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.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Narrative Space - Post Three

I'm sitting in the Lecture Hall, about to hear the plenary from architect Lee Skolnick, presented from his offices in New York!!! He's about to present via Adobe Connect, which is going to be fun!

'Beyond Narrative: Designing Epiphanies'

The word narrative has changed in its meaning. He spent many years preaching the virtues of narratives, within his agenda of understanding design as interpretation which results in meaning making and enrichment. Narrative, which he conceptualises as a basic aspect of human experience, is fundamental to this. But when something becomes ubiquitous, and thus misused, it becomes time to move on. Has narrative become so overused that it has lost its speculative edge?

The media, science, and philosophy have used it. Narrativity has become an overarching theme of all walks of life. Medicine has even developed a strand in which the experience of the patient, and the relationship between doctors and patients , becomes part of a 'narrative'.

But how are narratives brought into the physical environment? Architecture is certainly a very narrative medium. Narrative, which he does not intend to trash, is indeed fundamental, but it cannot be an end in itself. Rather, it is subject to interpretation and revelation. These things are often best acheived through storytelling, which does indeed furnish a narrative. But our most primal urge is to communicate which may not be narrative. The role of communication is to make manifest - however this may be so done.

Interpretation is an act of translation, of something which may not be immediately obvious. It defines the role of the designer, of the teacher, and narrative is the tool, and the story, of that interpretation. This is especially obvious, perhaps, in game design.

Museums have regularly been unsuited to the successful construction of narrative - partly because of their multiple roles. But some architects have attempted to embody specific themes within museum buildings. Skolnik, however, belives that architecture can reach beyond this. Fragments of stories are carried in functions and features of buildings. How can a space grow organically from the relationship between its content and itself?

As far as Skolnik is concerned, churches and music have come closest to transcending this problem. Religious buildings are visually and emotionally effective, and they embody their faith. There is a theology of stone. They have fully embraced the idea that environmental situation encourages the internal situation of the experiencer. Music, too, is a powerfully affective abstract embodiment of meaning, and it too, has an architecture. Buildings which are built to house music are fundamentally created to facilitate the production of that phenomena. Thus, their representational character is subordinate to their role as a perpetuator of auditory experiences.

Thus Skolnick wants to go beyond symbolism and representation in architecture, and come closer to that embodiment which music and religious buildings engender. He wants to bring to museum spaces that PURE understanding. He wants to reveal these 'mystic truths', work towards a synthesis of the individual elements into a complete whole, which results in an epiphany, a product of all our temporal experience. All aspects of space, both perceptual and conceptual, are fundamental in the realisation of this epiphany, this manifestation of a hidden message, this 'authentic inner self.' This was the goal of ancient artists, and should also be our goal in the modern world. Sometimes we don't have to analyse and make sense of this. Sometimes, it is something we just feel. We cannot explain the joy of many of our experiences, and yet, on some other level, they meant something very basic and deep. Narratives can be very complex, too complex for this deeper level. So perhaps narrative needs to be dissolved, in favor of epiphanies. He ends with a quote from Lenard Cohen - 'It is not the song that dignifies human activity, it is human activity which dignifies the song'.

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