Difficult objects and sensitive stories
The first two papers of this session shifted the perspective to conservation issues:
Natalie Meurisch, currently student at the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences in Germany, discussed the impact that changing concepts for exhibitions and education for memorials such as concentration camps have on questions of conservation. The increased use of media installations and audiovisual technology combined with the concentration of fewer, selected artifacts and their particular stories leads to full storages, and less object rotation. But many storages would not meet standards yet, and objects are often not adequately monitored.
On a more general note, Natalie pointed out that a sufficient professional exchange on expertise among conservators dealing with these objects - often containing many different materials which due to lower quality now start to decay - is often missing. In true ICOM manner she pointed out the high value of global networks among professionals.
Finally, connecting to what was said in previous sessions, Natalie described that professional means are missing to handle the emotional work of dealing with these objects and the stories and people related to them.
In the discussion afterwards a colleague indicated a potential dilemma: What is to do, when a survivor don't want conservation, but rather want to see objects decay and thus being destroyed over time? Natalie is convinced that these attitudes must of course been respected, though her experiences especially through own interviews with survivors showed that most want to have memorials and objects conserved and that in any case conservators just as all museum professionals have to be aware of their responsibility for cultural heritage and memory.
In 2014, our hosting city Helsingborg experienced days of severe unrest, violence and vandalism, when supporters of two football clubs collided, leading to the dead of one. A temporary memorial site was erected by the citizens on the spot where the fatal accident had occurred. Brigitta Witting of Kulturmagasinet reported how the objects, personal accounts of the events and experiences were subsequently collected and stored. From the beginning it was clear that an event with such an impact on city life has to be documented, and parallels to events such as the Boston marathon attack come to mind. In no time and under the impression the happenings, some rough guidelines have been developed about what and how much should be collected and how personal the documentation had to be. With severe weather coming up, conservation measures had to be taken quickly.
We can be prepared for a lot, said Brigitta, but the most important is to be ready to put our fully booked calender aside and to be ready for quick and hard decisions. The objects were collected without specific purpose and up to now no concrete plans for exhibiting these exists. Maybe, said Brigitta, we are still waiting for the right moment to show it?
The right moment seems to have already been found for the FOLK exhibition at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo. Ageliki Lefkadifou took us on a whirlwind tour of the still ongoing development of the show, meant to shift ideas on race, origins and identity and to reflect about the role of science, especially its misuse. It is, as Ageliki put it, also a minefield, as it could be the case that people might feel offended. Thus special care is given to the whole process, the involvement of other groups and true diversity in general. The choice of what will be presented is made by the different groups involved, and priority is placed on showing the eventual entanglement of all things and voices, as they in all cases reflect power and make the respective positions evident. As the message of (scientific) objects can't be changed from what they were prepared for, the team opts for discussion rather then leaving strong objects out.
(NB: Unfortunately, the first presentation in this session, as stated in the programme, had to be cancelled.)