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

30 March 2011

Hop the Eighteenth - Personal Narratives and Visual Art

Maeve Mulrennan, The Museum of the Personal Narrative

Can there be a museum which reflects someones sense of their personality upon themselves? How can a personal collection of dreams, stories and objects, speak to other audiences.

Jan Svankmajer is a Czech artist. Recently, Maeve showed the film Down to the Celler, which materialises fear through objects and spaces which interact with a little girl. The narrative of the peace is deliberately open-ended. In it, fear can be physicalised, emboddied and compressed into a time, place and artwork. Using this, Svankmajer uses childhood fears to play with the perception of the audiences. We discuss these fears and dreams every day - but do we consider this to be a presentation of the museum.

For Bachelard, the hut was the safest place for dreaming, a person's identity based in shelter. Rather than opposed to this, hoarding represents a fear of being prevented from gaining this shelter, the need to identify the self through their relationship with the external object.

Imagination augments the value of reality, for everyone. We all want to make a hut - some just need more things outside themselves than others. In the Collyer brothers, who owned Rhinestone House is Harlem, we find an extreme case of hoarding. The brothers excluded themselves from society, and hid themselves among their things. Afeared of burglary, they tried to hide their house and protect its contents - and these attempts at creation eventually killed them. When the neighbours reported the missing men, the intention of privacy was destroyed as the space was opened up to investigation. These objects were much of the stuff of the everyday - the emotional form of collecting intimated the 'chaos of memories' of which Walter Benjamin spoke.

Castle Ellen House, a multiplly owned, palimpsestual house, represents a multiplicity of narratives and meanings. The owner, Michael Kearney, does not need the house, but he has worked on it since he bought it and houses objects within it. He claims that his collections make him happy, that the objects will have a use someday (though sometimes, he says, he makes mistakes). There's a sunken rockery in which the rocks are covered with moss, thirty four chickens - he is hoarding nature, and animals. He collects boats, though he is not near water, private signs though he is open to the public, unexplained mechanical items, a TV box without a TV...he makes his own drawings and collects newspaper articles, and a dog called Sydney New South Wales.

What is a collection - should such a thing be defined, or legitimated? Or is it entirely to do with the person to whom it is associated? And what constitutes a response to it? Imagine being read a story about this space, a lyrical response to its space, its presence and its past, its personality and its objects. It's a dreamy experience, to be read to at this time. Objects, here, become personalities as well as the man who lives there. And even the light which moves throughout the space becomes a personalised object. An object with agency - for what is the relationship, really, of the object and their collector? Who has the power? Michael considers himself a custodian of the place, which significantly problematises the relationship of thing and person.

Could the reader, the narrator, become a collected object themselves? In being read to, have we become part of Maeve's own collection, part of Michael Kearney's even? Is this symposium a collection, albeit a momentary one? Perhaps we are, in this melting pot, as transient as it is, a moving collection, which shall at the end of this dispersed, but perhaps remain linked at this moment in time, and just extended across the world.

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