I have been here in the Living Our Cultures exhibit in Anchorage Museum for a while now, but still get overwhelmed by it. Even though the architecture is simple, with a rectangular gallery mainly houses seven big glass cases (with each one its big video monitor facing the entry) the dim lights, the music and the shifting images on the monitors almost sweeps me off my feet when entering the gallery.
“When the birds came back in spring, it was…amazing.” tells Alicia Jones about her childhood on the Athabsacan monitor and with such passion that I really hear birds singing and smell the air of spring. Each monitor introduces you to a specific Alaska People by showing its own slideshow/film where young and old individuals talk about their culture, and as only two monitors “talk” at the same time (meanwhile the others show still images) you’re drawn towards the talking ones, and this can make you walk up and down the gallery watching the screens without seeing the objects in the cases behind them.
By the time your mind is able to walk on to watch the masterworks on display you might be so stunned by their beautiful arrangement, on individually crafted mounts and in cases without a back wall (so that one can see the back of objects on the other side and through to the next cases) that it can almost be difficult to focus on one single object. I almost need to look at the object and its well-informed record on the touch-screens in order to really see the real object. The curators and the Native advisors selected this spatial arrangement to show that the Peoples of Alaska are different, but connected –a message that is reinforced by texts on the gallery walls. “We are connected, we can connect easily” said Marie Meade on the Yup’ik intro film, and the connection I feel is almost like stepping carefully into a new landscape. Though some will say I’ve been sensing too much.
More about the ideas and content of the exhibition is explained in this Gallery Tour posted on the web of Anchorage Museum and I also uploaded a little video clip showing how entering the exhibit might look like, but no description sweeps me off my feet. And that I think will be my little point here; that even though I will mostly write about how amazing the possibilities of online collections are there is still nothing online that can impress me as much as a “real thing”. And I think it isn’t only because of the aura of authenticity of the objects, but more to do with a sensation of being inside a total experience.
Ps, and just for the records, I’m starting to see more than the forest here now:)