Keynotes abstracts

Keynote speakers

Prof Andrea Witcomb
Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University (Australia)
From ‘a place for all of us’ to a place that explores ‘what it is to be human’: Museums in the age of global mobilities

The demand for museums to be more inclusive has not abated; nor has the demand for them to be more responsive to contemporary needs. When I wrote Re-imagining the Museum however, the curatorial strategies being developed to meet these demands centered on ensuring the representation of a multiplicity of voices, with a particular focus on those who were marginalised. In this paper, I wish to reflect on that moment, seeing it in its historical context and as being marked by particular interpretation strategies, strategies which I would now argue have continued to maintain a distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’. In critiquing this moment, a moment I now call a ‘pedagogy of listening’, I wish to focus on the emergence of a different set of curatorial strategies which appear to be more concerned with working out how to build relations across difference rather than representing difference per se. I will be setting these developments as part of an attempt to respond to the contemporary moment. As Ulrich Beck has argued, one side effect of our increasingly interconnected world is, paradoxically, increased xenophobia. Museums are caught up in this paradox, having to both represent collective identities whilst also helping people engage with difference. Using Australian museums as examples, this paper will chart changing curatorial strategies for dealing with the figure of the ‘other’ through examples of what I am calling a ‘pedagogy of feeling’ – a mode of interpretation that seeks to foster empathy rather than tolerance and that does so by consciously encouraging the recognition of our common humanity.

Dr Pille Runnel
Estonian National Museum (Estonia)
Searching for Cultural Participation in Museum Practice

At 2016 the new building of the Estonian National Museum was opened to the public. The building as well as its contents have gained attention in the architectural and design world, but also among the general audience. Although celebrated as the end of a long road (the museum building had been 100 years in the making), from the perspective of museum practice opening the new facilities was not the destination point but just a milestone, opening up new challenges and bringing new expectations. While the renewal of museum sector accross Easten Europe has helped to recognise it as increasingly important part of leisure industry, museums can also be approached as a ’social software’, as tools to approach contemporary complex societies. The presentation looks at the experience of the Estonian National Museum from the point of view of audience engagement in the framework of cultural participation. The ENM also serves as starting point to talk about the different modes of cultural participation in the museum field in general: as a form of cultural consumption, as shared decision making and as a more performative aspect of mundane everyday practices.

Dr Philipp Schorch
State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony (Germany)
Conceptualising Curatopia

What is the future of curatorship? Is there a vision for an ideal model, a curatopia, whether in the form of a utopia or dystopia? Or is there a plurality of approaches, amounting to a curatorial heterotopia? This presentation addresses these questions by drawing on the volume Curatopia: Museums and the Future of Curatorship (co-edited with Conal McCarthy and published by Manchester University Press, 2018). The collection considers the current state of curatorship across three regions - Europe, North America and the Pacific, reviews the different models and approaches operating in museums, galleries and cultural organisations, and discusses emerging concerns, challenges and opportunities. By conceptualising Curatopia, this paper explores the ways in which the mutual, asymmetrical relations underpinning global, scientific entanglements of the past can be transformed into more reciprocal, symmetrical forms of cross-cultural curatorship in the present, arguing that this is the most effective way for curatorial practice to remain meaningful.

Prof Wayne Modest

Research Center for Material Culture (Netherlands)
Spaces of Care: Rethinking the (Ethnographic) Museum in the Global Contemporary

This presentation is a preliminary, even speculative, inquiry into what it might mean to think the museum as a space of care. Drawing on the work of scholars in the (overlapping) fields of gender, science and technology and the more recent extinction studies, and taking seriously the longstanding critique of museums that has sought to push them to be more than solely spaces about objects, but for people, I want to explore how matters of care may be mobilised to imagine anew the museum for a global contemporary marked by growing precarity for both our human and non-human world(s). My presentation will focus on recent work that we have been doing in the Netherlands.
This presentation is part of a larger project that argues that if we perceive museums as less than responsive to the longstanding critique from scholars and the public alike about their value to and work in society, this results not simply or solely from stubborn resistance to change but also from the urgent need for greater attentiveness to the conceptual categories on which we have come to understand and practice the museum. I will argue that a rethinking of the museum for the global contemporary demands a re-imagination of the very conceptual foundations on which they are based. Moving beyond preservation to care, I will suggest, is one such conceptual shift that we might consider.