The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

7 November 2013

Transmutations Infinite

Over the last couple of days the participants in this conference defined ‘metamorphosis’ over and again: even without explicitly etymologising, they were performing their own understandings of the concept and its relationship to museums. Looking over the blog again, it seems to me as though Museum Metamorphosis covered five main categories of understanding: forms of metamorphosis; the role of the museum; theoretical models of the museum and change; tools of analysis; and actual examples of change.
The subtleties of these conceptions are hard to represent in clumsy words: I would like, at this point, to apologise for any errors or unsubtle renderings I may have committed in the last couple of days, and also for the fact that, in this summary, which can only be short, I may commit a few more.

Forms of Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis is a versatile concept of relevance to many aspects of existence and experience. In the opening comments, Suzanne Macleod, Sheila Watson and Richard Sandell all presented their different perspectives on the idea. To put it broadly, they together represented how metamorphosis can be physical, conceptual, social and personal: these are perhaps the main forms of transformation on which many of the other conference papers rested.

Macleod’s main interest is in architecture and the social qualities of the built environment. Her PhD considered the changes in architecture throughout the history of the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. In her opening paper, she used this example, amongst others, to present the thesis that architecture can be physically changed as a result of social circumstances, but can also be altered socially, through use and interpretation, and that it can itself be a driver of social transformation.

For Watson, the museum is a space with the potential for emotional transformation: not just of its visitors, but also itself, in a reconceptualization of the museum as something not dispassionate, but something vital, affective and affected, framing that which it presents through its own lens of subjectivity. Once the myth of the dispassionate museum is recognised and dispelled, she argued, the adoption of emotion could make for powerful displays, and a rich, nuanced pedagogic model.

Sandell also conceives of the museum as a socially relevant space: the movement towards an inclusive museum is, for him, a fundamental part of social justice. The projects he has worked on, both with Nottingham City Council and the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries show how the Disability Rights Movement has impacted on museums over the last decades, and how museums have, and might yet still become, more intimately involved with the production of shared experience, through the change of physical space, programming, and plain old institutional acceptance.

So, here are our forms of metamorphosis: physical, conceptual, institutional, social and personal. The papers presented at Museum Metamorphosis discussed all of these in multiplicitous ways, and focussed on many of their finely grained niceties. They showed metamorphosis to be so many different things, yet all so much alike.

The Role of the Museum

The role of the museum was of course a central concern, particularly for papers given by Sharon Heal, Matthew Constantine and the workshop run by Nick Winterbotham. Museums have, certainly, changed throughout their history, and it is probably true to say that most people present at this conference have never really conceived of the Museum as an ultimately static space. It has seen large shifts throughout its history, however, one of which being the widespread adoption of the idea of the museum as a place not for things, but for people. For Heal, museums are public services, sites of cultural learning and with a distinct social responsibility. Constantine’s discussion of New Walk the day following Heal’s presentation asked a related, but more directed question: who is New Walk Museum for? In Winterbotham’s workshop, particpants were forced to consider the value of ideas a drivers for impact and social good, and to wonder at the ability of the museum to affect significant and lasting societal improvement.

What has, and does, this kind of change, meant and mean for the museum and its inhabitants – the objects and staff who populate it? Change, of course, is often frightening: Heal herself noted this, speaking of the changes in the publishing industry with the growth of digital and the perceived demise of print media. It believe it is important to note that change does not always equate with improvement, and that the appearance of change for change’s sake should always be dealt with cautiously. The conference delegates often called for change; but maybe I can play devils advocate, and suggest that, at times, standing up for the status quo might be equally socially responsible.

Theoretical Models of the Changing Museum

The presentations also offered a number of models for the museum which might be used to understand it and its relationship to alteration. At the more oblique end of the scale, Baggerson and Fleming offered us tools from literature – the heterotopia and the heteroglossia. Baggerson suggested a shift from the museum as accretive heterotopia, propounded by Foucault and others since, to the museum as liquid and chaotic heterotopia, a festival fully in time. Fleming’s use of Bakhtin’s heteroglossia sits well with this: the museum as a concatenation of sounds and voices, cries and whispers, from all corners of history and space.
More grounded, but no less scholarly, we the models suggested by Nielsen and Finn. Jane Nielsen dealt with the transformations of the museum in postmodernity, suggesting the time is ripe for a rethinking of the notion of the post-museum. As an alternative – or perhaps a development – she offers us the ‘transformative’ museum, an idea adapted from Slaughter. This model explicitly recognises the phases which change has to go through, and how it can sometimes feed back into itself. The transformative museum, then, is a place which is constantly rethinking itself, and going through processes of sustained and structured reflection.

Finn offers us a series of contemporary and historical models for the behaviour of museums in regard to collaboration. Though not all agreed with her designations – certainly the idea of the Pitt Rivers as a non-collaborative, ‘arbitrary’ displayer of aboriginal art came as a shock to many – her definitions of arbitrary, intermediary and collaborative institutions are worth considering when any museum undertakes the responsibility of representing another time, place or culture.

I suspect that, as a result of Museum Metamorphosis, we might come up with more models productive of and evidence for, change: and indeed a subtler understanding of its processes and consequences.

Tools of Analysis

Something which I found particularly interesting at Museum Metamorphosis were the tools for the analysis of museums and change offered by its presenters. I have spoken already here of literature, so I shall first of all speak briefly about Ariane Karbe’s workshop, Electric Elephants: an intriguing experience in which I was able to consider, and observe from my colleagues around me, the way in which narrative and narratology, from books or films, is under and misunderstood in the museological world.

Other disciplinary models we gained during the conference were Fashion Studies and Future Studies, coming to life during the presentations of Rikke Baggerson and Jane Nielsen respectively. Future Studies forces its user not to predict, but to expect and acknowledge possibilities: in that way, a museum can become fully aware of its actions and consequences. I loved the subtlety with which Baggerson employed the model of fashion and the heterotopia, and the complex and intricate series of relationships she drew between the realms of museums and fashion: change, here, becomes something affected by many forces, something no single agent can control.

Museum forms were also offered as potential models and case studies for affecting change and understanding its results. I found particularly interesting Judith Dehail’s discussion of musical instrument museums, and Baily’s description of migration museums: both of these types of institutions can present and highlight specific issues and ways of addressing them, and this use of a ‘genre’ museum to influence the practice of the wider community has, for me, distinct potential.

So much for all this abstraction. Museum Metamorphosis also gifted its participants with a plethora of realised examples: attempts and successes at instituting change.

Examples of Change

The examples offered by Museum Metamorphosis fall once again into five categories: there were those which presented physical change; those which presented changing objects; changes in programming; external changes which had an impact on the activities and character of museums; and organisational and social change. For the sake of convenience, I will here treat the virtual world as a physical form of expression.
Rachel Souhami presented us with an analysis of two physical remodellings of display space, and how one, but not the other, failed to break convention and redefine the Museum it inhabited as a changed space. Later in the conference, Melissa Forstrum would remind us of this: visual alteration does not necessarily come hand in hand with conceptual improvement: institutional prejudices, she noted, however unknown, can still be clearly seen.

This is partly the case, too, with the Pacific Hall at the Bishop Museum. Alice Christophe noted that, whilst it has made many improvements in its re-representation of the complexity of the Blue Continent of Oceania, Western names and tropes still occasionally appear. The remodelling of the space as a whole has, however, been highly praised by the people it represents, as a space for them, rather than simply of them.
Ioanna Zouli would take the analysis of physical representation into the virtual world, in her paper discussing the changes to architecture and strategies of engagement offered by the online work of TATE. She charted the shift from magazine like, transmissive website to multiplatform, socially engaged network: a shift reflecting that of the New Museology of the 1980s and 90s.

The representation and perception of objects is also a physical thing. Two papers in particular were indicative of the power of the changing object. In Stephanie Bowry’s paper, we were introduced to the object as metamorphe, something with multiple identities, things themselves and symbols of themselves. We were also introduced to the metamorphosis of the cabinet – from container to cultural curiosity, and reminded of the fact that in a few or a hundred years time, our own museological models might too be behind glass.

A historical consideration of the changing use of objects in was offered by Mario Schulze, in his exploration of two German museums: The Historical Museum of Frankfurt and the Museum of Everyday Life, Berlin. It was interesting to see a reflection of this process in a more contemporary setting: Laura Weikop’s Exhibition Lab, hosted at the Design Museum, Copenhagen, a daring attempt to change institutional perception in regard to the way objects can be displayed and understood.

Perception of objects and places is, of course, affected by programming. In her discussion of Kitchen Conversations at the Tenement Museum of the Lower East Side, Emily Pinkowitz reflected how the changing of timetabling, staff and space has altered the way in which the public engaged with the Kitchen Conversations Project, thereby, hopefully, gaining a better understanding of the lives of migrants and the importance of contemporary tolerance.

For Punshon, however, it was the understanding of the Darwin Centre itself which needed improvement and change. The series of artistic and performance projects that she oversaw during the course of a year led to an exponential rise in visitor numbers and a distinct improvement in the perception of the Darwin Centre, its work, and the character of the scientists there. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints and other issues, it may not be that those activities can continue.

This brings us to another important theme of Museum Metamorphosis – how external and internal circumstances, politics and characters can affect and change the museum and its representative strategies. In ‘Monad to Man’, Pandora Syperek charted how changing personalities and theological-scientific relationships and situation changed the Natural History Museum, London, during the earliest production and operation. The next day, Lefteris Spyrou would how a similar process, fuelled this time by contradictory passions for nationhood and European identity would transform the National Gallery of Athens into the museum it is today, and how they will continue to influence it in the future – particularly in this time of Greek difficulties.

I was particularly interested, however, to note how subsequent political regimes can adopt the objects, and even the institutions, of previous, often diametrically opposed governments to forward their own political ends. The case of Croat Yugoslavia, as presented to us by Joel Palhegyi, is one of myth-making and ideology: a potentially explosive mix in a febrile nation.

Where change seems really significant, however, is in the alteration of institutional structures which deny expression to, or marginalise, a significant proportion of people. The attempt to promote tolerance is visible in the works of many of the speakers at Museum Metamorphosis, including Richard Sandell, and, particularly, the discussion of migration museums and their promotion of cohesion – as well as difference – conducted by Eureka Heinrich. However, it was Erin Baily whom I found particularly affecting; a brave person promoting LGBTQI identity in an institution unused to such notions, in a nation in which those identities are very often hidden and decried.

Some closing thoughts

Here ends my reflection on the Museum Metamorphosis. I don’t want to give any final conclusion: that would almost deny the point of the idea of change. Perhaps the only thing I would say is that the assumption that change improves is to live in a teleology: and I hope that we are beyond the myth of progress by now. Perhaps our knowledge will increase – it may still be used for good or ill. Perhaps the major leap museums need to make is to leave behind the desire for apotheosis, and to embrace metamorphosis for precisely what it is: a change in form.

6 November 2013

Transmutation #28 - A closing plenary

We are so near the end, now. Our own Alex hopes, in this session, to share some final ideas, and things which she found interesting.

So, Alex's thoughts

-objects/buildings and agency
-how academia shapes practice and is their relationship closer than perceived
-working processes
-institutional structures
-the museum as an evolutionary model - critique, and the transformative museum
-the body in space and in relation to others
-challenging authority
-authenticity, truth and knowledge
-human rights and social change

So, on opening the floor, what can we bring out over the last couple of days.

Emily Pinkowitz notes how interesting the difference between differentiating between and grouping together cultures is, and how some people really feel passionate about one over the other.

Cintia has to convince herself that she cannot wait for a great teleological moment to happen when museums become the best thing ever; it isn't going to happen. Metamorphosis in museums should not necessarily be thought of in a biological sense of getting better but just changing.

Melissa Forstrom asks whether there were any spatial analysis of metamorphosis in museums - I can offer the work of Suzanne Macleod, and the work of people like Duncan, Wallach, and even Psarra. Eureka suggests that it is so much more interesting to talk about spaces when you have the participation of the people who made it - and she'd make a public plea to curators to keep it all, and make an archive for the future researchers.

What is kept, and what is thrown away? asks Kirstin James. It is often so down to personal choice, rather than policy.

Hopefully, Alex says, we'll be mulling these things over for days to come. Perhaps we can continue this discussion online...I'll be back in a while, maybe tomorrow or later tonight, to wrap up with some thoughts of my own. Until then, I wish you a peaceful and thoughtful night.

Transmutation #27 - Ethnics, Aussies and Poms: migration museums and the creation of identity in Australia

As a historian, Eureka Henrich is obsessed with the idea of change. In her research, she is interested in changing attitudes towards national identity and migration history. These are often apparent in museum exhibitions, the main objects of her study. The museum is seen as a legitimate arbiter of authority: hence why she as a historian finds them powerful.

Australia a nation built and changed through migration. There are two museums of migration - they are the earliest migration museums in the world, and might prove a constructive model for future migration museums. They might also function as evidence for the changing attitudes towards migration.

In 1986, South Australia celebrated Jubilee 150. Most of its activities perpetuated the standard tale of a jubilant colony. But one does not - this is the Migration Museum, which sought to display the histories and lives of non-Anglo-Celtic migrants. Non-British migrants after the Second World War were expected to shed their historic identities and ascribe to the Anglo-Australian way of life. It became very apparent, though, that this was not happening, and by the 1980s this was replaced with multiculturalism.

This was also part of the process of Australia divorcing itself from its historically homogenous Anglo identity. The rise of social history and women's history in the 1970s meant that an increasing number of people were interested in the everyday person, rather than the pioneers. It was the perfect time to explore other histories in a Migrant Museum.

In such a narrative, the British became merely the first in a long line of migrants, and the idea of the White Australia which was so long maintained is critiqued with an interactive. Curators also wished to contest the idea that South Australia was colonized peaceably, suggesting that genocide was committees against the indigenous people of Adelaide. These displays have been critiqued as merely displaying 'enrichment' narratives - adding to the historic story rather than changing it. But in this period, exhibitions like this had a very practical aim - to show that being Australian did not amount to going to cricket matches, eating meat pies, and having deep seated imperial leanings.

Forward twelve years, and all the way to Melbourne. This was a much more populated area. The communities formed by migrants mean that Victoria is the only state where the Labour Party founded 'ethnic' wings. Multiculturalism, therefore, found a strong foothold; but eventually, it would retreat from this idea.

In 1998, Melbourne was to hose the International Council of Museums, and was rushing to complete the Immigration Museum, housed in the Old Customs House, in which to host the event. It was not designed to be a museum about 'Them', but about 'Us', evidence of the political climate of the time, dominated by multiculturalism and shared history. Politicians such as Pauline Hanson, who overtly acted against cultural diversity, provided a counter against which to develop a popular and inclusive migration story.

At the Immigration Museum, they aimed to show the immigraiton narratives which lie at the centre of all non-native Victorians; the mainstream population was therefore welcomed into the migration story. The displays were designed to be emotionally affective, and personal stories were a centrepeice.

What was the reaction to this more inclusive version of the migration story? It seemed to some (mainly museum professionals and academics) as though they had attempted to sidestep the more gritty issues, and depoliticise the situation. But visitors seemed to find it useful and engaging.

Established twelve years apart, and with some ideological differences, these two museums offer us an opportunity to see how attitudes towards the different elements of Australian identities have changed, and how museological practice has itself altered. The South Australian Museum failed to engage with the British Immnigrants; but it did establish some of the fundamental tenets of displaying migration histories. In the 1980s, they  were also freer to do more innovative and interesting displays and activities - there were no critical museology courses, or anything akin, in Australia at the time. The Immigration Museum in Melbourne was born in a larger institution, in the world of the internet.

But both share a fundamental desire to create unity of the migration narratives, as well as the need to recognize the diverse histories of migrants which prodice their marginality. Their abilities to shape identities, personal, institutional, and national, are limited by the contexts within which they are found, and the people living in Australia who may never acknowledge their migrant ancestry. Perhaps there is a need to move away from migration, and towards issues that concern us all - the right to be recognized, to be valued and the right to live.

Transmutation #26 - Metamorphosis of Islamic Art Exhibition Space: two permanent reinstallation case studies

Melissa Forstrom is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, and has also worked in America. Today, she discusses the metamorphosis of Islamic exhibition spaces - the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia at the New York Met, and the Arts in the Islamic World at the Louvre - two of the largest exhibition spaces of Islamic art in the Western world.

She beleives that there are two metamorphoses happening - that of the instituion, and that of the representation of the Islamic people in wider culture and the media. After 9/11, the number of reinstallations of Islamic art trebled. There have also been numerous travelling and temporary displays. Both of these show a massive interest in the Islamic world developing out of the events of the early 21st century.

These redisplays are often perceived as reacting against the negative image of the Islamic world presented in the wider media. However, they sometimes still perpetuate the Orientalist and Islamophobic tendencies which dominate these other forms of communication.

Forstrom investigates the textual panels in exhibitions as another form of media. They are often seen as unbiased, objective media - they certainly are not. As Helen Coxall wrote, language in the museum can lead to marginalisation. Forstrom uses Said's definition of Orientalism, which suggests the predomiance and rights of the West. She also uses the Runnymede Trust's definition of Islamophobia as an unfounded fear or hatred of Muslims, and suggests that the existence of Orientalism in the Western world paved the way for Islamophobia.

The Met's new galleries opened on November 21st 2011. There are 15 sub galleries, organised chronologically. The collection is mostly historical: the visitor separated from the art by time. Previously titled the Islamic Galleries, the original galleries were opened in 1975, with individual separate rooms. Now, they are represented as a united whole.

Though the visitor is separated from the objects by time, it was important to create a sense of place and connection: so the Met employed artists and architects to create senses of connection with the works. Entire Islamic rooms were created, and arches used in some of the doors.

Forstrom argues that the original galleries shows more clearly the diversity and differences of the Islamic world - the new galleries, she suggests, unify the Islamic world and put a gate around it. They even deny the Islamic origin of the objects in the new name of the galleries.

Moving on to the text. Forstrom shows how the European perspective dominates in the panels: the history of objects begins with their entrance to the West, and is a domineering, Orientalising perspective. It does not speak to a multiculural audience.

The Arts of Islam wing of the Louvre opened in September 2012. 11 years in the making, it was the first addition to the museum since the Pyramid. It was supported by powerful donors from all over the Islamic world. It is a free and separate structure, connected to the rest of the Louvre by a tunnel. Like the Met's collection, it is also historical. It houses double the amount of objects than the Met. The first floor deals with the history from 632 to 1000, and is titled Foundation to Empire. On the floors below, the 11th century onwards is dealt with.

Previously, the collections had been displayed in the basement, displayed in geographical areas: like that of the Met. Again, Forstrom beleives that the original displays showcase Islamic cultural diversity better. At the Arts of Islam wing, there is no sense of Islamic place. The wing is also both inside and outside the Louvre, like the French Muslim population itself.

Again, its text arguably represents some Orientalist tendencies. Again, the Western perspective is dominant: but, Forstrom argues, why? Who is this information important to? The European people, of course, which is not inclusive and has the ability to marginalise the non-European audience.

On the surface, these re-installations appear to be very different. But they share some commonalities. Orientalism and Islamaphobia are shockingly statistically prevalent, as Forstrom found in her analysis of the texts - 14 out of 14 articles in the Met, and 13 out of 17 articles in the Louvre contained such traits. 

Forstrom notes that she cannot ascribe intentionality, and that she is obviously biased as a person looking for this phenomenon. It would be interesting to see some of the responses from the Islamic community: research, I believe, has to, to some extent, enact the change it wishes to see in the world.

Transmutation #25 - Restaging a space for Pacific relationships: a study of the renovation of the Polynesian Hall, Bishop Museum, Honolulu

Alice Christophe's current reseach focuses on the interactions between cultural institutions in the Pacific. She looks at the ways in which exhibitions taking place in the Pacific display several distinct cultures in the same show: in other words, her thesis will look at pan-Pacific exhibtions.

Today, she talks to us about the impact of gallery rennovation on instituional and cultural identities. For this presentation, she compares the ways in which pacific cultures were displayed before and are displayed after the rennovation of the Polynesian Hall at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Has the redisplay, she asks, allowed for the development of new relationships.

The Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by a wealthy gentlemen, Charles Reed Bishop,on the death of his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi. The original Polynesian Hall was opened in 1894, and at that time it was showcasing the entire Pacific. He had no time or money to finish his plans for a museum to display all Pacific cultures in three separate parts (Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, as categorized by Westerners at the time), so all eventually were shown in the Polynesian Hall. In this room, the ground floor displayed objects symetrically and geographically, with a few rarities on display. On the second floor, there was a large map of the Pacific area.

Between its opening and the 1980s, it underwent several rennovations, which there is no time to discuss here. Shockingly, the gallery that existed from 1980 to 2011 was never documented - only photographed. In this display, again the map with the three zones of Oceania dominated. These zones dominated the arrangement of the physical display space itself. The design of the cases was colourful, telling stories that we tell in Europe: tattooing, for instance, and other cheif characteristics of the cultures.

This became obsolete very quickly. It didn't meet visitor expectations, and the community of the area needed to reconnect with the rest of the Pacific. Pressure for change was coming from the University, and students on the heritage program. After the renovation of the Hawaiian Hall, they chose to redevelop the Pacific Hall: in the process, rewriting or rediscovering their purpose - to engage people with Hawaiian culture, and recognise the ancestral cultures in the Pacific.

The curators of the redevelopment wanted to move beyond the three zones, and focus on commonalities rather than differences between the cultures of the islands. How were they to do this? They undertook consultative processes, which were difficult. Eventually, a quote from Epeli Hau'Ofa about the relationship between the people and the sea, and the idea of the Blue Continent, inspired the curators to think about the historical continuities and future aspirations of the people.

The new gallery opened a month and a half ago. It is arranged far more topically, to emphasise commonalities - canoe models from all around the Pacific are displayed together. The archaeology galleries on the second floor are based on the most recent discoveries: for instance, the uncovering of the Taiwanese heritage of Pacific Islanders.

The floor map, made of marquetry, materialises for Christophe the theme of the gallery - the Blue Continent - but also the difficulties of overturning Western ontologies. It was made from a Western design, and uses the Western names for the Islands. So there are still echoes of the old categories of the old Polynesian Hall. But the way it was activated by the artists and visitors in the opening ceremonies show how it brought people together. It was surrounded with a lay, binding the people of the islands together, children played on it, jumping from one island to another, and a Maori choreographer, Jack Gray, performing upon it.

Sometimes, museum professionals and researchers sometimes feel powerless in changing things and institutions. How much of the experience of redevelopment the Bishop's Museum will take home, Christophe doesn't know. But she can see that differences have been made - at least to the communities of the Pacific Islands, and the family of Oceania.

Transmutation #24 - Museum and myth in the making of Croat Yugoslavism

Joel Palhegyi currently researches the role of national museums in creating individual senses of identity in the larger Soviet Yugoslav Federal block. His paper reflects the ruptures and continuities of this process in a post-Socialist context.

He focuses on the Museum of the Revolution and the Creation History Museum in the city of Zagreb, and is interested in how these were involved in the production of nationhood. He asks how the myths they developed in the Soviet period have continued into the post-Soviet period?

Soviet slavism emphasizes the idea of common identity whilst also accepting the differences between the cultural units witin the block. Through exhibition catalgoues, he hopes to understand how museums worked with the political scheme to create nationhood.

In the Croation Museum Journal, the instituions were understood as scientific, with the power to create and reaffirm the socialist identity, now and in the future. He argues that museums are both products and producers of communist history and that of the Croatian Nation and the Yugoslav state.

The Museum of the Revolution of the Croatian people commemorates the partisan communist struggle during World War Two. The location of the museum, in the centre of New Zagreb, shows how fundamental and permanent this was for the development, creation and perpetuation of that ideology. The most dominant myth developed at this time was that of a state forged in revolution and war, the necessity of rebuilding the Yugoslavian version of a socialist ideal., Here, a paralell myth of everyday socialist heroes - everyday people who reprsented the ideal, suggesting that everyday people were able to help create the state. Many exhibitions praised the ideals and capabilities of the Croation people, and how they took part in the creation of the phsycial infrastructure of the revolution and the state.

The Croatian History Museum has different roots. It began in the late 19th century, its origins in the Romanticism of the time. So it seems odd that the communist Yugoslav culture would take on this institution. What it offered, however, was an opportunity to exhibit and re-appropriate, heroic and important figures from the past - to create some historical continuity and a sense of the inevitability of revolution. The figures of Illyrianism, for instance, are lauded as egalatarians and prefigurations of revolution. The Peasent's Revolt and Matija Ivanica of the sixteenth century was displayed, in one exhibition, as a proto-Revolution, and Ivanica as a heroic past precurser: very different to the rather ineffectual position it has been given in other histories. One thing that permeates all the displays is the idea of Yugoslavianism: particularly the inclusion of the Croats.

These myths have continued to influence Croatian museum practice inthe last few decades. In 1991, the Revolutionary Museum was decommissioned, it's contents incorporated into the History Museum. The collections provided the raw material for the new presentation of self in the post-Socialist context. There were continuing themes, however - war, outside aggression (particularly from the Serbs). The objects taken from the Revolutionary Museum now have to be re-appropriated. Objects once seen as evidence of the ideals of the Croatian peoples, now those objects are seen as evidence of the fight for, not socialism, but a self-determined state.

Communist myth-making hasn't gone away. The top-down, authoritative narrative, tied to the authority of the state, has survived. We have spoken today about how things change with changing political systems - but some things, it seems, remain very much the same.

Transmutation #23 - The Greek National Gallery's metamorphosis in the second half of the 20th century

Lefteris Spyrou's PhD considers the history of the Greek National Gallery. His paper today examines the galleries of the permanent collection to explore the political and social environments which caused the metamorphosis of the Museum over time.

When the National Gallery of Athens opened in 1915, the visitors saw 350 paintings, watercolours and drawings, exhibited in the outdated mode of the 18th century 'art-historical' hang. It consisted predominantly of Western European works - partly due to the nature of the bequest from whence it originated, and partly to do with the individuals in control of its 'Surveillance' committee. There was an attempt to align the upper classes of Greece with those of Western Europe, to remove Greece from its status as part of the former Ottoman Empire. The desire was to turn Greece and Athens from an eastern backwater, to the leading light of culture it had once been.

It was in the inter-war period when a gallery for Greek contemporary art arose. Over time, this became more and more important, as the gallery responded to the prevailing desire for the promotion of Greek culture and history: Byzantine icons and artefacts from the Ottoman period were now exhibited as examples of the continuance of the Hellenic culture throughout the centuries.

After the Second World War and Civil War, an ethnocentric ideal of society was promoted. Marinos Kalligas, the first Director of the gallery to hold a PhD, tried to determine the eternal aesthetic values which characterised Greek art across history. He sought to reprsent the evolution of Modern Greek Art, from a post-Byzantine icon to the art of the 1920s. Whilst he did display Greek work that reflected wider European tendancies, he emphasized their Hellenic qualities. This display covered six rooms. The following room displayed gifts given to the national gallery, and wider European tendancies - for although Kalligas was very Greek, he was aware of the political importance of involving the country in the wider continental dialogue. He waged war against socialist realism - particularly after the civil was - and also against abstraction. But by the 1960s they realised their were loosing this battle.

Perhaps the most difficult issue was the development of premises. The new building was inaugerated by Kalligas' successor, Papastamos, who displayed Greek art history in a chronological 'school' model spanning three hundred and more years. The prevailing ideology of Europeanisation and admittance to the EU deeply influenced the display - so on the upper floor, wider European art was displayed without a catalogue. Throughout Papastamos' tenure, temporary exhibitions were popular: the permanent collection was often moved.

The last major development occured in 2000, celebrating the centenary since the galleries acceptance and the beginning of the plans. The display was systematising and homogenizing, and the wider European collections were not the main focus. For the present director, the role of the gallery is to represent national life and nation.

The National Gallery of Athens has, over its history, metamorphosed from a gallery of European art to a gallery displaying the national Greek identity. Today the gallery is closed until 2015 - when it reopens, the gallery space will have been doubled. A new metamorphosis. But what will be its content and response to the troubled present of Greece and its relationship with the European community? Perhaps, Spyrou says, he will be able to tell us at a future conference here in Leicester.