Here we go: research residence in the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest

By Ursa Valic

Hi there! For a few months I will be writing you from Bucharest, the capital of Romania, a city with glorious and hmm… inglorious (communist) past. A city that has been home to more than 2 million of people of different ethno-cultural backgrounds and that in the past19th and beginning of 20th century was considered the Paris of the East. Yet now, I consider it as the New York of East – without trying to much to orientalise it, the city is now the magnet that attracts western capital on one hand, but on the other, a city of quite controversial social problems from low salaries for local workers to homeless people, forced evictions of Roma to mysterious disappearance of dogs from the streets that were for many years the terror of tourists (I was bitten by one 9 years ago, when I was here on a study exchange). However, hidden by the grey and dirty city facades, Bucharest is home to several gems of creative practices from the past and present – art venues, theatre, film and concert performances, wonderful museums and historical sites and many more.

 

So, what I am actually doing here, to attract your attention on the aMUSE(U)Ment blogBy the end of last year, I was awarded with an international research residence in 2017 at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest for 6 months. My proposal to the museum was a participatory project with different groups of people, especially the ones from the margins, and considered vulnerable. I was not sure they will accept me – not being an artist, nor an art historian or theoreticianbut a cultural anthropologists and ethnologist and a museum curator and a passionate photographer. However, a museum of contemporary art (as any other museum) needs a mixture of different profiles and intellectual backgrounds, to broaden the margins of knowledge and maybe to have a different view on its work and especially when we are working on the collaboration with the public. I came at the right time: the museum is in vivid flow of changes from the physical space to the content. What a great adventure and how many challenges are therefore in front of me!

 

The National Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzeul Național de Artă Contemporană) was established in 2004 in the Parliament Palace or previously calleed the People’s House, the last of the foolish projects of the communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu. The palace is one of the largest buildings in the world, but its history is a bit tormenting – it costed the leader head at least. After the earthquake in 1977, Ceauşescu wanted to reorganise and rebuild the area. The story is well known: a wast part of the city was demolished and more than 40.000 people were allocated. However, the building site gave work to many people, but is said that the costs were so high that the building impoverished the state and caused the political turmoil – the revolution of 1989. After the revolution, the building was still unfinished and under debate: either to demolish it or to transform it in something else. Today the building hosts the Parliament, the Senat, the Chamber of Deputies… and as I have already said, from 2004, the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

Photo: Iosif Király. (Photo from the MNAC web page.)

The establishment of the museum in the building that carries such a heavy historical symbolism related to vague and controversial memories and emotions, was debated since the beginning, starting with an international conference and exhibition Romanian Artists (and not only) love Ceauşescu’s Palace?! (curated by Ruxandra Balaci). One of the convenors, Ami Barak wrote in the museum/exhibition catalogue:

»When I heard the news of that quasi-Freudian choice of hosting the Museum of Contemporary Art inside the heinous People’s Palace, the fruit and symbol of former dictator Ceauşescu’s megalomania and crazy will for destructive and criminal grandeur, I said to myself, as did others, that instead of a beginning, this was rather a burial, an absolute closure enacted by the authorities. That it was, undoubtedly, a punishment and a buffling form of contempt towards contemporary art in general and Romanian creation in particular. While elsewhere the museums of contemporary art make room for daring architectural projects and devise modes of display that signal new trends in architecture, Romania has chosen a symbol of the past, with all the consequences for the collective unconscious that can be imagined. And that it was quite likely that this would contribute to the usual lack of understanding manifested by audiences anywhere towards today’s art, which the museum is called to protect and promote.” (Ami Barak, MNAC – National Museum of Contemporary Art, catalogue, 2004: 49)

The burdens of the past are still vivid in some sense, and can be described as a mental barrier between the museum and the community. The barrier is also materialized in the street and the wall surrounding the building with police controls that add a heavy notion of social power and inaccessibility. That is a real challenge for a project based on participation and accessibility…

 

However, the museum staff is full of fresh ideas that are reinforced by five floors of exposition space filled with a good program. On 27th April 2017, the grand Spring opening with five excellent exhibitions presenting mostly Romanian artists and also in a dialogue with the international art space (the program) was seen by quite a good number of visitors, looked like more than thousand. And one month later, on the 20th May, the Romanian Night of Museums, a broad number of people was still discovering the contemporary art in the museum half an hour before closing at 2 in the morning. The museum has also a good accompanying program with theater performances, talk shows like Artist Talk, workshops for children and a new program with music-based events is going to follow in the summer months.

So, what else can be add to the already long introductory presentation? Maybe, that I am happy to be here, to gain more knowledge and experiences in the field of the contemporary art museums and of course to add some other, different perspectives on museum work, especially in the filed of collaboration with the public.

Art and Christianity in Central Africa

Tina Palaić

Christmas should be celebrated on 25 May instead of December. At least that is what members of the Kimbanguist Church believe – and also practice. Kimbanguism is a religious movement founded by Simon Kimbangu in the Belgian Congo in 1921. With several millions of believers, Kimbanguist Church is considered a branch of Christianity.


Simon Kimbangu interpreted the Bible and prophesied the end of the colonial order. Belgian colonialists accused him of encouraging racism, uncivil behavior and offending public order, as well as condemned him to death. However, he stayed in captivity until his death in 1951. Despite attempts to suppress the movement, Kimbanguism has survived. Kimbanguist Church fights against the polygamy, magic and witchcraft, as well as use of violence, alcohol and tobacco.


Kimbanguist Church is merely one of the consequences of the encounter of the Kongo peoples of the Central Africa with Christian religion. Small, but very exciting temporary exhibition at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, entitled ‘From the Jordan River to the Congo River: Art and Christianity in Central Africa’, tells us about the influences of 500 years of Christianization of the vast territory of today’s Gabon, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo. We can see how Christian iconography was interpreted and used by Kongo rulers and artists – many of the objects connected Christian imagery with the power. For instance, cruciform objects were used to legitimize the power of leaders, in judicial decisions, rainmaking, and as talismans to assure successful activities – traveling, hunting, and conception. 

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A copy of Santo Agostinho Padrão, stone pillar, erected by Portuguese Diogo Cão in 1482, when he reached the Kingdom of Congo.

Curator defines three evangelisation periods of Central Africa:

  • between the 15th and the 18th centuries: the Portuguese reached the Kingdom of Kongo in 1482 and remained the main European population (also the Dutch and the French occupied certain areas) in the area until the beginning of colonial era. The main reason for contacts was trading however, Portugal also supported different missionary orders to spread Christianity. The conversion of the Kingdom of Congo happened quickly – one of the reasons is that political leadership decided to embrace the new religion, as they saw it as a source of their greater political power. Conversion was mainly a ruling classes’ strategy to serve their political and religious ends, therefore it never eradicated local beliefs.
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Nkangi kiditu, a crucifix of the Congo chief, with secondary figures with joined hands. Crucifixes legitimized the power of their owners. 17th century.

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In the early years of the 18th century, a young Kongo princess named Kimpa Vita promoted a new form of Christianity. She began a religious and political movement, later called Antonianism. Sculptures like this one complement the role of Kimpa Vita in promoting the reunification and strengthening of the Kongo. 20th century.

  • colonial era: it reached its climax with the Berlin conference (1884-1885) when different Kongo groups became dependent on the Portuguese and French powers as well as on the Belgian crown. There are many objects on the exhibition showing Catholic-inspired art from this period. When the second period of evangelism began, of course in an alliance with the colonial order, there were more material, formal and linguistic than spiritual traces left after the initial wave of Christianity.
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Female necklace with crucifix, first quarter of the 20th century.

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Ntadi, funerary statue, with a cross around its neck and a hat with leopard claws, an attribute of a Chief. 20th century.

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Santu cross, eastern Kongo, late 19th-early 20th century. These crosses were used primarily to assure successful hunts.

  • from 1960, 1970 onwards: proliferation of new, so-called ‘revival churches’, was encouraged by the acute economic and political crisis in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. These churches seek to break with the past and tradition. One of them is Kimbanguist Church, introduced at the beginning of this text. There is one room of the exhibition dedicated only to this period which shows also Pierre Bodo’s artistic interpretations.
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Congolese painter Pierre Bodo (1953-2015), La Possession Demoniaque, 2000. Bodo served as a pastor of a Pentecostal church, which influenced his iconographic choices.

From my perspective, curator of the exhibition, Julien Volper, specialist curator for the Sub-Saharan Africa at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, very well emphasized the crucial point of the exhibition – the adaptation of Christianity to the particularities of local cultures.


Christian iconography and practices were not adapted unaltered. On the one hand, exhibited objects reflect the reinterpretation of Christian iconography by the local artists, and on the other, Catholic practices were transformed into a religious syncretism. As it is written on the museum’s website, we can understand Congolese cultural interpretation of  Catholicism as “one of the symbols of emancipation in the face of European domination”.


With revealing the aspects of agency of Kongo peoples when encountered with Christian religion, the curator enables us to question imperialist and racist elements of an evolutionary discourse, or of the so-called narrative of progress, which is still present nowadays. From my perspective, this exhibition succeeds in presenting how contacts between different religious as well as cultural concepts can result in something new, stimulate creativity and thus provide new perspectives on the world we live in. This is an extremely important message for today. Fortunately, for those of us, who do not understand French – only the main panels are translated in English – there is an exhibition catalogue available in both, French and English languages.

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Obviously, the exhibition also inspired a visitor, who drew this wonderful picture in a guest book.

Strolling through the exhibition, I was reminded of the very special experience I had while traveling / volunteering in Ghana with a very good friend of mine. We accidentally came across Christian church in the city of Tamale, and were invited to join the Holy Mass. They welcomed us very kindly, and we were asked to introduce ourselves. Afterwards we were invited to actively participate at the Mass. Their Holy Book surprised me the most – I am familiar with biblical parables quite well, however this book was very different. Stories were categorized within several chapters, namely health, family, love, strength, temptation … depending on their message. I tried to read a chapter about temptation, but my neighbor never stopped to show me the right page we were reading at the moment …

 

 

Out to Sea?

Urška Purg

On the way from work, I stop by at the market. I crave some bananas and I need a few lemons. Before weighing them and getting a price, I neatly place them in those see-through plastic bags. Quickly, I also grab my favourite yogurt in a cup and a bottle of water, since I forgot to drink all day. The last thing I need is a piece of cheese, packed in a stretch foil. There, I’m done. Since I’m always in a hurry, I rush to the self-cashier’s and stuff my purchase in their handy plastic bags. Once I’m home, placing my yield on the spots, where it belongs, I realize, I made it home with three new plastic bags, plastic cup and a bottle, and a plastic foil. Ok, it’s not that bad. It gets worse though, when thinking this happens nearly every second day. And not only in my case. However, what has this to do with museums? More than we think.

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A mass of plastic waste, which every 20 – 30 secunds ends up in the sea.

Out to Sea? Is an exhibition telling a story about a phenomenal material – plastic. Plastic is amazing, since it can have any characteristic we want. It is cheap, light… practically it is perfect. It even contributed to the development of the daily appliances. Plastic is so to say almighty. Moreover, it is very badly degradable. It proves its almightiness also in the sea, the final station where it ends up in large masses every 20 to 30 seconds.

To decompose, plastic needs UV rays.

Would you like to take a look of what size of a mass am I talking about? Take a walk through the travelling exhibition, currently hosted in The Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO). Already during the visit, your brain will start to ruminate on this. Exhibition from The Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, which travels around the world in environment-friendly way, is set to be easily understood and introduced to the children. The visitor is introduced to an afterlife of plastic, once it served its purpose for the humans. The exhibition plays with a thought, what archaeological diggings will our successors find. It offers an insight on how much plastic waste we produce; it illustrates the different ways of recycling. It enables us to discover on our own, how much and how small plastic bits are hiding in the sea sand. It serves us with facts about the plastic and visual enrichments, among which also a mockumentary – depicting a plastic bag’s struggle to reach the bags’ afterlife paradise – gets its place.

Poisons, hiding in the plastic bits, are accumulated in the organism’s fat tissue, rounding the food chain with us: the fish eats the bits, and we eat the fish. And the poisons along with the fish.

Despite seeing this exhibition already in Graz in 2015, which stunned me already then, it took MAO’s localized Slovene plastic waste input to really strike me. Besides, being greeted by a monthly catch of domestic plastic waste, collected by the museum staff, when entering the exhibition also did its part on my emotional involvement. Most visible and unique host’s input on the travelling exhibition is an analysis of the materials of the plastic national heritage, kept in MAO’s collections. Through that, they expose the overlooked fact; there is more than just one type of plastic, as it is often perceived. Moreover, the restorers being unable to define the types with their bare eyes, this everyday material becomes unfamiliar, diverse and puzzling. What type of plastic we have is important not only for its decomposition – since not all types last the same amount of time – but also for its storage. The last is clearly stressed in MAO’s input at the exhibition with an analyse of selected design objects, opening an often overlooked chapter of object-keeping in museums, while warning about the issue; possibly causing a few grey hair to restorers and keepers of museum collections.

An exhibition that gives you chills and convinces you to make a fresh new year’s resolution.

The exhibition does not pretend to offer any aesthetic pleasures to the visitors. It plays a role of something greater. It reminds us of what we do on regular basis, and how effective we do it. If museums are supposed to take on a more active role in the society, influencing and co-shaping the society, this exhibition is a way, how this can be done. This is an exhibition not only all the children and schools need to see, but also we – adults should not miss out on it.

MAK Vienna

Urška Purg

Oh, Vienna and museums – it’s always a pleasure! Actually, I like my Vienna with sequences of museum and coffee stops. In addition, eventually a lunch and dinner, of course. However, really – squeezing two to three museums and two coffee stops in a day in Vienna is a perfect combination, which makes sure that I don’t gorge myself with culture (or coffee).

This time around, when the streets were reflecting month away holiday spirit, I decided to fully ignore the too early Christmassy atmosphere and stroll around the museums I’ve placed on my list To visit. I must say, I was really impressed by The Museum of Applied Arts – MAK. It is easy to reach, and it has that welcoming atmosphere, even though the staff you meet is in general at the reception desk and later on the guardians of the artefacts. However, the additional – let’s say – contemporary participatory and educational visitor inputs on the exhibitions with many various sofas in the ground floor and tables, where some visitors calmly had their snack/talk brakes made sure I felt fully relaxed and nice. Despite having a collection of Vienna’s pedigree furniture and on first glimpse boring artefacts in the ground floor, they’ve managed to cut the haughty spirit of the exhibits through adding the elements of surprise. When you already expect you will find a row of important chairs from their furniture collection in the next room, they pleasantly surprise you with an installation of those important chairs presented through their shadows – instantly creating a new experience, freed from the possible superiority. In addition, the art nuoveau Wien 1900 in the first floor is remarkable, a bit old-fashioned, but you know – there is something about that period, and they have Klimt’s artworks as well. And who doesn’t like Klimt?

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Vienna 1900 with more contemporary artistic addition on the top.

My favourite though, was the MAK Design Labor, where I zigzagged around, feasting my eyes on incredible contemporary kitchen ideas (next to the Mother of the Fitted Kitchen from 1926), incredible chair collection, a room of patterns, which are also digitalized and ready for you to use, Helmut Lang room and a room, where the question of sustainability is in the forefront. I really appreciated, how they intertwined the old and the new, enabling the self-explanatory environment without the unnecessary elaborations, and very subtle artistic inputs on the topics, such as the kitchen, the table setting and eating… Foremost, I liked the solution on reducing the text on the exhibitions, yet enabling the curious ones to learn more. They took the simple and effective way, by inserting the ‘text guides corners’ just before every exhibition topic began, and by exposing the most important points or questions for the visitors to chew on, placed on the walls in German and English.

Their decision on the temporary exhibitions was also an interesting one, displaying the Shunga, erotic art from Japan and 100 BEST POSTERS 15. Germany Austria Switzerland. Both were great for creating a cut between the floors and various topics. There is many more on display, always playing with the past and the present, or creating a special environment and exhibition space, as they did in the exhibition on china, placing it in the enormous wooden-glass see-through crates with handwritten object presentations. As I said, they know how to refresh and spice things up and they have a lovely museum shop with a café just next to the reception.


All in all, it’s a place worth visiting, especially on Tuesdays, when they are open till 10 p.m. with free entry.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

Tina Palaić

It is truly an exceptional opportunity for me to experience Doha, the capital city of Qatar, in the time of the rapid development of all Gulf area. Constant progress includes also impressive cultural offer. Museums, which are one of the sites of ongoing process of Qatari national identity construction, are not an exception. In this blog post, I would like to write about Museum of Islamic Art, an exceptional museum in many ways. Before doing so, I will provide brief introduction to better understand the Qatari cultural sphere.

Qatar is a tiny Gulf state, which gained independence from British protection in 1971. The country is in the process of rapid growth, and changes are monthly seen in every corner of Doha. On the one hand, there are many luxury hotels, spas, world class restaurants, malls and architecturally interesting and quite unusual buildings, and on the other, there are variety of options to shop in lively souqs and markets as well as explore several excellent museums and other vibrant cultural places. Qatar is still reliant on oil wealth however, the state wants to decrease its dependence on oil exports and establish a country as a major regional and international cultural and educational center.

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West Bay, one of the most prominent districts of Doha, with its modern and unusual buildings.

In her article, UCL Qatar lecturer Karen Exell suggests that collecting and displaying (I would say in the western style) are something new in Qatar – these practices have been in operation since the middle of the 20th century. They have been defined by very particular socio-cultural context. Firstly, Qatari nationals are a minority in their own country (they represent around 12 per cent of the population; total population estimated in 2016: 2,383,705 people). The majority of the population consists of skilled and unskilled expatriate workers with residence status only. Secondly, unprecedented rapid development as well as increase in personal wealth connected with oil exploitation, change their ways of life in just a few decades. Consequently, there are many private collections which serve as a point to negotiate collectors’ own relationships with modernity. They show mostly traditional ways of life and express nostalgia about lost times as well as fear to lose traditional values. One of the extraordinary private collections can be seen in the Sheikh Faisal Museum (opened in 1998).

First museum in the western model, Qatar National Museum, was established in 1975, shortly after Qatar gained independence. This museum is now closed due to reconstruction and will reopen in 2018 (check out its outstanding architecture by French architect Jean Nouvel). Many museums and galleries were opened in the last two decades, for instance Museum of Islamic Art (2008), Mathaf: Arab Museum of Contemporary Art (2010), Msheireb Museums (2015); Al Riwaq Art Space (1998), Al Markhiya Gallery (2008). All museums and galleries offer free entry. The lead organization for museums in Qatar is Qatar Museums (2005) which is responsible for development of museums and art galleries as well as restoration of archeological sites. It also organizes and sponsors various cultural events.

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Museum of Islamic Art attracts lots of people especially during the weekends – on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).

The Museum of Islamic Art is located on the Corniche, very beautiful waterfront promenade, on the man-made island sixty metres from the shore. It was designed by the prominent Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, and that cooperation immediately attracted a lot of attention and media coverage in the West. The building truly is spectacular. It is a clear example of engaging with modernity, however strong connections with the past were required. In the museum’s catalogue I have read about architect’s quest for the “essence” of Islamic architecture – he defines it through the play of light and shadows, “where sunlight brings to life powerful volumes and geometry plays a central role” (p. 26).

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Spacious atrium with big chandelier and the decorative patterns on the floor, inspired by geometric Islamic designs.

The extraordinary collections of the MIA are not large in number – or at least curators did not put the majority of the objects on the display. Exhibition rooms are spacious and comfortable, with many chairs around to take a rest if necessary. In order to make every object seen and appreciated, they used the lightning to create the atmosphere of uniqueness of each of them in the otherwise dark rooms without natural lights. Exhibition includes metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles, coins and glass. It is clear that the display was created in the manner of orthodox Western exhibition design – on the basis of consideration, that the object tells its story by itself.

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Hunting horn from Italy, probably Sicily, from 11th-12th century. On the exhibition, there are very tiny information available about the object.

Museum collection is very diverse. Objects geographically range from Spain to Central Asia and India, and in time from the 7th to the 19th century. They come from both secular and religious aspects of diverse worlds. As it is written on the exhibition, their collection “reflects the diversity of many cultures and ideas within one civilization”. This is a great perspective for me, however what I really missed, was the context, which would explain the historical and geographical backgrounds of the items. In addition I also craved for more information about the importance of exhibited objects as well as background of objects’ selection.

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Here you can see a collection of astrolabes, scientific instruments, used throughout the Islamic world mainly to determine prayer time and direction of prayer towards Mecca.

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Here are two beautiful lamps, a great example of Islamic art on glass.

This experience leads me to the question: who is the museum’s target audience? What is the connection with the local population – especially because MIA is very western styled museum? Of course MIA expresses its openness to people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds – by the way, check their online tours – but it seems for me that the main aim of the museum is not to include and communicate to local audience. In my opinion, they want to impress the West with both the amazing architecture and acceptable version of the Islamic world. Namely, without providing any context, museum exhibition excludes any connections to politics. With doing so, the museum demonstrates that “Islam has continually been a tolerant and progressive force, adopting, adapting and passing on ideas within and across its borders” (catalogue about MIA, p. 9). This quote clearly shows, that a heritage is – like always, but here perhaps more evidently – a political tool to emphasize selected interpretation.

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Next to MIA is MIA Park, where you can stay for the whole day to enjoy the greenness, and catch the pleasant cool breeze from the sea. On this photo you can see MIA Park Bazaar, the modern version of the old souq tradition (held weekly every Saturday).

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This large sculpture, designed by American artist Richard Serra, stands at the end of the MIA Park pier. Known as the ‘7’ sculpture, it celebrates the spiritual and scientific significance of the number 7 in Islamic culture. Unveiled in 2011.

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MIA at the sunset.

Muzej prekinjenih vezi

Urška Purg

Si lahko predstavljate, da več kot pet minut stojite pred starim opekačem? Ali pa pred plišasto igračko gosenico s populjenimi nogami? Ali še bolje, si predstavljate, da vas nagovori in gane oguljen, breznosni, vrtni palček?

Naj zveni še tako nemogoče in dolgočasno, v Muzeju prekinjenih vezi se boste zalotili, da počnete natanko to. Ždeli boste pred neobičajnimi ali celo zelo običajnimi predmeti in po več minut vpijali neverjetne zgodbe, ki jih pripovedujejo. Nekateri to počno celo po več ur. Moram priznati, da je to edini muzej, v katerem sem bila dovolj motivirana, da sem prebrala skoraj ves razstavni tekst, četudi zelo dolg in to že drugič – z letom premora vmes. To sem počela kljub temu, da z eno pošteno nogo blodim med skupino ljudi, ki ne marajo branja tekstov na razstavah in v muzejih.

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One of the most quiet museums I’ve ever been to./ Najbolj tih muzej od vseh, v katerih sem bila.

Ne vem, če je potrebno sploh reči, da so stvaritelji tega muzeja zadeli v polno z izbiro tematike, saj so prekinjene vezi ena bolj univerzalnih in vsesplošnih na svetu – vsi jih imamo nekaj za sabo, takšnih ali drugačnih. Med obiskom se ne vzbujajo zgolj čustva, ampak tudi spomini na naše lastne potrgane vezi. In čeprav so v resnici podjetje, ki se zgolj imenuje muzej, se vanj zgrinjajo obiskovalci iz povsod in kot kaže, nikogar ne moti vstopnina. Za nameček so prejeli še slavno muzejsko nagrado sklada Kenneth Hudson za najbolj inovativen muzej v Evropi.

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Muzej so kar pretkano namestili v bivše zagrebško staromeščansko stavbo, katere ostanki vznikajo ponekod med razstavo, četudi je interier popolnoma bel, da predmeti še toliko bolj pridejo do izraza. S tem, ko so vsi prostori in podstavki in vse belo, so avtorji uspeli doseči ravno to – predmeti izstopajo iz prostora in vsak posebej izzivajo naše zanimanje. Rahlo galerijski način razstavljanja predmetov je po mojem mnenju prav primeren za sporočilo, ki so ga želeli prenesti na obiskovalce, saj skupaj z belino omogoči prerez stika z realnostjo in te – kot Alico, ki pada skozi deblo v Čudežno deželo – zaluča v nek paralelni prostor, kjer čas ni pomemben. Na neki točki sem se počutila resnično kot da stopam po čudežni deželi, kjer mi je dovoljeno kukati v najbolj intimne prostore slehernikov. Skratka vse te zgodbe, ki se skrivajo za vsakim predmetom, različne kot so, slej ko prej uspejo vplivati na vaša čustva. Nenadoma začnete skupaj z anonimnimi osebami, ki so zapisale svoje razhode, čutiti bolečino, zadovoljstvo, svobodo, žalost, … Kar je še bolj srhljivo – brez težav bi ena tistih zgodb in predmetov bila lahko tudi vaša. Sama sem zasledila, da se nenehno in nezavedno poigravam z mislijo, kaj bi pa jaz storila v nekaterih primerih.

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Nekatere zgodbe so iskreno žalostne in boleče, nekatere prepojene z jezo, druge so prav navihane in spet druge iščejo nek zaključek. Nekaj zgodb, četudi še tako kratkih, povzroči celo kurjo polt. V svoji človečnosti vas priklenejo nase, da počasi dihate z njimi. In ravno tukaj je ta fenomenalnost ideje, ki stoji za tem muzejem – to je muzej vseh nas. Ljudi, ki zjutraj kolesarimo v službo in si pri tem izmišljujemo izgovor za zamujanje. Vseh nas, ki med mešanjem brbotajoče kremne juhe sanjamo o tem in o onem. Vseh nas, ki smo imeli in imamo radi.

Četudi so predmeti še tako različni, sledijo nevidnemu redu, ki vas najprej popelje skozi zgodbe razhajanj mladih zaljubljencev, nakar sledite bolj resnim koncem preko varanja in odraslih razhodov, vse do bolečih prekinitev družinskih vezi med starši in potomci. Sprehod se zaključi z zrelimi (če si smem drzniti tako reči) razvezami zakonov in končanih partnerstev. Najbolj temne zgodbe so umeščene v ujemajoče razrut prostor, kjer iz ostankov sklepam, da je bila nekoč kopalnica. Med tem, ko je nekaterim scenografija tega prostora nadležna, je meni všeč ravno zaradi vzdušja, ki ga ustvarja. Vizualni vtis polomljenih belih ploščic je namreč kot nalašč za izraženo težo, ki jo nosijo predmeti v tem prostoru. V resnici bi še najbolj sodili v mračno, hladno in pajčevinasto klet, če bi jo muzej imel, saj nosijo zgodbe, ki bi si jih večina običajno želela skriti pred širnim svetom.

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Dovolila bi si reči, da to ni zgolj muzej, saj omogoča vsem, ki anonimno delijo svoje zgodbe preko predmetov, zaključek vezi in vzbuja upanje za prihodnost. Zraven tega je to en bolj tihih muzejev, kar sem jih kdaj obiskala, saj vsi obiskovalci berejo tekste, ne glede na njihovo dolžino. Vsak si želi vpogleda v čim več zgodb, obenem pa po obisku nadaljevati svoje življenje z boljšim občutkom o sebi. Na tem mestu skorajda lahko vežemo vzporednice z dvigajočim učinkom, ki spremlja gledanje resničnostnih šovov, kot so Keeping up with the Kardashians ali Big Brother, ki gledalce pustijo z občutkom normalnosti po koncu.

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S svojim drugim obiskom v tem muzeju sem bila zelo zadovoljna, čeprav moram izpostaviti nekaj nadležnih slabosti, ki bi jih z malo truda lahko izboljšali. Kljub njihovi neformalnosti v izražanju, ki je povsem primerna, bi nivo angleških tekstov lahko izboljšali – vsaj slovnične napake, ki jih celo jaz opazim, bi lahko eliminirali. Zelo sem si želela ogledati tudi nekaj videov, ki so jih vključili v postavitev, še posebej, ker je en v slovenščini. Vendar se kljub visokemu zanimanju nisem uspela prebiti čeznje, ker so imeli vsi napako v zvoku, zaradi česar so bili filmčki tako rekoč negledljivi. Prav ta specifični problem bi lahko, ali bolje rečeno, moral biti izboljšan, sicer bi bilo bolje, da videov sploh ne bi bilo. Nenazadnje ne bi škodilo niti to, če bi imeli po prostorih raztresenih nekoliko več sicer krasnih sedežev. Sploh, ker ob izhodu iz tega čustvenega popotovanja hrbtenica in noge nedvomno cenijo malo počitka. Na srečo ima muzej krasno in ljubko konceptualno kavarnico, kjer sem lahko odpočila svoja boleča vretenca, po tem, ko sem seveda preskenirala še resnično dobro premišljeno majhno muzejsko trgovinico.

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Vsemu navkljub sta tema muzeja in dejstvo, da imajo nenehne potujoče razstave, kjer vključujejo lokalno publiko, ter začasne razstave, kjer predstavljajo tekoče pereče družbene zadeve, tako popolni, da si lahko samo želim, da bi se tega spomnila sama. In še muzejskega dvojčka imajo v Los Angelesu.

Pokemania in the air

Urška Purg

It’s here and apparently it’s not going anywhere – Pokemon GO game, which flooded the world in a matter of days. It has managed to infiltrate into every place, even the cultural institutions, whether they like it or not. It has its pluses and minuses, among which not all are already known and are still emerging.

On its march, it did not forget to involve also the museums and galleries in any kind of manner – whether they host some newly self-employed little monsters or they offer PokeStop stations, where the players can refill for the hunt, or even call the wild Pokemons.

With the exception of a few museums and places of memory, like Auschwitz Memorial and Holocaust Museum Washington, majority of worldly known museums, such as MoMA, V&A, Museum of London, etc, accepted this special scavenger hunt game and the players with open arms. Even Slovene museums and galleries reacted to the new trend immediately; mostly by embracing the game and letting the potential audience know, they’re in it as well. They tried to tackle along, each in their own way.

There have already been a few articles, advising the museums, how to make the most out of it, even by investing in the game, boosting Pokemons, offering special Pokemon tours, etc. What is the least of the benefit museums could get out of this? By being a PokeStop, they at least attract the players, of broad age groups, although, surprisingly, the ones hanging out around the museums in Slovenia tend to be deep in their twenties. It does not necessarily mean those Pokémon seekers will ultimately enter the museums; however, they at least take a stop in front (in the worst-case scenario) and remember the name and the place. In Slovene case, that is already alot. Through this, maybe they will geolocate the museums in their mind maps, and just maybe, they will even return with a purpose of visiting one day. Although the last is a very idealistic scenario. To summarize, museums can suddenly get a large number of game enthusiasts in their yards, and it is up to their inventiveness, how they will react to that. How far should museums go with it, should be intertwined with their mission and vision.

Returning to the inappropriateness of the PokeStop though, what can museums do there? How can they influence the players and Niantic, to pull them out of this enchanted overlapping virtual-real world? Since the majority of the stops, glued on top of Niantic previous location game Ingress, tends to take place on the existing open air monuments, statues and cultural heritage spots, some of them might be inappropriate, in a way Auschwitz is. In Slovenia, players will suddenly get very familiar with all sorts of monuments, especially the ones from the period of WWII and post-WWII monuments and memorial boards, including the monument to victims of the WWII, which is supposed to be a place of respect, memory and peace. One can ask the holders of the game – Niantic – to remove the location, however at this point and with such a rush, the reply includes only a promise of taking the request in to a consideration as soon as they will manage.

Since this is by far the last such game, museums and other institutions will need to prepare themselves, in order to react properly to the world they will need to leave and fit in. Additionally, I can say from my own experience – being a total non-gamer – the game just sucks you in. If you don’t believe me, just try it out yourself. Moreover, it makes me wonder, what else the future will bring.

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Pokemon trainers in front of National Museum of Contemporary History Slovenia. / Trenerji Pokemonov pred Muzejem novejše zgodovine Slovenije (foto: Monika Montanič).

 

 

Museum of Broken Relationships

Urška Purg

Can you imagine yourself standing in front of an used toaster for more than five minutes? Or in front of one legless caterpillar toy? Or even being addressed by a broken and dusty old garden gnome without a nose?
As impossible as this may seem, in Museum of Broken Relationships you will catch yourself doing exactly that – absorbing the most unusual objects and their even more appealing stories for minutes. Some do it for hours. This is the only museum that motivated me to read almost all of the texts they have next to the objects. No matter how long. Twice. With a year brake in between. In addition, I hate reading much text in museums.

I guess it’s almost obvious to say, they nailed it with the topic selection, since broken relationships are one of the most universal topics ever. Transnational, cross-border and relatable to anyone – after all, we all have a few broken relationships in our closets. It not only evokes our emotions, but also our memories and our own experiences from the past. Despite being a company, that named themselves a museum, visitors from all over the world are coming in masses and no one minds the entrance fee. They even got the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe.

Museum is placed in a quite suitable building in Zagreb that once was an apartment. Some leftovers are still visible throughout the exhibition. To make as much emphasis on the objects as possible, entire interior is in white. By everything being white, it appeared to me that the objects come out of space. I find that perfect, since they launched me directly into another world. While strolling around the museum, this is exactly how I felt like – being in a parallel universe, or buried deep in the collection of one very diverse novel. It’s like going on an ultra-short roller coasters of emotional stories. In short, the personal stories behind the most random objects achieve luring out your emotions. You feel the pain, the happiness, the sorrow/ … of the people, who have sent their memories of their broken relationship to the museum. Moreover, easily, one of these objects could be yours. I caught myself repeatedly playing in my thoughts, what I would have done in a similar situation.

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One of the most quiet museums I’ve ever been to./ Najbolj tih muzej od vseh, v katerih sem bila.

Some stories are sad, some filled with anger, some witty and in need of a conclusion, and some truly painful. Some stories – no matter how short, even give you goose pops. From time to time, it feels like peeking through the private house’s window and pressing fast forward button to be able to follow the most exciting parts. This is where the smartness of the idea behind this museum pop-ups – this is a museum of all of us. Of all of us, who, while cycling to work on mornings try to come up with an excuse for being late. It’s a museum of people like you and me, who while steering the babbling pumpkin soup, are thinking about this and that. It’s a museum of people who used to loved and love.

The objects, as various as they are, seem to be following an invisible order – firstly you meet the stories of young(er) love’s ends. Then more serious follow through cheating and adult dispersals, to painful family broken relationships. The walk concludes with mature (if one could name them so) brake-ups and ended marriages. The darkest stories are placed into the most shattered part of the house, where the bathroom used to be, I imagen. Some find this annoying however; I like the setting and the atmosphere it creates. Those old damaged bathroom tiles are perfect for the weight of the stories the objects presented there reveal. They could even be placed into basement, if there would be one, since those are the stories majority wish to hide from the world. Yet, here they can be told here – from strangers for strangers.

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The heaviest stories in matching scenographic atmosphere./ Najtežje zgodbe v ujemajočem prostorskem predelu muzeja.

I would say this is not merely a museum. It allows people anonymously reaching a conclusion of their bonds in hope of moving on. I also found this museum one of the quietest ones, with everyone reading the texts, no matter how long. Everyone is trying to grasp the stories and after the visit, when leaving the museum, feel better about themselves. It almost gives a similar uplifting feeling like watching Keeping up with the Kardashians, or Big Brother show, where you feel normal after that.

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A confession room in the end of the museum for visitors’ inputs./ Spovednica na koncu muzeja je namenjena doprinosom obiskovalcev na temo razhajanj ali zgolj vtisov o muzeju in videnem.

I have been very happy with my second visit in Museum of Broken Relationships; however, I have stumbled upon some things that were slightly irritating. Despite all of its informality, which is warmly welcome because of the personal stories, English could be a bit better and according to the English grammar rules. I was also curious to watch the videos they have decided to include on a display. Despite being very interested, I could not bear watching them – the sound was disturbed and crumbly, which made it impossible to listen. That particular element could, or should really be improved. Alternatively, it should not be there at all. Finally, having more chairs around the place would not hurt. After stepping out of this special emotional zone, your spine and legs hurt. Fortunately, a cute museum cafe is there, where you can finally rest right after having a quick stop in a well thought through museum shop on your way out.

Overall, museum theme, and the fact they have constantly on-going travelling and temporary exhibitions, dealing with the most current social issues, is just so perfect I can only wish I had thought of it myself. And they even have a twin-brother in L.A.!

 

Chocolate. Who doesn’t like chocolate?

Urška Purg

But do you know, where it comes from? OK, but do you know, when did this sweet, pamperish brown thing come to Europe? And do you know, there is also a bitter side of chocolate?

There is a cute little temporary exhibition – coming to an end – in Museum of Recent History Celje exactly on this – chocolate! It covers the where from’s and how’s, also the first beginnings in Europe, the history of the cocoa tree, the first producers and products, and much more, neatly spiced up with history. They did not overlook the dark side of the chocolate industry over the years and the environmental and social questions it raises either.

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Milk chocolate wrapping produced by the Trappist monks, who first started to produce chocolate in Slovenia in Rajhenburg castle./ Ovitek rajhenburške mlečne čokolade izpod rok trapistov, ki so prvi v Sloveniji pričeli s proizvajanjem čokolade.

Smartly divided into four parts, it offers a light walk through, or a more detailed and educational impact, if desired. First part is slightly more dedicated to theory and informational part, nicely wrapped into giant packets of chocolates, which makes it pleasant to an eye. As a matter of fact, the entire exhibition design is pleasant to an eye and nose – the scent of chocolate surrounds you as entering the exhibition. Beware – it might awake the desire and cravings for … chocolate!
However, to continue with the exhibition division – the next part presents some national and local chocolate producers, nostalgic commercials and a large photo wall, which is supposed to invite the visitors to take selfies. Of course, also the selfie stick is there and some printed photos of smiling selfies, posted on museum’s Facebook – unfortunately not many. Maybe a photo wall with a hint of silliness would do the trick, but still it harms no one by being there.
I was particularly interested in the third part, where invited artists have interpreted chocolate in their own way. My attention was raised by Sweet dilemma by Suzana Švent – a set of figurines made out of chocolate with a help of balloons, placed on a mirror and there for the visitors to decide, whether they would like to enjoy the art, or rather the taste, while seeing themselves eating it. Apparently, there was no dilemma at all – the sculptures were long gone before I came.

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Sweet dilemma – solved./ Razrešena Sladka dilema.

The exhibition is concluded with a recipe room, where pre-gathered popular people’s recipes greeted me from the walls. Gathering the recipes was also used as a dissemination tool before the exhibition, which worked very well. Smart. The exhibition space unfortunately dictates the visitor to return the same way as coming in, and usually this is slightly inconvenient – especially, if the visitors are not motivated by any extra planned and placed scenographical nudges. However, in this case I realised how many things have I missed on my way in – the sayings, the UNRA package, which also contained chocolate, all those little details. Therefore, going in and out on the same path represents no problem at all.

It is a sweet, easy and pleasant exhibition for a nice afternoon leisure walk and a good introduction and motivation to stop for a cup of hot chocolate later in the nearest café. And since it’s closing in three days – the ones, who have not seen it yet – hurry up.

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UNRA package next to the legendary children’s chocolate Animal Kingdom – firstly made with only 2% cocoa, the rest was starch, sugar and butter./ UNRA paket, ob njem pa legendarno Živalsko kraljestvo, ki je na začetku vsebovalo zgolj 2% kakava, ostalo je bil škrob, sladkor in maslo.

SWICH – Sharing a World of Inclusion, Creativity and Heritage: Project in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum

Tina Palaić

How should we collect, present and interpret non-European collections in museums in the colonial countries? What are the implications of the non-colonial context for museum practice? How can the perspectives and experience of Others depicted in museum collections be integrated into museum interpretations? These are some of the questions Slovene Ethnographic Museum would like to reconsider during the SWICH project. Ten European partner museums work together in the EU-cooperation project which runs from November 2014 to September 2018 and is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme. In a series of events and activities the museums work on strategies for 21st century museum practice and especially reconsider the role and the vision of ethnographic museums for the future. There is a need to develop adequate museum practice in response to the increased migration and also trans-border movements within the European Union, which change the demography in EU states. Museums will try to increase the role of ethnographic museums as places of cultural encounters, open discourse, creative innovation and knowledge production based on international collaborations.

Slovene Ethnographic Museum works within two themes of the project: creative dialogue and digital contact zones. Within the creative dialogue the museum will host an artist in residence who will stay in Ljubljana for two months. The residency is split in two phases. The first phase will start on 11 April 2016 and will end on 11 May 2016; the second phase will start in September 2016. Soon we will be able to meet up with Bianca Baldi (1985), visual artist based between South Africa and the EU. Her video installations bring to the fore overlooked narrative strands and the hidden structures of power. In her work, through the focus on specific cultural or sociological artefacts, historical plots reveal complex webs of political, economic and cultural influences. At the Slovene Ethnographic Museum she will work with the African collection. In the cooperation with museum curators and members of African community she is expected to develop artwork, which will be presented at the end of the residency in autumn 2016. During the residency the museum is going to organize several events with her. Come and meet Bianca. You are warmly welcome!

4. Zero Latitude (Panthère naturalisée) 2014 Bianca Baldi

Zero Latitude (Panthère naturalisée), 2014, Bianca Baldi