Blog, Conferences and Field trips
Concordia res parvae crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur (as concord makes small things grow, discord brings the greatest to ruin) states the text above the door of the Finnish National Art Museum, Ateneum. So true this is, and true that was in a Nordic Museology Association Conference held in above mentioned building in September 2018, where a feeling of mutual understanding and (Nordic) togetherness was very much present. But at the same time, mutual togetherness can also create borders and exclusion. Borders also happened to be the topic of this interesting conference.
I participated in the conference for several reasons; mainly to give a presentation about our project and themes connecting nature with public remembrance, memory organisations and museums, but also to get a deeper understanding of museology as a discipline and the current trends in heritage work in general. I was able to follow about three quarters of the lectures, and I will bring out just a few eye-opening ideas I picked up mainly from the three key-note lectures.
First about expressing yourself. Professor Janne Vilkuna, who gave the introductory speech, stressed the importance of lingual diversity and mother tongue: for most of us it is the only way to truly express ourselves without compromises.
This was an important viewpoint in a conference where most, but not all, participants could associate using their own language. Vilkuna also brought up an important conceptual issue: “museology” should be called “heritology”. Museums are not about buildings, institutions and stagnation, but heritage, togetherness, flexibility and also looking forward. From our project’s point of view: nature is not easily musealised, put in a building in a showcase for people to gaze at, although nature is an essential part of our cultural heritage, an essential part of being human. Cultural nature relationship has to be lived, experienced and interpreted together with communities, both in and outside the museum building.
There were certain similar key elements in all the key-note lectures held by Simon Knell (University of Leicester), Áile Aikio (Sámimusea Siida) and Sanne Houby-Nielsen (Nordiska museet). One common thread was the need for an open, democratic, diverse, and openminded museum, where the objects are not only being heard, but where objects become subjects. This is a crucial message in a “Trumpian world of populist politics” – a poignant formulation used by professor Knell in his presentation. The other big theme for me was that nothing should be taken for granted; the museum buildings are not biologically evolved to what they are, but we humans have created them for our own needs and purposes. That is why they also can (and should) be changed and reinterpreted.
Their main task should be to enable empathy, create bridges over the barriers and borders in time, space and culture, and to disengage themselves from their original national (in this case also Scandinavian, European and even colonialistic) metastories. Also the spatial borders can be crossed and re-thought, and we have to remember that our way of seeing and interpreting our physical environment is not universal. Áile Aikio used the term “spiritual landscape” to describe a scenery, which besides the physical nature includes the spiritual worldview of the beholder, unifying the cultural and natural landscape, material and intangible, as one.
Museums after spatial turn, emotional turn, participatory turn, technological turn and “intangibility turn” are opening up in many ways, and judging by the papers in this conference this means – in addition to crossing professional and institutional borders – also new discoveries, joy, excitement and open-mindedness – and above all, questioning the obvious. “We have always done it that way” is not a phrase to say lightly anymore. In a world where physical and intangible borders and barriers are again put up the importance of cultural memory organisations is growing: the common heritage must include everyone and it must be used in bringing people together, not in excluding the ones who do not fit to the big story or political agenda. Borders are everywhere, but where there are borders, there are also bridges. Cultural heritage and museums are one way to cross borders to create mutual understanding and a feeling of common humanness.