Art as useful inspiration/provocation? Notes from the Arts Council Norway conference 2011.

To get some inspiration for the “writing up” of my fellowship project I went to Lillehammer (2,5 hrs north of Oslo) and the annual meeting place for museum people in Norway -which from now on is the conference of “Kulturrådet” (Arts Council Norway). This is the new home of the national archives and museums authorities, as well as the arts of course, and the marriage was reflected in the conference theme and question: What happens in the meetings between art, archives and museums?

Ahead of the conference there was a “blog relay” discussing this and my last post (in Norwegian) a contribution to that. With the example of the exhibition “Wunderkammer of Formlessness” in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo I wrote about artistic use of ethnographic objects and the dilemmas it can pose to an anthropologist. On one hand I find it exciting simply that forgotten collections are being used (as it might attract new audiences), yet on the other I always worry that exhibiting ethnographic objects as art will seem disrespectful to their source communities. In Alaska it did cross my mind that the ethnographic objects in the “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage” could look estheticized with its lack of elaborate labels (if ignoring the accompanying touch screens), but that exhibition was made in cooperation with the source communities (i.e.  the “toes”  anthropologists are afraid of stepping on).

In Lillehammer, artist/musician Espen Sommer Eide provoked historians during the first panel debate of the conference by saying that as an artist he didn’t have to care about misuse of sources and meanings of his work (though as some tweeters remarked it seemed to be in an ironic tone). In “The Sound of Dead Languages” he is making audio art of old recordings of Skolt Sami and other threatened languages. The historians wanted to know who is talking or what they are saying, the artist seemed only interested in the sound. Though his questions: “What is a language? What do we loose when a language dies?” can make people wonder, and again, the simple fact that an artist pays attention to language death might make new audiences interested in language revitalization. And to hear that the upcoming museum of Skolt Sami will use his installation “Language Memory” to welcome its visitors makes me think there is more to this art than “just nice sound”. However could something like this be possible inspiration for the Recovering Voices program I studied at the Smithsonian?

Through the project Museale forstyrrelser (“Museum disturbances”) the Arts Council Norway has encouraged heritage museums to invite artists to make works that can make people reflect upon history, heritage and heritage institutions. Personally I find such artistic disturbances exciting and useful for getting attention and new perspectives. However, can it somehow look like “bringing in clowns” to mess with the sources academics cannot, will not or dare not do themselves? At the end of the conference a historian proposed that the next step would be to invite academics to “disturb” in art museums -but how disturbing would that be?

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About olaugirene

antropolog med forunderlig kjærlighet for museumsstøv
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