Discovering the city / Opening lecture

 Lecture delivered at the opening of the exhibition “discovering the city”, Museum Wola, Warsaw, November 27, 2013.

« Discovering the city » shows the return of explorers in expedition a few months earlier, in Spain, France and Poland. It takes form as an exhibition in a museum. Exploring activities have produced objects with various shapes and disciplines together in a collection, identified in a catalog, selected by a curator, Anna Banas, and directed by a designer, Anna Met. Thanks to them, and I thank the museum for welcome.

Exhibition could be the result of such equation which gathers author, collector, collection, curator, designer and museum.

I am wondering about the meaning given to these exhibited objects through their history. I am wondering also about how to show them, connected with the meaning and reasons we have to do it. I am interesting by the role that exhibition plays in the erection of these items to the matter of knowledge.

I think there is a mechanism for making the knowledge which exhibition contributes.

But …
What is an exhibition?
Why do we do exhibition?

Showing the collection in an art center or in a museum is part of an history of exhibition, carrying its dark side : colonial exhibitions, nazi ethnographic exhibitions, human exhibitions, official exhibitions, etc.

It seems that the very principle of exhibition, whatever its shape and mediation, is haunted by the necessity to built, control and sometimes impose knowledge, justified by creation, research and objectivity. An exhibition built content. « The first thing offered to the viewer, is the way how he must understand » (Gunter Anders) There is a tension between the desire to provide objects in their pure manifestation and willingness to teach thinking, questioning, telling a discourse, telling a story, as it is true that display is to make choices, to produce a statement, to stage the spectators and to involve a vision of art. (Jérôme Glicenstein)

Really, I have some negative thoughts that I would like to exorcise :
— Is that an exhibition is only intended to produce and transmit objective knowledge?
— In accordance with different types of design that mark the history of exhibition, is it able to spread doubt and allow visitors the opportunity to give their own judgment ?
— We are not completely free of our movements in an exhibition, we must follow directives and comply with prescriptions (Jérôme Glicenstein), what role does the staging device ? In what capacity it determines the reception of the visitor ?
— If didactic or spectacular methods makes pressure through a knowledge that is interpreted by visitors as “certain”, isn’t it humiliating to conceal this knowledge, forcing the visitors to move towards tools mediations, thus reducing its status as ignorant ?
— Exhibition is it a symbolic domination act or a revolutionary act, … which can be consider as the same ?
— The act of showing and staging doesn’t it remove its object ? « The intention of image delivery (…) is precisely (…) to cover the real with the real so-called and thus lead the world to disappear behind its representation » (Gunter Anders) The ethnologist Martin Roth observe that exhibit provincial villages and regional archaisms serves their practical disappearance, gives them a new form of existence as an heritage (Martin Roth).

Why a museum?
What is a museum?
— Is it nothing more than a disciplinary technology that exploits, sorts, rules and ritualized behavior ? (Carol Duncan)
— Is it a discursive space ?
— What are the important word of museum : save, store, display, teach, venerate , emancipate, form, valuate what will disappear, archive history ? (Levy-Strauss)
— Is the museum a place of power and memory ? (Jérôme Glicenstein)
— Talking about ethnographic and history museum, is it really the place of social memory or is it just a sort of ” dump ” for a dark and often ugly past ? Do we really need these testimonies from yesterday to understand the present, or don’t we try to slow down the changes ? (Martin Roth)
— What link the museum maintains with the present ?
— What are the political stakes of historical or ethnographic museum ? For example in France, it has been the establishment of the nation-state. The museum is it an apolitical space or not ? Who takes advantage of the didactic discourse ?
— What are the pedagogic stakes of history and ethnographic museum ? Are they the national identification through the integration of particular cultural identities ? Are they an antidote to the darkness ? Are they a popular education tool ? The modern public museum is it an instrument of production of citizenship (Tony Bennett) ?
— What scientific issues for such a museum ? Reproduce the life and work in the countryside ? Celebrate the past to impose the future? (Martin Roth)

What an exhibition makes it ?
knowledge? Artworks? Culture? Or nothing ?
What role does exhibition play in the construction of knowledge ?
— Jean- Philippe Antoine said that an exhibition is able to give figurality value, potentially making picture.
— But when do the exhibits have acquired a “value” of knowledge ?
— Is this during the moment of conception ?
— Is this in the data transformation in a collection ? … I mean when an object appear in a set. Is this an artificial value because of the overall effect, or a social acknowledgment value because of the people who create this collection.
— When do objects become a “value” of knowledge ?
— Is this at the time of exhibition, their staging, their spatial distribution, their making in dialogue with other objects of knowledge, their encounter with others ( institution, society, environment, public).
— Is at the time of their acknowledgment ?
— Is it when they are sold ? Does economic value provide access to a value of knowledge ?
— Is it in their reproduction ?
— What status exhibition gives to exhibits ? artwork , documents, research , outcome research, pure knowledge ? This issue is so important for determining their aesthetic, historic or scientific ?
— So if Exhibition is a kind of christening, who are the prophets ?
— The status of objects are they from a tacit agreement between the actors of the exhibition ? The object can it determined itself or it needs a framework, a community of actors, social conventions (as said George Dickie, Howard Becker and Arthur Danto ) ? Is the status of exhibits the result of a social construction rather than the result of a personal and subjective production ?

At the end, can we consider the exhibition as a moment of art?
If yes, the value of knowledge is it from this moment ?

Romain Louvel, 2013

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