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 Nineteenth - Writing on Boots, Wagons and Hats

Rebecca Reynolds, Crystallising the Dream Space: Creative Writing in Museums and Archives

In creative writing, as the last two presentations have shown, we can create a personal response to the museum space. In running a workshop which allows engagements with these things, Rebecca turns our conference into an 'anarchic and unpredictable' dream-space. She has used similar techniques in the museum space, emphasising writing as a process as well as a product.

Free writing, an act in which we write that occuring in our mind...we fill our papers with things, words, that which is at the top of our minds. The space is quiet with concentration, the tapping of my keys and the clicking of the camera becoming strangely loud in the blanketed silence. Our responses are based in the now, in the shifting beings which are our minds. My bracelets clatter on the table. We walk and we write. There is silence inside me now.


Underline the things of interest, Rebecca says.

We are in a circle, closer together.

As academic writers, we don't usually write in this unstructured way, a way which can rid us of our thoughts, but also display the 'diamonds in the dust,' treasures and revelations which we would have destroyed through analytical thought.

We shout out questions about a pair of boots, and the diversity, from where they were brought to who owned them, to why they are covered in ribbons, to what are they thinking. We write down responses to these questions ourselves, becoming the agents through which the objects speak. Perhaps. Or at least our dreams of the objects do.

We see an image of a farm wagon, from the Pioneer Yosemite History Center Online. It is red, with a yellow undercarridge and wheel spokes. It's label is black, and the floor seems to be stand. We are given prompts - The Wagon Caused an Accident - How?; You Hid Inside It for Three Days - Why?; Your Father Asked You to Chop It for Firewood, and Something Stopped You - What?; You Hate It - Why?; You Want To Redecorate it - How? - and are asked to respond and to discuss their responses with each other.

It's nice to let conference participants think, rather than just to listen. And they get to discuss what they have written - it's great to see them sharing their own creativity. What happens in the play of individual response and social sharing in the creation of new possibilities and ontologies for objects. There is much potential for the collaborative interpretation of objects, in which we augment meaning through audience participation. Stepping into another world, and enlarging your own experience, in reading the minds of other participants. When we look, even at that most seemingly solitary activity of reading, many of us respond to the sociality of marginalia, look for a voice in the text, investigate the personality. We build on meaning together. For some, however, it can be unnerving. But in writing, we can investigate the active, multiply sensed elements of museum space in a way that images sometimes cannot.

But what is also astonishing is the diversity of response. There are those who focus upon materiality, those who create stories almost tangental to the objects themselves, which evoke powerful emotions beyond, but figured in, the physical objects.

Imagine yourself in a museum store. But imagine it not as a museum store. What is it? Is it a hoarder's cabinet, a clearing house, the back of a lost emporium, the chaos of moving home, the drawers of your inner mind? A coroner's rooms, a purgatory of liminality, betwixt and between, a grandmother's attic, a theatrical store, a pause on the way to somewhere else, shelves filled with peices which will become something else in art. We write on a particular object in this store, and its role within it.

What is this thing we call a store? It is a liminal place, certainly, but then perhaps all spaces are spaces of transition and movement. For even the most static seeming display, as far removed from conference dynamism as it is possible to be, is filled with the interplays of meaning, and even just the movement of dust. We, our objects, all the elements of the physical world, are just wanderers, whose traces sometimes do not manifest until long after we have passed and gone.

What have we made in this session? Is there anything which we would like to retain? Perhaps a freedom in our responses, a skill at releasing the buzzing images in our minds. Perhaps this can rid us of distractions, or allow us to investigate our own creative possibilities. Or perhaps we have allowed ourselves to reenage with objects, to resist, however, their fixed interpretation. Museums are strange places, and creative writing can bring this to the fore. How can these creative responses be utlized in the museum space? And how are the responses framed - as authoritative, or as artwork? It's an interesting comment upon the power structures which exist within the museum space. How far can we push the ontological differentiation of objects, and the identity and position of the Museum?

Perhaps we can collect some of these stories. It'd be nice.

No comments:

Post a Comment