Katy Bunning, Flirting With the Fictional: Comedy and Romance in Popular Imaginings of the Museum
In her search for the role of museums in narrative and popular fiction, Katy was struck by the prevelance of museums being presented in comical form, or as sites for the flourishing of romance. Why do museums lend themselves so well to this? What particular ideas about museums, and their relationships with subversion and authority, do these forms of representation present?
The photography of Andy Freeburg, amongst others, suggests the comic in the museums. He suggests a visual dialogue between the guardians and that which they guard. The guardians are so unaware of this, that the incongruous comedy of the situation is only heightened. Our attention is turned to the wider social nature of the gallery space, and the role of the guardians of the spaces in making meaning. Perhaps much of the comedy lies in the loss, thereby, of the museum's position of authority. The traditional work of exhibiting art can be subverted and made comic through various media forms - poetry, and perhaps at its most extreme in the Night of the Museum films. The comedy here comes from both the subversion of the perceived authority of museums, and the seriousness of the stories they tell, and their own status as a place of otherness and make-believe.
Comedy can also transgress social boundaries, and 'turn the familiar' on their head. In 1989's Batman film the Joker takes this to the extreme, in murder and fine art - but still performing it in a patently absurd and carnivalesque way. In carnival, the times and spaces of normal behaviour are suspended, and in this example the relationships between objects are altered - and at times intensified. It is not necessarily the art which the Joker disapproves of - but the society which values it.
In Play it Again, Sam, the bridge is made between comedy and romance, which share many of the same themes. Museums allow us to escape the everyday in their spaces and temporalities. We can revert to childhood, as in Ferris Bueller's Day Off - and the museum is not necessarily lambasted, but celebrated. It becomes a fantastical space, almost an object of romance in which we can become something else, for just a little while. In Some Kind of Wonderful, the museum lends itself as a space in which a banned romance can take part.
There are some recurring ways in which museums are depicted in various forms of media art. Comedy and Romance - in their juxtaposition of the banal and extraordinary, a place in which boundaries are transgressed, where institutions and authority are subverted, but where objects, and museums, are infact celebrated fondly, with love, as places of popular wonder, fantasy, and escape. Perhaps there are opportunities here, as Nina Simon has pointed out, for comedy and romance, in creating displays and museum programs which engage with the full gamut of the museal audience, and to deal with the uncomfortable situations in which they often find themselves. For museums are potentially places of life transition, where we grow and change, as places in which to reflect upon that which was lost. Interpretation in media, through 'flirting with the fictional' plays with the notion of who is in control, who is free to interpret. As practitioners, then, we need to reflect upon how we can use comedy, romance, and other emotive genres, to create wonderment and the fantastic.