LECTURE—Pierre Bourdieu and Andrea Fraser—The Ethics of Museum Display

This week seems to be Pierre Bourdieu week for me – which is good, as I’ve not read anything of his before and I’m quite liking his work, with certain reservations.

Yesterday, the lecture for the Framing Art course concerned “Museums and their Audiences”, approaching the subject from both directions, the museum’s and the audience’s.

The museum’s role was presented in terms of its movement away from what our tutor, Roberto Cavallini, described as “the exhibition of artifacts to the exhibition of things”, in other words from a passive to an active principle, away from the pure display of a multitude of similar objects to the development of interactive, thematic frameworks. For this we looked at Andrea Fraser’s text “Museums Highlight: A Gallery Talk”1, presenting an institutional critique of the museum and its processes – in this case the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

For the viewer, they now become the object in their own right, the target of sociological studies of their relationship with the institution. Here Bourdieu’s text2 discusses the relationship between education and aesthetic appreciation, that the individual’s art appreciation and their appreciation of museums depends largely on early experiences:

Each individual possesses a defined and limited capacity for apprehending the ‘information’ proposed by the work, this capacity being a function of his or her overall knowledge (itself a function of education and background) . . . (Bourdieu, p. 37)

As a result, Bourdieu claims “. . . aesthetics can only be, except in certain circumstances, a dimension of the ethics (or, better, the ethos) of class.” (Bourdieu, p. 46) and concludes:

In fact, arrows, notices, guidebooks, guides or receptionists would not really make up for a lack of education, but they would proclaim, simply by existing, the right to be uninformed, the right to be there and uninformed, and the right of uninformed people to be there . . . (Bourdieu, p. 49)

1. Fraser, A. (1991). Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk. In October 57 (Summer). pp. 104–122.
2. Bourdieu, P. and Darbel, A. (1969) Cultural Works and Cultivated Disposition. In The Love of Art: European Art Museums and their public. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 36–50.

Shi’s Fever

. . . and now Shi has my fever. Fortunately I’m feeling mostly better now so can look after her. She’s very hot (38.7ºC at 7.30am), has a splitting headache and feels sick. We have an appointment at the doctor’s this morning where they will hopefully be able to help.

UPDATE
Just back from the doctor. There was no sign of a chest infection or tonsillitis, which is good news. They just recommended Paracetamol and liquids to relieve the symptoms and make Shi more comfortable.

ANOTHER UPDATE (Tuesday morning)
Good news! Shi is now (almost) back to normal. There’s no more fever, just a sore throat and slight headache hanging on. Hello sis!

Ed’s Fever

I’ve developed a fever over the past few days, probably caught from someone at college. Last night I was up to 38.3ºC and didn’t really sleep at all. I’m feeling slightly better today although still above my normal temperature and I have a bad headache. Shi is being lovely and looking after me even though she’s not feeling too well herself. I love you Shi!

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CREATIVE JOURNAL—Lab—Dial H.I.S.T.O.R.Y. and Debord

The Lab session today extended our discussions about postmodernism with a showing of Dial H.I.S.T.O.R.Y. (2004) by Johan Grimonprez and Réfutation de tous les jugements, tant élogieux qu’hostiles, qui ont été jusqu’ici portés sur le film « La Société du spectacle » (1975) by Guy Debord.

Both films have a somewhat similar formal quality – they present a collection of seemingly disparate film clips with a voice-over. The Debord film (of which we only saw 5 minutes) uses commercials and sequences of a military character, overlaid with Debord himself (I believe) speaking about the critical reception of his earlier film La Société du spectacle (1973). His voice seems to be coming over a bad telephone connection, it’s very harsh and distorted. Grimonprez’ film also uses footage and voice-over, but there is a connecting narrative to the whole of a record of a number of airplane hijackings.

In my mind, both films present a number of critiques. To summarise two such critiques, you could take them as indictments of the media’s manipulation of events and their audiences, or as comments on the viewers blasé reactions to such events (or both at the same time, of course).

Looking at it from the point of view of the texts we’ve just been reading regarding allegory and postmodernity’s love of the layered text, I can see how these each take their collections of film clips to create a whole (the overall film) which sets up a negotiation with the viewer resulting in a set of possible readings. The films in themselves are more or less opaque to this process, creating their own readings at the same time as creating an alternative space for the viewers’. There is always a context which dictates certain of the possibilities of the reception, but this is just one of a potentially infinite number of readings, each one dependent on a particular viewer and conditions in which they come to the film.

Trying to pick out some relevant quotes from our recent texts about postmodernism. Andreas Huyssen in Mapping the Postmodern says:

The point is not to eliminate the productive tension between the political and the aesthetic, between history and the text, between engagement and the mission of art. The point is to heighten that tension, even to rediscover it and to bring it back into focus in the arts as well as in criticism. (Huyssen, p. 337)

Thinking about allegory, from the Craig Owens’ text, adds many dimensions to the two films. I don’t really know how Debord would view such a reading, but I doubt if he would have been happy.

Or perhaps that was one of his points – any statement is always already usurped into some other order, the order of the system or the audiences self-created orders of reception. By saying ‘always already’ I am of course implying that any reading is always implicit in any statement, which would be a very Derridean point of view?

  • Huyssen, A. (1984). Mapping the Postmodern. In Preziosi, D. ed. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. pp. 329–337.

CREATIVE JOURNAL—Allegory

. . . the allegorical supplement is not only an addition, but also replacement. It takes the place of an earlier meaning, which is thereby effaced or obscured. Because allegory usurps its object it comports within itself a danger, the possibility of perversion . . . (p. 327)

Well, that’s always been the problem and possibility of allegory, and in particular postmodernism’s use of allegory.

At our last Lab session we watched the film Heidi (1937), with Shirley Temple, juxtaposed with Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s film Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone (1992) which appropriates the Heidi mythos, subverting it with violent and sexual references.

The discussion afterwards gave us the opportunity to rehash the old arguments about a work being the sum of itself and it’s history, context and whatever else we know about it. No longer do we have the luxury (?) of divorcing the piece from the situation in which it was created, shown or received. As much as I think this was only ever an intellectual exercise in the past, it’s become more or less unacceptable to even consider this now. So we have TJ Clark’s social art historical interpretations, the postmodern view of the artwork as text, with its ‘true’ or final meaning forever deferred, etc. all of which encourages us to see the work not just as an ideal object, but as the catalyst for our further creation of meanings for it.

So really this changes the nature of ‘the meaning’ of the work from a potential fixed point of reference, to a transformative space, adjusting itself to our knowledge and understanding and biases. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, as long as these are recognised and drawn out at the same time.

COLLEGE—Creative Journal

This is something that I should have done a long time ago, but have eternally procrastinated about.

For the Core Course we are expected to write a “Creative Journal” every week, discussing some aspect of the course and our response to it. I’ve found this incredibly hard to do, it’s become almost some kind of mental block with me now. However, it counts for 50% of the mark for this part of the course, so I have decided to buckle down and start really working on it.

Technically, I should have been writing c.200 words a week since the beginning of the course, so by the end I would have around 4,400 words in total. I have so far written 800 words, and most of that was at the beginning of last term. So essentially I have a lot of catching up to do.

I thought I would turn this con into a pro (as I always try to do . . . ) by creating a journal which makes a virtue out of this stalled process. My thought was that the journal itself would reflect the lapses between writings in it’s structure in some way. I think this will manifest itself as some kind of timeline running through the book with massive gaps at the beginning, with (hopefully) a more consistent set of writings from now on.

I feel this would be an interesting exposition of my process and failings. The question however is, how relevant is this to the subject-matter of the journal (and of course, does it need to be)? Perhaps one can be too open and honest about some things and perhaps there are things that are best left unsaid?