Museums of Ethnography and World Cultures are – due to their contents – in the forefront of ongoing discussions about new trends regarding the obtaining and interpreting museum collections. For some time now increased migration in and within the European Union and connectedness of different social groups through Internet motivate museums to develop inclusive practices and fulfil concept of multivocality. Representing other social groups without their participation is outdated for a long time – at least in theory. Especially museums should encourage and perform the practices of co-creation of museum knowledge in cooperation with different individuals and groups. They can invite museum experts from other museum institutions, scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds, contemporary artists, students, museum visitors, interested in the issue, and also representatives from different ethnic groups and other communities – especially if museum has collections originating from them or it aims to include in the museums presentations those groups which were overlooked until then.
Within the SWICH project the Slovene Ethnographic Museum (SEM) has invited visual artist Bianca Baldi (b. 1985, Johannesburg) to intervene in its African collections. The objective of her stay in the museum is to provide new perspective on selected material. An artist came in April and in one month stay in Ljubljana she started to discover artistic and museum sphere in Slovenia. She visited Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova and International Centre of Graphic Arts. In addition she mainly investigated numerous artifacts and photographs from African collections in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, which have been obtained since the mid-nineteenth century. Those collections were introduced to her by Marko Frelih, PhD, curator for Africa and Americas.
Bianca Baldi became enthusiastic about the story of Slovene expedition in Togo. Two Slovenes, Anton Codelli – engineer and inventor, and his friend Leo Poljanec, joined German company Telefunken and between 1911 and 1914 helped to construct radiotelegraph station in the village of Kamina. First wireless radiotelegraph connection was established in 1913 between Kamina in Togo and station in Nauen near Berlin in Germany. This was an extraordinary technical achievement at that time. However, at the beginning of the First World War Berlin ordered to destroy the station, which was ruined in five hours. Many parts of the station – construction material as well as steam boilers – are still in situ. In order to present this heritage, the museum prepared photographic exhibition entitled Togo album 1911-1914.
Bianca Baldi is interested in the collection of technical photographs showing the construction of radiotelegraph station in Kamina and also in the collection of talismans, which were found in Leo Poljanec’s bag. She is enthusiastic especially about talismans with mythological structure in the shape of labyrinth. Evil forces are trapped in the maze and they are unable to escape. As a consequence, they vanished and therefore cannot harm the owner of the talisman. Bianca Baldi wants to connect these two completely diverse collections and through them reconsider communication as one of the powerful tools of imperialism. She will present her work in autumn 2016 after the second phase of her residency in museum.
During her residency Bianca Baldi gave an interesting artist talk, which took place at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum. She talked about her last projects – Livro de Todo o Universo (2015), following a residency at AIR Antwerp in collaboration with the Museum Plantin Moretus Antwerpen, and Zero Latitude (2014), commissioned and co-produced by the 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art with the support of Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg and the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC). She also presented the project she develops within the SWICH project in the museum.
You can get more information about her stay in Ljubljana, her impressions about the cooperation with the Slovene Ethnographic Museum and also her common research methods in the radio show My life, my music on the Radio SI. With this radio show journalist Chris Wherry aims to introduce the stories of interesting people and their favourite music pieces. In addition to other themes Bianca speaks also about her homeland, the Republic of South Africa, and offers some parallels between SA and Slovenia.
Cooperation between the Slovene Ethnographic Museum and an artist, Bianca Baldi brings us a lot of challenges – at least for the museum. It opens many questions: a role of an artists in the interpretation of collections in non-art museums; cooperation between an artist and targeted social groups within the artistic projects in museums; possibility of developing new audiences with the inclusion of artistic interpretation; ethical dilemmas regarding the relationship between artist and museum collections. I will reconsider these questions – and perhaps some more – at the end of Bianca Baldi’s residency in the museum.