Unbecoming: Behaving badly in the museum stores

Mitchell, Liz (2015) Unbecoming: Behaving badly in the museum stores. In: Material Culture in Action: Practices of making, collecting and reenacting art and design, 7-8 Sep 2015, Glasgow School of Art. (Unpublished)

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This paper explores a phenomenological approach to materiality in the museum, from the perspective of a curator-turned-historian based in an art school. My PhD investigates a collection of domestic objects and amateur crafts, given to Manchester Art Gallery in the 1920s. In researching the history of these material things, however, I can’t help noticing how the things themselves get left behind. Narrative sweep takes over, the (relatively) easily mined content of texts preventing the eager researcher from attending properly to the (comparatively) stubborn muteness of things.

As a curator, my favourite place was the museum store; a still, quiet space that resonates with material energy, freed from the tyranny of overarching narrative. Time slows, but does not stop. There is something about this that chimes with what James Elkins calls the ‘slowness of the studio’. In the art school, conversations with practitioner colleagues dwell on material resistance as much as historical methodology. And the material of my research is resistant – it falls across disciplines, not quite belonging in any. Much of it refuses to yield even basic museum-label information; much of it is in poor condition. Museologically, it has little value. Does this free it, I wonder, to evoke the emotional, affective response I have both felt and witnessed in others. This paper goes 'back to the things themselves’, in an exploration of museum materiality, informed by conducting historical research within an art practice environment.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: museums, objects, creative practice, phenomenology, materiality, affect, museum stores, material culture
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > Fine and Applied Art (up to 30th April 2018)
Depositing User: Liz Mitchell
Date Deposited: 05 Mar 2018 15:05
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2018 15:05
URI: https://hira.hope.ac.uk/id/eprint/2388

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