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-First - Empowering the Audiences

Taavi Tatsi, Challenging the Laurels of Autonomy - An Audience Empowerment Intervention in Museum Exhibition Production

The Estonian People's Museum provides an interesting case study for a questioning of the formation of, and understanding of, identity. How do the identities of museum professionals, audiences, and the collections interact and become apparent in the Estonian People's Museum. Identities are always, of course, figured in the context of the Other - making it a particularly complicated thing to define.

Estonia itself is in a project of identity formation, as a post-Communist state realigning itself with the West. The Estonian Museum had no building for a very long time, and it is only now reestablishing itself and the positioning of its collections in both a practical and theoretical way. The identity of the museum, and its professionals, are in a significant process of re-identification.

This is figured in the opening up of the existing museum space. Very high importance is placed upon the professionalisation of the curatorial and museological identities. But a collaborative programme, which aimed to open the museum space to the public, gave out a call for papers in which the people traditionally seen as the museum 'audience' were permitted to put in proposals for a self-curated exhibition, which was voted for online by members of the public. The research group analysed both the responses of the audience themselves, but also the curatorial reaction to the project as a whole.

We, the audience at this presentation are given some of those responses - truely, this is practicing what you preach, for the interpretation of Taavi's data also becomes thus collaborative. The modernist conception of the cultural professional is one of autonomy, but we risk being detatched from the world which we observe, if we ascribe to this perspective. We need to reengage with the world, which a participatory framework, which permits subjectivity, enables us to do. Such an approach also allows for a renegotiation of power structures between audience and museum, and it also permits the museum to heighten their respect for the objects themselves, not just treating them as objects of subjegation. How we as cultural professionals, reinterpret audience responses, is itself a process of 'translation.'

New roles are emerging across the museum profession. Rephrasing, reinterpreting the responses is not dissimilar to the work of this blog. It is an activity which enables us to reformulate and reobserve ideas and responses, see them through new eyes. It allows us, as cultural professionals, to reinterpret ourselves and reclarify our own position. This is a concrete figuration of what conferences, as spaces of performance and dialogue, really are.

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