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

27 March 2012

A Sixth Sounding: Freedom of Musealisation

Study on Small Museums in Estonia and the People Behind Them

Hailing from the University of Tartu, Liisi Taimre suggests that the true utopian museum is small, built upon ideals generated by individuals, or very small groups. Like Will and Elee before her, she recognizes the private, quirky elements which people's individual experiences bring to museums - but in this case, it is the invisible cities of the museum makers which are explored. She has been stunned, in her work, by their creativity and passion, particularly if they do not have a heritage or arts background.

These D.I.Y museums must, firstly, self-define as a 'museum', have between 1-3 people involved, and have a culture in which business is not a goal. Estonia has many such museums, and in this country 'museummania' can be explained in a number of ways - firstly, the newfound freedom after the War of Independence, and secondly in the striving to become part of Europe.

For many of the people who create them, these museums are a hobby, are fun. They have many motivations for producing the museums - from being able to pose in the pub, to continuing memorial practices which already existed. Sometimes, these museums are presented in rebellion against the current academic discourse, and indeed the official museum institutions.

There are many issues around such institutions, of course. There are difficulties in terms of collecting objects - and indeed in the preserving of those objects. What, I wonder, are the ethical issues which are encountered in the acquisition of collections in these cases? Should we worry about unethical collecting practices, or about the degradation and care of objects? Liisi's paper behoves us to question from which standpoint these issues come - are we, as 'typical' practitioners, projecting values and meanings onto institutions which do not require them. In loving their subject, and their objects, perhaps they know something - they feel something - which we don't.

They may also, of course, showcase theories and themes which are distasteful to broader social worlds - in this case, should they be controlled? Should they be allowed to speak? It's a difficult question to answer. In opening ourselves up to subjectivity, do we risk reducing all to fiction? Should we do so, in cases where sensibilities and known historical and scientific rules are compromised by the presence of these institutions, particularly if people enter them, as they enter many museums, expecting to find 'truth'?

How sustainable are such institutions - when the person leaves, or dies, do they die? Should sustainability be a goal for these personal, private museums - or are they, as we've intimated above, clear realizations of the ephemeral quality of utopia?

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