Accepted Paper:

Work and emptiness: museum attendants' experiences in Slovenia  


Hugo Montero (ENTPE (National School of Public Works))

Paper Short Abstract:

Being a museum attendant in a little frequented museum can lead to face emptiness. How are they managing the void? From bricolage to tactics, time perception changes in relation with the place. How, as anthropologists, can we study such moments of emptiness?

Paper long abstract:

What happens when nothing happens during your job? When this emptiness fills the majority of your working day?

I spent months in the Contemporary Art Museum of Ljubljana (+MSUM) with museum attendants. Their job is built around two periods of time: first, when they are alone in the room, surrounded by art pieces and white walls; second, when visitors are present. In this specific position, and in a non-over-frequented museum, perception of time change: they are fulfilling it with different activities, connected with expectations and introspections. Suddenly when a visitor enters their room, the atmosphere shifts, and the long ballet of mobility, visibility, stillness and invisibility can start between the newcomer and the museum attendant.

The unexpected part of this study was to discover a work environment not just made of suffering, but also of readings, thought, organization, and attachment. Can letting time, empty, free from tasks, to employees be a way of rethinking what is a job? The feeling of "having time" depicted so often into interviews is unusual for a world where the rhythm of productivity invades all areas of life (Rosa, 2013).

In terms of method, how can we, as anthropologists, study such moment of solitude? Studying solitary experiences implies working with inclusive methods. From these questionings I developed a method involving visual and elicitation tools to engage museum attendants in a reflexive comment about their own experience. Part of the results and the method are visible in the documentary In Between, made out of it.

Panel P147
Faces of emptiness