PUBLIC TALK: Sentient Relics: Exhibiting Difference in the Museum
|Sentient Relics: Exhibiting Difference in the Museum : Public talk by Dr Janice Baker
Meaningful encounters with artefacts in museums have always generated thinking about difference. In this context the term ‘difference’ ranges from an encounter with something unfamiliar and therefore strange to the philosophical notion of difference as singularity, that is, of difference without repetition. The two meanings overlap but the latter gives expression to a transformative state of becoming. Hence it gestures toward the affective potential of exhibits to change fixed identity thereby enabling new thought about human and nonhuman interactions. ‘Affect’ expresses the felt impact of exhibits; direct sensations prior to external, emotional responses based on re-cognition. Approaching the museum through the lens of affecting exhibits enables critical discussion around the agency of imagination and desire. Tellingly, representations of the museum in the popular imagination, particularly movies, highlight exhibits with affecting qualities and the transformation of characters through encounters with difference. Engaging with the museum and notion of alterity is not straightforward. Such a focus goes against the grain of a museology focused over the past forty years or so on interpreting exhibits as they act to form visitors as ideological subjects. This tends to limit consideration of un-common assemblages in museums by framing subject-object relations into existing formations rather than perceiving exhibits as a powerful force for affirming difference.
Dr Janice Baker’s research investigates emotion and affect in the museum context. She is interested in the gap between scholarly and popular representations of the museum and has a philosophical inclination to affirm museums as progressive, dynamic sites. The tour de force of the museum lies in encounters with the unexpected and unknowable although this seems dissipited by the current didactic preoccupation with non-objects such as projects designed to increase social participation rather than reflective musing. Previously an art curator, Janice currently teaches in the Department of Communication and Cultural Studies at Curtin University.
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