Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Mike Pickering has had a long career with the indigenous societies of Australia. He is currently the Head of Curatorial Research for the National Museum. He is co-author of the repatriation book The Long Way Home: The Meaning and Values of Repatriation.
Michael began his talk discussing the past issues and ideas that the National Museum of Australia has held where indigenous exhibits were concerned. He explained that, previously, museums have been more concerned with the curatorial voice rather than the indigenous one. In the last decade the NMA has moved towards the ideal of allowing the subjects to speak for themselves with only minimal curatorial help to ‘translate’ the story to the public. Mike stated that this has now become BAU or Business as Usual for the museum.
The exhibition that Michael was here to discuss was the Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route that opened in 2010 at the NMA for a six month run. It was a collaboration project between the NMA, FORM (http://www.form.net.au/) and nine Aboriginal art centres in Western Australia.
The Canning Stock Route was a road built in the late 1800s to early 1900s for the transportation of cattle. The road, unfortunately, ran right through Aboriginal land and a great deal of violence and destruction took place to build it, including the desecration of many of the Aboriginal wells that were important to their culture. The venture turned out to be very uneconomical, and only 20 cattle droves took place on the road. However, the event in the history of Australia is one of both first contact and pastoral significance and it did succeed in uniting the Aboriginal tribes in the area. More information can be found on the NMA website through the title link.
The exhibit ran for six months in Canberra, a capital city that is heavily influenced by its politics. In the short run nearly 120,000 people visited the gallery. From there it travelled to Perth in 2011 for the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting and was opened by the Queen [30,000 attending at this location]. It is now in Sydney until April 29th of this year.
Prior to the run of this exhibition, a first of its kind in Australia, ‘indigenous imagery’ was common in the country. It was often displayed on airport walls for advertising, on tourist giftware or used by corporations to show their link to the land. People had forgotten where the imagery came from and the overexposure to it by the audience caused some of the museums approached for the exhibit to decide the public simply wouldn’t be interested. The NMA thought otherwise, as it tied in well with their move towards an indigenous story driven narrative in the museum.
The exhibit consisted to around 120 paintings done by Aboriginal artists from the area along the Canning Route. At the centre of it was a map showing the route, the wells and lined with paintings from specifically marked areas on the map. Each piece of art included was its own gateway to a story; much like the cover of a book, Michael put in, is the window to the novel behind it. The exhibit was a showpiece of how successful indigenous engagement can be. The art that was displayed on the walls had text panels with quotes from the artists and brief explanations that were endorsed by the Aboriginal communities to which they belonged. Also part of the exhibit was a 9m long interactive table showing details of the Stock Route for the public to delve deeper into the history.
Michael went on to discuss the stakeholders that were part of the exhibition development. FORM had originally been the front runner of the project, and had been the organisation to do the background research with artists and communities in the North-West. They acted as representatives to the artists and their families when they approached the NMA to host the exhibit. The NMA is a very large museum and often has nearly a 100 projects on the go at any one time, with no project taking preference over another. This time, they knew they had to do things differently. FORM approached them in 2007 to exhibit the project as an artistic showcase. The museum was interested in it for many reasons, but mainly because it came to them as a free project at a time when their funding was running short and because it fit in well with their new focus on the Aboriginal voice. NMA also wanted to acquire the large amount of cultural research that FORM had done in their background work and make it more of a cultural exhibition, rather than purely artistic.
After much consultation, the museum made a decision to purchase the entire collection for $900,000 Australia Dollars, but not to take over control as a buyer normally would. The museum wanted to share the partnership with FORM and the artistic communities. NMA took the opportunity, with the Aboriginal artists available for consultation, to make certain they were designing an exhibition that put the Aboriginal perspective first, without over simplifying or compromising the narrative. During the beginnings of the exhibition project, NMA continued to work with the artists and with FORM to include them in all aspects of the design process. They made frequent field trips to the communities involved to discuss design and implementation of the project.
At this time, the issue of copyright was also raised. Who owned the rights to reproduce the paintings for the exhibition? After a great deal of consultation, it was decided that each artists would be approached individually to ask their own opinion on whether they wanted to allow their work to be reproduced.
When creating the text panels for the exhibit, NMA careful included many quotes by the artists so that their voice was heard first and foremost and used such introductions as ‘I believe’ rather than ‘The Aboriginal People believe’. Though some meaning will always be lost in translation, especially when text panels can only display a certain number of words, the museum tried wherever possible to focus on and convey the essential message of the individual artists and the communities they represented.
In all, the exhibition ended up costing the NMA around $2 million AUS over the three years it was in development until implementation. The total, with all of the collaborators, was nearly $4.5 million! As the exhibition opening drew closer and closer, concession had to be made and cuts found. It was the single largest project the museum has ever undertaken or, Michael went on to state, will ever undertake. Now the NMA has a yearly budget for all the galleries and temporary exhibits of only $1.5 million. However, he felt the original cost was worth it, since it made the museum rethink how they exhibited Aboriginal cultures, collaborated with communities and what their future partnership could be.
At the opening nights of the exhibit, many of the artists themselves were present and in the gallery, lending a more cultural experience for the visitor to have the creator of the work standing right beside it. Michael reiterated time and again during his closing words that, without the partnership with FORM or the Aboriginal art communities, the project never would have been possible. Though such a large scale exhibit will likely never happen again, the museum hopes to use the knowledge they have gained from it to maintain the same level of collaboration in their future (smaller) exhibitions.
In the end, Michael summed up his presentation quite simply: maintaining a high ethical standard in museums costs money, but the effort is worth it.
Michael asked if people would visit the website for the NMA and explore it. They hope that it will serve as an academic resource for all to learn about Aboriginal history in Australia.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
It's been all CFPs, all the time, lately on the Attic, so I thought I'd mix it up a bit and tell you about a good book I read recently. I was lent Joan Thomas's Curiosity, and although I was initially hesitant, I really enjoyed it.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Occupation and protest: documenting social unrest
The Museum of London is hosting a discussion on the 26 March, the anniversary of the March for the Alternative, to debate the role of museums in collecting items relating to social unrest. The discussion will be hosted by a panel including Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller and the Museum’s Director of Collections, Cathy Ross.
The panel will consider how recent social protests and unrest, including Occupy London and the summer riots, can be documented for future generations and which objects should be preserved to tell these stories. The Museum of London has acquired several placards from last spring's March for the Alternative, a copy of the Occupy Times and banners from the Occupy London camp into our collection; many of which will be on display on the evening.
Museum of London Director of Collections, Cathy Ross, said: “The Museum has a long history of collecting protest material, from the Suffragettes in the early 20th century to the anti-road ‘No M11’ protests in the 1990s. It’s a collecting area that raises interesting theoretical and practical issues for us as a city museum, and is particularly topical at the moment, given the debate around Occupy”.
Occupation and protest: documenting social unrest takes place on the 26 March from 19.00 - 20.45 and costs £6.
Fee £6 (concs £5) advanced booking required 020 7001 9844
Dates and times
Monday, 26 March, 19.00 - 20.45 (including panel discussion 19.00 - 20.00 and reception and object viewing 20.00 - 20.45)
To book call 020 7001 9844 or see the Museum of London website
Thursday, February 16, 2012
We are interested in contributions from colleagues worldwide, reflecting on the practices and challenges faced in different contexts, in relation to:
• The willingness of and constraints on those in the medical and caring professions to engage with the arts
• How artists, galleries, arts professionals and healthcare workers can work together, and the challenges and opportunities of partnership working
• Approaches to research, and evidence of the benefits of arts and health projects
• The impact of arts and health practice on policy
• How arts and health programmes can help deliver governments’ Older People Strategies
• The concept of risk in the cultures of the visual arts and gallery education – which claim to encourage risk-taking – vs. health care, which is often perceived as risk-averse
• The arts and caring professions: what are the benefits to carers?
• Commissioning artists and visual arts projects in healthcare settings
• The role gallery settings can play in exploring healthcare issues
• How visual arts programmes contribute to patient experiences of healthcare
Final articles lie between 1,500 and 4,000 words. The final submission deadline for engage 30 is 8 May 2012.
We welcome contributions which make use of the potential of the online format using video, audio or images.
We are also interested in articles which take the form of interviews or discussions.
If you are interested in contributing, please send
• A short, informal proposal of no more than 200 words
• Your contact details
• A biography of up to 100 words
to firstname.lastname@example.org, by 10am on 8 March 2012.
The programme offers a series of talks looking at methodological and practical issues to do with research, and is open to academics and PhD students alike. I went to one on developing research questions and it was interesting to see that other disciplines have the same challenges in coming up with the all-important question that will define your research perfectly - to yourself and others!
This coming Monday 20 February features Dr Janet Marstine and Jocelyn Dodd from Museum Studies presenting their research on Museum Ethics. Entitled 'Strategies for Introducing and Embedding a New Museum Ethics in the Museum Sector', their premise is that traditional museum ethics is based on a rigid and technical language created by like-minded individuals to maintain standard practice and power structures. Increasingly, this approach is unable to guide museum professionals through the complex ethical challenges and opportunities emerging from the 21-st century social, technological, economic and political landscape. Janet and Jocelyn will discuss their research, which aims to introduce and embed within the sector a new concept of ethics that treats ethics as both a discourse and a dynamic social practice, which is central to the process of change, both inside and outside the museum.
They will examine the methodology for their current AHRC research network grant on advancing 21st-century museum ethics, focusing on key strategies for: identifying relevant project partners and key participants; defining productive modes of collaboration; and designing network activities that meet the goals of the project. In particular, they will consider the challenges of negotiating with stakeholders a deliberately designed open-ended process for generating project outcomes.
Please be aware that you do need to sign up for the session by Friday 17 March (please go to the bottom of the page for the booking form) - but please do go along and support Janet and Jocelyn in presenting their exciting research to as wide an audience as possible.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Sustainability and heritage: how can the past contribute to a sustainable future?
International conference - 29-30th May 2012
Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands
Heritage is recognised as being vitally important to sustainability. Heritage reflects our ongoing relationship with the environment and plays a role in defining modern culture and identity. It is not thus simply concerned with the past but is about balancing conservation and change today and in the future. Sustainability is best understood through long-term perspectives on the interactions of people and environment. This reflexive relationship is crucial to inform future practice and research in sustainable development and cultural environment management, and for promoting cultural diversity, sustainability literacy and education. Heritage is embedded in place and forms a strong link between humans and local landscapes. Heritage thus provides an important avenue to place based learning, education for sustainability, and developing a genuine sense of stewardship and management for the long term future. With ever diminishing resources, especially with respect to the impacts of climate change, there is now a real need for innovation in methods of assessing, monitoring, and valuing heritage, for developing new approaches to education and heritage and, moreover, for critically appraising what the past can contribute to the future sustainability of society.
This interdisciplinary conference will bring together academics and practitioners to discuss and critically analyse Heritage and Sustainability through presentations, posters and round table discussion, under the following themes:
Thursday, February 02, 2012
- Martian meterorites and 3D laser technology
- the Reformation
- and finally, a load of boxes of tombstone fragments in East Anglia?