In this instance, I am compelled to conduct an in-depth inquiry into the Museum’s collection of objects, which, upon closer inspection, appears to rest solely on a foundation of fiction. This inherent fiction, it is asserted, asserts that these ostensibly disparate objects, when combined, acquire the status of a coherent representation of the universe. Within the framework of this paradigm, an intriguing notion emerges, namely that the repeated metonymic displacement of fragments, rather than the entirety of an object, from their physical manifestation to their accompanying labels, or from a series of objects to a series of labels, has the potential to construct a representation that is, in some elusive way, adequate to a non-linguistic universe. However, it is precisely this assertion that I feel compelled to dispute and investigate.

Such a fictitious account, which heralds the belief in the representational power inherent in the ordering and classification of objects, appears to be the regrettable result of an uncritical acceptance, an unwavering faith in the capacity of spatial juxtaposition to produce a comprehensive understanding of the world. This apparent inherent characteristic of museums, manifest in their presentation of objects through the spatial arrangement of fragments, disregards the intricate complexity and multidimensionality of the human experience, reducing it to a simple visual register.

In this scenario, the Museum assumes the role of an illusion architect, deftly arranging objects according to a predetermined order and categorization in an attempt to create the illusion of coherence. The underlying assumption is that the observer will perceive and comprehend a curated reality when guided by discernible patterns of arrangement. Nonetheless, this mode of construction, which relies solely on the visual sense, has inherent limitations and restricts our perception of the world to a series of visual cues. It completely disregards the myriad ways in which we interact with and comprehend our environment, including tactile sensations, olfactory perceptions, auditory experiences, and the complex interaction of our sensory faculties.

In addition, this rigid ordering and classification system obscures an inherent bias, namely the imposition of predetermined meanings and hierarchical structures on the objects themselves. By reducing the objects to mere fragments, severing them from their original context, and simultaneously stripping them of the intricate webs of significance that once gave them significance, the curator reduces these objects to the status of interchangeable tokens. Instead of recognizing the inherent richness and complexity of each object’s history, materiality, and cultural significance, the curator, by adopting such an approach, reduces them to lifeless signifiers within a visually controlled domain.

As an artist, I am compelled to question the veracity and consequences of this mode of representation at this juncture. How can we reconcile the concept of a coherent representational universe when it is based on fragmentary displacement and reduced to simple spatial juxtaposition? Can this composition truly capture the essence of the universe, surpassing the limitations of language?

Despite serving as repositories of cultural heritage and knowledge, museums simultaneously exemplify the limitations and constraints of representation. Displaying objects necessitates the exercise of selection and exclusion, an act that invariably distorts the representation and produces a limited and subjective viewpoint. Consequently, the viewer encounters a reality that reflects the perspective and interpretive lens of the curators.

Therefore, we must approach the assortment of museum objects with a modicum of skepticism, fully cognizant of the inherent fictions underlying their creation. It is essential to remember that the intricate tapestry of our world extends far beyond the museum’s neat categorizations and spatial arrangements. To truly comprehend the essence of our non-linguistic universe, we must embrace a multiplicity of perspectives, engage with the complex interplay of our senses, and demonstrate a willingness to question the very foundation upon which our understanding of representation is based.

Moreover, this reliance on spatial juxtaposition as a method of representation demonstrates a disregard for the fluidity and interdependence that define our world. Objects and the concepts and feelings they represent cannot be neatly compartmentalized and arranged in predetermined positions. They exist within a vast network of relationships, which is continuously shaped and influenced by the ever-changing currents of human existence. We risk stifling their natural capacity for dialogue and transformation if we confine them to predetermined spaces.

Although the museum’s collection of labels attempts to bridge the gap between the linguistic and non-linguistic realms, it remains an inherently limited instrument. Due to inherent biases, semantic limitations, and subjective interpretations, language will never be able to capture the profound depth and complexity of the non-linguistic universe in its entirety. Inherently reductionist, the process of attempting to reduce the complexities of lived experiences to words and labels leaves ample room for misinterpretation and distortion.

Reflection on my own experiences compels me to question the fundamental motivations underlying the development of representational comprehension in museums. Do we seek an accurate portrayal of the art world, or are we motivated by the need to impose order and exert control? Is it possible to create a representation that transcends the limitations of language and categorization and effectively captures the essence of our existence with all of its subtle nuances?

The display of museum objects exemplifies a delicate balance between the fiction of representation and the pursuit of genuine comprehension of our world. As an artist, I am reminded of my duty to engage with these exhibitions with critical discernment, challenging established norms and questioning the underlying assumptions that underpin the construction of representational universes. Only through such inquiries can we hope to surpass the limitations imposed by fiction and gain a more nuanced and genuine understanding of our existence.

Carol Duncan, “Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums” (United States)
Tony Bennett, “The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics” (Australia)
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, “Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge” (United Kingdom)
Ivan Karp and Steven Lavine (eds.), “Exhibiting Cultures: Poetics and Politics of Museum Display” (United States)
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage” (United States)
James Clifford, “The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art” (United States)
Bennett Reimer, “The Content of Art: Understanding and Interpreting Works of Art” (United States)
Susan Pearce, “Museums, Objects, and Collections: A Cultural Study” (United Kingdom)
Griselda Pollock, “Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’s Histories” (United Kingdom)
Donald Preziosi, “The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology” (United States)