The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Narrative Space Day Two - Post Two

We've had our coffee and biscuits now, and so hopefully we've woken up, and shall have some really interesting presentations in the next session,

'Artists' Voices, Disruptive Narratives, New Sensibilities'

'Narrative Spaces: The Book of Lies', Paola Zellner


We worry that if we cease to talk, we will lose ourselves in a confused and unconnected world. We are compelled to tell stories about context and ourselves. Architectures use narrative and metaphoric forms, ranging in type from a diagram, or unambiguous story, to a more open form. Narrative can range between these, can act as the translator through which design ideas can be translated between designers, clients, visitors and guides. They can, once more, lead us to that third space. We need to acknowldge the existence of both conceived and perceived space, the ideal and the sensual between which we sway to find meaning and transformation.

Architecture can move us at different levels, but is often relient upon multiple narratives - partly because it is often that environment which it is made manifest. How do we manage this multiplicity, do we focus upon the body or the intellect? How do we mediate the two?

Perhaps rather than asking this, we should act how architecture can appropriate and integrate the principles of narrative. Entering into its logic, making the content an intrinsic element of its performance, we can engage with this space of imagination.

Typically, the deliberate use of narratives results in a singular linearity. But those narratives which buildings become, those which develop intuitively, can stimulate the imagination and build multiplicity.

Eugenia Butler's 'The Book of Lies' was originally intended to be an exploration of truth and lies in an interaction of art, words and life. It brought out an awareness of the creation of the future. In 2006, her three volumes were exhibited in order to bring out these multiple narratives, the truths and lies with which we are most complicit. Rather than scripted experience, it was left open to interaction and interpretation. The narrative was intended to remain invisible to the visitor, a number of parts and methods to manifest the idea of fragments with the potential for unity. Through concealed and differentiated spaces, and different levels of display, the placement of the pieces and concepts reconceptualised the relationship between themselves, the visitor, and each other. It encouraged ambiguity and doubt. That third condition which flows like a river and changes constantly.


'Imaginary Museums: What Mainstream Museums Can Learn From Them, Rachel Morris

Imaginary museums exist all over the world - on the web, in literature, in museum catalogues, in concepts, and the versions of museums which we all carry in our heads. Many museums, which are real, often have a distinctive thread of imagination run through them, such as Soane's, tells a story about himself through fragments. He wrote a short story called 'Crude Thoughts about the History of My House.' Snow's Hill Manor, by Charles Wade, was filled with objects from throughout history, which vibrate with meaning and a sadness about the transience of time. Imaginary museums are both playful and melancholy.

They make us ask why the museum is used as a metaphor, and what kind of museums do artists create? Do all museums have an element of fiction running through them? There is much, Rachel says, which we can learn from paper museums.

Both museums and novels allow us to enter into complete, scaled down worlds. Boxes inside boxes, miniature worlds. Thomas Browne, in 1684, described the Museum Clausum, the 'Closed Museum', a place of wonders and secrets. This apparent truthfulness in a narrative of fiction, is also apparent in the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

In Book Eighteen of Homer's Illiad, the Shield created for Hercules becomes a museum of the war outside Troy, of farming life - a world in miniature. A russian doll feeling that you get in museums of miniature worlds within miniature worlds. In Parmuk's Museum of Innocence objects become carriers of memories, a space in which time becomes a place. He takes this further, for his museum in the text, will become a reality. He wishes to express himself, his own interior, which is one of the qualities which novels have given us. In literature, we have been able to invest objects with life, with great power, as they did in Wilkie Collins' Moonstone. Novelists understand that museums can be invested with mystical power, which is something museums could really benefit from. Citing Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus shows how collections of valuable and unusual things create a tension between reality and fiction, between the straight formality of display cases, and the strange and wonderous things which they contain.

Authors such as Calvino, and Borges, with a taste for magical realism, have often responded to museums. But museums perhaps need to acknowledge this, this quality of the fabulous and strange. The ways in which museums catagorise the world is hugely powerful, and has the potential to be incredibly poetic. Museums can blend erudition with a pleasure in the fantastic.

There is an innate sadness in museums, related to their transience, the fact that their subject is time. Their existence in the physical and the imaginary world makes them powerful metaphors, which writers and artists play with. Visitors too, understand this. They come to museums for many reasons, but those which are beyond the educative are often less comfortably engaged with by museums. In the spiritual and emotional realms, museums can learn a lot from fiction and poetry.

Dennis Severs knew that he needed the imagination of the visitor to be set on fire and satisfied, in his creation of the house in Spitalfields. And he managed, here to create a beautiful, immersive, and poetic place of wonder.

'Exhibition Making in Film: Peter Greenaway's 'The Belly of an Architect' Alona Martinez-Perez

In Invisible Cities the city changes and yet remains the same. Things are repeated and re-enacted by different characters, at different times and ways. There are layers of narrative, layers of space within cities, which we can harness in the production of museums.

Peter Greenaway's film documented the process of producing an exhibition about the architect Boullee. It is also a comment upon the architecture of the city of Rome, its metaphoric character, and the film juxtaposes pre-existing multiple layers of meaning whilst creating its own. Though it uses long, panoptical shots, it is much about interiority and obsession, dissolving the spaces between inside and outside.

Obsession becomes a huge theme - it becomes part of the visual and sensorial qualities of the film. Greenaway collects buildings and spaces and the film becomes an exhibition of works of art. But it also illustrates the encyclopedic nature of Greenaways thought, how worlds with unity can be fused together from fragments. The city of Rome is a city of spectors and histories, many different cities lying on top of one of the other. The film permits the viewer to choose how you experience that narrative, the levels of complexity which you choose to engage with in the film.

Both the filmaker and the architect need to manage diverse people and money. They need to be both aesthetic and imaginative, but practical and sometimes brutal. The relationship between their curation of space and concept is also somewhat analogous with the role of the museum, which is something that this conference is speaking about a lot.

Different media can teach us much about museums. We can understand so many places as museums, films, books, poems. We can learn a great deal from them, both in terms of what they contain and how they contain it. It is fascinating, I think, to explore these relationships further. I intend to in my work, and I hope others shall too.

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