Opening up the museum
I went to the Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican in London yesterday. It raises some interesting questions about how we see emerging issues, which I hope to write about later, but it also suggested some interesting trends for the future of the museum and gallery. These are about openness and accountability.
Accountability first: surely a sign of things to come, but there is a clear ‘ecological statement’ pinned up near the door, whch lists the steps taken to reduce the environmental impact of the exhibition. Wall texts, providing information about the works, have been printed on the back of old Barbican posters. Exhibition furniture and ‘detail’ has been built from the walls and signage of a previous exhibition. Gallery guides are printed on recycled paper, using soy inks, on “an energy efficient stencilling duplicator” (the return of the gestetner machines of my youth?), in small batches to reduce wastage.(The guides look fine, by the way).
Parts of the exhibition seem fairly energy intensive to me – the bright lights which burn continuously on Henrik Hakasson’s ‘Fallen Forest‘ for example – but of course the statement raises the question of why – if you were serious about your environmental impact – you wouldn’t do most or all of these things for future exhibitions, no matter what the subject.
On openness, several of the exhibits are elsewhere – one (‘I am so sorry. Goodbye’, seen in the picture at the top of the post) constructed on the Barbican’s Lakeside, free to access and – on the afternoon I went – serving cups of hibiscus tea to visitors, with two more exhibits in Dalston, several kilometres to the north-east.
And, inside the exhibition, adjacent to the Harrison’s installation ‘Full Farm’, recreated for the exhibition, there’s an open door leading on to a balcony, with a wind blowing in. Whether intentional or not, this seemed to me to be quite subversive of the usual idea of the museum, which is almost always conceived of as a closed space. (Indeed, the last time I blogged about museums, I mentioned Declan McGonagle’s paper on ‘the museum as commons’ which also addresses this question.)
It reminded me of thefinal lines of Miroslav Holub’s fine poem ‘The Door’:
Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
go and open the door.
The picture at the top of the post is from Extra!Extra!’s review of Radical Nature, and is used with thanks.