s narrative, I argue that the installation articulated two interrelated stories. The path of the metanarrative began on the Met’s grand stairway, progressed through galleries of European art, and ended in the company of two American artists surrounded by their sprawling creation. This narrative arch suggested that contemporary American artists are inheritors and interpreters of a rich artistic legacy, and more importantly, that they are at the pinnacle of cultural innovation. The installation’s site on top of the Met’s roof, in no small way, aided this conceptual thrust. The parallel narrative, established by the excursion on Big Bambú’s paths, also heralded quintessentially North American values. Cronon (2003, 220) has shown that wilderness was seen as a place to “shed the trappings of civilization and renew vigour, ingenuity,” ideals central to American individualism and national identity. Wilderness, then, still possesses an aura of “national renewal, the quintessential location for experiencing what it [means] to be an American” (2003, 220). Wilderness ably performed that role atop the Met, aiding a declaration that two American artists – rugged, adventurous, and surrounded by a simulation of wilderness – are at the apex of culture. The Met’s staging of the Starn’s Big Bambú commodified the wilderness experience and reinforced a troublesome legacy of the Western gaze and touristic escapism with which it is entangled. Works Cited Bennett, Tony. The Birth of the Museum: History, theory, politics. London and New York: Routledge. 1995. Berleant, Arnold. Living in the Landscape: Toward an Aesthetics of Environment. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. 1997. Bourdieu, Pierre. The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Publics, trans. Caroline Beattie and Nick Merriman. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1991. Browne, Alix. “Sustainable Art: The Starn’s Big Bambú.” New York Times Magazine, 22 April 2010. Accessed April 1, 2012. http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/ sustainable-art-the-starnss-big-bambu/. Chiorino, Francesca. “Doug + Mike Starn: Big Bambú: installazione sul tetto de Metropolitan Museum, New York / The Met Updates Permanence.” Casabella 74, no. 793 (2010): 8-104. Accessed April 1, 2012. http://www.starnstudio.com/media/pdf/Casabella.pdf. Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness, or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” In American Environmental History, ed. Louis S. Warren. Malden, Mass., Oxford, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. Duncan, Carol, and Alan Wallach. “The Universal Survey Museum.” Art History 3 (December

99


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream 1980): 448-69. Holmes, Pernilla. “Twins Peak: Mike and Doug Starn.” World of Interiors 29, no. 11 (2009): 122-127. Accessed April 1, 2012. http://search.proquest.com/docview/55511391?account id=6180. Jacoby, Karl. Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. 2001. Jessup, Lynda, ed. Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2001. --------. “The Group of Seven and the Tourist Landscape in Western Canada, or The More Things Change….” Journal of Canadian Studies 37, no. 1 (2002): 146-7. Lears, T. J. Jackson. No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920. New York: Pantheon. 1981. McManus, Karla. “The Environment in the Museum: the Rhetoric of Photographic Landscapes in Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate.” InterCulture 6, no. 2 (2009): 136-149. Miller, Leigh Anne. “The Met’s Rooftop Jungle Gym.” Art In America 98, no. 4 (April 2010): 143. Minca, Claudio, and Tim Oakes, eds. Travels in Paradox: Remapping Tourism. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006. Mitchell, Timothy. “Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order.” In The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, ed. Donald Preziosi. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Mitchell, W.J.T, ed. Landscape and Power, 2nd ed. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Phillips, Ruth. “Fielding Culture: Dialogues between Art History and Anthropology.” In Museum Pieces: Toward an Indigenization of Canadian Museums, 102-110. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 2011. Press Kit for Doug and Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York. 2010. Rinne, Claudia. “Alles wächst und verändert sich immer / Everything grows and changes continuously.” Architektur Aktuell no. 367 (2010): 14-15. Rosenberg, Karen. “Sculpture Is a Trip for Twins and Met.” New York Times, 3 June 2010. Accessed April 1, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/04/arts/design/04bambu.html Rousselle, Stefania, and Carol Vogel. “Big Bambú,” New York Times video edition, April 2010. Accessed April 1, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5n_Iey8F1o. Singer, Mark. “Used Bambú.” New Yorker 86, no. 38 (November 29, 2010): 27-28. Sokol, David. “A Constant Work in Progress: Big Bambú.” Architectural Record 197, no. 11 (2009): 55-55. Accessed April 1, 2012. http://search.proquest.com/docview/55491532?acc ountid=6180. Starn, Doug, and Mike Starn. Starn Studio, http://www.starnstudio.com/, March 4, 2012. 100


Jane Becker Nelson Stewart, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 1993. Tabani, Marc. “The Carnival of Custom: Land Dives, Millenarian Parades and Other Spectacular Ritualizations in Vanuatu.” Oceania 80 (2010). Temin, Christine. “Reveling in Chaos: Doug and Mike Starn.” Sculpture (Washington, D.C.) 29, no. 8 (October 2010): 28-35. “Up on the Roof: Stingers.” New Yorker, 12 March 2012. Urry, John. The Tourist Gaze, 2nd ed. London and Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE. 2002. Vogel, Carol. “Blockbuster Growth In the Met’s Attendance.” New York Times, 22 July 2011, 22. --------. “No Hiking on Roof Of the Met This Season.” New York Times, 09 April 2011, 2. --------. “See It, Feel It, Touch It, Climb It.” New York Times, 12 February 2010, 25. Wang, Ning. “Itineraries and the Tourist Experience.” In Travels in Paradox: Remapping Tourism, ed. Claudio Minca and Tim Oakes. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006. Wei, Lilly. “Doug and Mike Starn: Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Artnews 109, no. 7 (2010): 128. Wilkin, Karen. “Branching Out Atop the Met Museum.” Wall Street Journal, 12 May 2010. Accessed April 1, 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100014240527487043023045752 14351111410626.html Zolberg, Vera. “An Elite Experience for Everyone: Art Museums, the Public, and Cultural Literacy.” In Museum Culture: The Politics of Display, ed. Irit Rogoff and Daniel Sherman, 4969. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

101


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER EIGHT

Stephanie Radu

Exhibiting, Digitizing and Narrating Mobility and Displacement. A CrossMedia Reading of Journeys: How Travelling Fruit, Ideas and Buildings Rearrange Our Environment Contemporary museums are sites of cross-media communication. That is, they tell stories through a variety of different media.1 Websites and catalogues have become standard features of exhibition programming. Curators anticipate having to fund web-based projects, public workshops and publications in conjunction with large-scale exhibitions. Today, museum professionals acknowledge that projects that spread across many media types are often far richer and more interactive than those played out through a single medium. Presenting information on a number of different platforms is a strategy used to reach out to remote and omnifarious audiences, and to enhance those audiencesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; understandings of core material. As cross-media initiatives become increasingly common within the museum sphere it is important that efforts are made to grasp what it means to disseminate information or disperse narratives across multiple media platforms. The tendency to view online elements and publications as accessories to exhibitions, or as adventitious and unspecific supplements, has impeded inquiries that would otherwise support crossmedia readings. Those who believe that exhibitions should function independently of symposia, educational programs and publications often argue that, since visitors may not read the catalogue or attend scheduled talks, exhibitions must be critiqued 102


Stephanie Radu

as expressions complete in themselves (Kaplan 1995, 54). This paper will assert that individual aspects of cross-media projects should be analysed as integral parts of larger initiatives, and should be considered for the ways they amplify or stifle a project’s primary themes. Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment, a project conceived of and executed through the Canadian Centre for Architecture in 2010 and 2011, is an appropriate case study through which to explore these issues. Its primary themes of mobility and displacement were explored in a number of fora, including an exhibition (19 October 2010 - 13 March 2011), a publication and a microsite devoted to the documentation and extension of the project (www.cca. qc.ca/journeys). The press release for Journeys suggested that each facet of the project was consciously designed to enable a protean investigation of the main themes of movement and relocation (Canadian Centre, “communiqué”).2 This essay argues that the exhibition, its digitized forms and written manifestations are devices that activated Journeys’ primary themes in media-specific ways. It suggests that it is because of the CCA’s cross-media approach that Journeys inspired a thoroughgoing consideration of ways that mobility and displacement are viewed, narrated and experienced online. Exhibiting: The CCA’s Exhibition as an Aesthetic Emplacement Curling cucumbers, floating houses, and traveling coconuts came together in the Journeys exhibition, which centered on fifteen narratives about ways that drifting objects, mobile populations and itinerant ideas shape landscapes and environments.3 The show engaged with a number of stories about (im/e)migration. Juxtaposed photographs of houses from the American south and settlements in Liberia, taken by Max Belcher, told the story of free American blacks who immigrated to Liberia and fashioned their communities to reflect the culture they left behind. A series of exhibition prints, models, plans, and official forms recorded the journeys made by families that moved from remote areas of Newfoundland and resettled in destinations such as Arnold’s Cove between 1954 and 1975. The homes of these families were prepared for transportation because building new homes in their new cities would have been too costly. Letters laying out procedures for resettlement, maps tracking the movements of houses and petitions asking for assistance spoke to the processes, losses, hopes and challenges associated with this type of migration. These, and other similar stories foregrounded questions about why people move, how they prepare for their journeys and what they feel like when they leave home. In addition to tracing the “hows” and “whys” of migration, the exhibition highlighted ways that migrants tie disparate locations together. Detailing the lives 103


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

of Senegalese construction workers and merchandisers in Italy, Japanese farmers in Bolivia and Italian stonemasons in the United States, the curators showed that economic, cultural and industrial links are generated between the workers’ home countries and adopted places of residence. These narratives provide the exhibition’s visitors with opportunities to consider how relocations inspire appropriations, vitalize traditions and spawn hybrid cultural forms. The project also addressed ways that immigrants, travellers and tourists have influenced the rise of telecommunications infrastructures and call shops, which help them stay connected to their families, friends, work environments and places of citizenship. Narratives that track and explain the global movements and displacements of buildings, foods and people were central to the Journeys project. In my analysis of the exhibition, I argue that the approach to exhibition-making adopted by the CCA and its staff was ill-suited to the overarching themes of the Journeys project. Although Journeys centered on issues related to the phenomenon of global mobility, and aimed to explore instances of displacement, the exhibition functioned as an example of what Keith Wilhite (2010) calls an “aesthetic emplacement” – that is, an artistic practice that “center[s] or ground[s] the unsettling experience of displacement.” I will argue that the exhibition supported both physical and conceptual emplacements: its format immobilized materials in the show, while strategies of spatial organization, curatorial manipulation and narrative compartmentalization made sedentary inherently unsettled and dynamic stories and ideas. Each of Journeys’ fifteen stories was headlined by a descriptive term related to the theme of global mobility (for example, “Cycle,” “Wayfinding,” “Experimentation” or “Negotiation”) and was illustrated using a combination of artifacts, texts, videos, photographs, and other objects.4 Each of these terms referred to a single idea; in the case of “Value,” the idea was that “A change of location leads to a radical shift in significance” (Canadian Centre, Afterword, 66). These condensed ideas were elaborated by stories. For example, “Value” focused on the tale of the Sacred Ibis, a bird that was highly valued by Egyptians as early as the 3rd millennium CE but was devalued when it became viewed as a harmful foreign species in France (the country to which it was imported in the 1970s) (Canadian Centre, Afterword, 66). When installed in the gallery, the terms were displayed on the walls as titles for their respective stories. The stories were summarized into 500 word texts, presented in both French and English, and elaborated the terms and ideas which were positioned above them. The spatial organization of the exhibition was such that each of the fifteen narratives was compartmentalized—cordoned off as if it could be comprehended as a complete, singular entity or hermetic conceptual domain. The exhibition 104


Stephanie Radu

occupied six of the CCA’s main galleries as well as a collection of smaller, attached rooms and hallways. These spaces were dissected by colours that visually indicated where one story ended and the next began. The beginning of each narrative was clearly demarcated using the didactic posters which were designed to look like the first page of a book chapter (Canadian Centre, Afterword, 8). Artifacts, texts, videos and images that illustrated these stories were also installed within particular coloured zones and seemed to follow after the introductory posters. The rigid schematization produced the sense that each story was unyieldingly fixed to a particular wall or corner and resolutely situated within the framework of its key term. It appeared that all has been solidly mapped and ordained by the museum’s professionals. Based on these observations, it is possible to assert that the exhibition was resistant to rearrangement or any type of movement for that matter (physical, theoretical, or interpretive). The narratives never escape their spatial bounds or slip from underneath their headings to float freely or interact with one another. Curatorial manipulation also inhibited movement by solidifying the pairings of key terms and associated stories. Noting that the several of the stories could have been placed under alternate rubrics may help us to see that these pairings are instruments of emplacement. The story of skilled labourers recruited from Europe to quarries in New England is presented in the exhibition under the heading “Expertise.” The story of the town of Iroquois’s redevelopment, after being relocated in the 1950s to make room for new plans along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, is told as a tale of “Opportunity.” With different emphases, these stories could have been reversed. The story of the workers in New England could have been one of “Opportunity” rather than “Expertise,” if the focus had been on the jobs that inspired the worker’s movements, and the story of the town of Iroquois could have been one of the “Expertise” of the British architect hired as a planning consultant for the town. Noting that it would have been possible to move stories under different headings suggest that the categorizations and organizations that were imposed on the material truly did restrict its movability. In short, the structured exhibitionary text, the museological manifestation of the project, did not reflect the key themes of the Journeys project. While the CCA attempted to shed light on experiences and processes such as migration, displacement, exile, and dislocation the unruliness and unpredictability associated with these phenomena were lost because of the rigid spatial divisions and the desire to stabilize narratives under specific headings. The exhibitionary model became an instrument of structure and stabilization. Institutionalization and regularization were also very much a part of the process of emplacement in this case. Shaping the stories into a comprehensible museum narrative meant taming and emplacing them. The curators modelled the exhibition 105


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

according to common display strategies and accepted modes of information delivery rather than focusing on how best to engage with the experiences of movement and dispersion through the exhibitionary medium. Adherence to the typical “way of doing things” seems to have preceded a real consideration of the specificities and aims of the project. In contrast, had the displays undermined the prevailing modes and assumptions of the museum they may have performed an analogous displacement. Leaving visitors without a clearly-defined course through the galleries, or subverting the customary ways of looking or experiencing objects and ideas in the museum, might have disrupted their personal sense of at-homeness or generated an exhibition-going experience that felt more foreign and more circuitous. If the CCA had been concerned with animating their themes via their exhibitionary approach it might have behaved as an actress or an actor who forsakes a part of herself or himself to become a character – to take on a persona or do justice to a given role. A museum may need to undo itself to become its exhibition.5 If the exhibition had functioned as a dispossession, a partial destruction of the orderly museum experience, the CCA might have been better able to communicate the themes they set out for the project. It is possible that through processes of undoing, the museum would have dissolved into the conceptual program, thereby amplifying it rather than negating it by way of an overbearing and formulaic approach. What I am advocating is the loss of the museum’s order and authority in the place of the loss of the vitality of the project concepts. The analysis above suggests that the two cannot be maintained together. In 2004, John Law and John Urry (403-404) proposed that “existing methods of research in and around the social sciences deal[t] poorly” with “the fleeting… the distributed…the complex.” Monika Büscher, John Urry and Katian Witchger (2010, 1) built upon these statements in 2010 in Mobile Methods and argued that, “[t] he temptation [has been] to hold down and dissect these phenomena...” Nineteenthcentury strategies of “fixing” and “demarcating” are seen as incompatible with the new realities of a global society. The question has become, how do disciplines and their research methods adapt in order to represent or enact non-linear flows, mobile subjectivities and global connections. Part of “moving with the moved and moving” is identifying and avoiding “structural or static theories” and adopting what Büscher, Urry and Witchger (2010, 3, 7) call “mobile methods”—“methods that in different ways capture, simulate, mimic, parallel and ‘go along with’ the kinds of moving systems and experiences that seem to characterise the contemporary world.” This is where the microsite and publication make important contributions. They constitute mobile presentation methods.

106


Stephanie Radu

Digitizing: The Microsite and the Internet as a Medium of Displacement and Mobility Ruminations on concepts of global mobility (such as exile, diaspora and migration) are increasingly found within the realm of media studies. John Durham Peters (1999, 19) notes that “the language of travel and exile is explicit” in analyses of a variety of artistic and mass media. Television audiences, or channel surfers, are compared to nomads and dispersed networks of broadcast audiences are compared to diasporic populations (Peters 1999, 19). Hamid Naficy has explored ways that deterritorialization and displacement have influenced film aesthetics while scholars such as Jennifer Brinkerhoff have considered migration in relation to telecommunication advancements identifying how diasporas are formed on the Internet. Generally speaking, these studies focus on a single medium and do not promote cross-media thinking on the topics of displacement and mobility; research pertaining to the Internet, literature and film tends to be written into separate books. In “Arrivals and Departures,” the preface to Hamid Naficy’s Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media and the Politics of Place, Homi Bhabha (1999, ix) relies on these divisions when he asks, “What form of ‘media’—in the most general and generic sense of the technology of representation, the genre of mediation—would be appropriate to the modern experience of exile?” His question sets various mediums against each other to establish which best supports the theorization and presentation of experiences of exile. The present study follows a similar line of questioning; however, instead of considering the relative strengths of the videos, photographs, models and texts in the exhibition, it compares the merits of the exhibition, the publication and the website and, rather than taking up Bhaha’s “exile,” it considers the (arguably) more encompassing terms displacement and mobility. If the CCA’s show can be taken as an aesthetic emplacement then it must be seen to be at variance with the project objectives. Does the microsite complement the conceptual aims of the project by amplifying the sense of displacement or mobility?6 Over the last fifteen years, cultural institutions have been working to produce and enhance web-based content in order to provide new forms of access, reach wider audiences and encourage more interactive approaches to their holdings (Dawson 2001; Gander 2001; Knell 2003). The bilingual microsite for Journeys offers access to a full range of exhibition documentation including downloadable versions of the exhibition posters and press releases, installation photographs and slideshows of conceptual maps that influenced the exhibition’s spatial organization. A number of tags lead visitors to featured stories from the exhibition, snippets of the Journeys publication and information about the public workshops that accompanied the show. A hyperlink at the left side of the main page directs users to an “infinite 107


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

index” or a “growing bibliography of ideas on movement” (Journeys website). Visitors to the site are able to flip through sections of the digital publication or read the instructions that contributing authors were expected to follow. They are also given the option to share, print or send information found on the website. Tags at the bottom of the initial page also link users of the site to updates about events and educational programs associated with the show. Taken together, the downloadable documents, options for saving or disseminating information and search functions of the microsite indicate that it was designed to make content modifiable and available to online audiences.7 The website allows material to circulate more freely and leaves the project authorities with less control over the way the content is used and received. These characteristics will be shown to correspond with concepts of displacement and mobility. The accessibility and interactivity of the web component make it reflective of global mobilities. The updates and extensible bibliography suggest that the Journeys micropage is open to re-arrangements and additions in a way that the exhibition was not. Further, because the material can be downloaded from the website, its sequence can be adjusted. The project’s creators lose a degree of control when it comes to the ways the objects, images and informational panels are recontextualized or circulated. Carlos Jauregui (2001, 290), the author of “Writing Communities on the Internet: Textual Authority and Territorialization,” characterizes the Internet as an unstable space of “accelerated, vertiginous and fertile circulation.” Through the Internet the material that is so rigorously structured in the CCA galleries becomes dispersed, and its reach and influence becomes more unpredictable. While the clearly marked “beginnings” and “ends” of the exhibition’s fifteen narratives laid out a prescribed or preferred route, people sifting through the online bibliography may access the information according to personally-selected trajectories without feeling that they are moving against the authorized narrative. Bhabha’s investigation of the contemporary media landscape in “Arrivals and Departures” highlights another way that digitization corresponds with displacement (or the Internet emphasizes mobility). Bhabha (1999, ix) argues that online activities may result in exilic moves from present locality to a virtual space that seems separated from homeland or nation (Everett and Wagstaff 2004, 43). Cyberspace seems to offer emancipation (Bhabha 1999, ix). It delinks and displaces people from their localities, so that their presence in a nation and their subjection to the actual economic policies and political regulations of that place are forgotten (Bhabha 1999, viii).8 In Bhabha’s theorizations, digital technologies are capable of transporting people into unfamiliar times and places, giving them the sense of being deterritorialized or exiled.9 Bhabha does not suggest that an online virtual space replicates an actual experience of displacement. The fears associated 108


Stephanie Radu

with having to cope with drastic differences and the alienation, loneliness and anticipation experienced by migrants, refugees and exiles are in no way shared by a visitor to the microsite. Bhabha’s arguments do, however, allow one to suggest that the experience of exploring the microsite (venturing through posted material and attempting to navigate the page using links, menus and search bars) is one that complements our understanding of the experience of displacement.10 Through an analysis of the ways the microsite functions it has been argued that the site was designed to allow for the rearrangement and circulation of ideas and visual material, making its contents mobile. The Internet and digitization support the virtual mobility of persons, objects, and buildings that are physically settled. The brief summary of Bhabha’s theories on net-displacement suggests that the experience of being online may disrupt the sense of being in or belonging to a particular location (Derrida in Bhabha 1999, ix-x). Given that the Internet is a medium that facilitates the movement of “fruits, ideas and buildings” and produces in its users feelings of dislocation, and acknowledging that the experience of perusing the website becomes more akin to chaotic global movements than that of touring the exhibition, the microsite can be said to complement the project’s narratives of displacement and mobility. Narrating: Displaced Writing and the Journeys Publication The Journeys publication resembles a standard exhibition catalogue in a number of ways. The first section, an eighty-page photo-narrative, was unmistakably based on the structure of the exhibition. It re-presented the exhibition’s key terms as sub-headings while the consociated stories were included in the form of (100-200 word) interpretive texts. Colour photographs of items that were displayed at the CCA were accompanied by their titles, dates, and current locations. As a whole, however, the Journeys publication subverts expectations as the scholarly remnant of the exhibition. There is no introductory essay, no listing of the contents of the exhibition, and no footnotes or endnotes related to the extended texts that made up the second section of the publication (Kelly 1998, 100).11 In other words, it lacks some of the most-expected scholarly apparatuses. The publication further diverges from a typical exhibition catalogue model in that the collection of essays that followed the photo-narrative showed no direct attempt to provide commentary on (or criticism of) the exhibition. The narrative-based essays (5000-7000 words) were not critical reflections about the exhibition or the methods used by the curators, and they did not resemble academic articles meant to pick up on exhibition’s themes. The tales of mobile objects, populations and structures were retold as speculative historical fictions (Canadian Centre, Afterword, 87). Contributors were asked to 109


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

narrate their factual and archival research on architecture, design, urbanization and migration as hypothetical histories (Kelly 1998, 100). The boundary between fact and fiction becomes obscured in these stories, making their contribution to any realm of scholarship difficult to pinpoint. What can be surmised from these details about the publication is that it was not meant to function as a traditional catalogue or a critical account of the exhibition. Insofar as it embraced a narrative approach rather than including conventional scholarly texts, and given the specific ways in which it digresses from quintessential exhibition catalogue, the Journeys publication can be seen as a repudiation of an academic model. Such a turn away from the academic and towards fictional narration cannot be disregarded as an incidental move. Rather, it is one that directly serves the themes and objectives set out by the Journeys team. The editor, Giovanni Borasi, explains: “[t]he book consists of a series of narratives rather than critical essays. These add individual perspectives to the themes elaborated in the exhibition and act as a counterpoint to its depersonalization” (Canadian Centre, Afterword, 8). More than this, because of its narrative style the Journeys publication becomes aligned with the literary genre of exile narratives, a genre which also fuels questions about how displacement and mobility are narrated and written. A number of scholars have assessed travel narratives and the written works of poets, cultural critics and refugees to evaluate modes of displaced writing, and theorize what it means to write (of) displacement. These include Ray Chow (1993), Russel King (1995), Azade Seyhan (2001), Kristi Siegel (2002) and, most recently, Alicia Borinsky, the author of One-Way Tickets: Writers and the Culture of Exile (2011). John Neubauer (1998, 264) has traced “inscriptions of homelessness and exile in the novelistic theories of Lukács and Bakhtin.” Nico Israel’s (2000, 11) examination of such twentieth century writers as Theodor Adorno and Salman Rushdie inspired him to identify a mode of displaced writing referred to as “outlandish writing.” These writers raise a constellation of questions about what it means to write about movement and displacement and they could easily be considered in relation to a publication that asks its authors to write so speculatively about those processes. The task at hand is not to identify the exact position of the publication in this field. It is enough to simply state that such a consideration would surely be productive and illuminating. To link the discourses of this genre to the Journeys project, in an attempt to further interrogate such concepts as displacement and mobility, is a maneuver validated by the distinct approach taken in the catalogue. The essays in this publication may not have been written by persons actually displaced or mobile at the time of speaking, but it can be argued that the contributors experienced displacement while writing their research as fictional essays (Borasi 2010, 300). Since the contributors to the catalogue were not 110


Stephanie Radu

storytellers by profession, the act of writing a plotted story in the present tense likely produced some sense of dislocation. Coaxed out of their disciplinary spheres and encouraged to tread onto “unknown” terrain, the writers become displaced and interdisciplinary mobile. Moreover, because the editor required that the stories be written from a first-person perspective, the voices of the experts were displaced, given over to the imagined or real protagonists of their narratives: a Hungarian customs officer, the grandchild of an Italian stoneworker, a Metis woman born near the Turtle Mountains.12 Mary Kelly (1998, 100) notes that a “catalogue confers an authorship, an authority, on the exhibition events.” It also confers authority on the specialists that usually write catalogue texts. However, the narrative essays in the Journeys publication do not resemble this type of authoritative, declarative statement. Through the task of writing their essays from the point of view of mobile people, buildings and objects, the authors were, as Büscher, Urry and Witchger would say, “‘participating’ in patterns of movement while simultaneously conducting research,” or in this case presenting research. Thus, because the publication was based on the writing of fictional narratives rather than academic essays, it reflected experiences of displacement and mobility and became positioned alongside other texts involved in the theorization and representation of those very concepts.13 The catalogue is a distinct enunciative field which picked up on the Journeys’ themes through its narrative approach. Concluding Remarks This critical assessment of the various manifestations of Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment has shown the importance of cross-media readings for multi-dimensional productions. It has shown that the exhibition was a form of aesthetic emplacement; its spatial organization limited the movement of the display material as its narrative structure restricted the mobility of key concepts. The digital component of the project allowed material to be mobile and provided users of the website with an experience of displacement. The publication required that the authors write imaginatively as displaced subjects and, in breaking away from a familiar model, encouraged an actual sense of displacement among the newly-appointed storytellers. These facets of the project intersect with other meditations on displacement and mobility bringing media-specific discussions and conceptualizations together. The website engaged discourses about the Internet as a mobile and dislocating medium while the publication intersected with work being done on the ways that experiences of displacement and movement manifest themselves in written form. Garnering a fuller understanding of the Journeys project and of the way its themes were represented requires an extended and thorough 111


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

consideration of its cross-media features. Recognizing the exhibition as an expression mismatched with the project’s conceptual program and the website and publication as components in line with that program affirms that each element of a cross-media production deserves attention as an independently successful or unsuccessful aspect of the larger initiative. It is important when designing and assessing projects like Journeys that crossmedia analyses are undertaken. Such investigations promote the detection of presentational contradictions. They also expose key differences between individual features, thereby generating clearer understandings of those features’ specific qualities and potentialities. Not every exhibition should be aligned with a publication or a website. By evaluating how each of these elements support or attenuate the project as a whole we avoid producing them just because they have become a regular part of exhibition-making. Some projects require less-conventional components to truly activate and enliven their themes and ideas. It is by considering a range of mediums, and asking whether the chosen ones serve their purposes, that we are able to conceive of and implement other options. A cross-media approach facilitates a more nuanced appreciation of the ways that a project’s elements work independently and jointly, helping museum professionals to produce, share, challenge and organize knowledge in more effective and impactful ways. Notes 1. I am deliberately using the term “cross-media” rather than “trans-media” or “multi-media.” “Cross-media” better explains the relationship between the three facets of this richly-realized project. The narratives were told across the website, catalogue and exhibition so that they complemented each other to produce a more expanded vision. Nevertheless, every element was capable of functioning independently of the other. My method of analysis reflects this interpretation. I have scrutinized each of the elements in turn, but intend for them to be understood as concatenated pieces of the project. 2. In the Afterword, the curator also asserted that each of Journeys’ parts was “conceived as an independent tool with its own character while maintaining the overall curatorial concept” (Canadian Centre, Afterword, 7). 3. The curatorial team was primarily concerned with emphasizing tangible outcomes of global mobility rather than attending to questions of nationhood or identity formation or fleshing out the political and economic conditions that precipitate the movement of populations in a global age. 4. For installation shots of the show see http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/press/exhibitions-andpublications, http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/1074-journeys-how-travelling-fruit-ideas-andbuildings-rearrange and the Afterword text which is available online. For the complete list of 112


Stephanie Radu terms see, Borasi, 2010. 5. I began reading the exhibition alongside Josette Feral and Leslie Wickes’ descriptions of Valère Novarina’s views on stage acting (Feral Wickes 2007, 57). One of the main criticisms of such a proposition would likely be that the museum’s commitments to its educational and public service missions may restrict its staff and administrators from continually changing their approaches and display styles to suit projects at hand. Additionally, tapering exhibitionmaking approaches to the specificities of temporary exhibitions would prove much more time consuming for museum professionals. It seems most reasonable to suggest that this type of institutional flexibility and attention to an exhibition’s themes would be possible in relation to only select exhibitions. Nevertheless, I would argue that awareness regarding the medium-specific qualities of exhibitions, publications and websites is desirable amongst all museum professionals and exhibition-makers. 6. To clarify, my critique of the show is very much based in the assumption that an exhibition could have been designed that conveyed the experiences of movement and displacement or relocation. My remarks about the relative merits and shortcomings of the Journeys exhibition, website and publication are specific to this case study. They should not be extended as judgments of the mediums capabilities in general. This paper has inspired the suggestion that a well-curated exhibition may have viscerally reproduced a state of displacement in a way that the website could not. This type of comparative reasoning is precisely what my paper was intended to inspire. Further debate is certainly possible and desirable. The author gratefully acknowledges the opinions and recommendations provided by Dr. K. Robertson regarding these ideas. 7. As far as web capabilities go I think it fair to say that the Journeys team could have made the website even more open and interactive had they allowed for photo uploads, online voting, contest entry, blog commentary, or the like. 8. Scholars such as Robert Putnam (2000, 16) have insisted that those who frequently participate in online activities often spend less time becoming involved in their actual communities. 9. Of course, it must be acknowledged that the Internet is not accessible to everyone. Research on digital divides has revealed that individuals with lower incomes and less education tend to have restricted access to technology and the Internet. For more see Dutta-Bergman 2005, 90. 10. Exploring the website, as an unknown domain, may inspire adventurousness, discovery or confusion. Howard Rheingold (2000) argues, however, that homesteading on the net does occur. Individuals become parts of new communities. They develop emotional ties to computer-mediated social groups and become familiar with certain webpages so that they may come to feel at home on the Internet (rather than experiencing anxiety or feelings of displacement). Refer to endnote 8 to review how online homesteading leads to other forms of dislocation. 11. A list of the 317 objects that were part of the exhibition can be found in the Afterword 113


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream text. 12. For the actual requirements see: http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/cca-recommends/1061-thejourneys-publication-dogma. I think it is significant that this type of writing constitutes a form of dispossession not unlike that which I suggested the museum could perform to accent the key themes (i.e. in behaving as an actor/actress). The approach, a kind of ‘forsaken writing,’ unravels the traditional model and allows the message to emerge in a powerful way (in accordance with the core concepts). 13. I am only arguing one viewpoint here. It is possible to argue the publication is rigorously organized and reproduces the compartmentalization of the exhibition. It could also be argued that the written commentary actually fixes meaning because of its linearity and destroys what indeterminateness may have remained after the exhibition. Refer back to endnote 6.

Works Cited Bhabha, Homi. “Preface: Arrivals and Departures.” In Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place, edited by Hamid Naficy, vii-xiii. New York: Routledge, 1999. Borasi, Giovanna. Ed. Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment. Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2010. Brinkerhoff, Jennifer M. Digital Diasporas: Identity and Transnational Engagement. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009. Büscher, Monika, John Urry, and Katian Witchger. Eds. Mobile Methods. New York: Routledge, 2011. Canadian Centre for Architecture. Afterword: Journeys. Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2011. ___. “communiqué /press release. http://www.cca.qc.ca/system/items/5576/original/ journeys_PR_English.pdf ?1288359346. ___. “Exhibitions and publications.” Press.” http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/press/exhibitionsand- publications ___. “Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment, 20 October 2010 to 13 March 2011.” http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/1074-journeys-how-travelling-fruitideas-and-buildings-rearrange. ___. “Journeys exhibition conceptual design.” http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/ccarecommends/968- journeys-exhibition-conceptual-design. ___. “Journeys publication.” http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/cca-recommends/1153-journeys. ___. “Journeys workshops: Storytellings.” http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/education- events/1215- journeys-workshops-storytellings. ___. “The Journeys publication dogma.” http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/cca- recommends/1061-the- journeys-publication-dogma ___. “Trajets: comment la mobilité des fruits, des idées et des architectures recompose notre environnement. Journeys: How traveling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment. L’index infini / Infinite 114


Stephanie Radu Index.” http://www.cca.qc.ca/journeys/index.html. Dawson, David. “New Media Special: Museums in a Digital World.” Museum Practice 16 (March 2001): 46-47. de Preneuf, Flore. “For Some Exiles, Net is a Way Out.” International Herald Tribune (21October

1999):

http://www.lexisnexis.com.proxy2.lib.uwo.ca:2048/hottopics/

lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=8357. Dudley, Sandra. “A Sense of Home in Exile,” FMR 30, http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/ FMR30/23-24.pdf. Dutta-Bergman, Mohan J. “Access to the Internet in the Context of Community Participation and Community Satisfaction,” New Media & Society 7, 1 (2005), 89-109. Everett, Wendy Ellen, and Peter Wagstaff. Eds. Cultures of Exile: Images of Displacement. Oxford: Berghahn Books Ltd., 2004. Feral, Josette, and Leslie Wickes. “Moving Across Languages.” Yale French Studies 112 (2007): 50-68. Gander, Nick. “New Media Special: A Presence on the Web.” Museum Practice 16 (March 2001): 48-50. Inkinen, Sam. The Integrated Media Machine: Aspects of Internet Culture. Helsinki: Edita, 2001. Israel, Nico. Outlandish: Writing Between Exile and Diaspora. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Jáuregui, Carlos. “Writing Communities on the Internet: Textual Authority and Territorialization.” In Latin American Literature and Mass Media, edited by Debra A. Castillo, 288-300. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2001. Kaplan, Flora E. S. “Exhibitions as Communicative Media.” In Museums, Media, Message, edited by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, 37-58. London: Routledge, 1995. Kelly, Mary. “Re-Viewing Modernist Criticism.” In Imaging Desire, edited by Mary Kelly, 80106. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998. Knell, Simon. “The shape of things to come: Museums in the technological landscape.” Museum and Society 1, 3 (November 2003): 132-146. Law, John, and John Urry. “Enacting the Social.” Economy and Society 33, 3 (2004): 390-410. Martin, Fran. “Hamid Naficy. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.” Screening the Past (25 July 2002): http://www.latrobe.edu.au/ screeningthepast/reviews/rev1002/fmbr14a.html. Miller, Carolyn Handler. Digital Storytelling: A Creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment, 2008. Moorti, Sujata. “Imaginary Homes, Transplanted Traditions: The Transnational Optic and the Production of Tradition in Indian Television.” Old Dominion University, http://web. mit.edu/cms/Events/mit2/Abstracts/MoortiPaper.pdf OR http://web.mit.edu/cms/ Events/mit2/Papers.html#T2. Moser-Booth, Karen. “Journeys: How Travelling Fruit, Ideas, and Buildings Rearrange Our Environment.” ArchitectureBoston. http://architectureboston.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/ 115


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream journeys-how-travelling-fruit/.” Neubauer, John. “Bakhtin Versus Lukács: Inscriptions of Homelessness in Theories of the Novel.” In Exile and Creativity: Signposts, Travellers, Outsiders, Backward Glances, edited by Susan Rubin Suleiman, 263-280. Durham: Duke Press, 1998. Peters, John Durham. “Exile, Nomadism, and Diaspora: The Stakes of Mobility in the Western Canon.” In Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place, edited by Hamid Naficy, 17-44. New York: Routledge, 1999. Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000. Radulescu, Domnica. Ed. Realms of Exile: Nomadism, Diasporas, and Eastern European Voices. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002. Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community. Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000. Wilhite, Keith. “Unsettled Worlds: Aesthetic Emplacement in Willa Cather’s My Antonia.” Studies in the Novel 42, 3 (1 October 2010), http://global.factiva.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca:2048/ ha/default.aspx.

116


Samantha Angove

CHAPTER NINE

Samantha Angove

We Come in Piece: Parody and Parallels in the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art Narrative On March 6, 2008, the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art (MMTA) exhibition opened at the Barbican Gallery in London, England. It was an exhibition based upon a fictional story of aliens coming to Earth to study the elusive thing terrestrials called “art.” Upon the Martians’ return to Mars, they interpreted art through Martian systems of inquiry, classified art, and established a museum. MMTA was to act as this imagined museum. The fictional Martian director of MMTA, Dr. Klaatu, introduced and provided didactic information via audio guide for the Barbican Gallery audiences. The plot for MMTA was inspired by a section of the book, Kant after Duchamp, entitled, “Act One: In Which You Are Coming from Outer Space and Ask Yourself ‘What is Art?’” (de Duve 1996, 3). The exhibition explored an answer to this seemingly timeless question through the lens of the foreign Martian ethnographers. As stated by one of the curators, “like social scientists, the Martian Museum’s fictional curators treat[ed] art as material culture, investigating the projection of our [human] social needs onto the object, as well as exploring the veiled mythologies that operate in the realm of Western contemporary art” (Manacorda 2008, 204). Curated by Francesco Manacorda and Lydia Yee, MMTA was a playful and humorous exhibition that displayed works produced by 115 contemporary artists created between 1960 and 2008. In the entrance of MMTA, the visitors encountered green neon signs that displayed the exhibition’s title written in the Martian alphabet. Underneath the sign 117


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

followed an introductory panel describing the exhibition. When walking through the gallery there were gold stripes lining the floor that were similar to the metallic lines found on computer chips. They led museum goers to the exhibition’s didactic panels.1 The art works were placed in display cases, on plinths, on the floor, hung on the walls, or hung from the ceiling. And, most of the walls and plinths were painted white. With the exhibition divided between two floors, the second floor of the gallery allowed the viewers to overlook the Great Hall of Ancestors, a section on the first floor that was central to the exhibition. Finally, the Barbican Gallery gift shop had alien-themed and space exploration-themed items available for sale. The exhibition’s creative plot, of aliens coming to earth to understand art, had characteristics that are indicative of a recent shift in science fiction literature. For this reason, I will first explain this shift. A common archetype of science fiction is to address the question “What is ‘real’?” In some cases, dealing with this question was as a way to conceptualize Baudrillard’s postmodern concept of the hyper-real, like the popular culture Matrix trilogy (1999, 2003, and 2003) for instance (Oreck 2004). According to Jenny Wolmark (1993, 15), the purpose of a traditional science fiction is to “re-invent the real as fiction, from within the hyper-real.” Wolmork (1993, 15) continued to suggest that “ideological contestation within postmodernism is thus inevitably forestalled by the circular relationship between the real and the simulated.” For Wolmark, science fiction works from within Baudrillard’s theoretical framework. However, she also suggested that the experiences of those subordinated and marginalized in society are often lost in this circular relationship. Such experiences are ones that never make it into the narratives of the ‘real’ (Wolmark 1993, 15). Other scholars have also critiqued science fiction narratives that reflect the dominant ideals of Western society. Andy Sawyer (2010, 1) suggested that a pluralistic approach to science fiction would consider whether all cultures believe that science and its technology is always a valuable method for change. Moreover, the so-called ‘discovery’ and colonization of another planet, which is another archetype of science fiction plotlines, can be quite problematic. As the editor of a postcolonial science fiction anthology, Nalo Hopkinson (2004, 7) states, “…for many of us that’s not a thrilling adventure story; it’s non-fiction.” Within recent years, some science fiction narratives have reflected such critiques by including an intersection of identity markers, such as race, class, and gender, into utopian or dystopian plotlines. By doing so, science fiction functions in a way that opens up dialogues about difference, marginalization, ‘otherness’, and diasporas. De Witt Douglas Kilgore (2003, 226) claimed that science fiction has dealt with this topic for the last twenty years. However, these critiques have not been expanded beyond literature into the visual arts until recently. The Winnipeg exhibition Close Encounters: the Next 500 Years (2011), for example, used indigenous ways of knowing 118


Samantha Angove

and science fiction sentiments as a way to question how the future—or next 500 years2 —of postcolonial societies might look. In addition, the London exhibition Alien Nation (2008) demonstrated how the concept of the ‘alien’ had been used in American popular culture during the Cold War era through to its continued use in contemporary popular culture. It was an exhibition that explored how the ‘alien’ had been “frequently projected onto migrants, asylum seekers or people of Islamic faith” in contemporary society (Eshun and Casely-Hayford 2006, 7). These two examples critiqued the way in which Western audiences relate to the concept of an alien, and shed light on how ‘aliens’ or ‘alien’ encounters are often used as a metaphor for inter-cultural exchange. The Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art was no exception to this trend. The Martian Project For MMTA, the Martian project, to study terrestrial art, resulted in a social science research report about their mission to Earth and resulted in a stratified classification system for Terrestrial art. The exhibition’s catalogue, the Encyclopedia of Terrestrial Life, included a “List of Illustrations” which have figure numbers in the Martian alphabet, the “Floor Plan of the Museum,” and a thirteen page report on the mission to Terra entitled, “Letting it Be: A Red Paper on Terrestrial Art,” published by the “Alien Affairs Committee” (ACC). Accompanying this Red Paper was a foreword by the ACC that read (McCarthy 2008, 18): The Red Paper published in these pages is the report that agent 083TOM33McC5THY presented to the Aliens Affairs Committee after returning from a terrestrial posting. The report was received with some ambivalence by the ACC. Many of its members concluded that 083TOM33McC5THY’s undercover research had been led astray by the events narrated therein; that the rigor necessary to accomplish the assigned scientific mission had been lost. Nonetheless, this paper represents the deepest insight ever produced by a Martian observer into the phenomenon that humans call art. Although some of the findings reported here contradict Martian intelligence, agent 083TOM33McC5THY’s narrative seems to offer a key whose significance and implications have not been fully explored yet. Martian understanding of terrestrial civilization and its art has still to make great progress. It was decided to publish this archival document here to point out possible directions for future research. Mars, Cycle 77308 53423456 Secretary General

119


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Alien Affairs Committee

This foreword acted as a fictional disclaimer for the exhibition. It claimed that the outcome of the Martian mission had not been objective and as such the findings hold less validity. With that said, it also pointed to how these findings can act as a qualitative narrative of events rather than a quantitative social science research report. In English and in the Martian alphabet, the extraterrestrial ethnographers had classified art in the following categories and subcategories. Note that there are no subcategories for the last label; this category was designated for objects that had a meaning and purpose that escaped the Martians. Category

Subcategories

Kinship and Descent

Ancestor Worship

Totems

Kinship Diagrams

Magic and Belief

Transformation

Spells and Charms

Relics and Spirits

Icons

Ritual

Traps

Ceremonies

Ceremonial Objects

Masks

Communications

Exchange

Interplanatary Communication

Cultural Contact

Shrines

Unclassified Objects

When the Martians applied their classification system to contemporary art work, the intended meaning of the art and its historical context was lost. The result was a series of misinterpretations and inaccuracies that seemingly stemmed from the agent’s non-objective mission to Earth. For instance, Christo and JeanneClaude’s Surrounding Islands Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida (1980-83) was (mis) interpreted by the Martians as a communication technology, apparently used by the artists to destroy other terrestrials. In actuality, the art work, which consisted of pink polypropylene fabric floating from sixty meters of the uninhabited islands’ shorelines, was intended by the artists to humbly “underlin[e] the various elements and ways in which the people of Miami live, between land and water” (Christo and Claude 2012). Or, Sherrie Levine’s Fountain: 5 (1996), a gold urinal flipped upside down, was (mis)interpreted by the Martians as relating to Ancestor Worship. Levine’s urinal was a work that appropriated the design of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp’s seminal work titled, Fountain (1917). Levine’s artistic practice explored conventional ideas of authorship through the re-contextualization of iconic works of art, and has nothing in common with ancestor worship. These Martian inaccuracies in 120


Samantha Angove

classifying contemporary art reflected the normative and dominant ideals of the fictional Martian culture, ideals that further stem from the encyclopedia’s disclaimer of its methodological problems. As co-curator Francesco Manacorda (2008, 205) argued, “this violent act inserts objects belonging to our civilization [Western culture] into a set of interpretive categories that are inappropriate or alien to them, since ethnography is a discipline initially conceived in the West for the reduction of the ‘other’ into knowledge.” To that end, the inaccuracy in contextual information for the exhibition pointed to and paralleled the methodological problems human anthropologists continually work to resolve within their practice. However, it should be noted that some of the art in this exhibition was accurately explained. For example, Piero Mansoni’s Artist Shit (1961), which is a can of the artist’s feces, although labeled under Transformation, was correctly reported as being sold as the equal weight to gold; which humorously reflected how expensive contemporary art is at auction. The inclusion of accurate information showed how the Martian research methods were capable of recording correct results, even though their methodology was not perfect. The faulty classification system used by the Martians also homogenized Terrestrial culture as having universality to it—not cultural difference. In doing so, all humans—those who were colonized, the colonizers, the settlers, and people of different diasporic pasts—were indigenized, erasing long and complex histories of cultural contact between peoples on Earth. For this exhibition, by reducing all human experience to one common experience, the fictional Martian culture was not threatened by difference and safeguarded in existing at the structural center of these interplanetary relations. Terrestrial culture, which was now easily able to be “pinned-down,” was located on its margins. As such, this exhibition paralleled the non-fictional reality experienced in a Western society. This is a reality wherein a white, male, able-bodied, heterosexual Western ideal is systemically situated as the center, while any difference, often homogenized, is in the position of ‘other.’ Ultimately, for this exhibition the dynamics of a power differential between the fictional Martian culture and human culture meant that contemporary art acquired new meaning. It was historicized as artifact and repositioned as ‘other.’ As intended by the curators, this practice was to be reminiscent of a long history of classifying non-Western material culture through Western classification systems (Yee 2008, 10). For example, Canadian west coast Aboriginal totem poles historically had been described as artifacts indicative of an obsolete indigenous culture, different and exotic to Western culture.3 In fact, these Aboriginal cultures are not obsolete in Canada, despite their repeated subjugation to acts of biological and cultural annihilation by European peoples.4 Instead of humans imagining and/or exploring life on other planets, MMTA’s 121


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

plotline positioned Martians as possessing these fascinations. The exhibition’s narrative of fictional Martian beings ‘discovering’ Terrestrial culture was in some ways similar to the European imperialist agenda that spanned the early eighteenth century through to the middle of the twentieth century. For that reason, MMTA can be thought of as an imperialist mission through the Martians’ effort to leave their own society and exploit the cultural resources of another planet. Moreover, one of the traits of European artistic approaches was “its attention to ‘alien art’ in an imperialist age (i.e., its interests in exotic art – Japanese, African, etc)” (Foster 2002, 83-84). The Martians were imperialists and the Terrestrials were ‘othered’ through the Martian historicization of Terrestrial cultural products. In a similar vein, the Terrestrial art in MMTA was exoticized by the Martians. To exoticize material culture means that it was subjected to an ‘othering’ process that positioned it as different, yet desirable. A caveat of this exoticization process is that the culture in question was held as desirable in some capacity, but relationally the ‘exotic’ culture was always technologically retrograde to the culture that perceived it as such. As Manacorda suggests, this ‘othering’ process “throws back on Western society the framework that it has itself used to interpret the works of its imagined outside: the primitive” (Manacorda 2008, 209). It should be noted that the art in MMTA was not labeled as ‘primitive’ or described as being inspired by ‘primitive’ culture. Rather, throughout the exhibition, the concept of the ‘primitive’ only carried an implied presence. In speculation, this concept was left to a metanarrative because of its long and controversial history in visual arts. It is a history that, intentionally or not, had oppressed many groups by positioning them in a historic past, incapable of the Western ideal of ‘progress.’ Martians and the Heterotopia The fictional Martian narrative of ‘discovering’ art on Earth, I argue, is neither utopian nor dystopian – it does something different. According to Kilgore (2003, 227), the concept of heterotopian astrofuturisms describes stories in which “we find fresh potential for space futures that do not depend on the imperatives that govern everyday life.” Following work by Foucault, heterotopias are distinguished as being “real places ... which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia” (Foucault 1986, 24). They are places in which societal norms, “that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and in-verted” (Foucault 1986, 24). MMTA did not occur in the future, its narrative occurred in a recent past, but logistically it operated in a similar way. The narrative offered the exhibition an imagined and immersive space. And, by using parody to parallel Western society, the MMTA narrative acted as a heterotopia. Kilgore 122


Samantha Angove

(2003, 223) explained that a narrative that parallels Western society, “despite its troubling history and unwelcoming practices … somehow invites the affiliation of those seeking alternatives to a racialized status quo.” This meant that the parody in the exhibition destabilized any distinctions between alien and ‘other’, and critiqued how these terms have been situated in dichotomies created by a Western society. By doing so, this dynamic acted as an avenue that offered viewers “fresh (Martian) eyes” to explore the effect that labeling can have. If the parody in the exhibition’s narrative became apparent to the viewers of MMTA, then the exhibition may have had the possibility to act as a space to reflect upon these histories. MMTA’s ability to facilitate an understanding and an opportunity to challenge Western society’s dominant ideals will become transparent through a discussion of its position as an imagined museum, its forms of display, and its taxonomy. Martians and the Museum As insinuated by the exhibition’s title, the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art was also intended to parallel museum institutions. MMTA housed a multitude of objects that were claimed to be representative of terrestrial culture as a whole. Comparatively, such a project was similar to the museum model used for some large institutions—such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Louvre in Paris—the universal survey museum. Universal survey museums accumulated their collections because of a long lineage of gifted, and in some cases stolen, items. Stephan E. Weil (1995, xvii) makes a compelling suggestion that the universal survey museum may be an artifact in today’s society, because it seems impossible for any new museum to be capable of collecting a vast array of material culture that could, by any standards, still be called a survey. Through MMTA’s imagined plotline, this exhibition challenged Weil’s claim. The Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art claimed to be a comprehensive account of human “art,” like universal survey museums, from the perspective of Martian ethnographers. However, to present a collection as comprehensive instead of partial or insufficient is erroneous, as no collection can ever be a complete account of a given culture. In writing about universal survey museums, Duncan and Wallach (1980, 450) argued that “—the installations, the layout of the rooms, the sequence of collections— create[d] an experience that resemble[d] traditional religious experiences.” MMTA seemed to mimic this argument quite literally. As detailed in MMTA’s floorplan, the lower level was designed to guide the viewers through the Great Hall of Ancestors before they ventured into the side galleries that housed art works attributed to categories such as Ritual, Magic and Belief, Relics and Spirits, et cetera. However, MMTA departs from the universal survey museum model in that survey museums make some distinctions between different cultures on earth, whereas MMTA did 123


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

not. Additionally, universal survey museums present material culture in a timeline to show ‘progress’—another ideal in Western cultures. MMTA did not do this either. Rather, the art work in MMTA was divided into nominal categories, and the works were not organized by their date of creation. MMTA also resembled early Western precursors to museums: cabinets of curiosity. These cabinets were often owned by rulers, aristocrats, or people of the merchant class. Like cabinets of curiosity, MMTA housed a mixture of objects from all over Earth that were labeled as having a variety of utilitarian purposes. Cabinets of curiosity were private collections, like universal survey museums, and they were meant to show the owner’s ability to accumulate (Clifford 1988, 218). In this regard, the Martian mission of understanding, collecting, classifying, and displaying human art reflected a desire to possess and show ‘other’-worldly items. In a capitalist mentality, to possess such a multitude of cultural products is representative a patron’s success in such a society. MMTA departed from resembling cabinets of curiosity because collecting a wide-variety of objects, according to Baudrillard (1996, 22), is an accumulation, which is the “inferior stage of collecting, and lies midway between oral introjections and anal retention.” Such a practice, as Baudrillard argued is socially unacceptable. Alternatively, MMTA was more akin to “collecting proper [which] emerges at first with an orientation to the cultural: it aspired to discriminate between objects, privileging those which have some exchange value or which are also ‘objects’ of conversation, of commerce, or social ritual, of display” (Baudrillard 1996, 22). As understood through the exhibition’s narrative, the practice to discriminate between objects as indicated above was an analytical strategy used by the Martian ethnographers. MMTA’s affiliation to universal survey museums and cabinets of curiosity meant that MMTA was not of an institutional model that, by any contemporary standards, can be reflective of a pluralistic approach to curatorial practices. Fundamentally, such a model for this fictional museum furthers the museum’s roots in colonial politics and acts an institutional mode of oppression to, in this case, (a homogenized) terrestrial culture. Martian Display Tactics MMTA turned to the display case as one method to exhibit art in the museum. Historically display cases in museums often placed a number of objects together categorized by methods that did not have the capacity to nuance an object’s history. When this was done, objects were often stripped of their historical contexts. In this regard, the display case distanced the viewer from the objects and placed the objects in a historic past that was divorced from a contemporary culture. MMTA’s main 124


Samantha Angove

departure from these early forms of display was that the objects at the Barbican Gallery were given more space to breathe—they were presented in a white cube format, within the display cases the art was placed on plinths, and there was enough space between each object which would help the viewer focus on one art work at a time. The methods of display used at the Barbican Gallery presented the collection as one that is of a “good” collector—or reflected what is, currently, a socially acceptable way of collecting. The forms of display for this exhibition were aesthetically similar to many contemporary art exhibitions. However, because of the exhibition’s fictional and immersive Martian narrative, the form of display acted as a parody that pointed audiences to, in some instances, how museums still rely on traditional display methods veiled by contemporary aesthetics. Martian Taxonomy The Encyclopedia of Terrestrial Life is the creative interpretation of a traditional exhibition catalogue that accompanied the show. In this catalogue, under a section called Cultural Contact, the work Utopian Fantastic Object (U.F.O.) Post Communication (1977) by Slovakian artist Julius Koller (1939-2007) is listed. Similar to the MMTA exhibition, Koller also created a fictitious space to his display art. His imagined space was a gallery on the Ganek peak of the High Tatras Mountains which span what is now Poland and Slovakia. It was not a fictional museum like MMTA, but a fictional gallery. The area in which it was to be established was affectionately named the “The Gallery” by the early mountaineers who explored the terrain. Koller wanted to display his works in this space as there were no private galleries in the social republic of Czechoslovakia in the early 1970s. The fictional gallery was to be a space where artists and thinkers could come together, in a café or a park for instance to present ideas, and no matter how seemingly impossible an idea may have been, they could each become ‘real.’ In line with the themes in his work, Koller thought of this fictional galley space as one that could be co-habitable by both terrestrials and extraterrestrials. In the MMTA exhibition and its catalogue, Encyclopedia of Terrestrial Life, none of this contextual information is available to the viewer/reader, even though this information, specifically that of the fictional gallery, mimicks the dynamics of the exhibition. Further, the taxonomy used in the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art exhibition paralleled a continued institutional imposition of the classification systems of one culture onto another. Yet, I argue that through its extraterrestrial guise, MMTA allowed for an awareness of taxonomy in the exhibition space instead of an implied presence, and it facilitated critical dialogues about the marginalization of cultures through labeling. Taxonomy has been a point of interest for a number of scholars. Michel 125


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Foucault for example turned to Borges’ citation of the unusual classification system of a Chinese encyclopedia.5 In this encyclopedia: ‘Animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’ (Foucault 1970, xvi).

Foucault’s fascination with this taxonomy was in its seemingly unrelated leaps from one classifier to the next, with the only perceivably common variable being ‘animals’. The encyclopedia provided Foucault with insight into the inclusionary and exclusionary nature of labeling, and how this classification system collapsed the “age-old distinction between the Same and the Other” (Foucault 1970, xvi). Foucault’s inability to rationalize the basis for such a classification system pointed him to the cultural determination of taxonomy, and perhaps more importantly to how classification systems of one culture can be incomprehensible to another. Theoretically, if cultural determination was stripped from our understanding of objects, then the hierarchal values that had been ascribed to them become irrelevant and the objects can co-exist on a neutral baseline. Evidently, we do not live in a world devoid of culturally ascribed values. But, to recognize that value is based within an additive model helps to problematize the validity and perceived objectivity of taxonomy. The Martian classification system, as indicated in the table above, was a system that stemmed from Martian research into human culture. This research was a process to ascribe cultural value to Terrestrial objects. The Martian classification system was also based in the knowledge of what the fictional Martian society finds valuable in objects created within their own culture. Therefore, the Martian mission would never have been able to obtain objectivity because of the cultural difference and power differential that existed between Terrestrials and Martians. Both the Martian classification system and the Chinese one are similar in that they were created by non-Western societies. To apply either non-Western classification systems to Western cultural products would risk disenfranchising the objects’ history and the objects’ continued relationship to the culture that created them. On the other hand, the Martian classification system was in fact created by humans, under the guise of Martians, and applied to human art. As mentioned earlier this dynamic meant that the art displayed in MMTA, art that stemmed from contemporary Western fine art values, which had been repositioned as ‘other’, was subjected to the same practices that historically had been misused to classify 126


Samantha Angove

objects from non-Western cultures. Such non-Western cultures often have little to no interest or affiliation to Western fine art values. Ultimately, taxonomy, by its very nature, is exclusionary. In theory, no classification system can ever be pluralistic. The two concepts—taxonomy and pluralism—are mutually exclusive. Ruth B. Phillips has also demonstrated interest in the exclusionary nature of taxonomy. She argued that “named categories that structure museum systems are a residue of obsolete nineteenth-century ideologies … they create domains of inclusion and exclusion that continue to inscribe colonial attitudes about race, patriarchal ideas about gender, and elitist notions about class” (Phillips 2011, 95). Phillips’ concern was in the way early Western classification systems are still being used on both early Western objects and contemporary works. Lost in the application of these classification systems to material culture are the experiences and histories of those persons marginalized during the time in which the classification systems were created. Such early Western classification systems privilege the cultural products created by white, male artists who were assumed to be of what is now called a heterosexual identity. In other words, art works that fit into a Western fine art tradition. To restate, the art in the MMTA had become historicized by being repositioned from art to artifact. As Phillips (2011, 96) argues, in Western society the category of fine art is assumed to be progressive and dynamic, whereas the label of artifact is relegated to a traditional, timeless, and technologically retrograde past. In light of this argument, contemporary art had become dated, changeless, and perhaps even nostalgic for the Barbican Gallery audience through its very position and classification in MMTA. By historicizing contemporary art, the dominant culture to which the collector belongs (Mars) is held as dynamic in comparison to its collection of ‘other’-worldly possessions (human art). Nonetheless, the effect of relabeling contemporary art as artifact may have had an interesting effect for the Barbican audiences. In thinking about the art and artifact labels, Ruth B. Philips (2011, 162) suggested that exhibitions need to collapse this binary by using: …a refreshing reversal; it clears the air of the endless and often circular critiques of art and artifact (both Western concepts arbitrarily imposed on the aesthetic products of non-Western peoples) and opens the way for an appreciation of the multiplicity of purposes for which the aesthetic can be used – for ritual, for persuasion, for cultural representation, for pleasure.

In this regard, the curatorial decisions for MMTA could be seen as positioning 127


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

its contemporary art as embodying both labels—art and artifact—for the Barbican Gallery audiences, and therefore rendering the art/artifact binary irrelevant. In doing so, as Phillips argued, this curatorial decision helped to point audiences to the multiplicity of purposes that these contemporary objects could hold, beyond one that situated them as only having a function within, the “mysterious” artworld. However, in order to have engaged with such a collapse of the art/artifact binary, the audience needed to possess a certain level of cultural capital6 to know how the contemporary art in the exhibition had been humorously re-invented for the Barbican Gallery audiences. With this in mind, the parody in this exhibition required a sufficient level of previous knowledge about contemporary art in order to “get the joke.” The largest group of people who could have engaged with the exhibition’s parody were people who, in some regard, were a part of that “mysterious” artworld. Further, such cultural capital is imperative to not just notice, but also to reflect on the implications of labeling art and/or artifact. If the art’s contextual information was accurately provided, its presence would have surely weakened the effectiveness of the parody, therefore destabilizing MMTA’s innovative curatorial project. Investigating the reactions and responses to this exhibition by people who possessed a low cultural capital would surely yield interesting results. However, if logistically possible, such a project is beyond the scope of this paper. The question then is why do cultures continually return to classification systems if they are exclusionary by definition? The purpose of taxonomy, simply put, is to act as tool that organizes our material world in accordance with culturally determined mental schemas. The problem is that classification systems often privilege the mental schemas that reflect the social norms of a society’s dominant group. Such taxonomy, then, plays a crucial role in influencing how objects are organized and displayed in museums and galleries. With that considered, there have been incisive critiques by scholars that push museum display strategies toward a pluralistic approach. Phillips (2011, 101), for example, argued that attempts toward cultural difference can still reflect “hierarchies of value, reinforcing systems of cultural domination.” She maintains that these systems need to be continually critiqued in order for them to manifest into something that is reflective of the current thinking of the time (Phillips 2011, 101). Conclusion Earlier, I briefly described the history of the Julius Koller’s work Utopian Fantastic Object (U.F.O.) Post Communication (1977), and how its history, which was similar the plot of MMTA, was not recorded for the exhibition or the catalogue. The Martians did in fact record some information about this work. The Encyclopedia of Terrestrial 128


Samantha Angove

Life, stated the following: Koller identified himself as a UFO-naut [(true)] since he believed humans were not merely earthly creatures but also extraterrestrial beings travelling between planets [(not true)]. His activities included time and space travel, the transmission of interplanetary signals and mysterious futurological interrogations [(partially true)]. This work is the result of successful communication with extraterrestrials [(debatable)]. Apparently, human eyes can only detect the letters UFO within a green haze; the detailed drawing of a time-machine clearly noticeable to Martians is indiscernible to them (Manacorda 2008, 176).7

As I have indicated above, the Martians report of Koller’s art included information that was correct. However, they also misinterpreted some information, recorded false information, and provided interpretations about the object that Koller or other humans apparently never would have noticed. The intentional faulty recordation of contextual information for MMTA was a tactic that was imperative to support the curators’ thesis of this exhibition. It demonstrated how contemporary art in MMTA was stripped of its historical context when it was classified under the Martian taxonomy. Further, it pointed to the cultural determination of taxonomic systems. As such, MMTA’s fictional heterotopian narrative created an immersive exhibition space that offered the viewer an opportunity to critique how some cultures systemically become dominant over ‘others’ through labeling. The Barbican Gallery’s curatorial decisions to use this unusual fictional narrative, which humorously mimicked Western society’s systemic structure and some of its social norms, opened an avenue for its audiences to explore the concept of alienation. Notes 1. MMTA’s inclusion of didactic panels was kept to a minimum despite the attention made in guiding the viewers’ towards them. 2. 500 years refers to the North American celebrations of the 1992 Columbus Quincentenary— the 500 year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to, what is now known as, the Americas. These events were marked with much controversy, especially in Canada. 3. In many cases First Nations material culture is still being represented as such. Groups like the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (ACC) in Canada have made progress in changing how First Nations cultures are recorded and displayed by working with First Nations communities. 4. Ruth B. Phillips (2011, 164) wrote that “annihilation, biological and cultural, is irrefutably, the primary legacy to Aboriginal people of the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.” 5. The name of this classification system is the “Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge’s Taxonomy.” Jorge Luis Borges claimed that the list appeared in an ancient 129


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Chinese encyclopedia. However, the authenticity of this classification system has not been proven and most scholars perceive Borges’ citation as fictitious. 6. As operating in what Bourdieu called the field of power, cultural capital is a symbolic form of capital (like academic capital) that benefits a person within the cultural field. The field of power is a “set of dominant power relations within society […]” (Johnson 1993, 14-15). 7. The additions I have made to this paragraph, as presented in the brackets, were informed by an interview of Koller. See, Koller 2007.

Works Cited Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. Translated by J. Benedict. London: Verso Books, 1996. Christo and Jeanne Claude. “Surrounded Islands: Information.” Christo and Jeanne Claude. Accessed on April 27, 2012. http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/projects/surroundedislands?view=info. Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988. de Duve, Thierry. Kant after Duchamp. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996. Duncan, Carol and Alan Wallach. “The Universal Survey Museum.” Art History 3, no. 4 (1980): 448-469. Foster, Hal. Design and Crime: And Other Diatribes. New York: Verso, 2002. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Translated by Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics 16, no. 1, (Spring 1986): 46-49. ---. Preface to The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1970, xv-vviv. Eshun, Ekow and Augustus Casely-Hayford. Preface to Alien Nation, edited by John Gill, Jens Hoffmann, and Gilane Tawadros, 7. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2006. Catalogue of an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London, November 17, 2006, through January 14, 2007. Hopkinson, Nalo. Introduction to So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, 7-9. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004. Johnson, Randal. “Editor’s Introduction: Pierre Bourdieu on Art Literature and Culture.” The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia UP, 1993, 1-25. Kilgore, De Witt Douglas. Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Koller, Július. Space is the place. By gb agency. Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, June, 2007. Manacorda, Francesco. “Interplanetary Ethnography.” In Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art, edited by Francesco Manacorda, Lydia Yee, Corinna Gardner, 204-215. London: Barbican Gallery in association with Merrell Publishers Ltd., 2008. Catalogue of an exhibition at the Barbican Gallery, London, March 6 through May 18, 2008. McCarthy, Tom. “Letting it Be: A Red Paper on Terrestrial Art.” In Martian Museum of

130


Samantha Angove Terrestrial Art, edited by Francesco Manacorda, Lydia Yee, Corinna Gardner, 17-32. London: Barbican Gallery in association with Merrell Publishers Ltd., 2008. Catalogue of an exhibition at the Barbican Gallery, London, March 6 through May 18, 2008. Phillips, Ruth B. Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011. Sawyer, Andy. Forward to Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film, edited by Ericka Hoagland and Reema Sarwal, 1-3. North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers, 2010. Return to Source: Philosophy & ‘The Matrix’. Directed by Josh Oreck. 2004. CA: Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2004. DVD. Weil, Stephan E. Introduction to A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquires into museums and their prospects. Washington: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1995. Wolmark, Jenny. Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism. Hertfordshire, England: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993. Yee, Lydia. Introduction to Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art, edited by Francesco Manacorda, Lydia Yee, Corinna Gardner, 9-11. London: Barbican Gallery in association with Merrell Publishers Ltd., 2008. Catalogue of an exhibition at the Barbican Gallery, London, March 6 through May 18, 2008.

131


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER TEN

Stephanie Wittich

Marketing the Middle Ages: Museums and the Medievalisms of Online Consumption Marketing campaigns, international museum exhibitions, social media, and the Middle Ages: Is one of these things not like the others? If the latter stands out, perhaps it should not. In contemporary culture the Middle Ages is continually reimagined, surfacing today not only in books and films, but also in such previously non-existent spaces as Facebook and YouTube. This paper will analyse the recent international travelling exhibition, “Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe,” by examining the online marketing strategies of the three host institutions. The exhibition of more than one hundred and thirty relics, reliquaries and devotional objects was installed consecutively at the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and the British Museum in London from October 2010–2011. In the planning stages, organizers confronted one fundamental question: How can the museum “sell” the medieval experience in a twenty-first-century context and bring paying visitors through the doors? While traditional print media has local impact, an online presence is essential today in the marketing of an international exhibition. Accordingly, each museum implemented its own individual exhibition website, while also extending the marketing campaign to social media outlets. Taking the “Treasures of Heaven” exhibition as a case study, how does the shift from medieval pilgrimage church to secular online museum space affect the experience of these devotional objects? Which medievalisms were constructed and consumed in this exhibition’s marketing process? 132


Stephanie Wittich

To approach these questions, the following analysis will begin by imagining the original function and reception of relics and reliquaries. Next, a handful of the relevant approaches taken by these museums will be examined in pursuit of the medievalisms constructed by these strategies of engagement; followed by a discussion on what motivated the British Museum to post the unwrapping of a relic bundle on Facebook; and similarly, why the Walters Art Museum provided the online visitor with the ability to negotiate the inside of a typically sealed reliquary. Most fundamentally, why did this exhibition take place, and what can its event tell us about the currency of medieval relics and devotional objects in contemporary culture? Performing the Present Past The use of precious materials was certainly part of the process of marketing relics: the opulent display of gold reliquaries studded with gems effectively proclaimed the relic’s “real” worth. This worked in both directions, and lack of a proper setting cast doubt on the authenticity of the relics (Bagnoli 2010, 138).

While specifically discussing the symbolic importance of elaborate reliquaries, this excerpt from the official “Treasures of Heaven” exhibition catalogue unintentionally speaks to broader notions of place and the importance of an authenticating framework. Today that authenticating framework is often the secular museum space, or even the online extension of the museum. As the exhibition catalogue notes, the medieval relic originally depended on a sumptuous reliquary to bolster its claim of “authenticity,” a status that was further supported by the sacred space of the pilgrimage church (Bagnoli 2010, 138). Medieval pilgrims travelled to pilgrimage churches to venerate sacred relics, making the long trip on foot as part of an arduous journey that served as a time for spiritual meditation and physical penance. The physicality and hardship of the trip spiritually prepared the pilgrim for the divine blessing s/he hoped to receive through the veneration of the saint’s relics. To attract distant pilgrims, relics were necessarily advertised and framed by the church for medieval consumption, just as today they are marketed by the museum for modern consumption. Relics were advertised to be the physical remains of saints, martyrs, or fragments of biblical objects (e.g., the True Cross). Relics were big business, and there was ecclesiastical competition to possess the relic that would draw in the largest number of pilgrims, and consequently the largest amount of money and prestige. Extravagance was an essential medieval marketing strategy. While it is still possible today to undertake a pilgrimage on foot to a holy 133


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

site — for example, the route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain is still actively travelled by contemporary pilgrims — the modern North American participant typically experiences relics and reliquaries in a secular museum space. As Annabel Jane Wharton (2006, 37) outlines in “Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks,” reliquaries function primarily as works of art in contemporary culture. The secular museum framework continues to authenticate relics (or more typically, now empty reliquaries) just as medieval pilgrimage churches did. The shift in function from sacred, venerated object to treasured art object has resulted in their commodification (Wharton 2006, 42). Whereas today medieval devotional objects might be sold through auction to a museum or private collector, sacred relics and reliquaries originally operated primarily in a gift economy (Wharton 2006, 45). For example, a powerful ruler or benefactor would gift a relic to a church, a lineage that would support its authenticity and assist in validating its attributed miracles (Wharton 2006, 45). The secular museum today does not concern itself with the sacred quality of the relics, but still “authenticates” the relic or reliquary by ensuring that the authority of the past is continued into the present (Wharton 2006, 9). Nevertheless, the sacred “aura” of these objects has not been entirely stripped, as the rituals of historic veneration in the church have been reinscribed in the ritual space of the museum. As Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach (1980, 450) argue, the secular museum space has much in common with the religious space of a church or temple, so that “the museum experience bears a striking resemblance to religious rituals in both form and content.” Furthermore, “the separation between the secular and the religious… has effectively masked the survival in our society of older religious practices and beliefs” (Duncan and Wallach 1980, 450). While a shift in the historical framework and reception of medieval objects has clearly taken place, a strict sacred/secular division cannot be claimed. The sacred history of these relics and reliquaries continues to influence their present reception, even in a secular museum. The virtual museum space allows the participant to take part in evolving museum rituals (e.g., experience parts of an exhibition on Facebook or YouTube), but even these new media performances remain shadowed by the imagined “memory” of the medieval pilgrim. As will be discussed, online “Treasures of Heaven” marketing materials suggested that the participant could have an experience in the museum space that remained in dialogue with the medieval pilgrim. Medievalisms and the Contemporary Middle Ages Before looking to the specific strategies and medievalisms of the marketing campaigns, it is important to establish a working definition of the term ‘medievalism’ 134


Stephanie Wittich

and why it is constructive in this discussion. Following medievalist Elizabeth Emery, the productivity of the term lies precisely in its imprecise boundaries. Emery evades the limiting confines of a strict definition, and states that medievalisms “consist of the relationship to the Middle Ages, the ways in which people “devote” themselves to the period’s ideals or the ways in which they “study,” “use,” or “construct” them. Medievalism is thus an active and evolving process of engagement with things medieval” (Emery 2009, 78). In other words, medievalisms develop through the active reconstruction of the Middle Ages in the present moment. Keeping this fluid, ongoing renegotiation of the medieval past in mind, which medievalisms were constructed by the host museums to promote “Treasures of Heaven,” and how were these strategies designed to engage the participating audience? Experiencing the “Treasures of Heaven”: Online Marketing Strategies Turning first to the Cleveland Museum of Art, this institution strategically communicated the potential transcendental experience that medieval devotional objects had the power to elicit for the participant — an uplifting experience made possible by the active, unbroken connection the objects retained with the medieval past. This approach was best illustrated by the emphasis organizers placed on one reliquary in particular, the Reliquary Bust of St. Baudime, and was reiterated through select visitor interviews that the museum posted on their website and YouTube channel. The twelfth-century reliquary bust of St. Baudime was recognized by the museum as an exhibition highlight, particularly because it had never before left France. The mayor of St. Nectaire, the small town where the reliquary resides, accompanied the bust as it travelled during the exhibition. An online video of the news conference was posted, entitled “Bust reliquary of St. Baudime Arrives in Cleveland,” as well as a blog entry titled “Cleveland Museum of Art Welcomes St. Nectaire Mayor Alphonse Bellonte and Gilded Bust of St. Baudime” (“Treasures” 2010a). From the wording of the headlines and the living presence of an accompanying French dignitary, it seems that St. Baudime was a visiting diplomat. More specifically, a living medieval diplomat. Significantly, the museum’s blog post and news conference underlined that the brilliant gold reliquary from the Romanesque Church of St. Nectaire continues to be actively venerated as a sacred object (“Cleveland” website). The marketing emphasized that the reliquary continues to hold the same power today (whatever that power may be) that it did almost a thousand years ago. Because it was claimed that the object still functions almost exactly as it did in the Middle Ages, organizers seized the idea that the reliquary could provide visitors with an “authentic” medieval experience. It is significant to note the absence of the original 135


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

relic, a vial of St. Baudime’s blood — an absence that goes unmentioned in the Cleveland Museum’s framing of this lavish gold reliquary as an actively venerated object (“Treasures” 2010b). Is the relic truly no longer necessary? In the press conference that announced the inclusion of St. Baudime in the exhibition, Griffith Mann, the chief curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, emphasized the spiritual power of the reliquary: “I think one of the things that connects powerfully to this exhibition is the notion that someone in the twelfth century might have responded in what I hope is the very same way that many of us will, that sense of presence that is visible in a statue like this…. As you look at it, so too do you have something looking back at you, and I think that kind of point of connection between our world and another realm [is established by] this object in such a powerful way” (“Bust Reliquary” 2010). The purported ability to function as a portal to “another realm” (medieval or heavenly), situated the Reliquary Bust of St. Baudime as an active “treasure of heaven.” Such an approach strongly resonates with medieval ecclesiastical marketing strategies. Along with the extravagant framing of the reliquary and pilgrimage church, a relic’s “authenticity” was historically established by the miracles attributed to it. The exhibition visitor responses posted by the museum on their website and YouTube functioned as contemporary counterparts to the anecdotal reports of miracles spread by medieval pilgrims that increased a relic’s fame and claim to authenticity. While many of the contemporary interviewees marvelled at the beauty and craftsmanship of the reliquaries, recalling Wharton’s discussion of the repurpose of sacred objects into modern artworks, one male respondent spoke to their contemporary power: “It is a marvellous collection of relics from all over the world… [medieval] people would go for days, weeks, months, years, leave their jobs and families to go visit one of these relics, and here they all are here in Cleveland. What a treat it is for us to view them. Not only to view them, but to meditate before them” (“Treasures” 2010d) (emphasis added). Recalling that many of the reliquaries no longer contain original relics, St. Baudime included, it seems that these objects were regardless believed to retain the power to invoke medieval spiritual and modern aesthetic contemplation—an association that the museum wished to promote. The British Museum posted a video on their exhibition website entitled “Modern Veneration,” a short segment devoted to the contemporary, ongoing veneration of medieval relics (“Treasures” 2010a). According to James Robinson, curator at the British Museum, the “contemporary relevance of relics” was clearly illustrated when “the Bishop of the Georgian community in London invited several Georgian nuns into the [exhibition] space for prayer service” — a filmed event that showed the contemporary Georgian worshippers venerating, kissing, and shedding tears in the presence of a small reliquary that ostensibly contained an original relic 136


Stephanie Wittich

(“Treasures” 2010a). The British Museum and the Cleveland Museum’s marketing strategies emphasized the sacred objects as active agents that held the power to perform spiritually even within the secular framework of the contemporary museum. Acting as a bridge between the medieval past and the contemporary present, the relics and reliquaries were marketed as capable of providing the experience of an “authentic” medieval past in the present moment. This strategy not only enticed the viewer to attend the exhibition, but also prepared the participant to react to and consume these medieval objects in a particular way. The traditional scripted performance that the participant enacts in the museum space now potentially begins before s/he even walks through the doors of the museum. A second strategy by the British Museum focused on establishing fundamental connections in human nature between medieval and contemporary audiences. In the promotional “Modern Veneration” video, the museum juxtaposed figural speaking reliquaries from the exhibition with trompe l’oeil, life-size wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London (“Treausres” 2010a). The video opens with the wax museum’s replicas of soccer phenom David Beckham alongside his wife, Victoria Beckham, both of whom are quasi-royalty in British culture. The medieval connection established here through contemporary secular veneration is significant. The medieval and the modern meet through the constant of human nature, a connection that bridges the perceived distance between contemporary “us” and historical “them.” Visitors to Madame Tussaud’s today are lured by the opportunity to get close to celebrity bodies in a way otherwise not possible. Although in a secular pop-culture context, these worshipped and unattainable bodies have an aura about them, comparable to the power that relics from saintly bodies held for medieval worshippers. This resonant analogy, while imperfect, was an effective marketing strategy on the part of the British Museum. The medieval/ modern veneration connection established here further speaks to the Cleveland Museum’s strategy to extend the medieval power of relics and reliquaries into the active present. Online Negotiations: Navigating and Unveiling the Sacred The Walters Art Museum, while also taking part in the types of strategies discussed through the Cleveland Museum of Art and the British Museum, took a novel approach on their exhibition website by hosting an interactive gallery of select exhibition objects (“The Medieval” 2011). This website allowed participants to virtually negotiate an object such as the thirteenth-century Shrine of Saint Amandus. The museum provided four views of the reliquary: closed with the lid on; a side view with the lid off; a view from the top with the lid off; and an image from a CT 137


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

scan of the reliquary. Because the reliquary was thought to have been modified over the centuries, conservators conducted this scan to identify construction techniques, and determine which portions were not original to the thirteenth century. The online participant could choose one of the four images, and then use the navigation bar at the top to rotate the image and zoom in and out on the highresolution model. The extreme close-ups made possible by this interactive platform exist outside of the typical experience of religious worship, and also outside of the viewing rituals performed in modern museums. This is especially true of the view of the reliquary from the top with the lid open: the inside of a reliquary was a space not intended by its medieval creators for consumption by a general audience. And the CT scan that makes visible the composition of the inner wooden core would of course be completely foreign to a medieval worshipper. Virtual negotiation provides a new way of consuming these objects, one that is seemingly separate from the traditional veneration of relics and reliquaries in a ritual Christian setting. But is the impulse behind this technological approach truly divorced from the motivations of the medieval pilgrim? The medieval power of these relics arguably survives to some degree in the present moment, motivating the desire to “understand” the source of their mysterious power in a thoroughly contemporary manner. For the online participant virtually navigating the plain wooden interior of St. Amandus’ wooden reliquary, the goal is certainly not aesthetic appreciation. That these sacred objects were subjected to a virtual strip-search demonstrates the contemporary impulse to turn to technology and science when faced with the unknown. The incorporeal power that relics held in the medieval past cannot be uncovered through X-rays or CT scans, nor through high-resolution imagery. But that such attempts are still made speaks to the fascination that these objects continue to inspire in our contemporary moment. Although perhaps unexpectedly, let us consider Giorgio Agamben’s discussion of the event of nudity. I propose that Agamben’s concept of the incomprehensible beauty of the sublime human nude resonates with the unknowable power of the materially humble relic stripped of its extravagant trappings. Agamben (2011, 6566) writes: Striptease, that is to say, the impossibility of nakedness, is in this sense the paradigm for our relationship with nudity. As an event that never reaches its completed form, as a form that does not allow itself to be entirely seized as it occurs, nudity is, literally, infinite: it never stops occurring. Inasmuch as its nature is essentially defective, inasmuch as it is nothing other than the event of the lack of grace, nudity can never satiate the gaze to which it is offered. The gaze avidly continues to search for nudity, even when the smallest piece of clothing has been removed, even when 138


Stephanie Wittich all the parts that were hidden have been exhibited in a barefaced manner.

As the interactive gallery participant actively negotiated the shrine from its closed state; to an aerial view of the interior; and finally to a rendering of the internal composition of the humble wooden core; this series progressively stripped the reliquary in an event comparable to Agamben’s (2011, 65) concept of nudity “as an event that never reaches its completed form.” No matter how close the participant might zoom into or rotate the increasingly bared reliquary, satisfaction remains elusive because the mystery of the reliquary’s power remains intact. Agamben illustrates his own discussion with the example of Clemente Susini’s eighteenthcentury wax anatomical model of a beautiful female nude. The reclining nude is composed of removable layers that open down to the cavity of the pregnant womb, which opens to reveal a small wax fetus (Agamben 2011, 78). Susini’s nude woman can be endlessly scrutinized, dissembled, and subjected to our gaze in search of the source of her power, but the realization that we are unable to obtain the essence of her beauty results in the lasting “impurity, almost sacredness, that seems to inhere in this wax model” (Agamben 2011, 79). The unobtainable beauty of Agamben and Susini’s nude form resonates with historically powerful, yet materially humble, medieval relics that were veiled by sumptuous reliquaries and churches. While the Walters interactive platform is certainly indicative of the desire to compulsively unveil sacred objects to a greater and greater degree, this impulse is most clearly embodied in the British Museum’s photographic dissection of the Hildesheim Portable Altar that was posted on Facebook (“The Hildesheim,” website). As they assessed the condition of the altar for conservation, conservators documented the dismantling of the altar from start to finish. The series opens with an image of the object installed in a quasi-religious setting, surrounded by lit candles. The object is progressively dismantled, and the scale becomes increasingly larger in the photographic frame. The album concludes with the unwrapping of one of the forty relic bundles contained within the altar, and the unbound relic is shown in progressive stages of undress. At this point, one might ask why it was necessary to unwrap these bundles for “conservation” purposes when it was the physical reliquary that was undergoing restoration. The contemporary desire to somehow “know” and “understand” the mystery of these objects was performed here, much as it was on the Walters Art Museum site where the Shrine of Saint Amandus underwent a CT scan and was made available online for intimate virtual negotiation. Common to Agamben’s (2011, 65) concept of nudity as an event that is always in process and never complete, these objects will always reveal themselves as unsatisfactorily material. Why do these objects stubbornly retain vestiges of their 139


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

medieval spiritual power when presented in a secular context? Because the source of their power and fascination lies in their persistent unknowability. Conclusion: Relics as Currency After historically situating the online museum space; examining sepcific marketing approaches engaged by the respective organizers of “Treasures of Heaven”; and analyzing the virtual unveiling of relics and reliquaries; a fundamental question remains: why did this exhibition take place, and what can its event tell us about the currency of relics and medieval devotional objects in contemporary culture? To approach this question, it is necessary to return to the opening discussion of the authenticity of relics in the Middle Ages. As Wharton (2006, 11) notes, the “agency [of relics] did not depend on their authenticity, but on the perception that they were authentic.” This perception was constructed on multiple levels, ranging from the benefactor who vouched for its provenance, to the elaborately wrought reliquary and ecclesiastical setting, and perhaps most importantly to the anecdotal miracles attributed to the relics. These now secularized elements — wealthy patrons, gleaming gold reliquaries, the authoritative framework of the museum, and anecdotal accounts of the museum experience— perform today in the consumption of medieval relics and reliquaries. These medieval devotional objects/secularized artworks continue to draw a crowd with their beauty, mystery, and reputation, just as they did when they performed at the heart of medieval pilgrimage. Further parallel to medieval motivations, aesthetic and spiritual venerators bring in money for the host museum. Why do medieval relics and reliquaries continue to hold economic power in our contemporary economy? Whether drawn by the exquisite craftsmanship or the promise of an otherworldly experience, contemporary visitors find comfort in the affirmative message of the exhibition. The preservation of these fragile relics and reliquaries extends the authority of the past, and supports the imagined “shared” history that our contemporary culture constructs its roots in. As Wharton eloquently writes, a relic “records duration and postpones oblivion. It offers reassurance that the past retains its authority. It collapses time. A relic is a sign of previous power, real or imagined. It promises to put that power back to work” (Wharton 2006, 9). This exhibition reaffirms both the past and the present, and speaks to our culture’s continued ability to preserve these precious, if not sacred, materials for future generations. American institutions, such as the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Cleveland Museum of Art, inherit this European history by taking part in such international exhibitions. While these museums have world-class medieval collections on display even without such collaborations, they advertise their 140


Stephanie Wittich

position as contemporary sites of aesthetic pilgrimage by connecting with a larger network of international institutions, much as smaller medieval churches benefitted from inclusion into the largest pilgrimage routes leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, or the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Participation in “Treasures of Heaven” puts (or rather, keeps) these museums on the proverbial map. Reputation is paramount for an institution, much as it was for the medieval churches that advertised their status through the possession of “authentic” relics. The exhibition of Vatican treasures in Cleveland, among contributions from other world-class art museums, can only enhance the prestige and reputation of the host museum and the city itself. Like the elevated status of the reliquary that once contained a holy relic, contact provides an elevation of status through association. In purposely evading the certainty of a “finished” discussion, this analysis will close by revisiting the questions raised in the introduction: What are some of the medievalisms that these museums created in the process of marketing this contemporary exhibition? How do we actively consume these medieval objects and medievalisms in a contemporary museum context? The Cleveland Museum of Art framed the exhibition through the focus on the active power of the reliquary bust of St. Baudime, and by disseminating their own “word of mouth” anecdotes via filmed participant responses. The Walters Art Museum drew on the contemporary desire to understand and dissemble the secrets of a “distant” past through a secular, scientific lens, and the British Museum responded to this same impetus by exposing a sacred relic bundle on Facebook. One medievalism that this exhibition partially sought to counter is the common placement of the medieval firmly in the past, in contrast with our distinctly separate present. While this particular medievalism was not completely overturned, and the Middle Ages was largely still positioned in a mysterious, distant past, references to the modern cult of celebrity, among other connections, helped to bring the medieval into a contemporary context where it belongs. We can never definitively “know” what life was truly like for these medieval worshippers. An understanding of the past is always a construct based on contemporary perspectives and on our own experiences in the world. We cannot imagine how a medieval worshipper would venerate a relic without mentally placing ourselves in the proverbial shoes of that worshipper. The museum, although regarded as a producer of knowledge, creates this medieval framework using techniques rooted in contemporary culture, and from the perspective of a shared historical moment. From both inside and outside of the physical walls and virtual reach of the museum, we will continue to consume and venerate these relics in contemporary ways that remain in perpetual dialogue with an imagined, ever-present past.

141


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Works Cited Agamben, Giorgio. Nudities. Translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. Bagnoli, Martina. “The Stuff of Heaven: Materials and Craftsmanship in Medieval Reliquaries.” In Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe, edited by Martina Bagnoli, Holger A. Klein, C. Griffith Mann, and James Robinson, 137-148. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010. Duncan, Carol, and Alan Wallach. “The Universal Survey Museum,” Art History 3 (1980): 448-69. Emery, Elizabeth. “Medievalism and the Middle Ages,” In Defining Medievalism(s). Studies in Medievalism. Vol. 17. edited by Karl Fugelso. Cambridge; Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 2009. Wharton, Annabel Jane. Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Websites Cited “Bust Reliquary of St. Baudime Arrives in Cleveland,” The Cleveland Museum of Art YouTube Channel, accessed April 26, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dRaMh4sgoE “Cleveland Museum of Art Welcomes St. Nectaire Mayor Alphonse Bellonte and Gilded Bust of St. Baudime,” The Cleveland Museum of Art blog, accessed April 26, 2012, http://blog. clevelandart.org/?p=819 “The Hildesheim Portable Altar,” The British Museum Facebook page, accessed April 26, 2012, http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150327482229723.357364.72228529722& type=3 “The Medieval World: Shrine of Saint Amandus,” The Walters Art Museum Interactive Gallery, accessed April 26, 2012, http://media.thewalters.org/presentations/treasures-of-heaven/ “Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe,” The British Museum, 2010a, accessed April 26, 2012, http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/ treasures_of_heaven/objects.aspx “Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe,” The British Museum press release, 2010b, accessed April 26, 2012, http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/ news_and_press/press_releases/2011/treasures_of_heaven.aspx “Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe,” 2010c, The Cleveland Museum of Art, accessed April 26, 2012, http://clevelandart.org/visit/Exhibitions/Past%20 Exhibitions.aspx?Filter=2010 “Treasures of Heaven – Visitor Perspectives,”2010d, The Cleveland Museum of Art YouTube Channel, accessed April 26, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPm3iw7KTw&feature=plcp

142


Laura Ritchie

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Laura Ritchie

Becoming Work: Creative Appropriation in Leila Pazooki’s Fair Trade and Dafen’s Oil Painting Village Leila Pazooki’s Fair Trade is an exhibition that I have never seen. From April 30 to June 18, 2011, it was on display at Galerie Christian Hosp Berlin, an institution I have never visited. Thanks to Internet bloggers, Tumblr posters, and an interactive online 3-D rendering, however, Fair Trade is as accessible to me as my very own hand-painted, ‘Museum Quality’ oil replica of the Mona Lisa. Like the painterworkers in Dafen, China who overcome prohibitive distances and make painted masterworks available to the masses via replication, I have used what resources the Internet has made available to me to recreate, reproduce, or replicate, if you will, the setting of Fair Trade as best as I can. I have done this because Pazooki’s Fair Trade exemplifies the centrality of labour as a matter of concern in the discourses and institutions of contemporary art, highlighting as it does the work of copyists, the reverence of authenticity surrounding masterworks, and the potential appropriation of labour occurring when either is engaged within contemporary art practices. I simply have to get there to know it. So, I’ve put myself in the visitor’s shoes... It’s opening night and I’m on my way into Galerie Christian Hosp. I know from my e-vite and the write-up on Galerie Chirstian Hosp’s website that Pazooki’s show addresses “the relationship between the rarified world of valuable artwork 143


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

museum collections [and] the culture of cheap mass-production” that is prominent in emerging economies of the East (Fair Trade website). The text explained that in China, “artworks can be replicated for tiny fractions of their market value,” and that through such replications, as in the reproduced contents of the National Gallery of London’s Room 17a, Pazooki’s show will highlight “the role of museums in contemporary society” and the “tensions between mass-market economics” and “artistic authenticity.” The website informed me that the copies in Pazooki’s exhibition were fabricated in cramped studios in Dafen, China, by “craftsmen as far removed from Western Bohemian stereotypes of painters as is possible;” advised that they are “Museum Quality,” and that the assembly-line approach to their production will make me “question the intrinsic essence and mystery of an artwork.” I will be forced, so they say, “to assess the relative values of a work and its intrinsic aura of uniqueness and quality.” From this description, I expect to see the entries of one hundred Dafen workers who participated in a painting competition organized by Pazooki, and that the installation will “reflect the diversity and calibre of the assorted workers, to stunning effect.” It sounds like quite the show. Thanks again to the Internet, I know a little bit about the artist, and a little bit about this gallery, so I refresh myself on my prep work in anticipation of the exhibition I am about to navigate. Leila Pazooki was born in Iran in 1977. She studied painting at the National Art Academy in Tehran, Iran, new media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and received her Masters in Art in Context from the Berlin University of Arts, where she is currently based. She works mainly in digital media, video, and image editing, and explores the aesthetics of context, issues of place, and global concerns about the role of media in our inter-human relationships (“Leila Pazooki”; Artist’s website). To Galerie Christian Hosp, “her works could be seen as a contribution to the battle against dogmas and ‘borders’ which have been shaping the world through ideological and political prejudices” (“Leila Pazooki”). Given Galerie Christian Hosp’s focus on emerging international artists who work within “an intercultural dialogue,” examine current shifts in global power, and encourage “the dissolution of borders through a dialogue on convergences and intermediate forms,” Pazooki would seem quite at home on this relatively young contemporary art gallery’s roster (“About-Galerie”; “Gallery”). Further, I read that Christian Hosp has a mission to engage particularly with non-western artistic manifestations of transformations in “countries on the move,” namely Asian countries, and the impacts of those transformations on contemporary local practices (“AboutGalerie”). An exhibition about Chinese painters by an Iranian artist working in Berlin, then, seems perfect. But even before I set foot in the show there is something about this gallery and this project that peaks my curiosity: The gallery claims to operate on the 144


Laura Ritchie

Figure 1. Kunstmatrix 3-D rendering of Fair Trade installation, including Introductory Panel 145


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Figure 2. Allegory of Justice competition panels and â&#x20AC;&#x153;Anonym, found on Internet, Allegory of Justice, 2011â&#x20AC;? 146


Laura Ritchie

principle that “contemporary art does not require culturally nor nationally predefined categories in its production or reception” (“Gallery”). And yet, the gallery has labelled the replicas I am about to see as the product of cheap, massproduction—craft at best—and characterized their makers as workers, not artists. These sound quite like categories to me. I’m thinking already about my reception of these works—acknowledging that I might be a privileged viewer; not so much a connoisseur, but at least in possession of a high amount of cultural capital, and what Pierre Bourdieu (1984, 1-6; 1991, 37-70) would call a capacity for distinction. I’m contemplating whether I will consider these copies to be ‘art,’ and knowing full well that categories of production and classifications of work (however material, immaterial, or distinctly artistic) are of constant interest to me, I am eager to see whose work is being celebrated here. I learn a bit more from the didactics on my way in the door of the large, modern, almost warehouse-style gallery (Figure 1): I learn that Pazooki’s Dafen painting competition of April 3, 2011 allotted six hours in which the participants would copy Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1537 painting, Allegory of Justice, and that the reproduction of Room 17a “is a symbolic analysis of the museum as a cultural phenomenon.”1 I’m getting a handle on how I am supposed to read this show: There is a difference between what is produced and consumed in museums and what is produced and consumed in Dafen. Thinking of many photojournalistic representations of factory work in post-Mao China, I imagine mass-production, mass-demand, and cheap goods ‘churned’ out by a vast labour force in a position to work for low wages.2 I think of the way the products of China’s industriousness are pitted in opposition to the quality work of fine craftsmanship, a dichotomy apparent in comparisons between the luxury items of Europe’s haute-couture fashion enterprises and massproduced knock-offs available on the sidewalks of any major city willing to exchange with made-in-china markets. Already contemplating the problematic of authenticity and labour in post-industrial cycles of production and consumption, I catch the last bit of didactic text before examining the works: In 1982, Mr. Huang Jiang left Hong Kong to set up business in Dafen, where there was more money to be made as a reproductions painter… In China’s economic boom of the mid-1990s, Dafen “became a dynamic hub for commercial painting…” Dafen is responsible for more than 60% of the worldwide oil painting reproduction industry…3 With these facts in mind I walk about the room. To the right is an entire wall of Allegory of Justice panels, each one slightly different in colouring, slightly different in the handling of the proportions of the nude figure’s body (Figure 2). Some look rushed, childlike, naïve. Some look meticulously executed, finely handled, and historically appropriate. A corresponding label reminds me that that these are the 147


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

results of the painting competition, and lists one hundred names that I am unable to pronounce, and unlikely to remember. Next to it: another version, singled out and ornately framed, museum style. The artist? “Anonym, found on the Internet,” the label reads. This piece looks old, the glazing is cracked and the gilt frame is chipped. This isn’t the ‘real deal’? I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for the label betraying its 2011 end date. I continue on to a set of five framed paintings: Chen Lin’s Flowers in a Vase. Each panel is of the same image at varying stages of completion and varying degrees of finish. The label tells me that Chen Lin majored in painting from the fine arts academy in HuNan and that his specialty is still lifes with flowers. Interesting, I think, he’s a real artist. He dreams, I read, of one day having a solo show of his own paintings. Another set of five panels nearby portrays almost identical Magdalens reading (Figure 3). These works, also found on the Internet, differ by purchase price, the text states. I see that the particularity of the detail on the image surface, the quality you might say, increases with the sales value. On the label’s didactic text I read that “this is one of many versions of the composition by Benson,” and that it may “derive from a figure such as that in ‘The Magdalen Reading’ by Rogier van der Weyden in this Collection.” I look around the room wondering ‘which collection’ and, seeing no other ‘Magdalen reading’ here, realize: this text must be out of place. I turn around again and make my way into a small room, segregated from and slightly different than the rest of the gallery space (Figure 4). Here the floor is hardwood rather than concrete, the walls are molded with wainscoting. Here seven individual works, each with their own label, are hung in traditional fashion. They are, at least what appear to be, 17th century Dutch still lifes—flowers, shells, and insects—architectural and lyrical scenes. Above them in the corner by the door, the vinyl number 17a triggers my memory of the introductory text: This must be the National Gallery room. It does resemble my imagining of a typical museum. At this point there is no surprise when I read the labels to find that each artist is Chinese, each end date is 2011, and that all of the artists represented in this room studied classical painting, some with master’s degrees, all currently operating their own studios, in and around Dafen. Each label includes information on the original composition, text I feel confident must have come from the National Gallery, with some biographical information on the original artists, but without specific mention of authorial credit.4 And this reminds me: what happened to the assembly line? I had prepared myself for evidence of anonymous sweatshop workers, but it seems clear that individual, educated artists made all of the works in this show. I step out and watch as other guests congratulate Pazooki. Right. That artist. Where is her work? And come to think of it, where are the over one hundred painters who made this show possible? Didn’t they get the invite? I have concerns, and as a visitor (however fictitious), I start to wonder if I am an accomplice, in my consumption, to 148


Laura Ritchie

Figure 3. “Anonym, found on Internet, The Magdalen Reading, 2011” 149


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Figure 4, National Gallery, Londonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Room 17a - Reproduction 150


Laura Ritchie

some unfair treatment of absent strangers—artists whose efforts would not be on display in this gallery if not under the banner of Pazooki’s project. With this in mind, I take off my virtual-visitor shoes. Setting aside my attempt at a textual replication of the exhibition, I am left with much to ponder. Should I be so concerned that Pazooki’s hand isn’t evident here? Are these ‘fakes’ are more ‘real’ once placed in the gallery, a space where appropriation in the form of copying is quite at home? As promised, the Fair Trade installation certainly incites a questioning of authenticity and a consideration of its relationship to mass-market production in Dafen’s Oil Painting Village. But somehow, the way this show was framed as an interrogation of authenticity (or essence, or aura) reads to me as a distraction away from a more pertinent question: whose labour is this installation showcasing? And so I look straight to the implications this exhibition might have on notions of labour in a post-industrial and knowledge-based, if not ‘cultural’ economy.5 Thinking of the appropriation of Dafen paintings into Pazooki’s conceptual project, I consider that Fair Trade might function not only as a demonstration of what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000, 30) observe as a contemporary, qualitative hegemony of immaterial labour, but also as an allegory of the subsumption of life to work.6 Pazooki’s installation and Gallery Christian Hosp’s promotion of it seem to set up dichotomies pitting forms of artistic work against each other: original or ‘authentic’ work vs. copied work; conceptual projects vs. material ones. The tolerable measure of appropriation on the scale of acceptability for the public and within the gallery space offers an indication of this division. For Sherrie Irvin (2005, 136), having particular artistic objectives, “no matter how dry or rote,” is sufficient to make an artwork constitutively interpretable – open to the construction of an explanation or the assignment of meaning. In Irvin’s assessment, appropriation art in the form of copying (such as Sherri Levine’s photographs of photographs) reaffirms an appropriator’s authorial status, revealing that it is their decision whether or not to succumb to society’s pressure towards originality (Irvin 2005, 136).7 Given that appropriation art is institutionally accepted, a lack of innovation in the production of artwork is insufficient grounds for a denial of an artist’s authorship (Irvin 2005, 130-31).8 By this logic, the Dafen copies, as art, could foreseeably constitute their own gallery project under the authorship of their makers.9 But, as mediator of the competition and commissioner of individual panels, not to mention production designer of the Room 17a replication, it is Pazooki who is privileged here as author and artist. The Dafen painters, whatever their qualifications and intentions, are relegated to fabricators. A hierarchy between conceptual work and material work is upheld when fabricators 151


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

or outsourced labour are engaged in the production of artworks, however common that may be in contemporary art practice.10 And I find outsourcing to be central to this project: When asked in interview whether she had tried making her own copies of the paintings she commissioned, Pazooki said “No, that wasn’t really what this project was about” (Fischer, website). In fact, she was more interested in the relationship between anonymity and mass-production, making Dafen an appropriate site for consideration. In Pazooki’s findings, the Dafen painter’s “quality of life is dependent on how anonymous they can make their painting style in order to keep it as close to the original as possible” (Fischer, website). The ‘better’ (or more anonymous) the copy, the better the painter is paid: “Just imagine, you have 10 paintings on the wall stretching from $10 – $200. Each one has progressively more colour, love, better quality, is made by a more experienced painter, with more care and time”—hence the gradation of her Magdalen reproductions and the competition request for ‘Museum Quality’ reproductions. The Allegory of Justice panels were to be judged, Pazooki explained, on how closely they came to the original. Resolving that the painters take up their task in accordance with remuneration, Pazooki’s commissions seem to attempt a restaging of the painters’ anonymity, despite the inclusion of their names on accompanying labels. The denial of Dafen painters’ authorship and affirmation of their anonymity is not exclusive to Pazooki’s project; Dafen painters regularly fill orders for readymadeaides to postmodern conceptual projects such as Christian Jankowski’s “China Painters” (2007), Lui Ding’s “Samples from the transitions—Products” (2005), or Fulham Palace’s Made in China (2007), to name a few.11 While such commissions keep the contemporary conceptual artist on par with any other Dafen middleman or wholesaler, they encourage the Dafen painter’s submission to the role of fabricator. Winnie Won Yin Wong (2012), scholar of Dafen copy art, explained that many of the Dafen painters who have completed commissions for contemporary conceptual artists “certainly feel that it is the same kind of work they would do for any boss.” Submitting to the role of manufacturer-as-service-provider, the Dafen painter could be envisioned as an immaterial labourer of the order described by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (2000), where they outlined material labour’s contemporary tendency towards immaterial labour in the production of durable goods.12 Understanding that production has taken on the qualities of immaterial labour (insofar as providing a service or exchanging knowledges and cultural forms can be considered non-tangible activities, and fabrication can be considered a service), Phillip Tinari’s (2007, 347) suggestion in “Original Copies” is valid: that the use of outsourced Dafen labour could have “particular political inflection in an era marked by the globalization of both the art world and industrial production.” But more poignantly, the employment of Dafen’s service in art projects and gallery 152


Laura Ritchie

installations suggests a constitutive differentiation between the materially productive labours of the painter as worker and the conceptual or immaterial efforts of artist as author. “There is a deeply held intellectual presumption about the separation between ‘true’ art and the market, ‘free’ art and commercial labour,” Wong (2010, 363) states in her forthcoming book, After the Copy, a Dafen-focused account of authorship, creativity, and copying in contemporary art. In Pazooki’s installation, that differentiation is maintained by the positioning of the Dafen product as ‘inauthentic,’ and of their makers as submissive to the role of fabricators who are driven by the economic imperatives aligned with mass production. These positions are bolstered by media coverage of Dafen’s industry that appears with the same regularity as conceptual art projects on the topic. Often cited as preeminent in the handmade oil reproduction industry, Dafen has been the subject of considerable attention as a signpost of recent global transformations in the relationship between culture and economics. Following the 2005, New York Times article, “Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art,” trade press from The Economist to The Financial Times (and a stream of serial business sections in between) have broached exposés and debates on the Dafen worker’s status as forger or thief, slave or prototypical cultural worker extraordinaire (Bradsher 2005; Harney 2005; “Business” 2006; Cormier 2006; Paetsch 2006; Freund 2007; Osnos 2007). In so many journalistic accounts, it is difficult to find Dafen specifically described: it is sometimes a sweatshop, sometimes a mall, always a factory. Depending on whom you ask, the painters are artists whose creativity is stifled, or they are businessmen, who care nothing of art.13 But, like Pazooki’s introductory didactics, these texts make a standard of pertinent information clear: Dafen Oil Painting Village is a tiny, four square kilometre ‘village-in-the-city,’ a suburb of Shenzhen, on the border of one of China’s Special Economic zones. With around 700 Gallery shops and almost 10,000 skilled painters or painter-workers operating in the studios there, there is pride in Dafen’s status as a meeting ground for art and consumerism. Like any art fair, Dafen is appropriately branded by a plaque welcoming buyers to the district: “Here, Art Links up with the Market. Here, Talent and Fortune Interchange” (Tinari 2007, 347). Overtly commercial, the products of Dafen’s industry are clearly situated at, and susceptible to the complexities of, the intersection of discourses on art, artifact, and commodities. That typical Dafen paintings are produced for an external market, and that they are not ‘pure’ in style (reflecting a heritage or culture specific to Dafen), might, according to Ruth Phillips and Christopher Steiner (1999, 9), account for declarations of inauthenticity against them outside of the gallery space.14 While matters of the market are recognized as reasonably important in consideration of 153


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Western artworks, contempt for Dafen’s consideration of the market stems, I suggest, in part from the pervasive conception of Dafen painting as definitively distanced from typical Western notions of artistic work.15 Dafen Village is littered with a mix of seascapes, pop and political icon portraits, cartoon mascots, contemporary Chinese painting reproductions, and most famously, copied European masterworks. Its galleries and studios offer such a wide variety of oil paintings, available made to order or direct off the shelf, it seems almost a mockery of traditional taste hierarchies. As such, Tinari (2007, 347) noted, “painting as production is pushed to its conceptual limits.” In large painting companies, each painter—working from digital images, museum postcards, or weathered art books—may be engaged, like garment or appliance factory workers, in a simple repetitive task; work is divided per painter by sets of colours, or into parts based on skill: where some painters excel at ears, others stick to trees, etc. The same is true for the many painter-workers who operate individually; breaking down the work on a particular copy into sections or parts.16 Such efficient, standardized, and methodical processes increase and improve work-rate, quality, and productivity, to an end goal of cost reduction.17 Divorced from its source and employing means more readily associated with industry than with art, the Dafen work, Wong (2010, 36) states, could be considered “no better than a mechanical reproduction.”18 Displayed in a manner that pits them against that which might be found in the National Gallery, Pazooki seems to ensure that the Dafen paintings remain in what Phillips and Steiner (1999, 4) call the “ontological abyss of the inauthentic, the fake, or the crassly commercial.” Staged deliberately in a comparison between museum objects and mass-produced export art, the Dafen paintings have precisely that “dense aura of inauthenticity” which opposes the air of genuine mastery surrounding the historical pieces they replicate (Phillips and Steiner 1999, 4). And yet, as props to Pazooki’s conceptual project, the Dafen copies do appear to undergo some change as they move from the commercially productive sphere of the Oil Painting Village to the contemporary art gallery space. Phillips and Steiner’s understanding of authenticity as a construct, and of objects’ transience within the discursive spaces of culture and economics, echoes James Clifford’s (1988, 222) consideration of artistic ‘authenticity’ as inventive.19 But in his diagram, “The ArtCulture System: A machine for making authenticity,” Clifford demonstrates that objects in typically ‘inauthentic’ zones of tourist art, commodity reproductions or fakes, “once appropriated by the art world, like Duchamp’s readymade,” circulate precisely in that more authentic zone of the art museum and art market (1988, 226).20 Accounting for conceptual projects such as Duchamp’s or even Warhol’s,21 the Dafen paintings, too, when appropriated into contemporary works and spaces, ‘become’ authentic.22 154


Laura Ritchie

In response to Pazooki’s exhibition, critic Charlotte Bank (2011), noting the “aura of authenticity” that a museum context gives to objects displayed within, remarked that Fair Trade highlights an institution’s power and authority. If Dafen paintings only ‘become’ authentic under that institutional authority and Pazooki’s authorship, their makers are marginalized as ‘other’ to conceptual labourers. Insofar as the work of the Dafen painters is brought into the gallery realm and highlighted in conversation with the traditional notions governing institutional acceptance, it would seem that Pazooki and Galerie Christian Hosp are engaging in what Irit Rogoff (2002, 65) might call “strategies of compensatory visibility,” putting the National Gallery London on the hook, as though contemporary artists and art galleries were not complicit in the propagation of reverence for authenticity and stereotypes of artistic work. And yet, even that criticism reflects a separation of the mechanical work of fabrication from the conceptual/creative work of true/free art production that mirrors a dichotomy between manual and intellectual labour (or material and immaterial labour) that Maurizio Lazzarato deems antiquated. On the “new nature of productive activity” in a post-industrial, post-Fordist society, Lazzarato (1996) explains: “The split between conception and execution, between labour and creativity, between author and audience, is simultaneously transcended within the ‘labour process’ and reimposed as political command within the ‘process of valorisation.’” Where Lazarrato’s immaterial labour takes on forms not normally recognized as ‘work,’ Tiziana Terranova (2000, 38) explains that these forms have expanded with creative or cultural industries and global capital’s “experimentation with the creation of monetary value out of knowledge/ culture/affect.” It is only an imagining of how Dafen’s labour is defined (as merely mechanical) that differentiates it from Western notions of creative production: The positioning of Pazooki as author/artist and the Dafen painters as object/ executors of her project recalls a perception of art-work as free, creative, and immaterial (productive of intellectual or knowledge-based property), adhered to in the process of culture’s economization and the continued division of labour under capital.23 But Dafen is like any global art center or burgeoning city in the West that embraces the post-industrial celebration of creativity, keeping pace with global capital’s economization of culture and union of creativity with industry.24 In light of Lazzarato’s explanation of productivity, it is perhaps more useful to conceive of the meeting of outsourced manual labour and conceptual endeavor in the gallery space as a demonstration not of immaterial labour’s predominance as a mode of productivity for authors or makers alone, but rather of its hegemony and transformative powers over all forms of labour and, by extension, life. Within this hegemony of immaterial labour, just as the conceptual artist 155


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

appropriates the material labours of fabricators, capitalism appropriates arts and culture. The economy has ‘become’ creative. And as ‘creativity’ traverses art, the economy, science and the social sphere, work in general comes to look more like art (Lazzarato 2006, 84). The qualities of artistic production, whether its limited distinction between work time and free time (Terranova 2006, 31) or performative characteristics, as Hardt (2005, 176) outlines in “Immaterial Labour and Artistic Production,” are transforming other modes of work. Dafen’s industry serves as an example of this, where the results of production are akin to Terranova’s (2006, 28) interpretation of commodities that look more like works of art than ‘material commodities’ with discrete use values. On this line of thinking, the Dafen paintings could arguably be considered a material manifestation of industry’s adoption of artlike qualities. Wong (2010, 53) explains that as Dafen painters are asked to ‘become’ creative, there is an expectation that the “performance of ‘creativity’” will facilitate a “triumph over the machinations of industry, the repetitions of craft, and the slavishness of imitation.” Under the Chinese Ministry of Culture’s sanctioning of Dafen as a creative, “Cultural Industry Model Base,” (Bull 2009, 28) copies “have been re-imagined as creative commodities for a new age of making and consuming. Originality has been reconstituted as the mastery of a modern cultural skill” (Wong 2010, 52). Under immaterial labour’s hegemony, that skill, unlike strictly material dexterity or technical acuity, requires an embrace of creative processes that involve both the producer and the consumer (Lazzarato 2006). Where immaterial labours are conceived in part as the setting or fixing of consumer norms and public opinion, Lazzarato (2006) notes: “the ‘author’ must lose its individual dimension and be transformed into an industrially organized production process (with a division of labour, investment, orders, and so forth), ‘reproduction’ becomes mass reproduction organized according to the imperatives of profitability, and the audience (‘reception’) tends to become the consumer/ communicator.” In this conception of a form of innovation, the entrepreneur, or Dafen painter in this case, must draw upon values produced by the consumer (Lazzarato 2006). As Wong found to be true in the Dafen painter’s readiness to submit to the production of readymade-aides for conceptual projects, and I suggest is the impetus for their meticulous and physically labour intensive mode of efficient and standardized production processes, the demands of the market (of which both Pazooki and her audience are a part) impose a set of values on painting production. For Ivan Gaskell (2012), taking up Wong’s insights on the industry in “Spilt Ink: Aesthetic Globalization and Contemporary Chinese Art,” those values are determined by a set of expectations (from both in and outside of the art world) requiring Chinese artists, including ‘non artworld art’ producers in Dafen, to stage their Chineseness precisely through imitation, emulation, and copying. 156


Laura Ritchie

As the Dafen painters take up the task of efficient material replication to compete in the global industry of creativity, they indicate a climate where production and consumption are not distinct. In this climate, gallery space in general and Galerie Christian Hosp in particular become microcosms of what the Italian autonomists deem a ‘social factory,’ where, as Terranova (2000, 37) outlines in “Free Labour,” the means of production are cultivated via knowledge exchange, and audiences/ consumers are put to work in meaning-making.25 Transformed from a site of leisure or consumption to one of productivity, the Fair Trade exhibition emerges as a site where the visitor ‘becomes’ not only an immaterial or knowledge worker, but also a free labourer, uncompensated and yet productive (Terranova 2000, 37). In this site of biopolitical production (Hardt and Negri’s (2000, 25-31) recontextualization of immaterial labour in the social factory), appropriation is again at play as capitalism appropriates not just traditionally conceived labour power, but generally, life itself. Highlighting the labours at play in the gallery space, Fair Trade facilitates an understanding of the ever-present yet under-noticed ‘social factory,’ and the hegemony of immaterial labour in all productive forms. And yet, like the ‘authenticity’ of an art object, the status of labour is seemingly transient and constructed, shifting with productive and consumptive roles and made legitimate in the gallery space. Here, what’s invited as forced cognition of the ‘intrinsic aura of uniqueness and quality’ of an artwork translates into questions of authorship and authenticity that beg consideration of maker and materiality—debates about the value of ideas over technique—making the connection to global capital’s reliance on immaterial trade, and the gallery’s complicity therein (as safe haven for a bevy of appropriations), almost unavoidable. In “Mechanical Reproduction in the Age of Art,” Paul Mattick Jr. takes ‘authenticity’ to refer “at once to the direct emanation of the superior spirit, the artist, and to the claim to a special place on the market of the Real Thing.” Together with rarity or uniqueness, ‘aura’ is also expressed in Mattick’s conception of the authentic. And aura, he states, “clearly includes the association with artworks of attributes of ‘spirituality,’ an order of being higher than that of the material business of everyday life” (Mattick 1990, 68). But it is a reality, well demonstrated by George Yúdice (2003, 12) (and evident in Dafen, as anywhere subscribing to creative economy doctrine), that “culture is no longer experienced, valued, or understood as transcendent.” Considering a lack of aura in Fair Trade’s replicas, as the exhibition literature suggests I do, reinforces the realities of contemporary artistic labour taken up as means to economic ends, just as it does the transition of gallery spaces into productive sites. When curator Shai Oyahon (2012) suggested to me that Dafen paintings are “an allegory to the state of contemporary art,” he was right. Step back, and Pazooki’s Fair Trade, reads like an allegory of state of global 157


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

labour and the subsumption of all of life to work (Hardt and Negri 2000, 364-65).26 Notes 1. All panel and label text has been gleaned from Kunstmatrix’s 3-D rendering of the exhibition

installation:

http://www.kunstmatrix.com/en/exhibition/57915/fair-trade

(accessed February 9, 2012). 2. The research and guidance of Harvard Junior Fellow Winnie Won Yin Wong has been central to this paper. Wong’s “Framed Authors” (2008), provided a helpful reminder that my own imaginings of global ‘work’ are informed by popular media. 3. Introductory panel, from Kunstmatrix 3-D rendering. 4. Each label’s text can be found on the Nation Gallery London’s (NGL) website as descriptions of Room 17a’s collection of original works. It is clear that the label text in Pazooki’s exhibition has been lifted from NGL’s copy exactly, with the addition of notes about the copy-painter. In select instances within the online 3-D rendering, NGL label copy has been mistakenly placed next to the wrong work from Room 17a’s collection. See (National Gallery website). 5. It must be acknowledged at the outset that Pazooki may have intended for her installation to be examined precisely through this lens. When Philip Tinari (2007, 348) noted: “Dafen’s question for the ‘real art world’ seems to be less about the boundaries of ‘real art’ than about the specificities of its production;” it was as though he was foreshadowing Pazooki’s project. “Worrying about authenticity and fakery,” she stated in interview, “is not relevant in relation to the issues of time and the artworks’ reproduction” (Fischer, website). 6. Hardt and Negri (2000, 30) outline immaterial labour broadly as “the communicative labour of industrial production that has newly become linked in informational networks, the interactive labour of symbolic analysis and problem solving, and the labour of the production and manipulation of affects.” 7. Irvin demonstrates that the copyist, like the appropriation artist, is not a forger. From a legal standpoint, Dafen copies are not considered forgeries as “the creation of these works does not involve dishonest deception” (Polk and Chappell 2009, 77). 8. Appropriation artists demonstrate that “originality and innovation are expendable: there is nothing in the nature of art or the artist’s role that obligates the artist to produce innovative works” (Irvin 2005, 137). 9. It is “as art” that Winnie Wong (2010, 40) takes up the Dafen paintings in the context of both production and consumption. 10. In the introduction to the special features of Artforum’s October 2007 issue, which included Tinari’s “Original Copies,” Scott Rothkopf (2007) addresses the ubiquity of outsourced labor, industrial processes, and custom fabrication, where fabrication encompasses the “numerous practices beyond artists’ traditional reliance on studio assistants, print shops, and foundries to execute their work, just as it points beyond the simple use of 158


Laura Ritchie readily available, store-bought commodities.” 11. See Christian Jankowski 2007; Lui Ding’s “Samples from the transitions—Products,” Second Guagzhou Triennial 2005; and Made in China, an exhibition at Fulham Palace in London 2007. 12. Hardt and Negri distinguish three types of immaterial labour that are hegemonic in the information economy, one of which is the informationalization and incorporation of communication technologies that is transforming production processes. Demonstrating these changes in the factory setting using the shift from Fordism to Toyotaism in automobile production, Hardt and Negri explain an inversion of the production consumption relationship, where the market dictates commodity production, and information and communication are imperative to that end. In the contemporary setting, these industrial exchanges can be considered on par with services as much as manufacturing. The labor that produces such a service (or knowledge, or cultural product) is immaterial labor (Hardt and Negri 2000, 289-293). 13. Wong advised me against trusting journalistic accounts and the statements made by Dafen painters recorded in them: “It’s best to be careful about the cultural constructions behind both artists’ and journalists’ claims [about painting in Dafen], and our own speculations. There are thousands of painters in Dafen. Anything is possible.” Wong, e-mail message to author, March 10, 2012. 14. Tinari (2007, 347) explains that in terminology and practice in Dafen, “oil painting” is clearly distinct from “national painting,” which is associated with traditional Chinese techniques. In Ivan Gaskell’s (2012) “Spilt Ink,” the Chinese pictorial tradition of ink painting is listed alongside the trade artists’ production of ‘non-artworld art’ among categories of contemporary Chinese art. In Gaskell’s (2012, 6-7) assessment, the former is officially promoted within the academy and national museums. Like the tourist art explored by Phillips and Steiner (1999, 15), the Dafen paintings “exhibit all of the communicative and signifying qualities of ‘legitimate’ or ‘authentic’ works of art,” and yet they are most often referred to (as in the framing of Pazooki’s exhibition) as merely commercial, if not fake altogether. 15. Looking to Bourdieu, Phillips and Steiner (1999, 15) explain: “works of art, aesthetic valuations, and judgments of taste are indeed highly dependent on an object’s commodity potential and economic value.” Pazooki’s exhibition was outlined, both in promotion and review, in such a way that differentiates Dafen art work and Western notions of art work: “Chinese craftsmen reflect none of the post-Romantic bourgeois perceptions of artists as Bohemian outsiders, as they are commonly perceived in contemporary Western culture,” explains the description of Fair Trade posted alongside Kunstmatrix’s online 3-D rendering. Charlotte Bank’s (2011) exhibition review noted that Dafen’s approach to painting is “as far as it can be from the Western ideas of the artist as genius and the artwork as surrounded by a special aura.” 16. These are not the only methods used for reproductions: Some workers paint over 159


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream digital scans or photos of a work, while other canvases are prepared by stamping outline impressions that can be painted in. Descriptions of the various production processes may be found in Harney, 2005; “Business” 2006. 17. In Harney’s “China takes artistic license,” vice director of the Dafen district’s management office, Ren Xiaofeng, in quoted stating the described production techniques are “the only way to make the paintings standardized.” 18. Dafen’s ostensibly uncreative, mechanical production may seem at odds with popular conceptions of the work of artists, but should not be precluded from it. One need only think of the many instances of efficient and standardized copying accepted by the discourses and spaces of Western art: the 1970s photorealism of Chuck Close, Richard Estes, or Ralph Goings, which one might say challenged deskilling in the post-industrial, post-Duchamp era (Roelstraete, 2010). Ron Mueck’s hyper-realist figural sculpture or any one of the material object replicators feature in 21st century exhibitions from Thing: New Sculpture from Los Angeles (2005) to New Image Sculpture (2011). 19. Phillips and Steiner (1999, 15) reflect Clifford when they note: “at each point in its movement through space and time, an object has the potential to shift form one category to another and, in so doing, to slide along the slippery line that divides art from artifact from commodity.” 20. Note that Clifford, like Irvin, sites Sherri Levine as example. 21. Warhol deliberately sought “the ambivalence between singularity and mass-production” (Lüthy 2002, 152). 22. While not so much ‘removed’ from their current historical situation (given that the paintings are produced to appeal to a market that includes artists like Pazooki, if not average Western shoppers, as consumers), these copies are operating in what Clifford calls a “presentbecoming-future;” They become original/authentic artifacts of China’s industrial economy, while at the same time achieving art status based on their place and manner of display. (Clifford 1988, 228). 23. The qualitative hegemony of immaterial labour (adopted from qualities of artistic production) is made concrete by Michael Hardt (2005, 175-77) in “Immaterial Labour and Artistic Production,” where he notes the communicative, image-oriented, or informational products: “the legal status of [immaterial] property is secured by the work of the author (the artist or scientist) who produced the immaterial product.” (Hardt 2005, 176). 24. The Dafen narrative—rural village turned ‘creative’ hub for migrant workers via good government—championed by the local Buji Street Office and Longgang District propaganda departments, has been in place since 2004 when Dafen was certified by the Chinese Ministry of Culture as “Cultural Industry Model Base.” (Wong 2010, 352.) As early as 1998, Chinese municipal and provincial officials saw Dafen’s cultural industry as an economic model that could be recreated. (Tinari 2007, 351.) By the time of the Shanghai World Exposition of 2010, Dafen village served as a “metonym for a new national frontier space, where creativity 160


Laura Ritchie could be staged as a ‘Chinese dream.’” (Wong 2010, 353.) Wong (2010, 354; from Men Yan 2010, 33-34) cites the Expo guidebook: Dafen “tells a story about how people as the ultimate driver of all the miracles created over the past thirty years, have shaped the drastic changes of this young city. It is a story about people, their dreams and creativity, as well as the culture, spirit and vision of this city.” 25. Terranova explains that in knowledge work, the brain is the means of production. Exhibitions cultivate these means by supporting the exchange of knowledges and put the viewer to work as they attach ideas and draw conclusions in the absence of a particular script. Works Cited “Business: Painting by Numbers: China’s Art Business.” In The Economist 379. June 8, 2006. http://www.economist.com/node/7041270 (accessed February 21, 2012). “Leila Pazooki – Fair Trade.” In Icono Blog. April 27, 2011. http://ikono.org/2011/04/leilapazooki-fair-trade/ (accessed Feb 20, 2012). “Leila Pazooki – Fair Trade.” In Galerie Christian Hosp: Exhibitions. 2011. http://www.christianhosp.com/EXHIBITIONS/FAIR-TRADE/ (accessed February 20, 2012). “Leila Pazooki – Fair Trade.” In Kunstmatrix. 2011.http://www.kunstmatrix.com/en/ exhibition/57915/fair-trade (accessed February 20, 2012). Bank, Charlotte. “The Museum Revisited.” In zakharif. May 7, 2011. http://zakharifblog. wordpress.com/2011/05/07/the-museum-revisited/ (accessed February 20, 2012). Bourdieu, Pierre. “Introduction.” In Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, translated by Richard Nice, 1-6. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984. _______. “Cultural Works and Cultivated Disposition.” In The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Public, Translated by Caroline Beattie and Nick Merriman, 37-70. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991. Bradsher, Keith. “Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art!” In The New York Times. July 15, 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/15/business/worldbusiness/15paint. html?pagewanted=all (accessed Feb. 14, 2012). Charney, Noah, ed. Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World. Praeger: Santa Barbara, California, 2009. Clifford, James. “On Collecting Art and Culture.” In The Predicament of Culture, 215-29. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988. Cormier, Michel. “Segment 014,” The National – CBC Television. September 29,

2006.

(Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2006). Fischer, Amanda. “Leila Pazooki Discusses her New Berlin Show.” In Saatchi Online. June 2, 2011. http://magazine.saatchionline.com/articles/artnews/leila- pazookidiscussesher-new-berlin-show (accessed February 20, 2012) Freund, Charles Paul. “Warhol Goes to China.” Reason 38 no. 7 (2007): 68. 161


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Gaskell, Ivan. “Spilt Ink: Aesthetic Globalization and Contemporary Chinese Art,” British Journal of Aesthetics 52.1 (2012): 1-16. Harney, Alexandra. “China takes artistic license with the world’s masters.” In Financial Times FT.com. September 22, 2005. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3f1a6952-2ba2-11da-995a00000e2511c8.html#axzz1qKNcByUP (accessed February 21, 2012). Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2000. Hardt, Michael. “Immaterial Labour and Artistic Production.” Rethinking Marxism 17.2 (2005): 175-177. Irvin, Sherri. “Appropriation and Authorship in Contemporary Art.” British Journal of Aesthetics 45 no. 2 (2005): 123-137. Lazzarato, Maurizio. “Art and Work.” Parachute 122 (2006): 84-93. _______. “Immaterial Labour,” translated by Paul Colilli and Ed Emory, 1996, http://www.generation-online.org/c/fcimmateriallabour3.htm (Accessed Dec 1, 2011) Originally published in Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt, eds., Radical

Thought

in

Italy

(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press). 132-146. Lüthy, Michael. “The Consumer Article in the Art World: On the Para-Economy of American Pop.” In Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, edited by Christoph Gruenberg and Max Hollein, 147-153. Ostfildern-Ruit: Jatje Cantz, 2002. 152. Mattick, Paul Jr. “Mechanical Reproduction in the Age of Art.” Arts Magazine 65 no.1 (1990): 62-9. Ohayon, Shai. e-mail message to author, March 13, 2012 Osnos, Evan. “Chinese village paints by incredible numbers.” In Chicago Tribune. February 13, 2007. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-02-13/news/0702130004_1_oil-paintingschinese-village-mao-tse-tung (accessed March 5, 2012). Paetsch, Martin. “Van Gogh from the Sweatshop.” In Spiegel Online International. August 23, 2006. http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,433134,00.html (accessed March 5, 2012) Phillips, Ruth and Christopher Steiner. “Art, Authenticity, and the Baggage of Colonial Encounter.” In Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds. Edited by Ruth Phillips and Christopher Steiner, 3-19.Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999 Phillips, Ruth. “Fielding Culture: Dialogues Between Art History and Anthropology.” In Museum Pieces Toward an Indigenization of Canadian Museums, 102-110, 330-32. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011. Roelstraete, Dieter. “Modernism, Postmodernism and Gleam: On the Photorealist Work Ethic,” in Afterall 24 2010. http://www.afterall.org/journal/issue.24/modernismpostmodernism. and.gleamon.the.photorealist.work.ethic (accessed January 15, 2012). Rogoff, Irit. “Hit and Run Museums and Cultural Difference,” Art Journal (Fall 2002): 63-73. Rothkopf, Scott. “The Art of Production.” Artforum 46 no. 2 (2007): 305-305. 162


Laura Ritchie Terranova, Tiziana. “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy.” Social Text 18.2 (2000): 33-55.

163


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER TWELVE

Stephanie Anderson

Group of Eight, Meet the Group of Seven: Branding the Canadian “Experience” at the 2010 G8/G20 Summit Meetings I would like to begin this paper by presenting you with an image. The scene I am about to describe took place on June 25, 2010, the day world leaders were to arrive in Canada for the G8 and G20 Summit Meetings to discuss economic and social issues of global concern. As demonstrators and activists gathered in the heart of downtown Toronto in advance of what would become a massive and violent demonstration of protest against the joint summits, an eerie calm descended upon the streets of the remote and peaceful town of Huntsville, Ontario where, according to local media, protestors were more likely to offer “free hugs” to passerby than engage in acts of aggression or vandalism. It was into this idyllic and pristine picture-perfect setting (much of which was in fact newly constructed in preparation for the event1) that each of the G8 leaders arrived, emerging from their respective helicopters to enter the newly erected Canada Summit Centre. Once inside, they were asked to participate in a rather unconventional activity considering the nature of the meeting at hand. Confronted with a large, partially-completed replica mural of Tom Thompson’s “The West Wind,” the foreign dignitaries were each offered a paintbrush and a palette of paints and asked to “unleash their inner Tom Thompson” by contributing a brushstroke to the iconic image of Canadian art and nationhood. Cameras clicked as each leader mixed their colors, completed 164


Stephanie Anderson

their portion in turn, smiled, passed off their brush, and moved along on their way to attend to the ‘real’ business at hand. All of this was organized to take place within a tightly scheduled five-minute time slot, and yet the symbolic value of the artistic interlude, and the motivations behind it, beg to be examined further. In fact, conceived of as a photo-op that would circulate widely in the international media, the “picture” of the G8 leaders contributing to the completion of one of the most iconic images of Canadian art and nationhood was merely one component of a much wider marketing and media strategy built around the G8/G20 Summits, utilising strategic forms of image manipulation, nation-branding, and visual culture strategies to leverage the site of the summits for alternative goals. Conspicuous in their seeming incongruity with the aims and purposes of the summit meetings themselves, the art and media installations contrived for the G8 and G20 present an entry-point to examine the larger implications of the instrumentalization of the arts and visual culture as tools for the achievement of non-cultural, non-arts objectives, particularly in the context of large-scale political and economic forums. Furthermore, the conception of national image-making mobilised during the summits reflects a reconceptualization of the nature and value of national identity in a time of neoliberal globalisation, one which has instigated a shift in the way national image, including culture and the arts, is mobilised in international public relations. Let us for a moment return to the above-mentioned episode. It has been widely recognized that the Group of Seven and their (particularly elite, marginalizing, and possessive) representations of the Canadian landscape have been utilized extensively in the construction and representation of a normative Canadian identity, presented both domestically and for export to the international community.2 Interestingly, however, the paintings of the Group have acquired a special currency in Muskoka itself over the past decade or so. In fact, the “G8 Mural” described above was an extension of a much larger Group of Seven mural initiative that has been growing in the Huntsville area in recent years, and has become something of a trademark for the area. Spearheaded by artist Gerry Lantaigne in 1997, the mural project has involved the creation of replica Group of Seven paintings by artists and community members on building facades on downtown streets and businesses. The city has erected a Tom Thompson statue in the city square and the Group of Seven Murals have gone so far as to become the focus of a yearly festival during which community members gather to participate in the creation of a new addition. There are now over 80 installments throughout downtown Huntsville, twelve of which were commissioned specifically for the occasion of the G8 Summit Meeting in preparation for the increased domestic and international attention the town would receive as its host. This of course includes the now infamous “G8 Mural” which 165


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

currently hangs, alongside the brushes used by each of the world leaders and a video of the event transpiring, in the Canada Summit Center, which functions, post-summit, as a recreation/wellness center for the local community (Shyllit and Spencer 2011). It has been well publicized that Tom Thompson and the Group frequently traveled through, and painted, the Muskoka area on their way to nearby Algonquian Park, and the murals have been employed to capitalize on this historic connection of the town to the Group from a “business and tourism perspective.” The mural initiative is largely funded by the Huntsville Business Improvement Association (BIA) and is seen as part of a project of downtown revitalisation and as a city-wide branding initiative to revitalize the local economy by attracting tourists, residents, employees, consumers, and investment. According to the Infrastructure Canada website, “the BIA undertook this project knowing that Huntsville’s new murals will contribute to the vibrancy of the town, attract tourists, and encourage pedestrians to linger and shop at local businesses, supporting the local economy” (“G8 Legacy” 2011). The symbolic resources of the Group and, as we shall see, Muskoka itself, have thus come to be viewed as promising resources which can be exploited to further a largely economic agenda, appropriated as iconic symbols of the beauty and tourism potential of the Muskoka area. In addition to the above factors, the immersive and interactive nature of the replica community murals (including the activation of the G8 mural through the active participation of the G8 leaders in the painting process), contributes to the city’s status as a “designated arts community” - Muskoka boasts that 30% of its workforce is employed in the arts and has recently jumped on the “creative cities” bandwagon, adopting an approach to economic development which views the “cultural industries” not as ends in themselves, but as an important source of capital generation and economic growth. Within this instrumental framework, culture and creativity are mobilized in their capacity to “create jobs, turn ordinary cities into “destination cities,” create interconnections between arts and business, revitalize urban areas, attract skilled workers, and create spin-off businesses” (Creative City Network, 2005). In Muskoka, this trend is particularly related to the growth of cultural, “creative,” and arts-based tourism. Rather than the typical conception of a destination as a “beauty-spot” or attraction, these new tourism models envision the image and value of a place as an increasingly personalized and niche-based “experience,” thus involving the commodification of previously non-commoditized activities, identities, relationships, lifestyles, and leisure into marketable experiences.3 This modified conception of place has become a primary component of the way countries articulate and represent the nation to the world, one which was exploited (some would say excessively) during the G8/G20 Summit 166


Stephanie Anderson

meetings. With stakeholders consisting of a variety of interested parties including the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), Tourism Muskoka, Tourism Toronto, the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC), Invest in Canada, Congress Canada, and FedNor (the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario), the exercise in national image construction from a tourism, business, and trade perspective highlights keys implications of the new “uses” to which “national” culture is put in the contemporary era, particularly important since the ways culture and the arts are justified and represented in national initiatives affects not only the way they are funded, but fundamentally impacts the way they are lived, defined, consumed, and enacted. Although the use of the arts and culture in practices relating to nation-building, image perception, and public diplomacy are by no means a new phenomenon, according to Evan H. Potter, professor at the Department of Communication of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ottawa and author of the book Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power through Public Diplomacy, “Traditionally the promotion of a country as a location for international business opportunities and as a tourist destination has not been associated with the concept and process of public diplomacy” (Bouzanis in Potter 2009, 173). It has been in recent decades, he continues, that “the traditional activities associated with public diplomacy are increasingly being used not only to create a positive general image of a country but also to help achieve specific international business development and tourism objectives” (Bouzanis in Potter 2009, 173). This newly articulated notion of national image is reflected in a flurry of government documents and policies over the last decade which consistently reiterate the importance of marketing the nation. As stated in a 2009 document entitled “Discovering Ontario: A Report on the Future of Tourism”: Major international events provide the opportunity to highlight a region’s inherent strengths. Canada’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in British Columbia in 2010 offers important marketing and business development prospects for the rest of Canada. Similarly, Ontario and Muskoka will receive world-wide attention as Huntsville hosts the 2010 G8 Economic Summit. Selling Ontario as a venue for high-profile events should be an essential ingredient in the Province’s marketing strategy. There will be global recognition that Ontario is “tourism investment friendly.

The repeated use of promotional language and rhetoric with an emphasis on ‘selling’ the nation and ‘highlighting’ its ‘assets’ (defined as the nation’s most sellable images, stories, and qualities) reflects the permeation of the logic of the market into articulations of nationhood. As Joseph Nye (2004) has observed, the increase in 167


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

transnational communication and economic flows developing in tandem with new information technologies and trade liberalization in a globalized era has transformed both the role of the nation-state and the playing field on which countries compete for power and influence. The control over information flows and image cultivation has become a vital component of exercising “soft power” abroad, and has become increasingly embedded in discourses relating to development, trade, and economic progress. A document entitled “Economic Benefits of Hosting G8 and G20 Summits” compiled by the G8 and G20 Research Group lists among the economic benefits of the Summits, in addition to the immediate, visible short-term stimulus of higher spending at hotels, restaurants and shops and the creation of temporary jobs, important longer-term economic benefits such as increased tourist traffic and investment “resulting from increased global name recognition thanks to media and advertising coverage” (Guebert and Tanna 2010, 4). It also references the ability of such events, if media images can be controlled and manipulated to advantage, to bolster and improve the image/reputation of a country and manage relations accordingly (Guebert and Tanna 2010, 4). Such sentiments are reflective of an international climate in which “every country is more aware of its image, identity, and reputation… because in the absence of substantial military or economic weight, most countries in the world are the image and the ideas they project abroad” (Potter 2009, 3). Particularly in a context of neoliberal globalisation, in which national economies are opened up and notions of national identity become increasingly permeated by a variety of corporate and transnational actors, image and reputation are seen as factors which can make or break a countries success in the global arena. In recent years, many nations have adopted explicit marketing tactics such as branding, with the idea that the same tools and strategies employed by commercial enterprises can be applied to the nation and used to manage and manipulate public perceptions in order to reap the economic benefits associated with a positive image in a globalised neoliberal framework.4 Governments frequently outsource imagemanagement to private corporations and individuals specialising in communications, market research, and corporate branding, and representations of the nation abroad increasingly represent the interests and input of a variety of public and private sectors. Within a global economy that increasingly trades in intangibilities, the immaterial wealth of countries (such as cultural, historical, geographical, human and intellectual capital) has come to be seen as imperative for growth and prosperity. According to Simon Anholt (nd, 186), considered by most to be the pioneer of nation branding: “Nation brand is national identity made tangible, robust, communicable and above all useful” (emphasis added). In fact, for Anholt, the nation is described merely as “the product,” and is evaluated and ranked on a scale known as the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index consisting of key indicators such as 168


Stephanie Anderson

tourism and investment offerings, culture, educational prestige, people, governance, economy and business environment, products and services, immigration appeal, and overall favourability and familiarity (Anholt nd, website). According to Anholt (nd, website), “In today’s globalised world, every city must compete with every other city for its share of the world’s tourists, investors, talent, cultural exchange, business visitors, events and media profile.” As such, he has suggested replacing the term “nation-branding” with “competitive identity,” a term which has significant implications for the way notions of national identity are represented, enacted, consumed, and contested - one that is particularly troubling as nation branding is a strategy supported by public policy and funding, and encouraged by international development and trade organizations including the United Nations, World Bank, World Trade Organization and others (Jansen 2008, 121). According to Potter, image is particularly important for Canada, a nation that is arguably the most dependent on trade and foreign direct investment for economic growth and stability of all the G8 countries, a fact which surely informed the types of promotional activities and events which took place during the Muskoka/ Toronto G8/G20 (Bouzanis in Potter 2009, 174). In fact, the town of Muskoka was part of a much larger ‘branding’ initiative undertaken by the Investment/Branding Advisory Board for the Summit Management Committee (DFAIT) – consisting of federal, provincial, regional, and local stakeholders – intended to “leverage the summit for the benefit of regional tourism and potential investment opportunities” (Kokotsis 2010, 305). According to Minister of State Moore, the promotion effort for the G8 and G20 would generate “worldwide publicity and brand Canada as a world-class tourism, arts, wilderness, and convention destination,”(Moore, quoted in CTV News Staff 2010) valuable because the goal was “ultimately… to find opportunities for people to come and invest in Canada” (CTV News Staff 2010) after the Summits had ended.5 This all speaks to the overall “message” of the G8, which was purportedly to “market Muskoka to the world” (CBC News 2010) and signals the point where we leave Huntsville, at least geographically, only to find ourselves in the presence of another replica, this one an immersive simulation of Muskoka itself, 300 km away from the real thing. This is the “Experience Canada” pavilion, which was constructed inside the International Media Centre in Toronto, where the G20 Summit was held two days subsequent to the Muskoka G8. As a primary component of the media strategy for the G20 Summit, the Government of Canada commissioned Lord Cultural Resources, known as “the world’s largest cultural professional practice,” and one of a growing number of companies devoted to “creating cultural capital” worldwide. Lord Cultural Resources in turn assembled a team of specialist companies from areas such as 169


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

event design, digital technologies, graphic design, marketing, and corporate branding (including Infinite Stage Design, Astound Group, Nussli Canada, and Christie), to create an immersive experience which would, according to the “Experience Canada FAQ” on the Government of Canada website, “showcase Canadian culture and companies to the world.” The site promised “a series of engaging, interactive, technologically-enhanced and story-driven exhibits” described as ‘art installations,’ designed to “communicate key aspects of Canada’s investment and tourism strategy to thousands of influential foreign journalists” and to provide “hundreds of hours of b-roll material to assist them in story development about Canada” (Government of Canada, quoted in Sandals 2010). According to Sanjeev Chowdury (Director General of the Summit Management Office, DFAIT), the media would be looking for stories other than the summits, and the fabricated “photo-position” provided by the media center would provide a tightly controlled environment in which to ensure that they go home with a positive message about Canada (one that would surely be preferable to the “real” images of tear gas, burning cars, broken windows and police arrests taking place outside) (CTV News Staff 2010). Despite its naturalization, the nonchalant pairing of “culture and companies” referenced above is not a benign or self-evident combination, but rather speaks to the increasingly dominant conceptualization of culture in an era of globalization and neoliberalism as discussed briefly above. As outlined by George Yúdice (2003, 9) in The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era, culture is increasingly conceived of in instrumental terms as previous definitions and justifications of culture have become largely evacuated. The conceptualization of culture as a resource can be extended to notions of national identity, whereby the value of cultivating culture, image, identity, or values at the national level is framed as an economic imperative whereby previous modes of international relations and nationbuilding are increasingly saturated by marketing and communications rhetoric. Such criteria in turn determine which elements of a nation will be represented, highlighted, and cultivated, thus having a direct impact not only on image, but on the experiential reality of nations themselves. As a result, new modes of power, marginalization, and inequality have become entrenched in the international system, largely dictated by the neoliberal framework which determines public policies and private enterprise. The highly selective, marginalizing (one might say both regionalist and elitist) experience of Canada offered by the “Experience Canada” pavilion is a case in point, one which illuminates a larger problematic at stake. Let us here return to the pavilion for a closer look. As recounted by a representative of Infinite Stage Design, the designers were tasked with “marrying two diametrically different themes that were expected to be given equal weight” (Infinite Stage Design 2010). On the one hand there was 170


Stephanie Anderson

a serene, “Tourism-Based” Muskoka area, titled the “Northern Ontario Oasis,” which purportedly reflected the “G8 concept” (“G8/G20 Experience” 2010). Now famously known as the “fake lake” after being widely criticized by the media and opposition leaders, the space consisted of an artificial water feature, complete with a dock, Muskoka chairs, a canoe sculpture, and an 18 foot high HD video screen flashing various images of pristine cottage country and photographs of Canada’s real lakes. The area also featured eight local Muskoka artists, some actively producing work on site, and all available to engage with guests. As recounted by Col Mitchell, one of the participating artists, “The decision to include artists from Muskoka stemmed from Muskoka Tourism and the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce and reflected an effort to include a cultural element to their marketing efforts while fulfilling the requirement for immersive environments and interactive experiences outlined in the Experience Canada FAQ” (Mitchell in Sandals 2010). Framed in this way, artists, their identities, creativity and labor are called upon to bolster Canada’s reputation as a vital creative center as a means to national prosperity in a variety of respects. When asked what he would like the international media to take away from their experience of the northern oasis, Dale Morgan from the Astound group replied, much in alignment with the motives outlined above, that “it’s about the natural beauty that the region has to offer, and... really this is all about investment and tourism in Northern Ontario” (“G8/G20 Experience” 2010). As reiterated by Maria Piacente, the curator of the space and Vice President, Exhibitions, for Lord Cultural Resources, the Northern Oasis “really brings a little bit of our lifestyle in Muskoka and Northern Ontario and…focuses in on a tourism story and tourism theme” (“G8/G20 Experience” 2010). Potter describes a fundamental conflict between national narratives oriented toward tourism and those with alternative economic objectives. He states: “The examination of public diplomacy efforts from a predominantly economic perspective points to the fine balance between highlighting Canada’s comparative advantage as a resource-based economy and maximizing the benefits of its vast geography in terms of tourism revenues, while at the same time presenting an updated image of Canada as a modern country” (Bouzanis in Potter 2009, 174). He goes on to state that “… Canada’s image as a knowledge economy has been overshadowed by stereotypical images of land, trees, water, and rich farmlands,” an image which he frames as one which needs to be overcome, particularly with the increasing shift to a “knowledge economy” as a primary determinant of international economic success (Bouzanis in Potter 2009, 183). This conflict is reflected in the recent efforts on the part of the tourism industry to “re-brand” Canadian tourism as an “experience-driven” rather than a “destination-driven” industry which facilitates the commodification of experiences, lifestyles, and human capital that were previously not within the domain 171


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

of the market (Canadian Tourism 2008). Within the “Experience Canada” pavilion, a variety of compensatory strategies were used to mediate the nature-driven images which dominated the “Northern Ontario Oasis.” This goal was partially achieved by the high-tech, immersive and interactive experience offered there (including the active participation, or what one might describe as the performance of creativity, by the participating artist “ambassadors” themselves), but was further mediated on the opposite side of the Media centre, where a dramatically different picture comes into view. Across from the “Northern Ontario Oasis” was constructed an area titled the “Urban Cityscape” which, according to Astound Group, demonstrated “Investment, Trade, and Commerce,” or the “G20 theme” (Piacente quoted in “G8/ G20 Experience” 2010). According to Piacente, this presented the “investment story,” and was intended to highlight technology, financial stability, workforce excellence, and the dynamism of business that happens in Canadian cities, with the overall message that Canada is “open for business” (Piacente quoted in “G8/G20 Experience” 2010). The area included eight massive structures suspended 11 feet from the ground, intended to reflect the tops of skyscrapers in an urban setting. If that wasn’t enough to get the message across, within these pieces were embedded fifteen 50 foot HD monitors, as well as over 80 feet of LED panels that “delivered message in a ‘ticker tape’ mode.” Video streams featured Canadian business people, artists, scientists, designers and technicians engaging in a variety of activities interspersed with shots of these individuals taking up a paintbrush and applying a brushstroke to the camera lens in a symbolic act which constructs a symbiosis between the types of creativity and innovation employed by artists and those used by entrepreneurs, scientists, computer software developers, and designers, a parallel which is very much embedded in the rhetoric of the creative economy. The installations were surrounded by exhibitors from various Canadian software, tech, and gaming companies showcasing Canadian financial stability, technological innovation, and international investment (Piacente quoted in “G8/G20 Experience” 2010). These included exhibitors involving products such as a “connected car,” with investment from French companies as well as various software companies and even a 4G theatre intended to showcase Canadian leadership in 4 dimensional ride experiences (Piacente quoted in “G8/G20 Experience” 2010). Finally, to ensure a “seamless flow” during the event, the design team also incorporated a “bridge” area that guided the guests from one section to the other, emphasizing Muskoka’s “connected lifestyle” and providing additional “experience” and culture-based offerings such as samples of Canadian fine food and wine offered by celebrity chefs, as well as a communication centre for members of the press (Piacente quoted in “G8/G20 Experience” 2010). This area also featured 172


Stephanie Anderson

two artworks under the heading of the “Ontario Artist’s Luminato installation” – Conversations 4, a towering sculpture of books by Tom Benson, as well as an installation of inflatable kinetic horse sculptures by Max Streicher. These works, as described in an interview with Piacente, were justified not by artistic or ideological criteria, but were present to “highlight the incredible festivals held in the city of Toronto” – yet another attempt to attract tourists within a burgeoning market for cultural and arts tourism as a route to revenue generation through constructing an image of Toronto as a dynamic, creative, and appealing destination (Piacente quoted in “G8/G20 Experience” 2010). While many individuals have vehemently critiqued the cost of these initiatives at a time when fiscal responsibility was being preached by Canada to the rest of the world, have criticised the inefficacy of the marketing ploys undertaken, and have even gone so far as to challenge the ethics of the self-interested branding strategies employed as inappropriate for the context of an international summit whose purpose it is to address pressing economic and social concerns, few have challenged the logic and naturalisation of the instrumental justifications for cultivating national identity, culture, and the arts in this context (which is in fact quite compatible with the neoliberal agenda of the G20 itself). The transparency of the promotional and distinctly capitalistic language used to explain, justify, and interpret the various installations and imagery described above throw into relief the evolving role that notions of national image, identity, and culture are seen to play in the contemporary international arena. If we return to the rhetoric of nation branding, we can question whether commercial marketing strategies are either natural or appropriate in relation to the nation, and can interrogate further the constructive effects of their application. Nadia Kaneva (2011, 131) has offered a working definition of nation branding as “a compendium of discourses and practices aimed at reconstituting nationhood through marketing and branding paradigms.” As an “exercise of symbolic power in defining the meaning of nationhood,” national image-making, or branding, when constructed with a view to tourism, investment, and economic growth, becomes “an ideological project which reinterprets nationhood in relation to neoliberalism (Kaneva 2012, 17; 2011, 131). This re-articulation, Kaneva (2011, 135) suggests, represents an important element of national image construction in an era of neoliberal globalization, “whereby the meaning and experiential reality of nationhood itself is transformed in ways that are yet to be fully understood.” As Sue Jansen (2008, 121) states: “Branding not only explains nations to the world but also reinterprets national identity in market terms and provides new narratives for… consumption.” Tourism in particular has been described as an economic activity which in effect trades in the cultural and natural heritage of countries and which 173


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

commodifies the physical and symbolic dimensions of place and space, in addition to the ideas of collective identity associated with nationhood (Ascher quoted in Boniface 2003, 6). As such, when increasing tourism revenue or investment becomes the primary impetus behind showcasing our (and I use the term “our” lightly here) arts, “culture,” or identity to the world, the very definitional framework, to say nothing of the practice and consumption, of culture, creativity and identity are transformed in complex ways. Not only are such structures predicated on an acceptance of the neoliberal base which underlies them, but economically-based articulations of nationhood such as those offered up at the G8/G20 Summits present a manipulated, controlled, and instrumental version of Canadian “culture.” Here, the image of the nation is valuable only in its capacity to contribute to the nation’s marketability while excluding other ways of knowing, enacting, and understanding culture and identity and precluding from the outset potentially disruptive (or simply non-marketable) images, stories, and subjectivities. Within this mutated notion of national identity citizens and cultural groups increasingly play the role of “content providers” and “brand-ambassadors” relied upon to consume, live, and perform the nation brand in accordance with its projected image, much as one might expect upon entering the typical Lululemon or Goodlife Fitness, where employees are expected to model their lifestyle, dress, attitude, and behaviour on company standards. As a result of the above, the desire to make a standardised and marketable “product” equates to policies and practices that not only implement processes of exclusion and intensify undemocratic social relations, but have the ability to shape physical realties and individual and social identities and actions. This is largely because nation branding, and the tourism industry in particular, as the primary stakeholder in the G8/G20 initiatives and one that has been described as the single largest federal investment in national image management,” (Bouzanis in Potter 2009, 188) applies an “instrumental frame” to nation-building endeavours which considers national identity as an “asset or a liability to be managed or deployed by experts in tactical and strategic ways” (Kaneva 2011, 131). As a case in point, we can look to the announcement in 2009 by the Prime Minister in a meeting with tourism industry leaders of the development of a new “Federal Tourism Strategy” to bring “greater coherence” to the policies and programs that support tourism (Government of Canada 2009). The objective, as stated by the strategy document, was to “Implement a whole-of-government approach to enhance the federal government’s role as an effective partner with industry and other levels of government in support of an internationally competitive tourism sector” (Government of Canada 2009). The guiding principles of the strategy include increasing awareness of Canada as a premier tourist destination, 174


Stephanie Anderson

encouraging product development and investments in Canadian tourism “assets and products,” fostering an open and cooperative partnership between the federal government and the tourism industry, and applying a “tourism lens” to policy and program development, as well as “focusing future tourism investments on Federal Tourism Strategy priority areas” (Government of Canada 2009). This and later tourism strategy documents put forth the policy that investment take place “only in products and experiences that exemplify Canada’s brand as dictated by the CTC,” and recommend that “tourism enterprises and attractions…better align their products and experiences with Canada’s brand.”6 Similar to discourses which Kaneva recognizes elsewhere, this type of approach has led to a concerted effort to identify, often by outsourcing to research specialists in marketing and communication, what kinds of identities, images, and experiences might be “marked as ‘shameful’ or as ‘desired’ within nation branding initiatives” (Kaneva 2012, 31). From these sorts of conclusions, nation branding “limits the range of possible national identity narratives and shapes them for the benefit of external audiences” with the result that representation acquires the ability to affect the lived realities, geographies, social, cultural, and economic conditions of citizens (Kaneva 2011, 128). As noted by Kaneva, “These instrumental approaches obscure the political dimensions of… identity construction in order to render them suitable for co-optation by the logic of marketing” (Kaneva 2011, 128). As such, it is important to question and interrogate the images of Canadian nationhood advanced abroad, and the motivations that bring them into being. The naturalisation of instrumental articulations of national identity in an era of neoliberal globalisation has broad implications that extend beyond traditional nation-building practices (although I certainly do not mean to suggest the superiority of the former). The G8/G20, described by some as a public relations stunt through and through, offers an entry point to examine this changing role of art, culture, and visuality in the global economy. In its contrived effort to reduce a complex set of ideological, political, and economic agendas to a series of “photo-ops” and visual images that are reproducible and consumable, increasingly necessary attributes in the global “attention economy,” the events call into question the discursive and practical framework in which art and culture function within government initiatives. At a time when national culture is given little weight as a justifiable expenditure for its own sake, understanding this framework, or at the very least making it an issue, is vital to understanding how traditional notions of culture, identity, and creativity are being reformulated in the present, and to what ends. Notes 1. Over $50 million was invested in the Huntsville beautification process, with examples 175


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream of improvements including not only the construction of the Canada Summit Centre and the outdoor Group of Seven murals (described below), but also benches, signage, street reconstruction, gazebos, lighthouses, parks, playgrounds, pathways, and more. 2. For further reading see O’Brian and White, 2007. 3. According to a recent tourism marketing report conducted for the Ontario government, “There is a new opportunity to develop “creativity-based” tourism that appeals to the 21st Century Traveler. There is an opportunity to develop and position Ontario as a strong creative tourism destination. Ontario is currently investing in the Innovation Agenda, which recognizes the role of the creativity sector.” See Lord Cultural Resources, 2009. 4. The Canadian Government in fact hired Kaboom Inc., a specialist in graphic design, branding, and corporate identity to design distinct logo’s for each Summit. According to Kaboom general manager Christine Lajoie, “The client wanted designs that both reflect the summit locations and Canadian identity” while “really differentiating both looks.” The G8 Muskoka logo was inspired by the artwork of Tom Thompson and features a Jack Pineinspired tree with eight branches connected to the trunk, “representing the eight countries comprising the G8.” The G20 logo is a “unique, modern and vibrant representation of Toronto” Kaboom used a fragmented image to illustrate Toronto’s landmark CN tower. http://www.designedgecanada.com/news/2010/20100420933.shtml. 5. Notably, Congress Canada was in fact awarded the 2011 “Best Destination Marketing Award” from the Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME). According to the press release, “as one of the premier destination management companies in Toronto, Congress Canada created a unique destination experience that included nature photography, astronomy and an unforgettable wilderness adventure by float plane and canoe. Fresh from the breathtaking beauty of the Muskoka Region, dignitaries enjoyed a spellbinding cultural tour and private shopping extravaganza in sophisticated, suave Toronto. ‘By artfully combining personal preferences of the guests and the eight stakeholders including the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), Tourism Muskoka, Tourism Toronto, the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC) and four additional stakeholders, Congress Canada created a slice of Canadian life to tantalize taste buds, stimulate intellect and hopefully entice them back to Toronto and Muskoka for confirmed business’ Pam Graham, President of Congress Canada said” (Congress Canada, 2011). As an interesting sidenote, on June 30, 2010, the Globe and Mail published trumpeted the fact that “all of the ads purchased in its edition coinciding with the G8 and G20 summits were taken out by Canadian organizations. There were tourism promotions, invitations for foreign investment, and boasts of clean energy industries” See Houpt, 2010. 6. The document puts forth its intention to “collect assets” that align with the brand and are influenced by partner input and intelligence from Product Innovation and Enhancement and Research, stating that “Ultimately, stories that both align with the brand and have traction in the media will be featured” (Government of Canada 2009). 176


Stephanie Anderson

Works Cited Anholt, S. Competitive Identity The New Brand Management for Nations, Cities and Regions. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Anholt, S. “From Nation Branding to Competitive Identity - The Role of Brand Management as a Component of National Policy.” In K. Dinnie (Ed.), Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues, Practice (pp. 22–23). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008. Anholt, S. Brand New Justice: The Upside of Global Branding. Oxford, UK: Butterworth Heinemann, 2003. Andrejevic, Mark and Zala Volcic. “Nation Branding in the Era of Commercial Nationalism,” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), 598–618. Aronczyk, Melissa. “‘Living the Brand’: Nationality, Globality and the Identity Strategies of Nation Branding Consultants,” International Journal of Communication 2 (2008), 41-65. Aronczyk, M. “New and Improved Nations: Branding National Identity.” In C. Calhoun & R. Sennett (Eds.), Practicing Culture (pp. 105–128). New York:Routledge, 2007. Boniface, Priscilla. Managing Quality Cultural Tourism. New York, NY, Routledge, 2003. Canadian Tourism Commission, Leveraging Canada’s Games: 2008-2012 Olympic Games Tourism Strategy, 2008. Creative City Network of Canada, Making the Case for Culture: Culture as an Economic Engine, 2005. Dinnie, Keith. Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues, Practice. Oxford: Elsevier Ltd., 2008. Feigenbaum, Harvey B. “Art, Culture and the National Agenda,” in Globalization and Cultural Diplomacy. George Washington University, Centre for Arts and Culture, 2001. Guebert, Jenilee and Shamir Tanna, Economic Benefits of Hosting G8 and G20 Summits, prepared by the G8 and G20 Research Group. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2010. Gattinger, Monica and Diane Saint-Pierre. “The “Neoliberal Turn” in Provincial Cultural Policy and Administration in Québec and Ontario: The Emergence of ‘Quasi-Neoliberal’ Approaches,” Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 35 (2) (2010) 279-302. Harvey, D. Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. New York: Routledge, 2001. Hogan, Jackie. “Staging the Nation: Gendered and Ethnicized Discourses of National Identity in Olympic Opening Ceremonies,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues Vol. 27, No. 2 (May 2003), pp. 100-123. Jansen, Sue Curry. “Designer nations: Neo-liberal nation branding – Brand Estonia,” Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 14, 1 (2008): 121-142. Kaneva, Nadia. “Nation Branding: Toward an Agenda for Critical Research” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), 117–141. ______. Branding Post-Communist Nations: Marketizing National Identities in the “New” Europe. New York and London: Routledge, 2012. Kotler, P., & Gertner, D. “Country as Brand, Product, and Beyond: A Place Marketing and

177


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Brand Management Perspective.” Journal of Brand Management, 9:4/5 (2002); 249–262. Kokotsis, Ella.“Hosting Successful Summits: The Muskoka Model,” The G8 & G20 Canadian Summits (June 2010); 305. Lord Cultural Resources. Ontario Cultural and Heritage Tourism Product Research Paper, 2009. McBride, Stephen. Dismantling a Nation: The Transition to Corporate Rule in Canada. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1997. Milz, Sabine. “Canadian Cultural Policy-making at a Time of Neoliberal Globalization,” ESC 33.1-2 (March/June 2007): 85-107. Nye, J. S. Soft Power: The means to Success in World Politics. New York: Public Affairs, 2004. The Ontario Competitiveness Tourism Study, Discovering Ontario: A Report on the Future of Tourism, 2009. Potter, Evan H. “Branding Canada: The Renaissance of Canada’s Commercial Diplomacy,” International Studies Perspectives 5 (2004); 55-60. Potter, Evan H. “Canada and the New Public Diplomacy” International Journal Vol. 58, No. 1 (Winter, 2002/2003), pp. 43-64. Potter, Evan H. Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power through Public Diplomacy. Montreal and Kingston, London, Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009. Sevin, Efe. “Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy (2011) 7, 1 55– 164. Shyllit, Robin and Gregory M. Spencer, Water, Rocks and Trees, Building Upon our Rich Resources: The Creative Economy In Muskoka. Toronto, University of Toronto, 2011. The Ontario Tourism Competitiveness Study. Discovering Ontario. A Report on the Future of Tourism, 2009. Van Ham, P. “The Rise of the Brand State: The Postmodern Politics of Image and Reputation.” Foreign Affairs, 8:5 (2001); 2–6. Wang, J. “Managing National Reputation and International Relations in the Global Ara: Public Diplomacy Revisited.” Public Relations Review, 32:2 (2006) 91–96. Yúdice, George. The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2003.

178


Sarah Murray

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Sarah Murray

From the Street to the Gift Shop: Street Art’s Inclusion into the Mainstream Museum Street art operates at the union of contemporary society and consumer culture (Wettegren 2003, 28). This paper will discuss the inclusion of street art into the mainstream museum as it draws parallels between societal trends, and the way in which the mainstream museum functions as a form of mass media. While the street art movement is the focus of this paper, it will be framed as one example within a wider tradition of avant-garde artistic movements. Glenn Harper believes that art made by avant-garde artists in the post World War Two era consciously responded to “postmodern skepticism about transcendence but nevertheless seeks to engage critically and creatively with society and history” (Harper 1998, 1). It is this time period, and the effects of institutionalization on avant-garde movements as it culminates with street art that will be discussed in this paper. While the effects of the museum on any art movement are varied, this paper will argue that the inclusion of street art into exhibitions of mainstream institutions does not represent the beginning of a new trend, but is the continuation of a wellestablished history of institutionalizing the avant-garde. Furthermore, this paper will argue that there are two options for the effects that institutionalization has on street art – either negating its subversive effects, or the exact opposite, amplifying them by strategically co-opting the legitimacy historically attributed to the museum. The inclusion of street art in the museum is not novel, but should be viewed as another example of assimilating avant-garde artistic movements into the mainstream

179


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

institution meanwhile maintaining the most vital and transferable elements of the movement; and more importantly, serving the interests of consumer culture and the mainstream museum. The various styles of street art and activism that are discussed in this essay will be unified by Glenn Harper’s (1998, vii) definition of post World War Two avant-garde movements; which are “related to one another by the critical approach they take toward social norms, [and] by their resistance to centralized cultural hegemony.” Pierre Bourdieu (1993, 2) believes that culture functions as a “reproduction of social structures.” The publically funded mainstream museum represents this scenario, making decisions for who is invited into its realm of incredible importance. The mainstream museum facilitates the institutionalization of movements in a preordained and structured way that is both resented and welcomed by museum visitors, scholars and critics alike. The publically funded mainstream museum has established a history of institutionalizing avant-garde movements, arguably beginning with the Impressionists, and in subsequent decades with the Surrealists, the Guerrilla Girls, the Situationists, and the Dada movement. The institutionalization of all of these movements has proven that the museum has the potential to be a space of controversy and dissention, sparking debate and conversation within a public sphere. The mainstream museum responds to and reflects trends that exist in society at large. For the purposes of this essay, the mainstream museum will be framed within the cultural field with a focus on consumerism, and the ever increasing consumer culture, the effects of globalization, and the reactionary trend of socially motivated activist strategies as they are manifested in exhibitions of street art. Museums have become power centers for urban development, while at the same time functioning as hubs of entertainment which combine food, music, shopping and socializing all in the name of “museum experience” and cultural rejuvenation. This paper will highlight an exhibition currently being shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario, as an example of an exhibition that built upon the museum’s adoption of particular aspects of street art, and in turn, subversively co-opted the museum’s enthusiasm for street art to serve the agenda as decided upon by the artists themselves. The exhibition entitled “NOW: A Collaborative Project with Sean Martindale and Pascal Paquette” is taking place in the Young Gallery, the free of charge auxiliary gallery accessible through the gift shop and the gallery restaurant. The artists are both established Toronto street artists with careers and exhibitions prior to this. Paquette, born in 1973, is also a graffiti artist practicing under the name Mon Petit Chou, making both sanctioned and unsanctioned works of art in the public sphere. According to the artist, his art studies “the transference of

180


Sarah Murray

culture that occurs when two or more economic, social, or cultural realities collide” (quoted in Dennis 2012). Sean Martindale (2010), also practicing out of Toronto, utilizes public and semi-public spaces as a means to encourage engagement on ecological and social issues. The project at the AGO, curated by Katherine Dennis, a Curatorial Masters Student studying at the Ontario College of Art and Design, also includes two projects in the Gift Shop and restaurant space. In Gift Shop Gift Shop, the name of the gift shop project, the artists seek to understand the role played by the commercial experience in the museum, where often visitors are comfortable to browse or shop, yet perhaps not enter the authoritative space of the gallery. Meanwhile, in FRANK, the classy gallery restaurant, a $25 dinner buffet was introduced by the artists as a part of this exhibition to invite a “diverse and new crowd” into the art gallery (Kienapple 2012). This exhibition exemplifies Barbara Jenkins’ (2005, 171) argument that identity, art, and commerce are intimately bound, and in fact inseparable. “NOW: A Collaborative Project with Sean Martindale and Pascal Paquette” has succeeded at utilizing both of the commercial spaces of the gallery to bring attention to the ways that consumerism functions as dividing lines in the mainstream museum. Paquette and Martindale are responding to the motives of other creative activists by highlighting the wish create pleasure, instead of purchasing it, yet making ironic use of the commercial spaces of the Art Gallery of Ontario (Wettegren 2009, 4). As Asa Wettegren (2009, 4) argues, a crucial aspect of the union between consumerism, the mainstream museum and its inclusion of street art and its anti-institutional tendencies is the shared focus on fun and pleasure that is a vital characteristic of the “good consumer.” Martindale and Paquette exemplify this assertion in their socially motivated collaboration. The artists have succeeded at satisfying the desire of the Art Gallery of Ontario to produce a profitable exhibition, even in its admission free gallery space, while at the same time highlighting society’s obsession with the consumer, cum aesthetic experience, and the exclusive nature of the mainstream museum and gallery space. The pre-existing relationship between the commodity and street art provides the mainstream museum with an opportunity to seize these commercial possibilities in a socially acceptable way. Yet, not all artists and scholars embrace this with the success that Paquette and Martindale display. According to Susan Buck Morss (2003, 69), “the art world is a trap” which promises to protect artists from “commercial instrumentalization of the culture industry” but instead adopts the “best, the brightest, the most talented...rendering them impotent in the larger public sphere.” At the recent “Art in the Streets” show at the Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles, the presence of multinational corporate sponsors such as Nike, and 181


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

Levis was viewed in tandem with the collection of highly sought after international street artists. A dichotomy was created between an accessible form of activist art – in this case street art, which has been transferred to the mainstream museum – and the temporary gift shop where designer spray paint was available for purchase. However, your purchases were not allowed in the gallery space lest you be tempted to deface the expensive, and specially commissioned street art (Beato 2011). While the contemporary art economy has also welcomed street art with enthusiasm into its realm the boundaries between street art, the museum and the art economy are becoming increasingly blurred. In fact, there is more square footage of shopping space at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, than at some Walmart stores. This trend is spurred on by the fact that directors of museums are being increasingly chosen for their “business acumen and social connections” (Jenkins 2005, 174). Street art has been included into a wider art infrastructure economy in which the artworks can “exist freely as markers of [the] unstable exchange value in the market’s permanent circulation or as enduring indices of exhibition value in the museums theatre of accumulation” (Luke 1992, 229). Glenn Harper (1998, 20) believes that it is impossible to exist outside of the art world system for the simple reason that the “gallery system is the infrastructure of the art community. It can’t be ignored.” The result is that the museum experience has taken prominence over the aesthetic experience, as one that includes opportunity for consumption in a variety of ways and places the emphasis on the consumer experience (Buck Morss 2003, 69). Considering its adoption of street art, is the museum simply trying to jump on the bandwagon of a movement gaining steam hoping not to be left by the wayside? Perhaps, the mainstream museum has recognized the widely varied demographic interest in street art, and creative activism at large and has identified another segment of the population as a possible target audience? The MoCA’s “Art in the Streets” exhibition prides itself on doubling the last record for attendance for an exhibition (“MOCA” 2011). Similarly, the collaborative exhibition currently on at the Art Gallery of Ontario also boasts to have attracted the largest crowd ever for its opening reception (Kienapple 2012). Cedar Lewisohn argues that this trend is the result of the simple fact that galleries, collectors and museums are taking part in constructing a “graffiti infrastructure” perfectly suited for the display and propagation of street art (Lewisohn 2008, 8). This discussion furthers the argument of this paper, that street art does not possess a new place in the structure of the mainstream museum, but is a continuation of a tradition of adopting avant-garde movements into the institution to perpetuate the hegemonic nature of the mainstream museum, while furthering a consumer culture dependent on the museum experience. Susan Buck Morss (2003, 26) believes that in the end, even “political art is depoliticized, 182


Sarah Murray

becoming simply another genre of contemporary practice, which has every right to be, but not to matter.” She goes on to explain that this signals the “neutralization” of artistic practice in an increasingly commercialized and self contained art world (Buck Morss 2003, 26). The normalcy of street art has reached a fever pitch. Simply walk into a museum gift shop and observe the tables stacked high with books on street art and graffiti. Cedar Lewisohn (2008, 131) argues that museums carry out the inclusion of street art in their physical collections by purchasing “graffiti lite;” a sanitized and censored version of the real and raw original, a type of the neutralized art described by Susan Buck Morss. Meanwhile, in another book, Lewisohn (2011, 13) argues that while the museum should exhibit street art in the same way that it would display exhibit land art, or other avant-garde conceptual art practices, it should not purchase it. When C100 (2006, 9), a street artist and author, asked fellow artists their past predictions on the movement, he summarized by saying that “many feared that it became trendy and [was going to be] ... exploited like many trends before.” This speaks to the fear many street artists had and continue to have about the subversive potential of street art being neutered through inclusion into a sanitized space. To what extent does the mainstream museum effect the process and product of street art? Lewisohn (2008, 127) argues that the “best street art is illegal,” and that the political and ethical connotations are literally lost in the act of sanctioning the art. However, in another of his books written a short three years later, he argues that street art done legally “does not detract from its political pertinence, that it simply means that the artist has found a way of working from within to improve the system” (Lewisohn 2011, 11). Lewisohn’s (2011, 11) later argument goes on to state the street art is capable of risking association with absorption into the mainstream museum because it is the dialogue surrounding the art that will be subsumed, and not the art. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his change of heart, the ambiguity and complexity of this debate is clear. Is it possible to determine the effects through reception alone? Kalle Lasn, the spokesperson for a type of activism referred to as “culture jamming” believes that the success of culture jamming is dependent upon dissemination as opposed to simple awareness raising (Luke 1992, 38), thus making any inclusion into the mainstream public museum a success on the part of the movement through sheer size of audience. Yet, Susan Buck Morss believes that avant-garde art movements in the mainstream museum in fact only affect the already “mobilized” audiences (in Firat 2011, 15). This can be attributed to Pierre Bourdieu’s conception of cultural competence which is used throughout society as an aesthetic disposition which perpetuates social difference (in Johnson 1993, 24). Bourdieu (1991, 24-25) believes that those with the strongest desire to visit the museum are in fact the same ones 183


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

with the most number of opportunities. This creates a cycle of not only obligation among the cultivated class to “keep up” but, it also only affects those who have a desire to do so in the first place. This implies the exclusivity perpetuated by the institution through the necessity for pre-existing knowledge on the subjects being addressed by the art. Furthermore, Susan Buck Morss argues that to establish oneself as a creative activist, and to more importantly effect change, one must actually have legitimacy in the art world. Yet, while this broadens the reception of the work, and perhaps creates legitimacy for one group of people, it poses the risk of lessening the impact for those disenchanted with the institution (Cronin and Robertson 2011, 5). Yet, is there an alternative to the institutionalization of socially motivated movements such as street art? The opposite of institutionalization is further individualization which not only stands in opposition to a socially motivated mandate, but also threatens to negate, and eventually eradicate its effectiveness (Opel and Pompper 2003, 32). The mainstream museum has become an accepted location for public action, as sanctioned and censored as it may be. Yet, its potential and ability to motivate positive public action begs analysis. Western art history consistently elevates oppositional art movements. The institutionalization of avant-gardism poses nothing new to the structure of the institution, with street art representing as opposed to defining this trend. In continuing this trend of institutionalizing avantgarde movements, the museum has made the “important acknowledgement of the value of ‘renegade forms...’” (Whybrow 2011, 125). By “allowing” avant-garde, antiinstitutional movements into the institution, it demonstrates a very self-conscious form of acceptance, which often succeeds at veiling, or distracting the viewer from any ulterior motives (Robertson 2011, 199). Bourdieu (1991, 58) also picks up on this trend in his observation that the more “cultivated visitors” to museums often extol the virtues of revolutionary painters of recent generations in an attempt to “appear more progressive.” Yet, Kirsty Robertson (2011, 199) asks, “what happens when that critique is not only brought inside but is celebrated as a new direction of the museum policy, so that oppositional art is enveloped by the institution even as it forms an important subcurrent in the operation of “creative capitalism” and the murky meanderings of globalization?” Street art exemplifies this trend; yet, no more so than the avant-garde movements of bygone generations. According to Roberstson (2011, 199), the development of “art relies on the elites pushing forward a progressive modernist narrative that allows the ‘avant-garde’ to critique its own institution,” in fact creating the constant need for a new movement to deem as radical and gradually adopt into its domain. Exhibitions including street art illustrate the union of consumerism and the art

184


Sarah Murray

world, as well as popular culture, mass media and the reactions against these trends in a way that is intended to benefit the museum. In an attempt to clarify some of the terms used throughout this paper, several definitions, differentiations and classifications will now be provided. Throughout this essay, art exhibitions have been defined in terms of Timothy Luke’s (1992, 1) definition as “elaborate and expensive works of educational theater with their own special rhetorical agendas and peculiar political teachings.” It is not the intention of this paper to demonize the agendas of publically funded mainstream museums through the use of this definition, but to reflect the mindset of the avant-garde art movements whom the museum is in fact, itself adopting. Tyrus Miller (2009, 4) defines the avant-garde as an “ideological projection device through which a variety of social images can be made manifest across a discontinuous range of spaces, times, dimensional scales, and occasions.” Street art is intimately bound to the discourse of the public space. It also positions itself at the intersection of many movements and ideas, such as mass media, the consumer culture, popular culture and postmodernism. Furthermore, street art is implicated in a history of political activism, especially in response to the growing criticism surrounding globalization, and the subsequent commodification of the everyday. Anthony Giddens (in Opel and Pompper 2003, x), defines globalization as the “intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.” Due to the ubiquity of street art in sensationalized media, clever advertising, and very public social movements across a wide demographic base, street art has been firmly established as an avant-garde artistic movement both in the commercial and art historical world, with a focus on “alternative, viable policy changes as opposed to only resisting current practices;” thus facilitating its successful adoption into the mainstream museum in a mutually beneficial system (Giddens in Opel and Pompper 2003, x). Street art is by definition an ambiguous and complex art movement. Conveniently, Susan Buck Morss (2003, 27) argues that complexity in today’s society is actually a demand brought on by the “diverse multitude in a global public sphere.” Street art has been defined as both the “poor cousin” of contemporary art (Firat et. al. 2011, 18), as well as the “acceptable, if slightly misunderstood cousin” of graffiti (Lewisohn 2011, 8). While everyone agrees that street art is part of the family, to define street art is to embrace the ambiguity that many agree is both a strength and weakness of the movement. Street art, which emerged from the graffiti tradition, remains a reactionary movement, acting in response to social, political, economic, and historical events, making it the ideal candidate for the consciously societally

185


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

reflective mainstream museum. The physicality of both the process of street art and its multitude of manifestations has been a focus of the movement, through trends such as high levels of artist involvement and interaction with the audience, as well as the public programming in general associated with the exhibitions. Mieke Bal argues that the physical act of writing on the wall is in fact “a basic operation of culture as performative.” Similarly, Marc Augé argues that the writer engages in the “epitome of the process and performance of culture” (in Neef 2007, 418). The inclusion of such a performance based art movement into the museum makes demands on the institution that still leave ample room for displays of power. The origin of street art is inherently tied to graffiti. Tracy E. Brown (1999, 25) argues that graffiti was the first art movement to entirely develop out of a youth subculture. Meanwhile, street art is taken up by a much wider demographic of individuals of various ages and socially motivated intentions, with varying levels of education, art world inclusion and subject matters. According to Cedar Lewisohn (2008, 21), an authority on street art and the graffiti movement, street art’s main distinction from graffiti is its “break with the tag” bringing forth an approach centered on visual symbols meant to include a wider media, and address the role of commodity. This transition represents a separation from the negative connotations stereotypically associated with “taggers” (Davies 2011, 21). Josh McPhee (2009), a blogger on a street art and graffiti website, cites street art’s current status as the “safety valve” of our society. One could argue that the widespread acceptance of street art, as demonstrated by mass media and the mainstream museum, is a response to its perception as a safer option for public expression, and arguably, as a semi-acceptable form of civic disruption. Street art’s progression out of traditional graffiti has resulted in a form of art that relies heavily on reacting to societal influences in a performance based manner through the use of visual tropes influenced by contemporary society. This new focus meshes with the mainstream museum’s emphasis on manageable discontent, and the performance of culture within a sanctioned space. Like many types of site specific art, street art is considered to be “topo sensitive,” a term adopted from Umberto Eco, meaning that “the sign is partially determined by the place where it is generated/located” (Public Art 2009, 18). Street art typically aims for “highly emotive areas;” a space that once again defines the mainstream museum for a variety of reasons (Lewisohn 2008, 63). The location of the street art when combined with the authoritative structure of the mainstream museum interacts to radically restructure the way in which street art functions both within and outside the museum. In addition to its inclusions in the world of mass media, the commodity, and political activism, street art is an example of a form of creative activism, a 186


Sarah Murray

continuation of avant-gardism. Creative activism - a collective, socially motivated movement - can be defined as “the struggle to portray dissident viewpoints, truth claims, and alternative significations to the public by making use of the means to which artists are able to gain access” (Firat et. al. 2011, 137). Another type of creative activism that is encompassed by street art is culture jamming, defined by Asa Wettegren (2009, 2) as a “symbolic form of protest located within a field of anticorporate activism where tensions between democratic principles and undemocratic principles of the ‘free’ market are articulated as pivotal political conflicts.” One aspect of creative activism especially obvious in street art is an emphasis on moral instruction. The objective of this visual moral instruction is the refusal of apathy, and the transformation of the viewer from a consumer to a creator. Interestingly, creative activism often focuses on reminding the viewer of social and political realities with which they are already familiar (Lewisohn 2008, 93). Avant-garde art movements, and specifically creative activism is highly dependent on a number of factors that have the potential to be both aided and hindered by the universalist structure of the museum. It has been convincingly argued that Western notions of individualism propagated by the mainstream museum in fact lead to alienation (Ardizzone 2003, 67). Kalle Lasn (in Miller 2009, 34), goes on to argue that the postmodern attitude exemplified by the mainstream museum is resigned and cynical which furthers a “counterproductive mindset.” According to cultural activists “you cannot conquer alienation by alienated means” (Firat et. al. 2011, 147). Given that the street art is a movement that relies heavily on a mentally engaged audience, either targeted in the museums space, or by chance on the street, the control and manipulation of emotions is a vital component for the success of a work inside or outside the museum. The manner through which this is done is one of the main ways the mainstream museum transforms street art through inclusion. In the words of Emrah Irzik “Where does uncooling Shell, McDonalds, and Microsoft leave us?” Instances of activism need to “reinforce solidarity” (Irzik 2011, 146, 154). A very important tenet of creative activism is the necessity for hope and an expression of solidarity. This begs the question: with the inclusion of street art, does the museum serve to provide a setting conducive to solidarity, or to alienation? As mentioned, this paper argues that there are two possible outcomes. Firstly, that the anonymous and authoritative space of the museum serves to threaten the subversive and unifying potential of street art; and, secondly that the mainstream museum lends legitimacy to the goals of the movement thereby helping it to fully realize its goals of social unification. The example of the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario demonstrates that the result is often not clearly delineated, but is a combination of these two outcomes. What begs repetition, is the ambiguity and impossibility of consensus about the effects of the museum on a movement 187


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

such as street art with its infinite manifestations and motivations. Thus making it the perfectly pliable candidate onto which the mainstream museum may insert its agenda. The performative aspects of street art found in its subversive process, and moralizing messages coincide with the four main tenets of creative activism. These are: the temporary nature of the disruption, the importance of participation and self production, the emphasis on confusion and subversion and finally the importance of the exemplary gesture (Firat et. al. 2011, 159). These four trends are visually exemplified by street art, and all transfer easily to the museum setting. The contemporary mainstream museum provides a socially accepted setting for confusion and grand gestures, especially in the case of a temporary exhibition with coherent public programming offering the opportunity for participation in cultural production. This tradition of exemplarity pervades not only street art as it is manifested in other forms of activism, but also other avant-garde art movements. Tyrus Miller (2009, 8) argues that all of these movements rely heavily on pre-existing sources of authority, such as the publically funded mainstream museum. Timothy Luke (1992, 2) believes that the encouragement of artists has historically proven to be an “effective strategy for sparking economic growth through many neighbourhoods, towns and cities since the 1960s.” One could argue that the encouragement of street artists was transferred from the commercial gallery, where it began in 1970s New York City to the publically funded mainstream gallery, as a way to capitalize off of the success of street art to further economic and cultural rejuvenation to benefit individual mainstream museums. According to Tracy E. Brown (1999, 35), the graffiti movement only achieved its art world status once it was exhibited in the commercial art gallery system, prior to which it was viewed as “petty vandalism.” From the 1970s onward, culminating in the early 1980s, commercial art galleries in New York City displayed graffiti as a unique and profitable form of art (Neef 2007, 421). Importantly, this phase of commercialized graffiti production occurred before the advent of street art in its contemporary manifestation. One prominent figure in the graffiti commercial art gallery scene was Jeffrey Dietch, whose own private commercial art gallery was one of the most prominent galleries to curate arguably obnoxious exhibitions during this trend. Incidentally, Jeffrey Dietch has gone on to become the director at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles which recently exhibited “Art from the Streets.” During this time, precedent setting exhibitions involving graffiti were curated and displayed in alternative ways, in and outside of the commercial gallery system. One example is the “Times Square Show” of 1980 curated by Tom Otterness and John Ahearn, which took place in an abandoned massage parlour in the heart of New 188


Sarah Murray

York City, in an area deteriorating as a result of lack of social support from the city. While a variety of art styles were informally exhibited without didactic panels or exhibition materials, several graffiti artists were highlighted, such as a not yet famous SAMO (Jean-Michel Basquait), as well as Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quinones. The show was funded both by the Fashion Moda gallery as well as the National Endowment for the Arts (Thompson 2010). As a result, according to gallery owner at the time, Jeffrey Dietch, “the Times Square Show similarly played on the distinction between art and consumer goods” (Thompson 2010). An emphasis on location was brought to the fore in this exhibition, as was an interaction with the audience, made obvious by its accessible location and hours of operation (twenty four hours a day for a month). The importance placed on location, accessibility and artist interaction all became recurring themes in exhibitions incorporating street art in the mainstream publically funded gallery once the trend began after the millennium. The advent of street art in the museum setting is a very recent phenomenon. Many scholars have presented theories regarding the changing nature of art in the decades leading up to the millennium. To begin, Kirsty Robertson and Keri Cronin (2011, 8-10) believe that these decades reused the innovation and flexibility of the New Economy, while bringing together the avant-garde idealism of the 18th19th century. Meanwhile, Barbara Jenkins (2005, 171) argues that the economic restructuring of the 1970s led to a tradition of mass production and a rise in postfordist consumer culture that was reflected in the emerging cultural capital, a trend which is readily apparent in the street art movement. Meanwhile, Glenn Harper (1998, vii) believes that the contemporary art of the 1980s-1990s was dominated by a “postmodern pastiche and a sometimes facile critique of consumerism.” While this is a critical stance on the emerging artistic trends, it does reflect the exhibiting history and inclusions of the mainstream museum, while at the same time demonstrating that the adoption of street art since the millennium is not a new trend, but continues in a longer history of adopting avant-garde, and critical art movements. Similarly, Timothy Luke (1992, 1) believes that during this same period the rhetoric surrounding art was constantly related to its power and political potential. Once again, this created the environment necessary for street art to flourish. However, according to Gregory Sholette (2011, 30), the radicalism of avantgarde artists from the 1960s-1970s was softened in response to the entrepreneurial culture of the 1980s, thus raising questions about how radical street artists even are, in comparison with some of the avant-garde movements who came before. Street art made its official arrival onto the avant-garde art scene in the 1990s, a decade described as a “movement of movements,” taking into account social context as well as a combination of the scenarios identified (Robertson 2011, 215). Regardless of its particular impetus, as a result of the popular media attention on 189


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

street art in combination with its commodification, the location of the museum became a sanctioned public sphere in which debates surrounding issues relevant to cultural activists and society at large were not only expected to be discussed, but highlighted and perpetuated. Lewisohn (2008, 112) poses the question: “Now that street art and graffiti are such recognized symbols of rebellion, we might ask if they will simply become institutionalized shells, detached from their authentic self when appropriated by advertising.” Where Lewisohn incites the act of advertising, I substitute the publically funded mainstream museum, which, as demonstrated in this essay through the inclusion of the commercial experience in the gallery is eerily similar. What is being advertised in exhibitions of street art is a sanitized form of socially motivated political discussion which transfers the essential components of street art from an urban to an institutional setting as a means to further the perception of the museum as a tolerant and progressive space. Susan Buck Morss (2003, 73) declares that we can do without art objects, but we could never do without the aesthetic experience. Similarly, according to Pierre Bourdieu (1991, 37), art objects are not rare, but experiences are, it is all about the experience. Our contemporary mainstream museum culture has changed minimally since the tradition of adopting avant-garde movements began. The only question remains is, what will follow street art? Works Cited Ardizzone Leonisa. Gettin my Word Out: Voices of Urban Youth Activists. Albany: State University Press, 2003. Beato, Greg. “Spray Paint the Walls.” Reason. Volume 43, issue 4 (September 2011). http:// reason.com/archives/2011/07/26/spray-paint-the-walls. Biron, Rebecca E. City/Art: The Urban Scene in Latin America. London: Duke University Press, 2009. Bourdieu, Pierre.“The Historical Genesis of the Pure Aesthetic.” 254-66. In The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. Bourdieu, Pierre. The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Public. Translated by Caroline Beattie and Nick Merriman. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991. Brown, Tracey E. “Graffiti Art: A Contemporary Study of Toronto Artists.” Studies in Art Education, A Journal of Issues and Research. Volume 4, number 1 (1999): 22-39. Buck Morss, Susan. Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and the Critical Theory on the Left. London & New York: Verso, 2003. C100, The Art of Rebellion 2: The World of Urban Art Activism. Mainaschaffe: Publikat, 2006. Davies, Pascal. “Graffiti: Vandalism or Oppressed Street Art?” Financial Times. March 21, 2011. 190


Sarah Murray Dennis, Katherine. “About Sean and Pascal.” NOW: A Collaborative Project with Sean Martindale and Pascal Paquette. 2012, Accessed March 25, 2012. http://nowexhibition.com/About-Us. html. Doherty, Claire, ed. Situation: Document of Contemporary Art. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. Firat, Begun Ozden, and Kuryel, Ayun, eds. Cultural Activism: Practices, Dilemmas and Possibilities. Edited by. New York: Rodopi, 2011. Gerin, Annie and McLean, James, eds. Public Art in Canada: Critical Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. Harper, Glenn. Intervention and Provocations: Conversations on Art, Culture and Resistance. New York: State University of New York Press, 1998. Jenkins, Barbara.“Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance.” Canadian Journal of Communication. Volume 30 (2005): 169-86. Johnson, Randal. “Editor’s Introduction: Pierre Bourdieu on Art, Literature and Culture. 1-25. In The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. Kienapple, Bronwyn. “Street Art Shakes Up the AGO.” Torontoist, January 24, 2012. Accessed March 25, 2012. http://torontoist.com/2012/01/street-art-shakes-up-the-ago/. Lewisohn, Cedar. Abstract Graffiti. London: Merrill, 2011. ______. Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution. London: Tate Publishing, 2008. Luke, Timothy W. Shows of Force: Power, Politics and Ideology in Art Exhibitions. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1992. MacPhee, Josh. “Street Art and Social Movements,” Just Seeds, February 19, 2009. http:// www.justseeds.org/blog/2009/02/street_art_and_social_movement.html Martindale, Sean. “About,” Sean Martindale. 2010. Accessed March 25, 2012.

http://

www.seanmartindale.com/?page_id=2. Miller, Tyrus. Singular Examples: Artistic Politics and the Neo-Avant-Garde. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2009. “MOCA Los Angeles Sets Record Attendance for ‘Art in The Streets.’” The Huffington Post, October 10, 2011. Accessed March 25, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/10/ moca-los-angeles-has-reco_n_923988.html Neef, Sonja. “Killing Kool: The Graffiti Museum.” Art History. Volume 3, number 3 (2007): 418-431. Opel, Andy and Pompper, Donnalyn, eds. Representing Resistance: Media, Civil Disobedience and the Global Justice Movement. London: Praeger, 2003. Roberston, Kirsty and Cronin, Keri J. eds. Imagining Resistance: visual culture and Activism in Canada. Edited by Wilfred Laurier University Press, Waterloo, 2011. Thomspon, Margo. “The Times Square Show,” Streetnotes 20, Urban Feel, (Spring 2 0 1 0 ) http://people.lib.ucdavis.edu/~davidm/xcpUrbanFeel/thompson.html Wettegren, Asa. “Like Moths to the Flame – Culture Jamming and the Global Spectacle.” In Representing Resistance: Media, Civil Disobedience, and the Global Justice Movement. 191


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Edited by Any Opel and Donnalyn Pompper. London: Praeger, 2003. Wettegren, Asa. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Fun and Laughter: Culture Jamming and the Emotional Regime of Late Capitalism.â&#x20AC;? Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest. Volume 8, number 1 (January 2009): 1 - 15. Whybrow, Nicolas. Art and the City. I.B. Tauris, London, New York, 2011.

192


Morgan Skinner

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Morgan Skinner

Subverting Expectations in Political Documentation Vicky Moufawad-Paul’s exhibition, “A Refusal of Images” provides a challenge to our preconceived notions to the uses of video and photography for capturing conflict journalism. This challenge was not made explicit in the supporting material accompanying the show; however, since the space where the exhibition was presented seeks to promote conversational exchanges between viewers, I will follow this interpretation of “A Refusal of Images” and attempt to interpret it within a larger discourse. The show presented a stylistic and conceptual break from conflict journalism, a departure which was provoked by technological, journalistic, and artistic developments. As a result I will use this paper to unpack the contemporary implications while simultaneously calling into question our previous understanding of photographic and video history. “A Refusal of Images” showed from January 20th to March 3rd of 2012 at A Space Gallery located within the 401 Richmond complex in Toronto. A Space is one of the oldest artist-run centers in Canada and it is located within a larger community of artist-run centers and galleries. The mandate for this gallery center states that it exhibits “multi-disciplinary contemporary art that engages in social critique.” A Space’s mandate further asserts that it is interested in how artists and curators can create a space for different readings or experiences of culture and identity while establishing a forum for dialogue and collaboration between diverse communities. Vicky Moufawad-Paul curated “A Refusal of Images” and

193


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

at the same time is the Artistic Director of A Space. This dual role resulted in an exhibition crafted in accordance with the directives of A Space while exploring her interest in Palestinian visual culture, time-based artwork, and technology. “A Refusal of Images” brought together works by artist Rehab Nazzal as well as the collaborative artists, Adam Broomberg + Oliver Chanarin to construct the show, “A Refusal of Images.” Nazzal is a Palestinian-born multidisciplinary artist who is currently working out of Toronto. Her background includes a wide spectrum of studies ranging from Documentary Media to International Economic Relations and the art she has produced has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Artists Broomberg and Chanarin are based in London England. In addition to their collective art projects, they have also collaborated on numerous publications on the language of documentary photography. “A Refusal of Images” addresses particular social and political issues through interpreted conflict journalism. This exhibition situates itself not as a vehicle for furthering discussion on the conflicts themselves, but rather a place for questioning the photographic and video practices used for capturing these images. This show can be seen as a contributor to contemporary photographic and video discourse, specifically in terms of how it expands the genre of conflict journalism as it manifests in both video and photographic mediums. Photography has a long history of being used to communicate an event with the intention of having accuracy and objectivity through its replication, a history which is adopted by video as a result of its shared lineage. An early example is George N. Barnard’s 1853 hand coloured daguerreotype, “Fire in the Ames Mills.” This daguerreotype is one of the earliest American action news pictures and it depicts a mill ablaze in Oswego New York. “Fire in the Ames Mills” was embellished with hand coloured flames to emphasize the destructive nature of the event. The motivating intent for this image was commercial gains, since it was reduced, reproduced and offered for public consumption. The image captures the tragic event caused by the fire and reduces it to a compact, illusionary event (Hirsch 2000, 98). The reductive process, where the essence of the tragic event is stripped away, leaving only a signifier of what was, enforces the inability for photography to effectively capture traumatic action and therefore denies its artistic merit. John Berger (1982, 86) explains this property of photography by stating that, “the photograph offers irrefutable evidence…. Yet it tells us nothing of the significance of their [the content] existence.” Concurrent to the developing interest in capturing an event was an interest in using photography to capture something symbolic. William Lake Price’s 1855 albumen silver print, “Don Quixote in His Study” shows a desire to capture and communicate something beyond what is represented. This photograph is of a man seated in a chair surrounded by iconographic objects 194


Morgan Skinner

(including armour) to suggest that the man is the fictional character Don Quixote from Miguel de Cervantes’ book, El ingeniosohidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. The sitter is stripped of his personal identity and the objects gain an authenticity to become “Don Quixote in His Study” instead of a representation of Don Quixote. Early attempts at utilizing the camera for artistic means were done by taking on the trappings of painting (Hirsch 2000, 118). This relation between photography and painting is no surprise, since like William Lake Price, many painters took up photography. As a result of photography’s lack of developed artistic language at this time, painting provided an early model for artistic expression. “The problem with this imitative manner is that it did not go past the surface appearance and explore photography’s innate language,” writes Hirsch (2000, 118). Collectively George N. Barnard’s “Fire in the Ames Mills” and William Lake Price’s “Don Quixote in His Study” can be seen as early examples of the divergent streams of photography and the tensions that were created through the photographers polarizing expectations for the medium. The divergence was enhanced with photography’s adoption into scientific studies and its opposing descent into expressionism and abstraction. Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 study, “Galloping Horse, Motion Study” can be seen as an early scientific study utilizing the camera, where the photographs were used as proof for a natural phenomenon, in this case the mechanical process of a galloping horse. This study is only possible if the photograph is seen as capable of capturing an indisputable objective truth. Conversely, Pierre Dubreuil’s 1911 photograph, “Interpretation Picasso: The Railway”, can be seen as a movement away from scientific truth towards a subjective experience through abstraction. This movement toward abstraction can be taken as a deconstruction of visual hierarchies, hierarchies which are essential for the perception of objectivity (Hirsch 2000, 194). A movement towards abstraction engages the viewer in a new way where “one can play a game of inventing meanings” (Berger 1982, 86). Photography’s genealogy began with these mutually exclusive branches, and as a result the tension around photography’s place in both artistic and journalistic circles continues to resonate in contemporary photographic discourse. Within this photographic genealogy, photojournalism emerged, situating itself as the objective arm of the parallel, yet mutually exclusive photographic lineages. Photojournalism is the practice of capturing an image without interpretation for the purpose of being informational to be presented as news. Within this category exists the subcategory of photographic conflict journalism. The subcategory mentioned is where the works collected to create “A Refusal of Images” situate themselves, yet at the same time they pose a challenge to the very genealogy to which they seem to be derived. Photographic conflict journalism is the practice of capturing an image 195


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

of international strife, war, or civil unrest without interpretation for the purpose of being informational to be presented as news. These images are very potent in their conveyance of information to the extent where, “most wars are summed up in public memory by a few images” (Hirsch 2000, 335). An infamous example of a conflict journalism can be found in Eddie Adams’ 1968 photograph, “Saigon,” which depicts the South Vietnamese General and chief of police, General Loan executing a suspected Vietcong prisoner without trial. This photograph works as an account of an event. Although the image served to condemn General Loan, it is not explicit solely through the photograph what the photographer’s interpretation is. What is made explicit is that the event took place. To convey the event the photographer chose to create an image with the clarity necessary show a mirroring of reality, capturing a moment as it existed, locking it in time. The photograph becomes a powerful symbol, representing the atrocities of the Vietnam War. Although the photograph may be intended to represent objectively, the viewer’s subjective experience alters the image though personal interpretation. “Images can affect viewers in different ways, people often see what they want to see when looking at a picture” (Hirsch 2000, 335). The viewer introduces their subjectivity to the viewing of an image. Either way was it possible to have an objective photograph to begin with? Photographic journalism took a turn when photographers began to consciously introduce their subjectivity. An example of this shift takes place in the work of Mary Ellen Mark where her journalistic subject matter derives from her interest as an artist. She exposes her subject as a journalist, but through developed relation with the subject she introduces an insight, which stands in stark contrast to journalistic practice. The shift brings together the once mutually exclusive categories of subjective and objective or artistic and journalistic photography, yet somehow, even through this new genre the works still seem familiar. Familiarity comes through in the adherence to a journalistic aesthetic. Although works like those created by Mary Ellen Mark and her contemporaries engage the viewer in a different way from journalistic photographs, their aesthetic qualities come out of an existing language, therefore making them, at a glance, indistinguishable from the works from which they diverge. To successfully bridge the gap between objective and subjective photography the photographer must create an aesthetic language that is derived from the medium itself. This requires a separation from associated artistic aesthetics, like painting and the opposing journalistic practice associated with objectivity. These styles signify loaded histories, which direct the viewer into a set reading. Additionally the photographs must remain open to a subjective expression, placing the photographer’s existence in the image. An acknowledgment of the photographer in the image denies an 196


Morgan Skinner

objective reading, allowing the viewer to derive an interpretation, allowing for a truth in a subjective transmission. This style of video and photography has come to fruition through a rejection of journalistic practices; practices which are enhanced through an implementation of new technology. The change therefore bridges what was understood to be distinct photographic genealogies. “A Refusal of Images” provokes a new understanding of photo and video journalism, placing it as an evolution in photographic and video lineages. The exhibition “A Refusal of Images” was comprised of photographs mediated by a camera, photographic paper exposed directly to light, and videos. Rehab Nazzal contributed two videos, “Bil’in” and “A Night at Home,” as well as a series of large scale photographs called “Dead Sea Series.” “Bil’in” was created in April 2010 and it captures an attack on demonstrators during a demonstration against the Israeli wall. Carried out by the State of Israel to block an area spanning 760 kilometers, The Israeli Wall separates Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. The video is a blur of movement obscured by clothing as Nazzal flees from tear gas. Nazzal explained that when she reviewed the video she found herself captivated by this abstracted accidental moment. A fascination with the footage led her to expand the video by recreating the effect while keeping the audio from the demonstration intact. The second video by Nazzal, “A Night at Home,” was recorded in 2006 during a visit with her children to her mother’s house in the Jenin area, a militarized zone located in the northern part of Palestine. During the night the family awoke to the sounds of bombing and gunfire, and Nazzal captured the sounds of the event and an accompanied blacked out image, which occasionally shows glimpses of light created by the attack. In addition to the sounds of violence there is a conversation which ensues from the children’s confusion over the events taking place and the replied explanation of the event. Rehab Nazzal’s “The Dead Sea Series” was also present. “The Dead Sea Series” is a collection of large scale chromogenic colour prints of the Dead Sea taken from both Israel and Jordan. The photographs taken from the Jordanian side resemble a photojournalistic style or even a tourist aesthetic, while the ones taken in Israel depart from our expectations and do not show any water. Nazzal, being Palestinian, is unable to get close enough to the Dead Sea or stop her car to take photojournalistic photographs on the Israeli side due to the harassment that would ensue. Directly across from Nazzal’s “Dead Sea Series” is a series of images produced by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin called “The Day Nobody Died.” This series was made in 2008 in Afghanistan while Broomberg and Chanarin were working as embedded journalists with British Army units. Embedded journalism is the journalistic practice of being attached to an active military unit. The images were produced by exposing seven meters lengths for twenty seconds of a fifty 197


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

meter roll of photographic paper when an event was taking place that would, in a conventional journalistic practice, be photographed with a camera. Accompanying this photographic series is a video of the same name, which was created in 2008. This video shows the box that carried the photographic paper used in the “Dead Sea Series” and its journey. The box was protected by the British military as it was transported through security boarders, hot zones, and various levels of the military system. The resulting footage created a conceptual map of the box’s journey and the military space it navigated. Collectively, the works of Nazzal placed along with those of Broomberg and Chanarin show Vicky Moufawad-Paul’s desire to bring together works which challenge our expectations for photojournalistic production. As a result, the viewers do not experience the expected impartial factual images, a notion that persists in the field of photography. Photojournalism assumes the exclusive role of the camera as a tool for capturing objective documentation. To make this possible, journalistic photography needs to have an aesthetic which conveys lucid ‘truth.’ This aesthetic denies the presence of the photographer, revealing an image seemingly produced solely by the mechanized eye of the camera. If the presence of the photographer is suggested in any way through the image the claim for objectivity is no longer convincing to the viewer. “A Refusal of Images” turns this expectation on its head by bringing the photographer or videographer to the forefront of the journalism, thereby conveying an experience as well as a document. These works not only reveal the presence of the artist, they also diverge from a lucid image to one more abstracted. This alternative journalistic style enhances the humanity of the politically charged conflict documentation. Attempting objectivity has created a genre of sterilized stock conflict imagery. These repeated images function as a signifier of conflict, or merely an accompaniment to text instead of an emotive transmitter. Walter Benjamin (1968, 2) states in his essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” that “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” Perhaps the move away from photojournalistic conventions taken by Nazzal, Broomberg, and Chanarin brings the presence of time and space back into the image, moving away from the timeless conflict journalistic tropes. Benjamin (1968, 2) further asserts on the topic of reproduction that, “the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity.” I do not wish to make claims on authenticity, a term which Benjamin (1968, 2) describes as being “the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced,” but perhaps privileging the photographer and videographer, inserting their presence into the 198


Morgan Skinner

work does convey authorship and therefore a sense of originality. This presence communicates an experience rather than a truth, a transmission which is not present without the artist. As photography progressed from the Daguerreotype to contemporary digital photography, there has been an expansion in the ease of documentation. This increase in ease allows users to expand their subject matter. Something that was previously not worth the effort to document, becomes reconsidered as the labour is reduced. The still images and videos presented in “A Refusal of Images” communicate an aesthetic which resembles that of personal recording devices, namely cell phones. Technological advances have made it possible for every cell phone carrier to also be a carrier or video recording and photographic technologies. Rapid accessibility to video and photographic technologies has not only increased the quantity and immediacy of documentation, it also changed the content and aesthetic of the images captured. Cell phones have proven to be very useful in their ability to capture events with great ease, allowing immediate document transmission. These advances alter photography in a similar way to how Benjamin described the ease of publishing, where “the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character” (Benjamin 1968, 10). The transition is most evident in dispersal of cell phone video recordings as evidence of an event through the media. The process is further enhanced by eliminating the mediation of the media, bypassing it by self publishing content through websites like Youtube. Since new forms of documentation have become a regular fixture for the transmission of information, the genre of photo and video documentation must expand to include these new forms. “A Refusal of Images” therefore shows a natural progression where the artists are creating work within a new genre. Previously, abstracted forms of documentation may have been discarded since they do not comply with a photojournalistic ideal, now these documents can be reconsidered and used to communicate the experience of the event. Without documents there is no history and since unbiased reproduction is impossible, does it not follow that we should embrace abstracted documentation and the abstracted history, as a means for discovering truth in an experience? “A Refusal of Images” provides a case for extending the lineage of photographic and video history to a junction where what seemed to be mutually exclusive streams of objective and subjective images, becomes fused into a new mode for creating. At this junction, technological and conceptual advancements provide the means for creating journalistic records which work informationally to communicate a subjective experience. Additionally, this mode of communication speaks through an aesthetic derived from the photographic and video medium, while remaining conscious of the presence of the photographer or videographer, denying the 199


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

mediums autonomy. Works Cited Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. From lluminations. edited and with an introd. by Hannah Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn New York : Harcourt, Brace & World. 1968. Berger, John. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon books. 1982. Branden, Su. Committing Photography. London: Pluto Press. 1983. Hirsch, Robert. Seizing the Light, A History of Photography. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. 2000. La Grange, Ashley. Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Massachusetts: Focal Press. 2005. Meskin, Aaron and Cohen, Jonathan. “Photographs as Evidence.” From Photography and Philosophy, Essays on the Pencil of Nature. Edited by Scott Walden. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. 2008. Moufawad-Paul, Vicky. A Refusal of Images exhibition pamphlet. Toronto: A Space. 2012. Roberts, Helene E. Art History Through the Camera’s Lens. London: Gordon and Breach Publishers. 1995. Savedoff, Barbara. “Documentary Authority and the Art of Photography”. From Photography and Philosophy, Essays on the Pencil of Nature. Edited by Scott Walden. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. 2008. Van Gelder, Hilde and Westgeest, Helen. Photography Theory in Historical Perspective, Case Studies from Contemporary Art. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing. 2011. Walden, Scott. “Truth in Photography”. From Photography and Philosophy, Essays on the Pencil of Nature. Edited by Scott Walden. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

200


Danielle Van Wagner

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Danielle Van Wagner

(Human) Remnants of Display: Colonial Objectification of Bodies in the Pacific Cultures Gallery In the summer of 2010, I visited the South Australian Museum (SAM) in Adelaide just as 700,000 tourists and Australians do each year (Annual Report 2010, 10). The museum, free to the public, is located in a large Victorian-era building with a spacious courtyard. The collections are of the varied assortment that one could expect of a publicly-funded state museum over 150 years old; encompassing fossils, taxidermy, animal dioramas, the history of Australia in the Antarctic and Australian Aboriginal culture. I wandered from room to room, before heading up a flight of stairs to the Pacific Cultures Gallery. This gallery is dedicated to the material cultures of a diverse area known as Melanesia – mainland Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, New Britain, New Ireland, New Hebrides, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji.1 The gallery, measuring 826 square meters, is a long and narrow rectangular room lit by a Victorian lantern ceiling and soft overhead lighting (Fig. 1), and most of the 3000 objects are displayed in historic Victorian-era glass wall cabinets (Fig. 1). It was here that I encountered a sight I had never seen in a museum; human skulls and photographs of Pacific islanders were on display as objects of curiosity. These objects lacked basic identification, including names, dates and location. Backtracking to three didactic panels I had passed on my way into the exhibit, I found the following information: “this is the oldest surviving gallery in the Museum. […] It is the largest display of Pacific cultures in Australia. It first opened to the public 201


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

in 1895. Some of the Pacific exhibits were prepared at that time – over a century ago” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). Another panel stated, “This gallery represents the Pacific islands when they were colonies […] and gives us a view […] into the history of museum collecting and display” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). The use of actual human remains and photographs, in addition to contemporary temporary exhibitions which featured Pacific Islanders working on art in the gallery, presents a colonial narrative, which focuses on deformity, racial typology, and cultural body modification emphasizing the body as the intrinsic object of otherness. Situating the Pacific Islander body within a racialized discourse facilitated on a constructed narrative of power is based on Australia’s unique colonial relationship with Melanesia, which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Furthermore, a series of curatorial decisions dating back to 1946 have overemphasized the historic aspect of this gallery, which has enabled SAM to avoid the controversy that typically visits modern museums that employ a colonial narrative. SAM was founded under British colonial rule, and has, since its inception, utilized nineteenth-century British museological practices, which are still present in the Pacific Cultures Gallery. The museum’s origins trace back to Britain, where a group of well-educated British men, who would soon immigrate to South Australia founded the South Australian Literary Association in 1834. The purpose of this association was colonial in nature, as their goal was to engage in “the cultivation and diffusion of useful knowledge throughout the colony by all means which [lay] in its power” (“A Potted History” 2004, 1). In 1861, the South Australian Institute opened in Adelaide for “the general study and cultivation of all or any of the branches or departments of art, science, literature, and philosophy” (“A Potted History” 2004, ). The first curator, Frederick George Waterhouse, came from Britain and “brought experience with him in work at the British Museum” (“A Potted History” 2004, 1). Until the mid-twentieth century, directors and curators working at SAM were most often from or educated in Britain. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was common practice for British museums to prominently display objects from colonial cultures, as a way to demonstrate their ideological and political power, a practice, which carried over to Australia through those who worked there. Museological practices in the early twentieth-century in British Museums (and by effect, British colonial museums such as SAM), sought to maintain the colonial narrative through new means, particularly through the display of photographs and bodily remains. By 1902, as Annie E. Coombes (1988, 62) explains, that “if evolutionism had ever looked like wavering, it was now here to stay. Consequently, in museum displays of material culture from the colonies, it was common practice to include photographs, casts of the face or of the figure or even skeletons and skulls.” Similarly, the Pacific Cultures Gallery from its inauguration used skeletons 202


Danielle Van Wagner

and bodily remains (such as bone) in order to accentuate the primitive body, and the culture of ritualized body modification as other-ed, and to facilitate British colonial ideals, which through lack of labelling and reverence emphasized the colonial body as lesser in the evolutionary scale. At SAM this did not just occur in the Pacific Cultures Gallery, Christine Dauber (2005, 113) elucidates that up until the 1960s, Australian museums displayed the cultural objects of Australian aboriginals and indigenous peoples “as evidence of the existence of what was […] considered by non-Indigenous people to be a vanishing race.” Thus, this period, in which the South Australian Museum was actively collecting and curating the existing Pacific Cultures Gallery, was a poignant time for modern primitivism, which promoted the totalising power of the colonizers based on notions of racial typology and body modification, which were seen by its European founders as markers of otherness. Australia’s colonial relationship with Melanesia and the subsequent colonial objectification of the body through the discourse of racial and cultural othering by emphasizing racial typology and body modification are demonstrated throughout the Pacific Cultures Gallery. In particular, five objects best exemplify this otherness; these include three artificially deformed skulls from New Britain and one incised skull from New Ireland and their evidentiary photographs (Figs. 2, 3), as well as three photographs labelled Woman of Fiji, A Solomon Islander Trims his Beard with a Pair of Cockle Shells and Re-enactment of Fijian Cannibal Cooking Operations (Figs. 4, 5, 6). Melanesia, itself a diverse area of languages, cultures and ethnic groups, has a unique history of colonialization, and it’s complex relationship with Australia, based on “preconceived ideas about race, [which] resulted in various conflicting classifications of peoples in hierarchies based on race” is apparent in the Pacific Cultures Gallery (Moore 2003, 56). Australia, itself a colony of Britain, used forced Pacific Islander labour in Melanesian and Australian plantations dating back to mid-nineteenth century. According to Tracey Banivanua-Mar (2007, 28), Australia and Britain’s use of Pacific Islanders as indentured labour, most particularly natives from Fiji and New Caledonia, often caused Pacific Islanders to resort to violent resistance, which shaped “the ideas about Islander savagery,” and the narratives offered by traders often described “the most fearful of savage behaviours.” SAM’s first acquisitions from the Pacific Islands came from traders and government officials involved in the labour trade. Member of Parliament William Owen first donated a large collection of Fijian curios in 1860; a collection that was subsequently augmented through donation and purchase from “interested South Australians” (Hale 1956, 42). By 1895, the year the objects were first displayed, the collection had grown to 4000 objects, donated or purchased by those involved in colonial activity in Melanesia, including missionaries, soldiers and plantation managers. The Solomon Islands and Fiji were British Colonies dating back to the nineteenth 203


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

century and due to Australia’s close physical proximity, missionaries, government officials and military personnel were often dispatched from Australia on behalf of Britain, making their relationship with these nations colonial in nature. Additionally, Australia administered Papua New Guinea as an external territory under mandate of the League of Nations from 1915 to 1979, which maintained the narratives of savagery and the colonial power dynamic first established through the labour trade and British colonialism into the late twentieth-century, and by effect, justifying the self-other relationship and racialized discourse presented in the Pacific Cultures Gallery. The displayed skulls are presented as examples of ritualized deformation, in which the skull is physically deformed by incising grooves into the forehead or shaping the skull into a conical shape. The incised skull is labelled, “skull showing grooves in forehead incised in childhood. Lehir [sic] Island” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). The skull is positioned next to a label which reads, “The forehead of a young child is marked either with a sharp stone or a stone knife, producing deep vertical grooves. The photograph and the skull show two and four of these grooves respectively” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). The accompanying photograph shows a woman naked from the waist up, with decorative bands on both her upper arms, standing in front of a wall or hut. The explanation, which is pasted on the photo states, “Lihir Islander with forehead grooves incised in infancy as an aid to beauty” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010).2 Across the room there is a display of three skulls, this time from the neighbouring island of New Britain.3 The skulls are labelled, “distorted skulls, Ablingi” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). The exact age of the skulls is unknown, but an academic article by R.W Cilento, a former medical officer to New Britain, gives evidence that these three skulls were in the collection by 1918. Cilento (1918-21, 331) notes that the skulls are of two adult men and of one male adolescent; they are marked by age, including posthumous loss of teeth and discoloration. In the article, Cilento (1918-21, 329) also explains the practice of binding the male infants head tightly with cloths for approximately two to three years in order to create a conical shaped head. In the exhibit, three evidentiary photographs accompany the skulls, including one of three men depicted in profile, in order for the viewer to best notice their head shape and another of a mother holding an infant, whose head is wrapped. Cilento (1918-21, 325) states, “whatever the cause that originally incited primitive man to deliberate skull distortion, the practice became [an] extraordinarily widespread one and once established habit and usage so firmly fixed the custom.” Cilento is quick to offer his thanks to Museum director Edgar R. Waite, who “collected in New Britain in 1918 and took some of the photographs herein produced,” which suggests that the director held a special interest in the Pacific Collection, and in the display and discussion of body 204


Danielle Van Wagner

205


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

206


Danielle Van Wagner

modification (Cilento 1918-21, 329). According to didactic text in the installation, the skulls themselves were collected and brought back to Australia under colonial rule and were donated by Captain G.W Mostyn and Dr. A.C Magarey, a military officer and doctor from South Australia respectively, who both worked in Papua New Guinea during World War I. The cultural significance of these customs and rituals is not explained in the gallery, resulting in the viewer seeing deformed skulls without the advantage of cultural or ritual knowledge. In this manner, the human skulls are then perceived as objects of curiosity and difference, as the marks or shaping of the skulls are signified as primitive and other. This display of human remains reveals an objectification of the Pacific Islander body, which is affirmed through the study of photographs which are presented as evidentiary in the display cases. According to Carole Sweeney (2004, 12), during the period between 1907 to 1935, There were significant shifts in the ways that the racial other as primitive was constructed and represented […] the category of the primitive was read in particular aesthetic and epistemological relationships to modernity and to the expressive limits of the modern subject.

This period was a significant point for both the growth of the Pacific Collection; however, an additional distinction must be made between the representation of objects from different cultures. Anthropologist Nicholas Thomas (1994, 173) contends that the discourse of otherness is divided into two categories: the primitive and the exotic. Oceania, which includes Melanesia, falls under the category of the latter, as “the customs and tradition of the exotic have been represented as highly picturesque and often enigmatic mystical rituals that exist in a more elaborate social and cultural context” (Thomas 1994, 173). Hal Foster (1985, 188) further relates that there exists an obvious dichotomy in representation and reception between “Malefic Africa” and “Paradisal Oceania.” This distinction between primitive and exotic is made obvious in the photographs of Pacific Islander bodies. The photographs, framed through positioning, background and objects, evidence the exotic. Take as an example, Lihir Islander with Forehead Grooves in which the body of the young woman is presented as decorative through the use of body modification and her arm bands. The woven palm branches behind her are reminiscent of a hut. The differencing between exotic and primitive is a significant distinction, as they do not specifically draw attention to the human skulls and photographed bodies as representative of regression. The display practices of these bodies do not enunciate the negative aspects of these practices, such as death or brain damage, which is discussed in Cilento’s article, rather the human remains and photographs draw attention to the marks themselves, which are imposed upon the skin and left 207


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

remnant on the bone even after death as an example of the preferred type of body, which appears as both elaborate and mystical to a western viewer. Drawing from Thomas’ hypothesis, the exoticism of Oceania allows the representation of the Pacific body to be presented through a complex set of markers which emphasize race, sexuality, ritual and culture, which is at once perceived as intriguing, without specifically calling for western intervention. In fact, the Pacific Cultures Gallery quite apart from what it states in the didactic panels, does not present the colonial hand of Australia, but rather presents colonialism through a narrative of difference, which imbues the Pacific body not as the conquered other, but rather as the exotic opposite of the Australian self. Thus, the exoticism of these bodies is accomplished by drawing attention to physical deformities and race in both bone and photographs, which are identifying signifiers of inclusion within this other-ed culture. Furthermore, the photographs emphasize race, exoticism and otherness through skin, objects worn on the body and background, as well as acceptable forms of display between women and men. For example, the two photographs of women articulates a gendered sexuality, in which racial typology, visible in the skin, features and hair. In addition, the bared breasts and direct gaze of the women constructs the women as overtly sexual, which according to Phillipa Levine (2004, 134), was in complete contrast to the Victorian woman, whose modesty was deemed to be signifiers of good breeding and proper behaviour. In addition, Levine (2004, 137) posits that photographs of nude primitive bodies reinforced a colonial narrative as it exemplified the gap between “the clothed and proper […] and the barely clad and shameless primitives they ruled.” In contrast to the photographs of women the photographs of men are in profile. Based on his generic label, the man from the Solomon Islands is identified as a typical representation of maleness. He is expressively masculine, as he is seen attending to his beard while holding a spear. The veins in his arms and hands are pronounced, and he is literally draped with evidence of his exoticism, including armlets, a straw bag and artificially stretched ears. Twentieth-century anthropologist, William H. Holmes wrote in 1902 (355), that British Museums presented the colonial subject by using photographs, skeletons and skulls as “the man himself as he appears in his everyday life, is the best illustration of his own place in history, for his physical aspect, the expression of his face, the care of his person, his clothes, his occupations … tell the story with much clearness.” In this case the everyday life of this man is placed in a case of spears, which associates the man’s body as a site of aggression. His masculinity and strength mandates that he is unable to hold a direct gaze with the viewer, as unlike the female body he is not photographed to be consumed, but rather to be controlled. Correspondingly, the three men from New Britain are also photographed in profile, they are dressed in Westernized t-shirts or are depicted shirtless, yet their “artificially deformed heads” 208


Danielle Van Wagner

draws attention to their inclusion in a complex ritualized society, which signifies them as members of the exotic. Furthermore, the style of the photograph draws full attention to body modification as a site of otherness, and similar to the display of the bones privileges the modification as the object of study rather than the three men, who are unidentified and exist outside of a set time. According to Foster (1985, 206), Eurocentric construction has coded the body of the other as subordinate under an imaginary set of oppositions including light/dark, rational/irrational, civilized/savage. In this case, these binary constructions are visible through the process of ritual body modifications which highlights the colonial body to the western viewer as both irrational and savage. The accompanying photographs highlight race, since the skulls are not obviously racialized to the untrained eye. Deane Fergie reiterates that Australians in particular are receptive to these binaries based on the social and cultural constructions of race and difference. She further stipulates, “There is another crucial dimension to the distancing dimension of Australian racism – temporal distance. Here indigenous peoples are positioned as innately and profoundly different from us because they are understood effectively to come ‘from another time’” (Fergie 1999, 84). In this manner, the Pacific Cultures Gallery positions the Melanesian culture and body as other through the historical aspect of this gallery, which displays non-dated historical objects that reinforce the temporal distance between the Australian self and the Melanesian other. Correspondingly, the South Australian Museum has continued to blur the boundary between historical and contemporary Pacific Cultures by exhibiting recent and contemporary loans or acquisitions among the historical objects. For example, the La-sis Malagan Canoe (1995) is currently on loan to the Pacific Cultures Gallery; its eight-meter length mandates that it is displayed prominently. Carsten Henn and Barry Craig (1999, 84), emphasize that “there was minimal, even incorrect, information supplied about these canoes.”4 In addition, for Pacific Arts Symposium (April 1993), the museum “brought four men from Papua New Guinea to dance their masks and explain their cultural significance” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). The men brought their own masks, as well as dancing in a mask that is currently displayed prominently and that had been acquired for the collection by Major H. Balfour Ogilvy in 1917 (“Pacific Islander News,” 1). The incorporation of bringing Pacific Islanders to perform on the museum property, and use contemporary and historical objects interchangeably constructs a temporal shift between the Australian and the Pacific Islander and is reminiscent of the living exhibitions, which constructed the native body as representative of primitivism and evidence of a culture. In 1998 and 2006, the museum again hosted Pacific Islanders to perform and exist amongst the objects on display. In 1998, as a part of the Adelaide Festival of Art; two men from Vanuatu “demonstrated woodcarving and 209


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

hosted a traditional Vanuatuan earth-oven pig feast cooked on the front lawns of the Museum” while in 2006, Maori and Papua New Guinean dancers performed at the reopening of the Pacific Cultures Gallery after the ceiling was renovated (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). The presence of Pacific Islanders performing in a museum space objectifies their bodies as living exhibitions. Furthermore, their proximity and association with historical objects from the Pacific Cultures Gallery mandates an association between their culture and the culture presented in the gallery, which emphasizes Foster’s Eurocentric binary constructions and Fergie’s temporal racism. The decision to emphasize the Pacific Cultures Gallery as historical was based on a series of curatorial decisions dating back to 1946, in which the maintaining of the colonial narrative was privileged over evolving modern museological practice. Australian archaeologist and anthropologist, Lissant Bolton (1997, 22), asserts in relation to the Pacific Cultures Gallery, that Melanesia’s short period of contact history, has led anthropologists to deal with all objects from Melanesia as existing in the “ethnographic present;” resulting in objects being left purposefully undated. In the case of the aforementioned skulls, lack of dating has removed the remains and the ritualized practice which they represent from their context, which instead allows them to be read as an enduring signifier of society, custom and place, rather than as representative of a historical object from a culture which is continuously evolving. These photographs and skulls are displayed with simplistic labels riddled with spelling errors and inconsistencies that draw attention to the colonial narrative between the Australian and the Melanesian body through signifiers of difference. In this way, Australians, and more specifically white Australians, are granted the opportunity to actively view figures which are racially, culturally and ideologically posed as the opposite of themselves. Fergie (1999, 87) contends that “the images of Pacific Islanders that busloads of school children on excursions will carry with them into the 21st century are not the sort I would to convey to them.” Indeed, the lack of proper labelling and the sophisticated language used on the text-addled didactic boards makes this a complicated space to imagine children understanding the problematic colonial and historical narrative presented. However, the 20102011 annual report of the South Australian Museum reveals that out 34,473 schoolchildren who visited the museum, only 793 came to specifically see the Pacific Cultures Gallery,5 in comparison to the 7,263 to visit the Australian Aboriginal gallery or the 3,163 to visit the Egyptian collection (Annual Report 2010, 15). The museum proclaims that it holds the best collection of Pacific Culture in Australia and the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). Accordingly, the education possibilities for this space, especially for children are limited due to its historic and colonial nature. The gallery’s historical nature also displaces the skulls from contemporary 210


Danielle Van Wagner

attitudes regarding the display of human remains; an action that is made possible through a loophole in the Museum’s mandate towards skeletal remains.6 While SAM has a specific policy regarding their Human Skeletal Remains Collection, which was endorsed by the Museum Board in 1987 and edited in 1990 as a part of the Australianwide mandate, the document’s sole focus on Australian Aboriginals allows the skulls in the Pacific Cultures Gallery continued display without controversy. For example, the document states that the museum holds 2000 specimens in trust, the majority of which are “cranial material,” of which sixty percent are South Australian in origin, and of this, “more than half… comes from within 100km of Adelaide” (South Australian Museum Policy 1987, 3). The document does not deal specifically with the remains of non-Australian indigenous cultures in the museum.7 Nonetheless, the document states, The material in the Collection is never publicly displayed and is stored in a special restricted storeroom. All handling of items in the Collection is done with utmost care and respect for the material. […] Access is only given to qualified professional scholars or to Aboriginal people with particular relationships to the Collection. Further, investigators using the Collection have to agree not to publish or display material, such as photographs, which Aboriginal people may find offensive (South Australian Museum Policy 1987, 4-5). Officially, the display of skulls in the Pacific Cultures Gallery is at odds with the museum and Australian-wide mandate on the treatment of human remains; however, the document indicates that this policy was intended specifically to address Australian Aboriginal remains, not those of non-Australian indigenous cultures. Thus, there is a “loophole” in the policy that permits the historical display of skulls in the Pacific Cultures Gallery as evidence of primitive culture rather than as human remains. Another reason for the continued display of a colonial narrative in the Pacific Cultures Gallery is based on national, state and the museum’s financial and domestic policy concerns. The disparate balance, in both terms of monetary allotment and display practice, between Australian Aboriginal Cultures (“Domestic Ethnology”) and non-Australian indigenous cultures (“Foreign Ethnology”) demonstrates the museum’s role, objectives and target audience. Dauber (2005, 113) quotes McAlear,8 who states that in national and state museums, Indigenous Australians were “contextualized within natural history descriptions and their cultures were accorded a remote, static and near-extinct status,” which leads Dauber to conclude that “for Australia’s Indigenous peoples, the museum acted as an instrument of cultural domination” (Dauber 2005, 113). Beginning in 1993, the Council of Australian Museums Associations Australian-wide mandate necessitated that all Australian Aboriginal exhibitions were redeveloped as “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 211


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

involvement in management of collections and information, and their use in the public programs and communication of museums, including exhibitions, education and publications, is essential” (Council of Australian Museum Association, nd). Therefore, the display of the exotic Melanesian body is the only means to shape the creation of the Australian identity as colonizer rather than colonized. Corresponding to these mandates, the museum’s vast Aboriginal Culture collection required the majority the museum’s time and financial resources. The museum was closed in 2000 in order to completely redevelop and completely upgrade the Aboriginal Cultural gallery, which was again upgraded in 2010. Since then, Foreign Ethnology curator Barry Craig (1999, 87) states, “it now remains [for the Pacific Cultures Gallery] to find modest resources,” as evidenced by Fergie’s (1999, 86) chapter in which she states “while clearly the Pacific gallery is a curatorial embarrassment, the Aboriginal displays are ones of which this can be modestly proud.” In 2006, the Pacific Cultures Gallery underwent an eight-month, one million dollar renovation to “reveal the stunning original 19th century lantern ceiling” and to clean the Victorian-era display cases (“Renovation” 2006, 1). The exhibitions were not changed or altered in anyway, which emphasizes that the Pacific Cultures Gallery has become a site of production to maintain the narrative of cultural domination. The Museum’s collection policy (2009-2014) has also played a role in the way knowledge is disseminated in the most recent didactic panels.9 The Policy reiterates the primary focus of the Museum is South Australia, Items from outside South Australia will be collected and held primarily when they are necessary for a better understanding of regional phenomena, for comparative scientific or cultural study, for interpretative purposes or when such items have become part of South Australia’s history or culture. Areas of particularly interest include Australia, Antarctica, South East Asia and the South West Pacific (South Australian Museum Collections 2009, 8).

Accordingly, one of the central themes embedded in the didactic panels is the relationship between South Australia and the Pacific. Sweeney (2004, 12) aptly refers to the relationship between the primitive and the colonizer, as “between the imaginer and the imagined.” Correspondingly, this gallery embeds the visible and invisible body of the (South) Australian which accentuates the contrast between the self and other. Two out of the five didactic panels currently installed in the gallery discuss the South Australian connection to Pacific Cultures. One states, “Material was obtained by the Museum mainly from individuals who lived and worked in the Pacific region as traders, missionaries, researchers and colonial government officials. Many of these people grew up and were educated in South Australia, were 212


Danielle Van Wagner

based in South Australia, or retired here” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). The other panel gives the names, biographies and when possible, the photographs of the most prominent collectors and donors.10 These include four missionaries, an Anglican bishop, a plantation manager, a military officer and a government officer. Their biographies emphasize the most prominent objects or specimens they collected. For example, Anglican missionary Reverend Arthur Chignell sold “80 artefacts to this museum in 1909 (wall case 2)” (Pacific Cultures Gallery 2010). Each biography and photograph is placed under a header elucidating their job (i.e.: “Anglican Missionary,” “Plantation Manager”). By accentuating their (colonial) jobs as their most significant feature, as well as pinpointing where one can find the objects they collected, the specimens are associated as much with the aspect of Australian colonialism as they are with Pacific Islander culture. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the South Australian Museum’s collection policy to maintain the gallery as it is, as it best demonstrates the (colonial) relationship between South Australia and the Pacific. Craig and Henn hopefully stated in 1999 (88), “What was once an asymmetric relationship between trivial peoples and foreign curio and museum collectors can become more balanced.” However, this ambition is unlikely to occur due to financial and policy concerns of the museum. Primary and secondary source documents reveal that the museum has played a very specific role in the construction of the colonial body and the situating the exhibition as historical. The display of photographs augments the colonial narrative and therefore, it is significant to note that the use of photography in the Pacific Cultures Gallery does not date from the early twentieth-century as implied in the didactic panels. In 1956, H.M Hale wrote a history of the South Australian Museum’s first hundred years. He noted that in 1886, Assistant Museum Director A. Zietz suggested that “ethnological objects such as those from Malaya, New Guinea and Fiji could be ‘explained’ much better by the use of photographs showing them in use. He found it impossible to secure suitable pictures but the idea was reborn and carried out half a century later” (Hale 1956, 65). The photographs, which demonstrate body modifications, were most likely photographed separately and significantly later than the skulls themselves, while the generic photographs of Pacific Islanders can be seen as an example of situating difference through place contextualization. While the panels states that the exhibitions are mainly from 1895 or 1915, in reality many of the exhibition were installed substantially later. During World War II, fear of air attack temporarily closed the museum and the most valuable objects were moved to other locations outside Adelaide. While documents do not discuss exactly which objects were moved, curators and the directors used this period of disruption as a reason to implement overdue updates. For example, until 1946 all cases in the Pacific Cultures Gallery had been painted 213


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

“funereal black,” whereas at this time they decided “pale pastels” would make the cases seem more spacious (Henn and Craig 1999, 79). At the time of painting, the cases were emptied and completely re-arranged, and “new specimens, photographs and graphics were also introduced into the display cases” (Henn and Craig 1999, 79). While many of these photographs had been produced decades before, they were not actually displayed until 1946, by which time colonial control and wide spread religious conversion had vastly altered customs and rituals taking place in Papua New Guinea, including the acceptability and acceptance of certain body rituals. In this manner, this exhibition and specifically the representation of the colonial and exotic body is not specifically an example of Victorian-era display, as proposed within the didactic panels in the gallery, but rather an exhibition which presents itself as an example of Victorian museology, while encompassing modern and revitalized methods, which deliberately overemphasizes its historical quality in order to allow a colonial narrative of racial typology and otherness without invoking controversy. This overemphasis of Victoria-era display, which supplements the reading of the objectified body within a constructed colonial narrative is embedded in the photograph Re-enactment of Fijian Cannibal Cooking Operations. This photograph recalls the nineteenth-century mentality of Fiji, once termed the “Cannibal Isles” (Sanday 1999, 155). According to Peggy Reeves Sanday (1999, 151), before colonialization, the British Empire used the practice of cannibalism to draw attention to “rage, joy, fierce aggressiveness and sexual excess.” The South Australian Museum frequently asked missionaries and other government officials in Colonial Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Colonies under British rule to collect specific objects, or take photographs, in order augment or explain certain objects already in the collection. It is likely that this photograph was arranged and taken by G.E Peters, a missionary who served in Papua, Fiji and Samoa before returning to Australia in 1933, by which time cannibalism was no longer an accepted cultural or societal practice. Therefore, a white missionary from Australia arranging and setting up this fictionalized scene, in order to further historicize and exoticize colonial subjects for the purpose of display, best articulates the construction of the objectification of the colonial body in the Pacific Cultures Gallery. After my visit to the South Australian Museum, and the Pacific Cultures Gallery, I resolved to research Australia’s colonial relationship with Melanesia, and SAM’s approach to the display of human remains. I consequently discovered that my initial shock at seeing skulls and photographs of Pacific Islanders presented as objects of curiosity was just one way in which SAM has maintained a colonial narrative through dichotomies of difference and the overemphasis of the historical nature of the gallery. This narrative is a constructed reality of Oceanic Cultures and the 214


Danielle Van Wagner

Melanesian body, which is displayed as static and objectified. The use of human remains and undated photographs, which are not properly identified, re-inscribes the body with a narrative of exoticism and otherness based in display practices, binaries, phrasing, location and the objects which surround them. In addition, the focus of the skulls and photographs is on deformity, racial typology, cultural body modification and gendered sexuality, which inscribes the Pacific Islander body as the object of otherness, and contrasts the Australian self with the colonial primitive. The complex political system in Australia led the museum to disregard changes in exhibition practices regarding primitive cultures and to further elaborate the historical aspect of this exhibition, despite wide-scale rearrangement and insertion of additional material in 1946, which serves to further accentuate the colonial relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea. This facilitates the gallery as a site of colonial identity, rather than as an accurate and unbiased ethnographic display of Pacific Cultures. Notes 1. Melanesia is a sub region of Oceania, which separates the larger sub grouping of Polynesia and Micronesia based on geographical location, language and ethnicity. The term Melanesia was termed in 1832 by French Explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville. The term continues to be used in a geographical and political context. 2. The skull is not identified by gender, nor does the description of the ritual emphasize that this is a custom practiced only by women, yet the photograph of the woman introduces the additional information that this incising was considered “an aid to beauty.” This additional information creates the additionally binary by contrasting typical western beauty with this example of Pacific Islander beauty. 3. Lihir Island is a part of the New Ireland province, and Ablingi is an island in the New Britain province. Both provinces are situated in the Bismarck Archipelago, and belong to Papua New Guinea. 4. There was also another Melanesian canoe installed at this time to complement an existing Tobriand kula canoe. 5. The report reveals that 9,268 students took the “discovery trail” a self-directed tour through the museum, which includes the Pacific Cultures Gallery. 6. To clarify, it is extremely unlikely that the discussed skulls are casts or copies, as there have been several situations in which employees of the museum have referred to the skulls as human remains. For example, Christopher Anderson, director of the museum from 19921998, stated in a 1999 article that “the issue of the display of human remains continues unresolved,” (Anderson, 96) and current curator of the Foreign Ethnology department, Barry Craig wrote that in 1993 “to avoid offending Pacific Islanders at the Pacific art association

215


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Symposium [held in the South Australian Museum] […] black cloths [were] suspended in front of, or laid over, any skulls or other skeletal material on display in the Gallery” (Henn and Craig 85). 7. The National Museum of Australia (Canberra) in 2009 introduced a policy to deal with Non-Australian indigenous human remains because “the National Museum of Australia recognises that human remains are significant to Non-Australian Indigenous people” (3). This is the first policy which openly recognizes that the existing Australian-wide mandate caters almost exclusively to Australian Aboriginals. 8. Dauber’s references are not made available in the online article text through the publisher. I was not able to acquire a hard copy in time. I am uncertain of McAlear’s first name. 9. The current panels were installed sometime after 2003, presumably during the 2006 renovation. 10. Of interest, the only photographs in the exhibition which are labelled are of Australians.

Works Cited 2010-2011 Annual Report of the South Australian Museum Board. Adelaide: South Australian Museum, 2010. “A Potted History.” The South Australian Museum (2004): 1-2. Anderson, Christopher. “Old Galleries, New People.” In Barry Craig et al eds. Art and Performance in Oceania. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. Pp. 94-103. Apollinaire, Guillaume. “On Museums (1909).” In Jack Flam ed. Primitivism and TwentiethCentury Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Pp. 36-37. Banivanua-Mar, Tracey. Violence and Colonial Dialogue: The Australian-Pacific Indentured Labor Trade. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007. Bolton, Lissant. “A Place Containing Many Places: Museums and the Use of Objects to Represent Place in Melanesia.” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 8: 1 (1997): 18-34. Cilento, R.W. “Observations on a Series of Artificially Distorted Skulls.” Records of the South Australian Museum 1 (1918-1921): 325-364 Colwishaw, Gillian K. “Censoring Race in Post-Colonial Anthropology.” Critique of Anthropology 20: 101 (2000): 101-120 Coombes, Annie E. “Museums and the Formation of National Cultural Identities.” Oxford Art Journal 11: 2 (1988): 57-68 Council of Australian Museum Associations. Previous Possessions, New Obligations: Policies for Museums in Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Council of Australian Museum Associations, Melbourne. Craig, Barry. Art and Decoration of Central New Guinea. Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd., 1988. Dauber, Christine. “Revisionism or Self-Reflexivity at the South Australian Museum: The Museumising Imagination in the Postcolonial Era.” Journal of Australian Studies 29: 85 (2005): 113-125 216


Danielle Van Wagner Fergie, Deane. “Racism and the State: Critical Reflections on the organisation of heritage institutions in South Australia.” In Barry Craig et al eds. Art and Performance in Oceania. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. Pp.84-88. Foster, Hal. “The ‘Primitive’ Unconscious of Modern Art.” October 34 (1985): 181-233. Hale, H.M. “The First Hundred Years of the South Australian Museum 1856-1956.” Records of the South Australian Museum 12 (1956): 1-225. Henn, Carsten and Barry Craig. “The Pacific Cultures Gallery in the South Australian Museum.” Records of the South Australian Museum 32 (1999): 69-89. Holmes, William H. “Classification and Arrangement of the Exhibits of an Anthropological Museum.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 32 (1902): 353372. Levine, Philippa. “Sexuality, Gender and Empire.” In Gender and Empire ed. Philippa Levine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 134-155. Moore, Clive. New Guinea: Crossing Boundaries and History. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003. “Pacific Islander News: Past, Present and Future.” South Australian Museum (2007): 1-2. “Pacific Islander News: Sulka Dance Masks.” South Australian Museum, 1-3. “Renovation of the Pacific Cultures Gallery: The Pacific Gets a Cleanup.” South Australian Museum Media Release (2006): 1-2. Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Stanton, John et al. “Positions and Policies of Museums in Australia on Human Skeletal Remains.” Australia Archaeology 31 (1990): 52-60. Sweeney, Carole. From Fetish to Subject: Race, Modernism and Primitivism 1919-1935. Westport: Praeger, 2004. The South Australian Museum Collections Policy 2009-2014. Adelaide: South Australian Museum, 2009. The South Australian Museum Policy on Human Skeletal Remains Collection. Adelaide: South Australian Museum, 1987. Thomas, Nicholas. Colonialism’s Culture: Anthropology, Travel and Government. Cambridge, Polity, 1994

217


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Cierra Webster

Hide/Seek: Homonormativity and Queer Art in Museum Space From October 2010 to February 2011, the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. presented the first major exhibition of gay1 artwork in America. Entitled Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the exhibition’s aim was to reveal the connections between sexual identity and the development of American modernism. Despite its curatorial intentions as a queer awakening to art history, I argue that this exhibition was ultimately homonormative and canonical. In order to even get the project off the ground, many of the provocative queer art works that could have been included in Hide/ Seek had been normalized and tamed for inclusion, and the title of the exhibition itself glosses over its distinctly (homo)sexual framework. Interestingly, despite the overwhelming docility of Hide/Seek, some Conservative politicians called for the removal of many artworks from the exhibition, particularly focusing on David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in my Belly” video from 1987. This work, which had already been re-edited and depoliticized for inclusion, examined the artist’s relationship with AIDS and the Christian church. Therefore, this paper explores the censorship and controversies surrounding the Hide/Seek exhibition, and argues that this exhibition, which reflects trends in society and in the art world, is homonormative. I will begin with an explanation of the term ‘homonormativity’ using its main theorists, then move into a discussion of the exhibition itself, unveiling its homonormative qualities, and lastly examine the implications of Hide/Seek as the first successful major gay art exhibition. 218


Cierra Webster

Homonormativity Homonormativity does not have one widespread definition, but is rather an overarching theme that is nuanced through the work of various theorists. Lisa Duggan is widely acknowledged with originating the term homonormativity. She wrote that homonormativity is “a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions but upholds and sustains them while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption” (Duggan 2002, 179).2 In other words, homonormativity is a neoliberal politic that does not challenge heterosexism but rather seeks cisgender3 acceptance and inclusion. In addition, queer lives and “the democratic diversity of proliferating forms of sexual dissidence” are judged against a privileged form of gay life that seeks to replicate heteronormativity and its related consumption practices (Duggan 2002, 190).4 Queer activist Mattilda added to this definition, but rejected the term homonormative. Rather, Mattilda referred to this phenomenon as the ‘violence of assimilation,’ noting how some gay and lesbian persons have attempted and succeeded at becoming part of the mainstream power structure at the violent expense of other queer persons, such as queers of colour, queers with disabilities, or trans persons.5 Furthermore, Mattilda (in Ruiz 2008, 238) critiqued how heterosexual conformity and normativity (known as heteronormativity) have become the ultimate symbol for gay success. The allure of heteronormativity and its assimilationist politics is based on a ‘good feeling’ strategy6 which recodes ‘good’ kinship while punishing those that fall outside of the terms. In this regard, those good gay persons (white, cis-male, able-bodied, upper-class) are allowed their normative queerness.7 Evidently, racism, classism, ablism, sexism, and many other systems of oppression are embedded in gay assimilationist politics.8 As such, as some gay men and lesbian women become ‘acceptably visible,’ others become further marginalised (Richardson 2005, 524; Brown, 1499). Therefore, the homonormative movement is based on the violent exclusion of a multitude of identities which do not perform a ‘normal’ queerness. Following this, conceptions of ‘equality’ and ‘acceptance’ are defined through “narrow, formal access to a few conservatizing institutions” such as marriage, family units, and legalised sexuality (Duggan 2002, 190). This means that to reach the ultimate goal of ‘equality’ is not to break down these institutions for everyone, but rather to just seek acceptance within them. Accordingly, the inclusion of gay artists in the Hide/Seek exhibition at the Smithsonian was an example of attempted access to a formal institution for a distinct group of normative persons. Hide/Seek: A Very Brief Overview Curated by Smithsonian historian David C. Ward and lesbian and gay studies 219


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

scholar Jonathan D. Katz, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture was an expansive and impressive collection of canonical American artworks, that also happened to relate to (homo)sexuality. The entrance plaque of Hide/Seek read: “The first major exhibition to examine the influence of gay and lesbian artists in creating modern American portraiture, Hide/Seek chronicles how, as outsiders, gay and lesbian artists occupied a position that turned to their advantage” so that “people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America’s promise of equality, inclusion and social dignity” (quoted in Holleran 2011, 50, 36). The entrance plaque to the exhibition was particularly telling because it replicated many of the homonormative tendencies mentioned above. For instance, it specifically referenced “gay and lesbian artists” rather than queer artists, and constructed “equality” as access to formal institutions despite the curators’ assertion that this exhibition was ‘queering’ art history (Katz 2010, 18).9 The included 105 art works were divided into the sections of: Before Difference, 1870-1918; New Geographies/New Identities; Abstraction; Postwar America: Accommodation and Resistance; Stonewall and More Modern Identities; and Postmodernism. The exhibition showed important nineteenth-century artists such as Thomas Eakins and George Bellows, early-twentieth-century works by artists such as Romaine Brooks and Carl Van Vechten, mid-century post-war significant artists including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Agnes Martin, and contemporary pieces by Glenn Ligon, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Catherine Opie (Rogers 2011, 49). As Katz noted, “Hide/Seek is unapologetically a masterpiece show, for we felt that the first truly national GLBT exhibition should include images that people already know” (Katz 2010). However, this overwhelmingly canonical nature of the Hide/Seek exhibition was not sufficient to save it from eventual censorship. The Controversy and Censorship On October 30th, 2010, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture opened at the National Portrait Gallery. For nearly a month, the National Portrait Gallery received no complaints from its attendees. Then, on November 29th, reporter Penny Starr (2010) wrote an article for conservative CSN News entitled “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibition Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts.” In this piece, Starr outlined what she espoused to be the most horrendous artworks in the Hide/Seek exhibition. Starr began with Larry River’s “O’Hara Nude with Boots” (1954), a depiction of poet Frank O’Hara with his genitalia on display, in a pose mirroring Botticelli’s heterosexualized Primavera. Male genitalia was also seen in “The Pink Narcissus” 220


Cierra Webster

(1971) by James Bidgood, which was originally seventy-one minutes long and edited down to seven minutes,10 and was intended as a surreal portrait of the artist’s emergence into gay life. Another scandalous piece, according to Starr, was Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Brian Ridley and Lyle Harris” (1979) photograph which was a playful inversion of the classic family photograph, challenging what it means to be a ‘normal’ or ‘domestic’ couple with the couple’s S&M leather alongside their antique collection. Additionally, “Brotherhood, Crossroads, Etcetera (center panel)” (1994) by Lyle Ashton Harris was a piece created in collaboration with the artist’s brother which sought to critique many dualisms in society (male/female, black/white, brotherly love/homosexual desire). And lastly, another artwork that shocked Starr a photograph in which Ellen DeGeneres grabs her breasts. This was Annie Leibovitz’s “Ellen DeGeneres, Kauai, Hawaii” (1998) which highlighted the ambiguities with which comedian DeGeneres presented herself to the public. Despite Starr’s reaction to many artworks in the Hide/Seek exhibition, and generally the concept of the exhibition itself, the artwork that gained traction as truly reprehensible11 was David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in my Belly” from 1987. The full-length version of this video was thirty minutes long and had been cut-down, re-edited, and re-soundtracked (Cudlin 2010) with the intention of a less politicized piece. It was a compilation of “footage largely shot in Mexico, [and] brings together numerous images of loss, pain, and death into a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic; it concludes in a picture of the world aflame.” (quoted in Starr 2010). However, the section of the video that seemingly legitimised its call for removal was an elevensecond section of ants crawling over a crucifix. The catalogue quoted Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS-related illness in 1992, as saying, “When I was told I’d contracted the virus, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d contracted a diseased society as well” (Katz and Ward 2011). After the initial story went live, Starr wrote to politicians from both Republican and Democratic parties asking for feedback on her National Portrait Gallery story. In her e-mail, she asked: “The federally funded National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian, is running an exhibition through the Christmas season that features an ant-covered Jesus and what the Smithsonian itself calls ‘homoerotic’ art. Should this exhibition continue or be cancelled?”12 She received responses soon thereafter from Republicans John Boehner and Eric Cantor,13 who demanded the exhibition be ‘pulled’ and threatened the National Portrait Gallery’s funding. Furthermore, the Catholic League claimed that the video was anti-Christian and represented a form of hate speech.14 Interestingly, the notion that the Smithsonian Institution was federally funded was positioned as the main reason for concern over this exhibition. However, the Hide/Seek exhibition was entirely privately funded and thus ‘the taxpayer dollars’ were not used for this show. This is particularly strategic 221


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

because if this exhibition had been federally funded, there seemingly would have been significantly more call for removal. Instead, Hide/Seek was completely funded by private donors, including The Calamus Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation, The John Burton Harter Charitable Foundation, and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. The Smithsonian does indeed receive seventy percent of its annual budget from the federal government, but Hide/Seek, which cost $750 000 was fully “funded by the largest number of individual donors for a Portrait Gallery show” (Trescott 2010).15 Ultimately, the overwhelming tameness of the exhibition did nothing to protect Hide/Seek. Instead, because of an outraged reporter from the conservative CSN News and complaints from some members of Congress and the Catholic League, on November 30th, the National Portrait Gallery issued a statement and removed the Wojnarowicz video. The decision to remove the video was made by Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough, who overstepped the Gallery director and the curators in this action. One art critic thought that “Tackling this show had made the Smithsonian look brave, innovative, and forward-looking. Clough’s preemptive selfcensorship made it look like his organization had slipped into a time tunnel leading back to the culture wars of the 1980s” (Cudlin 2010). Following the removal of the video from the National Portrait Gallery, an uproar began in the arts community alongside protests outside the museum. Because some galleries put on their own showings of the Wojnarowicz video, this could be seen as a positive consequence of the censorship for the arts community. However, as will be addressed later in the paper, these were also the same galleries that would not hold this exhibition to begin with.16 This is significant because it shows that these galleries support queer art when it is easy and fashionable, rather than when it is needed or risky. In further forms of protest of the censorship, a commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery resigned and the president of the Andy Warhol Foundation sent a letter to the National Portrait Gallery stating: “We cannot stand by and watch the Smithsonian bow to the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred, and fear” (Wachs 2010). Lastly, in another form of protest, on December 16th, the Mapplethorpe Foundation, in solidarity with the Warhol Foundation, announced that they too would revoke funding. Artist AA Bronson also demanded the removal of his piece. “Felix, June 5, 1994” With the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, artworks in Hide/ Seek transitioned from playful to mournful and defiant. The show’s last alcove 222


Cierra Webster

was taken up by AA Bronson’s “Felix, June 5, 1994” (1994/99), an enormous, engulfing photograph, taken of Bronson’s partner a few hours after he died of AIDS (Holleran 2011, 50). “Felix” was a haunting death portrait of twenty-five year old Felix Partz, as a wasted skeleton with staring eye sockets and hollowed cheeks, surrounded by his favourite things. After the Wojnarowicz video was removed, Bronson requested that his piece be pulled from the exhibition as well, in protest. He stated: “To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful” (“Queer History” 2010). Unfortunately for Bronson, “Felix” had been loaned to the Hide/ Seek exhibition by the National Gallery of Canada, and the National Gallery of Canada decided that it would stay in the show for its duration. Consequently, in Bronson’s attempt to chastise the National Portrait Gallery, his part in this queer history was also edited. This is a further example through which art and artists are sometimes stymied by the systems of which they are a part. Additionally, the Bronson scenario highlights the ways in which museums have control over the perception of art works. In this example, “Felix” was forced into a homonormative framework that sanctioned censorship of queer art. Nonetheless, if Bronson’s piece were to be removed, Hide/Seek would lose one of its remaining visceral images of queer identity. And this is exactly the point: one of the striking features of Hide/Seek was precisely its lack of inflammatory images (Cudlin 2010). Instead, the show was a quiet succession of mostly small pieces that demanded close examination and contemplation. Its homonormative quality, of well-respected and mainstream gay and lesbian artists, created very little discomfort or questioning for the viewer of their role in the oppression of queer persons. While it is not imperative that all museums or exhibitions propose moralizing questions to museum goers, the Hide/Seek exhibition did not leave any room for this type of ethical questioning, which directly contradicted its mission statement as a queer awakening to art practices. The Strategic Inclusion of Robert Mapplethorpe As the battle raged within the art community, Secretary Clough and other National Portrait Gallery staff often pointed out that 104 gay artworks still remained on display, in an attempt to minimize the significance of any censorship. This attitude was similar to the museum’s initial decision to show certain art works, and certain portions of art works: as if the ongoing censorship was proportionately insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The choice made to include some of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work was an example of the strategic incorporation of certain art works in order to placate certain museum goers. Robert Mapplethorpe was a New York photographer who died of AIDS-related 223


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

illness in 1989. In that same year, Mapplethorpe was the source of a retrospective called Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment at the Cororan Gallery of Art in Washington. The Perfect Moment was cancelled at the Corcoran mainly because of the actions of Republican Senator Jesse Helms. Senator Helms was known for carrying around a paper with Mapplethorpe images from the exhibition and challenging reporters to tell him these were not obscene, and that ‘obscene’ images should not be seen at a tax-funded institution. One of the reasons that Mapplethorpe’s work was seen as so ‘obscene,’ I argue, was because of his unabashed inclusion of queer imagery in his artworks. For instance, Mapplethorpe photographs showed aspects of queer subcultures, such as S&M communities,17 which very much highlighted the lived experience of being a queer person and part of queer communities, who does not aim to assimilate into heteronormative culture. Hide/Seek curator Jonathan D. Katz (2010) said that The Perfect Moment was the first time that a discussion of queerness and art practices took place at a major museum: The first attempt at such a discussion took place in 1989 with the Mapplethorpe brouhaha, which caused same-sex sexuality to become blacklisted in the American museum world, a blacklist that remains in effect to this day. Brilliantly exploited by the Christian Right as a wedge issue, openly GLBT art and artists became pariahs... The result has been the virtual erasure of sexual difference from American museums.

Given this statement, one might expect that Katz would avoid the work of Mapplethorpe, but instead some Mapplethorpe photographs were included in Hide/ Seek, but these works were in fact strategically subdued, ignoring much of his more shocking and queer artistic accomplishments. For instance, even “Brian Ridley and Lyle Harris” (1979) which Penny Starr found so abhorrent, still remained relatively playful and silly. Thus, the inclusion of specific Mapplethorpe works in Hide/Seek spoke to the homonormativity of queer identities in mainstream art institutions, in that queer works can be displayed, but only if they assimilated into a normative conception of ‘gay’ which does not disrupt the overarching power structures. In doing this, homonormativity of queer identities in an art institution such as the National Portrait Gallery was an attempt to normalize and sanitize queer politics and art. When Members of Congress demanded the removal of Wojnarowicz’s video and the demand was met, some people were reminded of the Corcoran Gallery’s decision to cancel the Mapplethorpe retrospective in 1989. As Kat Long noted: “Both Mapplethorpe and Wojnarowicz were from New York, both focused their 224


Cierra Webster

work in part on homoerotic imagery, and both eventually died of AIDS-related complications. And both controversies occurred in a Washington arts institution that succumbed to right-wing political pressure, notably from Republican politicians” (Long 2011, 17). As such, it could have been very easy for this exhibition, its controversies, and surrounding discourse to revert back to the Culture Wars of 1989. However, there were some significant differences between the Hide/Seek censorship and the Mapplethorpe controversy. For instance, the open use of bigoted language decreased, and religion instead of sexuality was used to attack the art works. Katz stated that “The opponents of the show know that using homosexuality to attack the show creates a politics of diminishing returns. The final difference is that we’re in a position to discuss homosexuality in American art, as a criminally overlooked aspect of art and art history” (Long 2011, 18). As noted, it was ‘homosexuality’ that could be discussed in American art, not queerness or queered concepts. This illuminates how queerphobia and heterosexism still exists in art institutions today. Furthermore, the fact that censorship still occurred highlights how political and cultural institutions nevertheless continue to show bigoted deference. This persistent heterosexism and the perceived need for homonormativity also manifested in the struggles that the curators of Hide/Seek had to even get the exhibition off the ground. The controversy surrounding Hide/Seek was rather surprising to its creators, particularly because the exhibition had been so diligently created so as to avoid controversy. AA Bronson said that the featured works were “meek and mildmannered” as compared to the explicit works in The Perfect Moment. “The Mapplethorpe exhibition ... was at least an exhibition that was truly testing limits. And as much as I believe that in both cases censorship is uncalled for, at least one can understand how the Mapplethorpe controversy came to be. The Hide/ Seek controversy should never have happened, and if it was not for the spineless response of Dr. Clough, it probably would not have happened” (Long 2011, 18). Hide/Seek: The Beginnings From 1995-2007, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force studied the representation of sexuality in New York City’s eight largest museums.18 According to Weena Perry, author of the study, “some museums, such as the New York Historical Society, have never once mentioned same-sex sexuality in its catalogs, wall labels, or publicity materials” (Katz 2010). She further found that nationally, only one to three percent of exhibitions referenced queer sexualities. Not surprisingly then, Hide/Seek curators Ward and Katz received widespread hostility in their attempts 225


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

to bring gay art work to a major museum. In an interview, Katz stated that it took him fifteen active years of trying to get an exhibition like this at a major American museum, further claiming that there was a “blacklist on queer representation in the US museum world” (Logan 2010). Securing loans was also difficult because neither museums nor collectors wanted their artworks associated with queerness (Logan 2010). Ward and Katz faced a four-year curatorial conundrum while selecting artists and art works because many of these artists’ estates “objected to their inclusion” (Ellenzweig 2011, 37). Thus, Hide/Seek had to shy away from its queer concentration, and instead claimed to focus on “straight artists representing gay figures, gay artists representing straight figures, gay artists representing gay figures, and even straight artists representing straight figures (when of interest to gay people/culture)” (Ellenzweig 2011, 37). By maintaining that this exhibition was not only queer, and that it was not addressing sexuality in its title for instance, the artists’ estates could claim that their works were not necessarily queer, which upheld their monetary value and reputation. In order to have this exhibition, all of the artists and most of the art works were well known. In other words, because the artists were canonical,19 their gay identity was somewhat acceptable. And as mentioned earlier, the gayness that was shown in Hide/Seek was subdued and normative. This exercise was, as one reporter called it, ‘Hall-of-Fame building’ which meant that, rather than an effort to chip away at art history’s foundation of hierarchy and exclusion, the curators were complacent in upholding the (perceived) legitimacy of the canon (Cotter 2010). To this point, Hide/Seek was purposefully and specifically created to avoid any controversy. The exhibition’s use of establishment artists, from Grant Wood to Georgia O’Keefe, provided it with an air of legitimacy and further exemplified its homonormative framework. Conclusion As Eve Tushnet (2011, 22) noted, “Hide/Seek aims to reshape our understanding of the American artistic canon, placing gay aesthetics at its center rather than its margins.” However, the gay aesthetics that were included were normative and exclusionary of many queer identities. Consequently, Hide/Seek had widespread implications as the first major exhibition of gay art. While it is important that this exhibition was curated, as it will hopefully open doors for more subversive queer art practices, the exhibition itself was ultimately homonormative. There were some provocative images, but very few of the 104 works aimed to shock the viewer or pose important questions about the oppression of queer folks in America. Moreover, this exhibition did not allow room for these more shocking pieces in order to 226


Cierra Webster

placate the art world and museum goers. Through analysing Hide/Seek and its controversies, specifically citing the inclusion of works by AA Bronson and Robert Mapplethorpe, and the problems of creating a queer-themed show at a major art institution, I argue that Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which reflects trends in society and in the art world, was homonormative rather than queer. The queer project does not merely constitute a minority population of same-sex desire, but calls into question the very idea of norms and normality, further drawing attention to the violence involved in normalization (Gibson-Graham, 1999, 83). Hide/Seek did not challenge these normalizing impulses but upheld and sought inclusion within them. Therefore, “the subsequent controversy surrounding the removal of Wojnarowicz’s video reminds us of the precarious nature of free speech and creative expression. The shaky ground of free expression is nothing new to those who have lived outside the margins, positing larger questions about queer subjectivity, history and visibility” (Rogerson 2011, 49). Notes 1. For this paper, I use the term ‘gay’ rather than other community definitions such as ‘LGBTQ’ or ‘queer.’ My use of the term ‘gay’ specifically references mainstream male assimilationist identities and politics. This is because the majority of the artists included in Hide/Seek were male and cis-gendered, and ‘LGTBQ’ has a more inclusive connotation (encompassing lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, and queer), which I argue the Hide/Seek exhibition does not uphold. Despite its curators’ claims that it was ‘queer’ and ‘queering’ art history, the art works involved were ultimately very male-dominated and normative, whereas queerness is about unsettling binaries and normativities. 2. Though there were earlier conceptions of the ideas of homonormativity and assimilationist politics in the gay rights movement, the first time ‘homonormativity’ was used was in Lisa Duggan’s “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism,” in Castronovo and Nelson 2002, 179. 3. Cis-gender refers to the persons for whom their biological sex matches their gender identity. This is oppositional to trans persons, or those for whom their biological sex organs do not match their gender identity. Trans is an umbrella term that includes various nongender conforming identities, such as transsexual, transgender, gender fluid, gender queer, third gender, or agender. 4. A comprehensive examination of Duggan’s concept of homonormativity (and its consequences today) can be found in Brown 2009, 1499. 5. Mattilda is a queer activist whose quotations from this paper derive from her interview with Jason Ruiz in Ruiz 2008, 246. 6. Agathangelou et al 2008, 120-143 analyses the seduction of participation in mainstream gay movements, which comes at the cost of those who remain violently excluded. The authors 227


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream (2008, 124) refer to this as homonormativity’s ‘good feeling’ strategy: “What bodies, desires, and longings must be criminalized and annihilated to produce the good queer subjects, politics, and desires that are being solidified with the emergence of homonormativity?” 7. There are many texts which cite homonormativity’s racism and exclusionary foundations. For further reading check out Haritaworn in Browne, Kim, and Brown, 2007, 101-112; Nast 2002, 877-909; and significantly, Puar 2007. 8. Agathangelou et al 2008, hold that gay energies are focused on appeasing the mainstream rather than working in solidarity. Therefore, these systems need to be actively and openly critiqued in order to combat homonormativity’s seductive tendency. 9. “At Last, A Major Exhibition Devoted to GLBT Art” is a brief article that curator Jonathan Katz wrote before the Hide/Seek controversies. Many of his curatorial insights and quotations are taken from this text. 10. This appears to have happened frequently in this exhibition. 11. As seen by the Conservative journalists, Members of Congress, and the Catholic League. My argument is not that this video was reprehensible. In actuality, the edited format that was included in the Hide/Seek exhibition lost much of its initial shock and productive discomfort. 12. After the censorship, an exhaustive number of newspapers took up this story. As I was unable to attend the Hide/Seek exhibition personally, I have used newspaper articles in this paper for interviews with members involved, opinions of art critics immersed in the story, and first-hand accounts of events as they unfolded. This is from Beutler, 2010. 13. “As if on cue, the press office for then House Minority Leader (now Speaker) John Boehner (R-Ohio) immediately issued a statement concurring with Donohue’s complaint: ‘American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy,’ falsely claiming that the exhibition was taxpayer-funded. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va., now Majority Leader) told Fox News that the video was an ‘outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season’” (Long, 2011, 17). 14. This information is found in various sources, I am specifically citing for these purposes from Gopnik, 2010. 15. Even if this exhibition were to be funded by taxpayer dollars, I do not think that this means that the government has the authority to censor what is displayed. It appears that as soon as an art exhibition is funded by taxes, its value as a tool to challenge or interrogate social norms flies out the window. A complete list of donors to the exhibition can be found on the Hide/Seek website at http://npg.si.edu/exhibition/hideseek/index.html under “Credits.” 16. The uproar of the arts community is a different topic that demands attention and has been widely published in newspaper articles (though in few scholarly sources). Some good articles are Gopnik 2010, Beutler 2010, Logan 2010. Specifically analysing the re-showing of Hide/Seek at the Brooklyn Museum and what the arts community learned from this controversy is Kennicott 2011. 228


Cierra Webster 17. S&M subcultures are vastly written out in queer theory. For an early discussion see Gayle Rubin, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” (one of the foundational texts of queer theory), or for contemporary texts look at “Maid to Order: Commercial Fetishism and Gender Power” by Anne McClintock or “Mainstreaming Kink: The Politics of BDSM Representation in U.S. Popular Media” by Margot Weiss or one of the other many, many texts. 18. Johnathan D. Katz references this study in his article “At Last, A Major Exhibition Devoted to GLBT Art,” however it is unpublished. The unpublished art report (Weena Perry, “New York City Museums’ Representation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Artists and Art.” National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. DRAFT Three: August 2007) was released to Out History on April 21st, 2011 and its findings are available online: http:// outhistory.org/wiki/Weena_Perry:_NYC_Museums%E2%80%99_Representation_of_ LGBT_Artists_and_Art,_August_2007 19. I am using ‘canonical’ here as it is understood to be a heteronormative lineage of significant works.

Works Cited Agathangelou, Anna et al. “Intimate Investments: Homonormativity, Global Lockdown, and the Seductions of Empire.” Radical History Review 100 (2008): 120-143. Beutler, Brian. “Ant Jesus: An Anatomy of the Latest War on Christmas Scandal.” Talking Points Memo, December 1, 2010. Butler, Judith. “Critically Queer.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1, 1 (1993): 1732. Bell, David and John Binnie. The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Brown, Gavin. “Thinking Beyond Homonormativity: Performative Explorations of Diverse Gay Economies.” Environment and Planning 41 (2009): 1496-1510. Cotter, Holland. “Sexuality in Modernism: The (Partial) History.” The New York Times, December 10, 2010. Cudlin, Jeffry. “The National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek is a game-changing show. It’s also pretty tame.” Washington City Paper, December 31, 2010. Davis, Whitney. Gay and Lesbian Studies in Art History. New York: Haworth Press, 1994. Duggan, Lisa. “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism.” In Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics. Eds. Russ Castronovo and Dana D. Nelson (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002): 175-194. Duggan, Lisa. The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy. 1st edition. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003. Ellenzweig, Allen. “Before you Visit the Exhibition...” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 18, 2 (2011): 37-38. 229


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage, 1978. Freeman, M.R. “Katz, Johnathan D. Hide/Seek: Different and Desire in American Portraiture.” CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 48, 7 (2011): 1276. Gopnik, Blake. “National Portrait Gallery bows to censors, withdraws Wojnarowicz video on gay love.” The National Post, November 30, 2010. Haritaworn, Jin. “Queer Mixed Race? Interrogating Homonormativity through Thai Interraciality.” In Geographies of Sexualities: Theory, Practice, and Politics. Eds. Kath Browne, Jason Kim, and Gavin Brown. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007): 101-112. Hide/Seek: Different and Desire in American Portraiture. Edited by Johnathan D. Katz and David C. Ward. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2010. Catalogue of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., October 2010 through February 2011. Hirsch, Faye. “Seeing Queerly.” Art in America 99, 2 (2011): 76-81. Holleran, Andrew. “An Astonishment at the Smithsonian.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 18, 2 (2011): 50, 36. Irving, Dan. “Normalized Transgressions: Legimitimizing the Transsexual Body as Productive.” Radical History Review 100 (2008): 38-59. Jones, Angela. “Queer Heterotopias: Homonormativity and the Future of Queerness.” Interalia: A Journal of Queer Studies 4 (2009). Katz, Jonathan D. “At Last, A Major Exhibition Devoted to GLBT Art.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 17, 6 (2010): 18. Kennicott, Philip. “Hide/Seek One Year Later: The world moves on, and sometimes forward.” The Washington Post, November 23, 2011. Logan, Brian. “Hide/Seek: Too Shocking for America.” The Guardian, December 5, 2010. Long, Kat. “Censorship at the Smithsonian.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 18, 2 (2011): 17-18. Lord, Catherine. Art and Queer Culture, 1885-2005. London: Phaidon Press, 2011. Mejia, Joe. “Out of Hiding.” Out 19, 4 (2010): 34. Meyer, Richard. Outlaw Representation: Censorship & Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Nast, Heidi J. “Queer Patriarchies, Queer Racisms, International.” Antipode 34 (2002): 877909. Puar, Jasbir. “Queer Times, Queer Assemblages.” Social Text 23, 3-4 (2005): 121-140. Puar, Jasbir. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007. Richardson, Diane. “Desiring Sameness? The Rise of Neoliberal Politics of Normalization.” Antipode 37 (2005): 515-535. Rogerson, Steph. “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. October 30 2010 – February 13, 230


Cierra Webster 2011.” C: International Contemporary Art 110 (2011): 49. Ruiz, Jason. “The Violence of Assimilation: An Interview with Mattilda aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore.” Radical History Review 100 (2008): 236-248. Saslow, James. “Puting the ‘Gay’ back into Gala.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 18, 2 (2011): 34-35. Starr, Penny. “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibition Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts.” CSN News, November 29, 2010. Stryker, Susan. “Transgender History, Homonormativity, and Disciplinarity.” Radical History Review 100 (2008): 144-157. Tushnet, Eve. “Flawed Reflection: Hide/Seek at the National Portrait Gallery.” Commonweal 138, 2 (2011): 22. Trescott, Jacqueline. “Ant-covered Jesus video removed from Smithsonian after Catholic League complains.” The Washington Post, December 1, 2010. Vargas, Margarita. “Staging Identity through Art.” CR: The New Centennial Review 5, 3 (2005): 65-82. Wallis, Brian, Marianne Weems, and Philip Yenawine, eds. Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America. New York: New York University Press, 1999. Warner, Michael. Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Weil, Rex. “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” Artnews 110, 1 (2011): 118. Weinberg, Jonathan. “Things are Queer.” Art Journal 55, 4 (1996): 11-14. Weinberg, Jonathan et al. “Dissolving Categories.” Art Journal 55, 4 (1996): 16-17+19. Wypijewski, Joann. “The Upside of Censorship.” The Nation 7, 14 (2011): 9-11.

231


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Zaira Zarza

Exporting a Nation/Shipping an Island: Cuba! Art and History from 1968 to Today 1

The largest chronological survey of Cuban art ever exhibited outside the Caribbean state, “Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today” saw over four hundred Cuban artworks by nearly one hundred artists on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) from January 31rst until June 8th, 2008. This event was the result of more than three years of collaboration between the Canadian institution (MMFA), Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts and the Fototeca de Cuba, the island’s leading photographic archive and gallery. The show also included pieces from private and institutional collections in Canada, Germany, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Switzerland and the United States. Advocating for representations beyond touristic stereotypes and acknowledging unceasing processes of continuity and rupture in the history of Cuba’s national identity, this blockbuster event explored Cuban art history through the notions of political utopias, the geographical as well as the cultural fact of insularity; issues of migration, class divisions, religion, social struggle, and the reality of the country’s now decades long economic crisis. The curatorial endeavour dealt with historical narratives and conflicting ideologies and presented established mainstream artists. It illustrated Cuba’s colonial ties with Spain, republican economic and political dependence on the United States in the first sixty years of the twentieth century and a decolonizing, whirling socialist Revolution in a country full of audacity and contradictions. A vast panorama of one hundred and twenty five paintings, two hundred and 232


Zaira Zarza

forty photographs, eighty-five works on paper, eight sculptures, ten installations and video installations and forty posters were displayed for public view with bilingual didactic panels and labels in French and English. In addition, a four-hundred-andtwenty-four-page catalogue with nearly four hundred and fifty illustrations was published in English, French, Spanish and Dutch to accommodate audiences, not only at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, but also during the show’s stop at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands from 17 May to 20 September, 2009. There had been previous experiences of this kind with collective exhibitions on Cuban art in Canada2 but never one of such a large scale and wide scope. The project became one of the major retrospectives ever hosted by the MMFA and involved relatively fragile artworks many of them considered national patrimony. It covered three centuries of Cuban art and incorporated pieces from collections of several institutions. The show was promoted and undoubtedly grew into a one-of-a-kind event. Cuba! Art and History from 1968 to Today attracted media attention and institutional mobilization in the city of Montreal. It would have taken a longer analysis to examine the demographics of the show’s audiences in both of its venues but with just the number of visitors it is possible to deduct meaningful statistics. In Groningen, Netherlands, a city of 185 000 inhabitants, 60 000 persons attended the show. In Montreal, a metropolis of 3.5 million inhabitants including the greater Montreal area, it was visited by 132 805 spectators, an average of 30885 per month, 7813 per week and the impressive cipher of 1038 viewers a day. During these months, the Cinemathèque québécoise supported the event with the screening of Cuban feature films from the 1960s through the first decade of the new century and a film posters’ exhibit by well-known designer Eduardo Muñoz Bachs. Cuban artist Adonis Flores exhibited at the same time in the city at the Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain, in collaboration with Havana Gallery. And Litz Alfonso, one of the most popular dance companies in Cuba, toured Canada and performed in Montreal in March. The exhibit was sponsored by the insurance company Sun life financial and Metro Inc., a leader in the Canadian food industry. Neither corporation has a direct relation to Cuba but, according to the exhibition’s archives, they frequently support art projects held at the MMFA. Due to the significant impact of this show many questions need to be explored. How did this exhibition serve to promote Cuban art in Canada? Given that events such as these undoubtedly mediate cultural relations between nations, why and how were Cuban art and history presented to this particular audience? Is it because Canadians, more than another nationality, vacation in Cuba where tourism has become the main industry for the country’s sustainability? Is interest in Cuba seen as particularly strong –and perhaps uniquely so-- among audiences in the province 233


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

of Quebec? Do the works presented in the show provide viewers with a verisimilar portrait of Cuban history? Shifting perceptions of Cuban art: transnational links beyond tourism One of the main characteristics of this exhibition is that it demonstrates the constant relation between Cuban art and the political, cultural and social contexts in which artists develop their work. The show mirrors the many stages of Cuban art and the way in which it has been deeply engaged with the history of the nation. It raises the traumas of coloniality, war and poverty, puppets political regimes through the first half of the 20th Century, revolutionary mobilizations, diasporas and political malfunctions. Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today somehow manages to question monolithic identities and challenge the unidirectional notion of tourist imagery while promoting genuine cultural values of Cuban contemporary art. In order to support this argument, it seems necessary to rehearse the project’s narrative and approach the curatorial choices in the show, where artworks were arranged and divided into five historical sections. The first, “Depicting Cuba: Finding Ways to Express a Nation,” begins the exhibition’s storyline of Cuban art in 1868, the year marking the beginning of the first war of independence against Spanish colonial rule. This epoch is represented mainly through photographic works as visual reportages, engravings and period paintings that document the history of the Cuban society from the nineteenth century. Painters and engravers represented events related to slavery and the plantation economy, as well the ambiances and privileges of a new-born national bourgeoisie. Many artists of the period were still discovering the beauty and wilderness of the Cuban tropical landscapes. Their works mainly consisted of visual interpretations of rural areas and coasts. On the other hand, the pieces included in “Arte Nuevo: The Avantgarde and the Re-creation of Identity (1927-1938)” start to show a shift in the way Cubans perceived themselves. The segment portrayed the establishment of Cuba as a Republic in 1902, and the birth of an artistic avant-garde that visually echoed European movements, but with eyes turned to Cuban themes and imaginaries. Topics concerning syncretism and hybridity, mestizaje and creolité were influenced by African traditions but also by the tectonic figures of Mexican muralism. The title “Arte Nuevo” (New Art) works as a reference to a namesake exhibition, which, in 1927, launched Cuban artists such as Antonio Gattorno, Amelia Peláez and Eduardo Abela. “Cubannes: Affirming a Cuban Style (1938-1959)” highlighted the search for Cuban universality. The show’s treatment of this period was devoted to the figure of Wifredo Lam whose paintings combined visual expressions such as cubism and surrealism with Afro-Cuban roots.3 This is also the moment in which Cuban art began asserting itself on an international scale. A powerful abstract movement 234


Zaira Zarza

emerged in the 1950s and other artists begin advocating for the intellectual position of the Cuban artist in the world. This notion becomes vital in the sense that Cuba’s political system at the time encouraged an unfair trade-based economy with the United States, a reproduction of American cultural traits and a trivial – mainly racial and ethnic - exotization of Cubannes. Shortly after 1959, a period marked by the rediscovery of national identity, imagery in the island projected the utopian ideal of the “New Man”; a model of Latin American citizenship that advocated for class struggle and a consciousness driven by moral rather than material motivations. A proletarian, white, secular, heterosexual subject defined most human iconographic representations in the early years of the Cuban Revolution. This is the era identified with the most iconic works in the history of Cuban art. The power of the newborn liberated state was ubiquitous in literature, music, photography, movies and other art forms. Cuban intellectual Ambrosio Fornet begins his contribution to the exhibition’s catalogue by writing, “Cuba’s first contribution to the 1960s culture was our belief that the decade began in 1959. The difference is not one of years but of eras. In 1959, our entire history began to be defined by the dramatic extremes of before and after” (Fornet 2008, 242). “Within the Revolution, everything. Against the Revolution, nothing (1959-1979)” draws its title from Fidel Castro’s statement at the conclusion of the first Congress of Education and Culture in 1961. What is now regarded as Cuban epic photography was utilized in that moment as political propaganda. Today, these photographs, which appear in this section, are used in postcards sold to tourists. One of them, photographer Alejandro Korda’s shot of Ernesto Che Guevara, is considered the most reproduced image in the history of photography (Ziff 2009, back cover). Many exchanges across borders defined the transnational character of the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s and established world-wide networks. During this decade, the city of Havana became much more cosmopolitan as it turned into a vital cultural center for Latin American and Caribbean countries and also for many other peoples in the world. The inclusion of a piece that is not part of the Cuban museum’s permanent collection reasserts this idea. “Cuba Colectiva” is a fifteen-metre mural produced in 1967 by one hundred Cuban and international artists during the Salon de Mai celebrated that year in Cuba’s capital. The mural became one of the central pieces of the exhibition in Montreal. A Canadian artist, Quebec painter Edmund Alleyn, participated in its making. The piece had not been shown outside of Cuba since 1968. Those years witnessed the development of the Cuban school of design and the blossoming of numerous cinematographic and political posters. Artists such as Umberto Peña, Alfredo Sosabravo, Raúl Martínez and Flavio Garciandía borrowed codes from pop culture and photorealism to recreate Cuban political and 235


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

social status. Later on, after the fresh impetus of the sixties and due to the adoption of the political Soviet model of Socialist Realism in Cuba the seventies witnessed a much more materialist approach to history and art. Extreme mass uniformity, censorship and coercion characterized the sociopolitical context. Therefore, in contrast, the last section of the exhibition is entitled, “The Revolution and Me: The Individual Within History (1980-2007).” From 1984 onwards the Havana Biennial became one of the most important international events for the visual arts in the continent and created a platform for artistic exchange, which influenced both local and global interpretations of Cuban art. Although Cuba today is still a space where multiculturalism is unknown, the country’s gradual opening to the global markets of mass culture expanded the cosmopolitan margins over the physical borders of the nation-state. After the fall of the Soviet bloc and its material subsidies to Cuba in the early 1990s, Cuba delved into the so-called Período Especial en Tiempo de Paz (Special Period in Time of Peace). This was an era of dramatic scarcity and social crisis. It was characterized by an “economy of survival” and by an intensification of the U.S. blockade that led to social transformations. The crisis turned tourism into the country’s main source of income and stimulated the mass exodus of Cubans. When facing this complicated panorama, a new generation of artists found ways to express themselves through a more metaphoric art discourse which used ambiguity of content to find spaces of negotiation with art institutions.4 With the introduction of global tourism in Cuba the entire socialist principle of an egalitarian society was derailed by the emergence of class and race divisions. Artists then managed to concentrate on the consequences of the social differences that this phenomenon provoked. Pieces presented in the final section of the show include, “Detector de ideología (Ideology detector),” by Lázaro Saavedra which depicts a device created to gradually measure people’s levels of ideological fidelity to the revolutionary doctrines, boat-shaped conceptual installations by Cuba’s most commercially successful artist Alexys Leyva (Kcho), and race and gender-focused works by photographers Juan Carlos Alom and Marta María Pérez. In these works there is a palpable tension between identity and politics. Many artists in this decade were interested in how the Cuban regime infiltrates consciousness. For example, Antonio Eligio Fernández (Tonel), in “El bloqueo (The blockade),” alludes to the compactness of socialist realism, the reality of the American commercial embargo and blockade, but also to the constraints of the regime that imposes limits Cuban citizens who desire to travel abroad. These heavy restrictions are a current theme in Cuban contemporary art. Since most of the artists in the show were instructed in the Academia de Bellas Artes 236


Zaira Zarza

de San Alejandro (San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy) founded in Havana in 1818, and the Instituto Superior de Arte (Superior Institute of Art) created in 1961, there was also a space of representation for pedagogical projects in the event. The history and culture of the island was also depicted by several international artists including the Spanish painter Patricio Landaluze and American master photojournalist Walker Evans. The latter made numerous documentary photos of Havana street life of port workers, charcoal exploiters, prostitutes. His photographs of the revolts against the dictator Gerardo Machado were included in Carleton Beals’s 1933 book, The Crime of Cuba. Landaluze, a caricaturist, developed a sharp ability to portray satirical scenes of pictorial costumbrismo. So in different epochs it was possible to perceive how Cuba engaged with the Caribbean transnational experience via the development of its visual arts. Through many of these works Cuban national history and identity were extended way beyond the sun, sand and beaches so familiar to Canadian audiences. This show made noticeable the way cultural forms participate in politics. It elucidated how in contemporary Cuba there is an intention to re-evaluate artworks made by Cuban artists in the diaspora and also by those who still live on the island as components of a single tradition. Nowadays, many diasporic visual arts figures are recognized both in national and international cultural arenas. Exhibitions turn into a parallel storytelling that helps narrate the history of Cuban art. And this narration has proved to be more and more open, conflictive and diverse now that the official national discourse entertains more flexible visions. The National Museum of Fine Arts is an institution funded and endorsed by the state. Even if many independent art projects have not still found a place in its gallaries, the museum is credited with confronting narrow-minded power positions by including in its collection multiple artworks from diasporic artists such as Antonia Eiriz, José Beigas, Tomás Sánchez and Moisés Finale. The show in Montreal widely shared and celebrated these inclusions. When thinking of making the most of the event’s locality, much more could have been done to contest and problematize - instead of partially reproduce in Montreal - the curatorial project of the collection from Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts. However, this was a unique opportunity to shift perceptions of Cuban art by promoting and appreciating it beyond the physical limits of the nation and among a North American audience. Curious neighbours: Canada-Cuba Relations and Foreign Curators in Search of Dialogue In the article, “Artworks as Symbols of International Politics,” sociologist Judith Huggins Balfe contemplates the artwork as intermediary or mediator in cultural, 237


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

political, economic and social relations between countries. She states that to install artworks in new contexts contributes “to symbolize political power to other than the original audience- i.e. to recognize their ability to transcend sociocultural limits and extend as ‘universal symbols’. (…) the aesthetics of power artworks, however it may be defined, transcends their creators by enhancing the identification of the audience with that power” (Balfe 1987, 195). A window from the island to the world, the show “Cuba! Art and history from 1868 to today,” was conceived “in a spirit of friendship,” according to its Canadian curator Nathalie Bondil (2008, 12) in the words that introduce the catalogue. In seeking an answer to the question: “why was Canada the venue for this event?” it is necessary to contextualize the history of relations between both nations. Originally based on pragmatic commercial exchanges Cuba-Canada relations started as early as in the eighteenth century when Havana and the Hudson’s Bay Company began trading sugar and rum in exchange for cod fish. However, Canada formally established bilateral diplomatic relations with Cuba on March 16th, 1945, after the end of World War II as the Canadian government further asserted its independence from the British Empire. This way Cuba became the first country in the Caribbean where Canada instituted a diplomatic mission, continuing even after the radical changes brought on by the Cuban Revolution in 1959.5 For a long time both countries maintained important bilateral links. In 1976, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was the first leader of a member nation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to visit Cuba.6 Trudeau even developed a personal relationship with Fidel Castro. In addition, several Canadian NGOs, including Oxfam-Canada, collaborate with Cuban social research, agricultural, and community projects. The Sherritt International Corporation, a world leader in the mining and refining of nickel, is the largest independent energy producer in Cuba, with extensive oil and power operations across the island. The Cuban government owns half of its nickel refinery in the province of Alberta and Canada owns half of the nickel mines in the Cuban region of Moa (Ritter 2010). Furthermore, over a million Canadian tourists many of them from Quebec visit Cuban sandy beaches, albeit not Cuban art museums and galleries, every year. These are some of the reasons why in 2005 curator and conservator Nathalie Bondil was invited to the island by the Cuban Tourism Office in Montreal to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Canada and Cuba. According to museum representatives they did not consider the calendar of celebrations of the Cuban Ministry of Tourism. However, Bondil and Stéphane Aquin, curator of contemporary art in the Montreal Museum travelled to Havana and were deeply impressed by the collection housed in the National Museum of Fine Arts, which appeared to them as a “revelation.” 238


Zaira Zarza

Unlike other institutions, the MMFA does not send huge exhibitions to locations in Canada to keep their exclusivity. However, the curators have stated that since this was a major show not many Canadian institutions were able to receive such a complex project. However, the show was proposed to institutions in various locations such as Toronto, Madrid, Paris, London, Germany, Mexico and even the United States (which would have been a scoop), but for various reasons it was not accepted in any of these places. The main reasons offered were the need for big space to exhibit, lack of funding, reticence towards the subject because it is unknown, too new, overly political, very risky and also because some museums program their schedule a full year in advance. The spirit in Holland seemed to be different. Their art world is very open and also Nathalie Bondil had a close professional relationship with Patty Wageman the deputy director of the Groningen Museum, which corroborates the importance of networks for the successful accomplishment of these events. According to Aquin, the MMFA has a great relationship with museums in the United States and Europe but curiously the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto and other art institutions in English Canada are not on its radar. This speaks to an evident lack of mutual recognition and understanding between some different metropolitan Canadian art scenes. During this research it was impossible not to draw attention to the geopolitical dimensions of this event in relation to the province of Quebec since the region has a long and conflicted history within Canada as a federation. This relationship has played out at an international level, as well as internally. Although the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, as well as the Bank of MontrĂŠal (1817) and McGill University (1821), was founded by an Anglophone elite (Winterhalter 2011), at least a number of events in the history of the city of Montreal stand as a symbols of resistance to oppressive constraints. Home of one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in Canada along with Toronto and Vancouver (Guardado 2008, 171-81), Montreal has a leading position in unionization and social and labour movements in the country recently accentuated by the student tuition hikes protest for the 2012-13 academic year. This local history of activism and resistance could be ultimately associated with the postcolonial critique of imperialism envisioned by the earliest ideological stances of the Cuban Revolution in the world. Since the triumph of the revolutionary project in 1959 the United States has imposed a total embargo on trade with Cuba, which has created a historical antagonism between both nations and developed policies of estrangement and denunciation. In an interview Aquin declared, â&#x20AC;&#x153;I think that the only environment where an exhibition of this kind can be shown is in Montreal, a terrain relatively free of ideological struggles which often offers the possibility of appreciating this art for what it isâ&#x20AC;? (quoted in Seleanu 2010, 66). Nathalie Bondil strategically claimed 239


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

that the exhibition was apolitical - a logical position when dealing with ideologically opposed countries. But there’s no such thing as apolitical positions in transnational cultural events of this magnitude. Contradictorily, in an interview she declared, “There are so many American museums who would like to have this exhibition. (...) Now it is not possible so it was perfect time for us” (quoted in Montpetit 2008). Hosting the show was then, if not a conscious strategy developed by Canadian curators and institutions, an opportunity to mediate a relationship and assume an ideological locus. For many years Canada defined itself in opposition to the United States, a country in open and constant conflict with Cuba after the establishment of the socialist system. Canadian researchers John M. Kirk and Peter McKenna, authors of Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbour Policy argue that a subtheme of their book “springs from the Canadian-Cuban and Canadian-American relationship, since the strictly bilateral Ottawa-Havana axis is often affected by Washington concerns and pressures, at ties converting it into a trilateral relationship. (...) Both countries are significantly affected by the United States in a variety of crucial and domestic and foreign policy areas” (Kirk and McKenna 1999, 5). When looked at closely Cuba, the USA and Canada have been three curious neighbours with longterm tensions far from being resolved. Interestingly, half of the numerous visitors to the show came from the United States, where the exhibition was also very well covered. So, the project embodied a kind of artistic/cultural bridge via Montreal between Cuba and the U.S. Final considerations In a sense, the exhibition fulfilled the expectations of everyone directly involved in it. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and its curators accomplished their desire to organize a serious, monumental exhibition on the art and history of a puzzling country little known for the richness and quality of its visual arts production. Cuba’s Tourism Office utilised the event to celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Cuba-Canada relations, Cuban artists settled in British Columbia such as Antonio Eligio Fernández (Tonel) and Manuel Piña, obtained promotion and international prestige. Also after Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and some private collectors bought several artworks by Cuban contemporary artists such as Carlos Garaicoa, Glenda León, Adonis Flores, Ernesto Oroza and the sought-after group Los Carpinteros formed by Alexandre Arrechea, Marco Castillo, and Dagoberto Rodríguez. The controversial video works “El síndrome de la sospecha” (“The syndrome of suspicion”, 2004) by Lázaro Saavedra and “La edad de oro” (“The Golden Age”, 2000) by José Angel Toirac also attained a permenant place in the galleries of the MMFA. This turned 240


Zaira Zarza

the Montreal museum into the Canadian institution with the largest number of Cuban artworks in its permanent collection. So, artists from the island also found the relatively important and unexplored market they were longing for at least in francophone Canada. The exhibition proved handy in a moment of transition for the Cuban regime, a wrongly called post-Castro era when it is in fact a pass from Fidel to Raul Castro’s leadership. Many considered it opportunistic, other celebrated it extensively, but it was definitely not at all ignored since it became a contact zone of cultural connection that helped create networks and outline policies transnationally. Among the oppositional responses to the show journalist Robert Fulford (2008) condemned its “hypocrisy and intellectual torpor” by asserting, “Bondil makes sure we know about tyrants of the past, notably Gerardo Machado y Morales (dictator from 1925 to 1933) and Fulgencio Batista (1934-44 and 1952-59). But somehow Castro never gets censured in the same way, though longevity has made him arguably the worst of the lot” (Fulford 2008). On the other hand, freelance journalist Henry Lehmann (2008) declared, “this exhibition serves to increase the sense that Cuban art has suffered from its relative isolation in an economy generally unable to give sufficient support to cultural creativity.” Unfortunately, these estimations seem ideologically orthodox in the case of Fulford and decontextualized and outdated in the case of Lehmann. Alternatively, a much more accurate and smart response to the presence of Cuban art and history in Montreal was authored by culture writer Anna Graham. Balancing approaches and avoiding extremist criteria, she proclaims that, “the exhibit certainly provides the viewer with a portrait of a Cuba. This Cuba is beautiful and changing but there are obviously other Cubas that were not put on display” (Graham 2008, 18). Even for most of the Western hemisphere, where Cuba is the only socialist country, the island still remains alien with mainly endogenous dynamics of daily survival. Today, the country is observing the emergence of a counter-public sphere with new autonomous areas of social and cultural life independently rising above and beyond the strictness of the government. Without a doubt, the labour of the curators of this show should be sincerely acknowledged for they presented art that hardly ever leaves its island to a far-off audience. They certainly engaged deeply and personally with the project and suggested a historiography of Cuban art production narrated with responsibility and respect. However, it is curious how once again Cuban cultural production needed to be discovered by foreign explorers, re-presented by international interpreters, and rescued from oblivion by outlandish storytellers. The same situation has occurred in many other art forms and fields of knowledge. For example, most studies published on Cuban film in English have been written by non-Cuban scholars in the American, English and Canadian mainstream academy. 241


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream

A case in point is when American musician and music producer Ry Cooder brought aging Cuban musicians out of retirement because their talents had been virtually restricted to the island following Fidel Castro’s coup in Cuba. Cooder travelled to Havana in order to bring the musicians together, which resulted in triumphant performances of extraordinary music and in the resurrection of these musicians’ careers. The project, Buena Vista Social Club, was known worldwide due to the later German namesake 1999 documentary film by director Wim Wenders. These experiences and many more of the like strongly confirm very cruel truisms: we live in an unequal world of ethnocentric geopolitics, immersed in continuing operation of colonial Western paradigms where art from apparent peripheral spaces is still considered of minor interest. Notes 1. I would like to acknowledge the support of many scholars and curators who helped me through this research. In Canada I thank Nathalie Bondil, conservator and director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Stéphane Aquin, curator of contemporary art; Danielle Blanchette, documentation technician in the archives and Caroline Drolet, administrative assistant in the MMFA. In Cuba I appreciate the interest of Moraima Clavijo Colom and Luz Merino Acosta, directors of the National Museum of Fine Arts and the bright approach of ISA Professor Gretel Medina Delgado, with whom I exchanged many ideas. I am indebted to Professor Lynda Jessup for her exceptional teaching and insightful comments on this text. 2. One of the best known is “New Art from Cuba: Utopian Territories” which was shown in seven Vancouver venues from March through May 1997 as part of the exhibition’s international tour. Widely recognized at the time, the show consisted of conceptual photographs and video installations. It included the works of twenty-three living artists. Other significant examples were “Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection” (Gallery Ball, October 2009 to January 2010) in Winnipeg, Manitoba; “Cuban Connections”, a celebration of Cuban Culture and Art in 2 Parts exhibited at the Pier 21 Canada’s Immigration Museum and at the Ralph and Rose Chiodo Harbourside Gallery, sponsored by the Nova Scotia-Cuba association from October 6th to November 14th, 2010; and “The art of Cuba” featuring artists Diana Rosa Lotour, López del Castillo and Gelico. The latter was presented by La casa del Habano and organized by the Cuban Association Juan Gualberto Gómez in Toronto from September 15th to October 25th, 2011. 3. Considered to have stated a visual arts manifesto for the “Third World” – the title of one of his major pieces - Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) who lived for a number of yeas in Paris became a friend and follower of André Breton and Pablo Picasso. Mixing cubism and surrealism with Afro-Cuban roots and portraying divinities of the Yoruba pantheon, Lam’s works became a hybrid, unique representation of “Cubannes” that has influenced countless

242


Zaira Zarza contemporary Cuban artists. For more information on Wifredo Lam’s life and work see: José Manuel Noceda, Lam: la cosecha de un brujo (Editorial Letras Cubanas, First Edition, January 1, 2002); Ed. Charles Merewether, Wifredo Lam: A Retrospective of Works on Paper (New York, Americas Society, 1992); and Wifredo Lam and Roberto Cobas Amate, Wifredo Lam: los años decisivos, 1939-1947 (Lima, Centro Cultural de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2003). 4. Most of the venues for exhibitions in Cuba were –and still are- governmentally controlled so parody, irony and tropology were sometimes utilized in order to complicate the reception of the censors. The nineties was also the decade of the development of performances, installations and public interventions in the country. The establishment of venues such as the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba set up in 1995 by the German collector Peter Ludwig, led to a boom of Cuban art in the 1990s. Consecutively, these discursive and visual transformations stimulated the growth of a previously non-existent art market in the country. 5. For a profound analysis of Cuban influence on Quebecois politics see Mills 2010, 62-91. 6. For a detailed study of this event see Wright, 2007.

Works Cited Bondil, Nathalie (ed.). Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to Today. Montreal: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Prestel Publishing, 2008. Casey, Michael. Che’s afterlife: the legacy of an image. New York:: Vintage books,

2009.

Darcy, David. “It’s not Politics. It’s just Cuba.” New York Times, February 3, 2008. Fornet, Ambrosio. “The Incredible Decade: A Personal Reminiscence.” In Cuba, art and History from 1968 to Today, ed. Nathalie Blondil. Montreal: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2008), 252-57. Fulford, Robert. “The revolution will not be Criticized; Cuba’s Current Regime gets a Free Ride in Montreal Art Exhibition,” The National Post, February 19, 2008. Available at: http:// www.robertfulford.com/2008-02-19-cuba.html Guardado, Martin. “Language, Identity, and Cultural Awareness in Spanish-Speaking Families.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 40.3 (2008): 171-181. Gelburd, Gail. “Cuba: Before the Hype.” In A Review of Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today, ed. Nathalie Bondil. Montreal: Museum of Fine Art, 2008. http://reconstruction. eserver.org/081/gelburd.shtml Graham, Anna, “This here, is Cuba? From the Bullfighting era to the Moncada Barracks: New MMFA Exhibition Explores a Century and a Half of Cuban History in Pictures,” The McGill Daily, February 18th, 2008, 18-20. Goddard, Peter. “Ongoing Search for Cuban-ness, On Display,” The Toronto Star, March 1, 2008. http://www.thestar.com/article/307906--cuban-art-reveals-country-s-search-foridentity Higgins Balfe, Judith. “Artworks as Symbols of International Politics,” International Journal of 243


Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream Politics, Culture and Society 1.2 (December 1987): 195-217. Kirk, John M. and McKenna, Peter. “Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbor Policy,” H-Canada, H-Net Reviews. February, 1999). Lehmann, Henry. “Hero Worship: A Motif of Adulation runs through Cuban Art, Often at the Expense of more Creative Approaches,” The Montreal Gazette, February 23, 2008. Available at:

http://www2.canada.com/montrealgazette/story.html?k=87044&id=1e0f1a47-9f54-

49a6- 842c-fcafb938b52c&p=1. Mills, Sean. The Empire within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties Montreal. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010. Ritter, Arch. “Does Sherritt International Have a Future in Cuba?” October 21, 2010. Available at: http://thecubaneconomy.com/articles/2010/10/does-sherritt-internationalhave-a-future-in-cuba/ Rodríguez, Lilian. “Arte de Cuba en América del Norte,” March 18th, 2008. Available at: http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/suplementos/espectaculos/6-9535-2008-03-18.html Saint-Hilaire, Melanie. “L’ile aux peintres,” L’Acualité, March 1, 2009, 58-62. Seleanu, André. “Art Cubain, un dialogue de civilisation,” Vie des arts 210. Montreal, 2008), 64-68. Wright, Robert. Three nights in Havana: Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro and the Cold War World. Toronto, HarperCollins, 2007. Ziff, Trisha. Che Guevara: revolutionary and Icon. New York, Abrams Image, 2006.

244


Zaira Zarza

245


Museums Marginality and the Mainstream