Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Entrez, c'est ouvert ou Une brève visite des réserves par Jean Bermon

Certains musées, dans le passé, ont assimilé leurs réserves à des galeries d’études. On peut tout particulièrement évoquer le Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires dont le premier conservateur : Charles-Henri Rivière avait mis en place une galerie à l’usage particulier de quelques chercheurs et étudiants. Ceux-ci pouvaient, tout à loisir, étudier les nombreuses collections d’objets ethnologiques mis à leur disposition dans des vitrines. Cette disposition fut rapidement considérée comme obsolète non du fait de sa conception mais plutôt par son aspect figé et son manque de renouvellement en termes scientifiques.
Précisons que Charles-Henri Rivière ne doit pas être confondu avec Georges-Henri Rivière, le digne père du concept d’écomusée.
Depuis, certains grands musées français ou étrangers ont également opté pour des réserves visitables. Le « Science Museum » de Londres dispose de deux réserves ouvertes à un large public. De la même manière, le Musée des arts et métiers de Paris dispose de réserves destinées à être consultées par des chercheurs et qui constituent un exemple du genre.
Pour sa part, le musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen a créé des réserves de peinture qui peuvent être visitées par le grand public ; elles trouvent leur modèle dans les galeries des grands musées du XIXe siècle.
Le Musée Anthropologique de Vancouver, quant à lui, à pris le parti de rendre accessibles au public plus de 14000 objets. Il a, dans ce dessein, créé un vaste catalogue dédié à l’ensemble des pièces présentées que le visiteur peut consulter directement.

Au fur et à mesure, les réserves, d’abord, se visitent, puis constituent le véritable corpus de la visite.
L’ouverture au public d’espaces patrimoniaux restés jusqu’alors inaccessibles, peut constituer désormais un impératif pour certains lieux, en passe de désaffection, mais ne s’agirait-il pas plutôt d’un simple acte de reconnaissance et de partage ?
Un verni de poussière peut parfois rivaliser avec les présentations les plus raffinées.

Jean Bermon

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Irezumi Sugar Bowl - posted by Maureen

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Here's an example of a Handmeon, the Irezumi sugar bowl by the potter Sarah Heimann. If you visit the site, you can learn about this object and its sojourns and Sarah's work in general.

Handmeon: a new relationship to museum objects? - by Maureen

Handmeon has introduced a new relationship to objects, collecting and giving. The potential implications are very interesting for museums.

A Handmeon is an object with its own website. The premise is that the object's signficance is created, at least in part, by a person's experience in the world with the object. The person can impart aspects of this experience to others by attaching diverse forms of information to it, for example text, photo, film, sound.

The social creation of significance could be said to be as true of a Van Gogh as the paper maché box made for by my daughter on Mother's Day. Even -- perhaps it's more appropriate to say "especially" -- great art has a history and this history is often as intimate as any personal biography. Don't we all know the story of Vincent's ear? Can't we picture the night sky of Provence?

Imagine a museum where in addition to viewing the collections on display, you could access a website associated with each object. Furthermore, imagine that you could gain this access on or off site and participate in the "writing" of the object's story yourself whenever you felt like it. The enabling technology - the web-connected cell phone - already exists. Soon enough everyone will carry their "object reader and writer" around in their pocket.

It probably sounds iconoclastic to speak of a visitor "writing" the story of a museum object. But why not? The art you encounter in museums are "merely" objects. Their meaning is imparted by all of their appreciators, regardless of their credentials. Just like the meaning of any number of things in the world. You see similarly shocking examples at work right now on the Web, notably Wikipedia. On Wikipedia, a highly respectable resource, anyone who plays by the rules can participate in the amassing of information. The distinction between "expert" and "amateur" fall away on the Internet, the place where "nobody knows you're a dog".

What about the collector who wants to donate his or her collection to the museum? The Handmeon allows this person, like others, to impart his or her experience with the object. Moreover, the art collector who uses Handmeon gets the bonus of a crash course in "How to live with your mortality" and "What's a possession" -- one of the most enticing aspects of Handmeon. It's a philosophy lesson with a practicum.

Handmeon gives a gentle reminder that because we are mortal, what we consider our possessions are merely ephemeral cohabitations -- Unless we consume "our" objects, incorporate them like a piece of beef or reduce them to pieces chemically or mechanically -- most things we own will pass into the hands of another person, whether it be directly from our hands or by a proxy after our death.

It's imaginable that more people will come to feel as I do that "possession" is a not a very interesting nor appealing way of relating to the material world. Yet I am not an ascetic. I do greatly appreciate, even love, many objects. I prefer to describe my relationship to things in terms of "experiencing their presence" rather than "owning" it. Especially since, it seems to me that "ownership" and "possession" are on a slippery slope that can lead to a reversal of the subject and object functions. Many a person is possessed or owned by the possessions they allegedly own. And the world is not a better place for this reversal.

Handmeon provides a space in which to imagine alternative ways of being with objects and sharing reflections on these alternatives with other interested people. Handmeon can literally bring new meaning to museums and to life.

A Heritance caper, does it pack a punch for you? - - by Maureen

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At last, with a lot of help from friends and colleagues, Heritance has an executive summary. The purpose of this document is to explain the organization's mission, vision, goals and programs in a way that is clear, concise and compelling to the uninformed newcomer, as well as, the inveterate supporter.

Like a culinary caper, an executive summary out to pack a distinctive punch which lingers long after the reading. Tell us what you think and whether or not what we are doing strikes your fancy!

Heritance Executive Summary

Heritance coordinates a network of museum professionals who provide skills, knowledge, and services free of charge to museums in some of the poorest and most remote regions of the globe. Heritance’s mission to provide seed grants and professional services to at-risk museums presents a unique opportunity to influence the institutional culture of museums and the values of the communities they serve.

Museums are generally thought of as stewards of culture and heritage. But history is not a simple mirror of the past. Our perception and interpretation of history, and our place in it, is constantly reconstructed through a social process of collective recollection. This continuous reinvention of the past is part of the process by which communities define and shape their present and their future. We at Heritance believe that museums can and should be beacons of openness, inclusiveness, transparency, and self-determination in their communities.

Museums lacking resources cannot promote and protect the history and the collective memory of the people they serve. The disappearance of community-based museums and the displacement of their objects threaten the community’s historical identity and sap its power for self-determination. About 99% of the world’s museums fall between the cracks of the existing network of heritage organizations. Heritance is designed to help museums survive and flourish in even the poorest and most remote regions of the globe.

The expertise of trained museum professionals we mobilize represents a treasure trove of skills, knowledge, ideas and financial resources that are typically not available to museums at risk. Heritance brings together professionals from a wide variety of museums to find solutions to specific problems and to create a network for sharing “best practices” worldwide. Additionally, Heritance provides seed grants to museums to implement specific projects with well-defined goals and time frames.

Unfortunately, museums lacking resources almost invariably also lack the institutional culture and practices that would allow them to use the resources effectively, even if they had them. Simply providing “helicopter aid” to museums without any corresponding process improvements is frequently unsuccessful and even counterproductive.

To avoid the dysfunctional outcomes typically associated with ‘handing out fish’, Heritance grants and professional expertise are never provided in a vacuum. Professional assistance and seed grants are always provided in conjunction with management skills workshops or by dual-trained consultant-managers in the context of a Heritance-sponsored, collaboratively managed project. Partners are required to participate actively in project planning, coordination and evaluation of all interventions using a web-based project management system. This provides a cost effective form of distance learning, permitting partner museums to learn essential project management skills and to practice transparent and inclusive communications. Much like Doctors without Borders, by bringing first aid to museums, Heritance gains a foothold for its broader mission: changing museum culturefrom the inside out.

We believe that museums can serve a vital role in community evolution, both as catalysts in the process of self-definition and self-determination, and as role models in the transparent and inclusive processes essential to open democratic societies.

Heritance Executive Summary (available along with other Heritance corporate documents: http://www.heritance.org/resources.html)


Maureen