This paper will draw on my ongoing photographic study of museum backstage spaces, and discuss the representational characteristics of what happens when objects are ‘performative’ and on display, verses when they are ‘resting’ and in storage. Materially the object remains the same ‘thing’, and the transmission of the object, from a thing to an artefact, is through the representation of the staging through to the expectations of the audience. This paper will also discuss what transformations happen when the objects are represented in photography – when things become subjects. My study asks, what happens in areas where these activities of control and display are less rigorously applied – where they slip out of the peripheral gaze of the curatorial eye?
In part I will draw on ideas explored by Henning (2006), in her examination of how both historical and contemporary museums have sought to restage the relationship between things and their audience. Working from a materialist agenda, Henning argues that objects are not compliant in being reduced to documents, texts or representations. Indeed, rather than being objects, they are obstinate ‘things’ within which museum content is embedded rather than superimposed upon it by the institution. For Henning, these things exist within a “community of objects” (2006, 11) and that our ability to interpret these things is reliant upon acculturation. This paper will present images made by myself and others, discussing how museums aids interpretation through the use of display practices such as arrangement, labelling and framing (architectural or actual) and could be seen to assemble, or disassemble, what an object ‘is’ through the designation of rules of access. It is through being placed within these networks of relationships that things acquire a sense of ‘objecthood’. As Hein, cited in Henning (2006, 7), states;
“objecthood, like textual meaning, results from multileveled
acts of attention by individuals, social groups and institutions.
Socially objectified things are imbued with meaning, layer
upon layer, within sanctioned structures of reference.”
This paper will critically reflect and locate the development of my project work alongside particular examples of contemporary photographic practices and within specific debates relating to the effects of entering into what Bennett (1995) describes as an “exhibitionary complex”, upon both objects and individuals within an institutional consumption of culture.
I will argue that artefacts situated within the public display arena of museums exist within a highly delineated environment, but one that does not necessarily make for a more intimate and comfortable relationship between the audience and displayed object.
Bright, N. (2016, November). At the edge of the curatorial gaze: A critical reflection of a photographic exploration of museum storage spaces. Paper presented at Association of Historical and Fine Art Photography conference