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Week 2: Collecting & Exhibiting Things: Theories of Culture & Museums. Professor: Jan Marontate School of Communication Simon Fraser University. Visitor to Digital Dialogues Exhibition. Last Day:. Course Administration Course Website

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Week 2 collecting exhibiting things theories of culture museums l.jpg

Week 2: Collecting & Exhibiting Things: Theories of Culture & Museums

Professor: Jan Marontate

School of Communication

Simon Fraser University

Visitor to Digital Dialogues Exhibition

Last day l.jpg
Last Day: Culture & Museums

  • Course Administration

    • Course Website

    • Handout # 1: Syllabus, Grading, Schedule, ###ERROR in 1st version###: Quiz #2 is on Nov. 7th not Nov. 10th !!!

  • ReadingsWeeks 1,2,3 (Handout #2)

  • Fieldwork: Visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery

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Today: Culture & Museums

  • Lecture (1st part of class)

  • Workshop in Computer Lab (on course requirements & website creation)

    • Meet in 7th floor lab (room7050) at 11:40

    • Note: Lab is only accessible from the elevator.

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Lecture Outline Culture & Museums

  • 1-Defining Culture: theories of culture, communication & society

  • 2-Culture & “Things”--Collecting Culture & Cultural Heritage “Institutions”: Traditions, Mandates & Professional Practices

  • 3-Challenges of Digital Media, Variable or Time-based Media for Cultural Heritage Preservation Traditions

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Part 1: Defining Culture—General Notions Culture & Museums(Hooper-Greenhill reading)

  • The “High Culture Model”

    • Culture as “civilization”, hierarchical notions focussing on the arts, higher learning, institutions & integration with organizations associated with elites (even if they originated in popular or mass culture)

  • Everyday Life (Popular Culture): Lived experience, belief systems & practices

    • “ordinary people”, meanings (values or beliefs) & practices

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Theoretical Definitions of Culture Culture & Museums(Raymond Williams)

  • process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic “development” (or change)—”spiritual” rather than material, “selective traditions:

  • Recorded culture (material & symbolic) : “products”`--works--(intellectual esp. artistic) embedded in practices, institutions, media, etc.

  • Everyday values, practices, way of life of a group of people, period or group --lived experience at a particular time & place

  • (Also: Signifiying systems: performed, constructing meanings)

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Manifestations of Culture Culture & Museums

  • symbolic culture

    • values, beliefs, ways of reasoning, style, tastes, values, meaning

  • material culture

    • “things”, techniques

  • Combinations of symbolic & material (Practices & beliefs, things as evidence)

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Roots of Some Scholarly Approaches : Theories of Meaning-making

  • Psychoanalysis: analyses symbolic meanings as symptoms of unconscious “displaced” fears & desires (Freud)

  • Structuralism & post structuralism (de Saussure)

    • Structures (langue) underly everyday communication (Parole)

    • Used by others in different ways (Foucault, Lacan, Kristeva etc..)

  • Discourse analysis

    • Way of representing (talking about) things creates knowledge & power relations

  • Semiology & semiotics

    • Sign = Signified + signifier

    • Manifest & latent meanings

    • Levels of signification

      • Denotation (obvious meaning)

      • Connotation (hidden meaning)

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Examples: Critical Evaluation of Cultural “Things or Practices”

  • ”reading” or “deconstructing” cultural works & practices

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Other Approaches: Social Studies & History of Media, Technology & Communication

  • Technological change (change in material culture, interplay of technology & culture)

  • Media studies (as a technology for communicating ideas)

  • Globalization (technology, communication as material & symbolic practice)

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Persistance of Culture as Civilization Tradition Technology & Communication

  • one “good” set of values + practices

  • education/culture = good citizens + responsible voters

  • mistrust + dislike of popular culture

  • Theoretical work: Matthew Arnold, Leavism

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Popular Culture as threat to “civilization” theories Technology & Communication

  • popular culture  political disorder / anarchy (Matthew Arnold)

  • shared tastes, practices (elite) “good citizenship”

  • against democracy in culture (Leavis)

    • nostalgia for past

    • puritanical dislike of mass culture, “low-brow tastes”

  • culture = what is best and ability to recognize it

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Defining Technology & CommunicationPopular Culture?

  • 1. culture that is well-liked? (quantitative dimension)

    • how to measure this (# of fans, power of partisans, costs, etc..)

  • 2. practices, values & things that are not “high culture”?

    • But changes in “status” (ex. Opera, Jazz)

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Defining Popular Culture (cont’d) Technology & Communication

  • 3. popular culture as Mass culture

    • commercial dimension (capitalism)

    • notion that audience is non-discriminating

    • but what about audiences who know what they like?(ex.box office flops)

    • association with North American (U.S-dominated) values

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Defining Popular Culture (cont’d) Technology & Communication

  • 4. Popular culture as “from the people”

    • who are the “people”?

  • 5. Popular culture as site of struggle between “dominant forces” and “forces of resistance”

  • 6. Postmodernist & Post-colonist notions -- end of distinction between different forms of culture

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Criticism of Mass Culture (pt of view of “Civilization” Tradition)

  • threat to high culture

  • exploits people

    • mindless hedonism

    • addictive & debilitating

  • promotes “bad” social habits

    • against public good, damaging to individual

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Forms/types of Culture Tradition)

  • Dominated -popular culture, media culture, mass culture, low brow

  • Dominant--high Culture, learned Culture, high brow

  • “Outsider” forms--Traditional and Folk Culture

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Inequalities in Traditional Typologies of Culture Tradition)

  • implied ranking

  • ?evolutionary model for cultural change ?

  • ?Western canons?

  • politics of diversity-- postcolonialist, feminist, queer studies etc…

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Cultural Things & “Representation” Tradition)

  • Two main meanings

    • Symbolic “thing” or text

    • Process of presenting

  • Connection with “realism”

    • Does representation “constitute” reality?

    • Is it separate from “reality”?

    • Is there a separate “objective” (non subjective) reality?

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Culture as Lived Experience Tradition)(Raymond Williams)

  • human agency (active involvement)

  • people not just consumers --create & transform culture

  • focus on Feelings/Experience

    • shared values of social group

    • collective unconscious

    • shared ideology

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Early Use of Popular Culture in Educating Children & working class

  • “bad” examples -- to condemn it

  • defense of popular culture as educational tool ( Stuart Hall & Paddy Whannel)

  • idea of engaging people to lead them to “better things”

  • Problems:

    • implied hierarchy of taste (high culture at top of a single scale)

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Definitions of Culture & Key issues in the content contemporary Cultural Heritage collections

  • Identity politics

    • production & reproduction)

  • interpretation of meanings

    • conscious & unconscious mental processes

    • Hermeneutics

  • culture & history

    • Tradition, ideology, power (hegemony)

    • cross-cultural communication, hegemony, globalization

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Part 2: Culture & Collections of “Things”-- contemporary Cultural Heritage collections

  • But Collecting Culture & Cultural Heritage “Institutions”

    • Origins of collections and exhibitionary institutions

    • Traditions, mandates & codes of ethics

    • Retaining old collections & building new? Depends on specific mandate & cultural context

      • Preservation of material culture?

      • Re-interpretation of meanings of collections

      • Democratization & education of publics

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20 museum contexts)th c. notions of collecting “cultural things”

  • original object or artifact as authoritative, authentic, unchanging record “frozen in time”

  • authority or “aura” of creator (Walter Benjamin)

    • record of artists’ intention, act

  • Variations in interpretations of meanings of “things”

    • Classification (artistic vs. “historic” artifact)

    • western, non-western criteria, (different definitions of art vs. artifact in “primitive” cultures)

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Social Organization of Heritage Preservation museum contexts)

  • Conventions, norms

    • Practices, codes or ethics & mandates

  • institutional frameworks

    • Division of labour, hierarchical organization

  • premised on old notions of “authenticity” & connections to “reality”

    • object as primary record of creative act/lived experience

    • preserve state of object at moment of creation (?)

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Questioning Cultural Heritage from Things museum contexts)

  • Records of lived experience and creative practices are fragmentary, partial

  • Why?

    • Accidental? Deliberate?

    • Contextual? (institutionalized racism, notions of what is important or who matters? Material constraints (war, poverty etc…)

    • Other?

Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741 - 1825):

The Artist Weeping at the grandeur of ancient ruins, 1778/80 http://www.kunsthaus.ch/

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Objects/Artifacts as cultural heritage (?) museum contexts)

  • Records of life & works

    • sources of “information”

    • “traceurs”, “dispositifs”, devices for tracking social, artistic, scientific practices & values

  • Tensions

    • knowledge, practices & objects

    • tangible & intangible cultural heritage

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Scientific? Artistic? museum contexts)


Status of the object in the meaning-making framework in which it is viewed

Different values according to the “value” of the object

National Museum of Air & Space, Smithsonian Institution

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Museums as Cultural authorities & Institutions for intercultural communication (History)

  • League of Nations after WWI (c. 1920s)

    • Social Agenda for the promotions of peace, recognition of difference & distinctiveness)

  • “Civilizing” mission

    • Education in the high culture model

    • Governmental efforts to control & regulate “norms of social behaviour”

      • accept ruling-class authority

      • Reshape norms of behaviour

  • Museums as locus for intercultural communication :

    • cultural heritage as a global right

    • place of all time (heterotopia)– Foucault or “timeless”

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    Origins of Museum Collections intercultural communication (History)

    • Diverse roots:

      • Popular entertainments & exhibitory institutions : Curiosity cabinets, fairgrounds, circuses

      • Private connoisseurs (learned? Elite?Or not?)

    • Role of museum in systematizing collections

      • Tensions: “rationalize” collections & use “scientific” means to present museum objects as coherent expressions of learned culture while providing popular amusements

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    Mandates & Types of Museums intercultural communication (History)

    • Diverse: ICOM international committees (by type of museum or museum profession)

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    Tensions in Museum Mandates: Preservation of Elites or Democratization? Some of challenges

    • New skills, communication “across’ disciplines?

    • Persistence of old organizational structures, values & practices in museum worlds

    • Interplay of personal and professional, private and public

      • “hot” & “cold” moments, “thick” description (C. Geertz)

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    Roles of Museum Professionals Democratization?

    • Hierarchical Division of “labour” & authority

      • Director

      • Curator (usually a trained historian)

      • Conservator (restorer): touches the objects

      • Conservation scientist: often training in applied science (chemistry etc.)

      • Technician

      • Registrar (documentation)

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    Codes of ethics: Why? Democratization?

    • “Professionalization” (recognition of museology as a “scientific” and intellectual discipline)

    • Cultural Authority of Museums (peacetime & wartime)

    • Regulation of disparate practices & protection of “things”

    • Protection of Museums from Political Interference

    • International issues– notion of global ownership of material culture & intercultural communication

    • Example: ICOM Code of Ethics

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    Some key principles in Cultural Heritage Preservation Democratization?

    • respect for

      • meaning of “object or artefact”

      • Preservation of collections (in perpetuity)

      • In art: respect for creator’s intent

      • In historic & cultural museums: community stakeholders (newer)

    • Debates: ownership and authority

      • Multiple meanings

    Variations in conservation approaches according to symbolic value meaning l.jpg

    field Democratization?(arts, sciences)

    status & meaning of the object

    type of use

    treatment conventions

    Variations in conservation approaches according to symbolic value, meaning

    Pressurized suits (Deep sea and Outer space) National Museum of Air & Space, Smithsonian Institution

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    Part 3: Challenges from New Technologies & Practices Democratization?

    Ex. Ephemeral Materials

    ‘Flesh Dress…’ (Jana Sterbak)

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    New Ideas about what to collect Democratization?

    Exhibition of Storefront Display covered with toxic dust from September 11, 2001, New York City. Source NYTimes, Aug. 25, 2006

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    Performance Democratization?example: Julie Laffin, Over, 1996

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    Obsolete Technologies: Democratization?(Nam June Paik. TV Garden. 1974)

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    Nam June Paik, Democratization?TV Garden, 2000 version

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    www.adaweb.walker.org Democratization?

    Interactive works: example: ada’web, 1995-1998

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    Preservation and Presentation challenges Democratization?

    • Physical installation components, hardware, custom software, feedback delay time, c perfomantive aspects

    • Multiple genres

      • Site-specific (Internet)

      • performative (interaction of viewers etc.)

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    Conservation & professional practices in the “museum field”

    • Archives & preservation of

      • Works

      • of equipment, replacement supplies & tools of creation (ex. software & hardware)

    • Documentation

      • techniques for record keeping & nomenclature of works & processes

      • Information on technical standards (industry)

      • Treatment experiences & standards for care

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    Studying Changes? Example of Art Museums field”

    T= Can touch art 24 h a day without supervision (Twenty-four hours)

    D=may touch art during museum hours under supervision

    • Values & Practices in “art worlds” (creators, curators, conservators, technicians, registrars, archivists, collectors, publics, etc…)

    • Arts institutions (mandates, codes of ethics, organizational structures, professional identities)

    • International networks (disciplinary & trans-disciplinary collaboration, national traditions)


    Red aura =may touch artworks

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    Initiatives to Develop New Strategies for the Preservation of Variable Media Works

    • Many approaches from different perspectives

      • Museum traditions

      • Industry (film, TV, music etc.)

      • Archival traditions (public & private libraries & archives)

      • Government (information management)

    • Next week: Begin with two initiatives: Variable Media Initiative and InterPARES (See Handout 2)

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    Second Half of Class: Review of Course Administration of Variable Media Works

    • Handout # 1: Syllabus, Grading, Schedule, Course Website ERROR in 1st version: Quiz #2 is on Nov. 7th!!!!

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    Readings & Fieldwork of Variable Media Works

    • Weeks 1,2,3 (Handout #2)

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    If time: Discuss visit to Vancouver Art Galler (Haida cultural heritage & contemporary society?)

    • The museum visit as a form of communication (from the perspective of the visitor, the museum professionals & the people depicted)

    • The “content” of the exhibition

    • The museum as a frame or cultural context (other shows, shop items etc.)

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    Example: Taste and style as culture “markers” cultural heritage & contemporary society?)ex. Subcultures (“White Trash Girl”)

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    “Main Stream” cultural heritage & contemporary society?)