Museum as a metaphor of society

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Museums are spaces where people often wander around, expected to stand in awe, remain idle, be silent and follow a list of (at times implicit) set of rules of conduct. Participation—if any—is rarely encouraged and usually not allowed.

I once heard that museums can also be seen as playgrounds of our perception of (a “civilized”) society. More specifically, they can be seen as spaces where various exhibits such as pieces of art and all kinds of material objects contribute in portraying the current state of the world, either through historical, abstract or no reference at all. Consequently, museums this way depict an image of society.

Looking at it through this prism, however, contradicts the classic image of a museum where audience participation is definitely not the norm. There are various definitions, perceptions, and ideas around what constitutes a society but I am of the opinion that if everything one does results into something is accurate, society’s core lies on the notion that an individual’s actions have direct or indirect consequences on others. For every cause, there is an effect.

In a playground, for example, one is expected to participate and engage with a fun environment. An environment where one’s actions have—yes, arguably minimal—consequences on others. As a child playing at the playground is expected to conceptualize this from an early age and behave accordingly, museums similarly ought to embrace participation in order to emphasize on the notion of cause and effect if they are indeed spaces that act as metaphors of society.

These are just some thoughts about the museum as an institution that I never got to finish, during the Musée de Refusés design brief at Goldsmiths.