Accepted Paper:

A Matter of Dust. From Infrastructures to "Infra-thin" in Museum Maintenance  


Tiziana Beltrame (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)

Paper short abstract:

The daily thick work of museum maintenance and repair tells us stories of blurred substances and unavoidable breakdowns. Following ambient dust allows us to see conservation spaces as places of flows, where heterogeneous entities cohabit in different scales.

Paper long abstract:

This paper aims to analyze the role of mundane operations and blurred substances in the daily functioning of an exhibition area. I will present data from a recent fieldwork at the musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Environments continually unfold (Ingold, 2007), and museums may be taken, in this paradigm, as "object-sustaining environments" (Dominguez Rubio, forthcoming). Within STS and sociomaterial approach, we must pay attention to the conservation spaces of collections as places of flows, where a multitude of entities cohabit in different scales, from infrastructure to "infra-thin" (Duchamp, 1930; Dagognet, 2009). The human daily works of glass and floor cleaning, sweeping, dust removing, light and hanging devices maintenance and repair, provide a set of joined actions within others entities engaged in the material life of the exhibited object. Ambient dust, for instance, which constitutes a nutrient substrate for insects, is understood here as a processing entity. It is also an entity which tires the fan out until it breaks it with an effect on the deregulation of the light system of a showcase.

Studying the breakdown allows us to go towards an ecological approach of the conservation practices, in which the daily thick work of maintenance could tell us stories of the role of neglected things and matter (Barad, 2003; Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011). In a Tardian way to see museum environments and practices, it's not the museum which contains dust, but it's the dust which ties all the heterogeneous entities together.

Panel T007
Before/after/beyond breakdown: exploring regimes of maintenance