2nd December 2009
The Autopsies’ museum roundtable (with guest speakers Oliver Winchester from the V&A and Alexandra Goddard from the Geffrye) engaged with some of the research group’s key concerns, namely when/how we talk about ‘things’ or ‘objects’ and the ways in which film can be used to preserve them.
With Jann Matlock chairing and contributing as a panellist, our guests were asked to discuss the various similarities and differences between their museums in the processes of curating and collating information. The Geffrye Museum, Goddard told us, acquired supporting documentation to create a ‘mise-en-scene of the object.’ This documentation included oral and written histories of the objects, as well as photographs.
Film had yet to enter their remit as a medium of preservation. At the V&A, however, Winchester described film’s utility in demonstrating to visitors how objects actually work (both panellists agreed that they dealt with ‘objects,’ although these were once people’s ‘things’).
I found this use of film fascinating. Film was not a necessary tool in the preservation of the object per se – the object itself existed within the museum space – but visitors could only understand the application of the object through moving images. The way in which museums display objects divorces them from utility. Film can help museums to design an experience of the object that gives life to what would otherwise be dead or static.
One has to consider whether it is possible to understand any object without first comprehending its ‘thing-ness.’ The iPod was used as an example: without touching it, playing with it or glancing through its menus, does it really make sense as a technology? Is there any point in simply looking at a dead object and can film help rescue it from the after-world that is the museum display? Could film help items retain their essence of ‘thing-ness’ in the face of museum objectivity?
Perhaps these are some of the questions we can take forward into the new year and put to our next selection of museum panellists.