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 Twenty-Fifth - Ghosting, the Spectral, and the Other Side

Mariana Lamas Bezerra and Eduardo Gimenez-Cassina, Super-Ghost Me - Stories from the Other Side in the Museum

Via the magic of Skype, we are able to hear from people across the world!

More people in the West beleive in aliens and the dead, than in God. The supernatural has long been a subject of fascination, used to explain things which we do not understand. Even in the modern world of scientific knowledge, we are highly engaged with them, as part of our intangible heritage. But museum professionals, though they might know of the connections between their institutions and the supernatural, do not often talk about it, for it would risk undermining the position of the museum as a place of scientific objectivity.

Ghosts can be found almost anywhere - in museum buildings and objects. Museum buildings can be of many forms, and it is particularly, perhaps, those which have reappropriated other spaces - hospitals or houses - in which ghostly specters remain. In objects, owned once upon a time, the focus of individuals can be concentrated to figure a kind of performative spectrality.

Sometimes, there are museums about ghosts - at the Draugastrid Ghost Centre, for example, or the Prague Ghost Museum. Sometimes, the museums have attempted to engage with the supernatural and openly talk about them, such as the Bible Lands Museum, or the online platform 'The Haunted Museum.'

Sometimes, the museums are dedicated to the ghosts: the Peterborough Museum is one of the most haunted sites in the UK, housing over 80 ghosts in the former hospital space. This is a space entirely dedicated to its spectral occupants. In doing so, it engages with the history of its area and environment. Likewise, the Iron Island Museum was set up as an attempt to engage with the history of the area, and the Tower of London is also a space for supernatural happenings which are explicitly figured on their website.

Many museums, though, have hidden stories of the supernatural with which they do not want to engage. The National Museum of Anthropology, in Madrid, was built as a space in which the dead daughter of Dr Velasco was enshrined - this is no longer the case. The Tropen Museum, too, houses objects which are considered haunted, and many visitors to the isaac fernandez museum have seen figures, but these are narratives with which the museum does not engage or foreground. The Egyptian Museum, of course, is full of ghosts, dead bodies, and curses. The De La Plata Museum in Argentina, is also full of bodies, lost people, and curses. And our own Belgrave Hall Grove ghost was photographed in 1998 - and investigations discovered that there were many ghosts in the space, one of whom was rather dangerous and should be left alone...turns out its one of the most haunted sites in the UK. The Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art, too, is one of the most haunted museums in the world, with nuns haunting its corridors, possessions, and self-propelling lifts. Sometimes, these ghosts have critiqued the museums and their exhibitions as they did at the National Historical Museum in Brazil, via the agency of a medium. This is already a space of ghosts - when we imagine ghosts as figurations of memory, personal and national.

Seems there are many museums all over the world which are stuffed to the gunnels with spirits. How much we should foreground this? Can we use them for audience development - ignoring the stories can close of joys and intangible modes of engagement beyond the empirical realm. Can we use these stories to bring in new visitors?

How much we might beleive or disbeleive in ghosts as a physical reality, it is important that we recognise museums as a space of resonances, and that we respect these echoes of the past.

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