Table Topics: “Object Biographies and Theory of Things”
The discussion of our table hosts Dr. des. Verena Rodatus (Ethnological Museum Berlin) and Prof. Dr. Avinoam Shalem (Columbia University) will focus on Object Biographies and Theory of Things.
In the context of Ethnological Museums with their (partly) colonial collections, one important strategy is to reveal the objects’ biographies – in order to address and reflect the (often violent) history of their acquisition. But the presentation of the objects’ histories goes beyond this, says Verena Rodatus: How can epistemologies and classification models that are rooted in colonialism be redressed with new forms of presentation? Verena Rodatus will take the example of the exhibition “Object Biographies” (Humboldt Lab Dahlem, March 25 to October 18, 2015 at the Ethnologische Museum Berlin) as a starting point for the discussion.
According to Avinoam Shalem, objects exhibited in museums today are in fact reduced in time. They are usually classified into one specific temporal moment and particular geography. Moreover, being displayed in particular sections of the museum today and classified as ancient, medieval, Renaissance, Islamic, Indian, Chinese, African etc., they are restricted to specific settings bound to time. In addition, the museum’s captions attached to them usually underscore their originary moments, namely places and dates of production and histories of commissioners, patrons and makers. By opening the ability of objects to raise questions on temporalities beyond the originary moment of production, for example times concerning the objects’ later uses, collections and displays, and also the object’s capability to instigate ‘travel’ from the sub-consciousness of the beholder to hers or his consciousness, to create in-between spaces of time as the result of its being displayed next to other objects, and to shed light on their importance as markers of time (a sort of cultural clock), the object and the museum will be juxtaposed, and the object’s prospect vis à vis its limits within museum display will be highlighted.