Accepted Paper:

Working with Contingencies in the Museum Storeroom: An Experimental Exhibition Project in an Ethnographical Collection  


Karin Kaufmann (Museum der Kulturen Basel)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses possible insights from an experimental exhibition project in an ethnographical collection. It explores the epistemic potential of working with contingencies and unpredictability, made possible by the distinctive features of the storeroom and through public participation.

Paper long abstract:

For its anniversary exhibition (opening in September 2018) the Museum der Kulturen Basel invites different groups of people from the public to choose the exhibition objects out of the museum storerooms. The participants are asked to make their choices based on personal taste and on the sensory effect of the objects.

Visible ethnographical storage is at the root of a reflexive museum practice. The storeroom in curatorial practices today often stands for a non-curated space, not patronizing the visitor by showing the objects free from authoritative interpretations. Because it does not assign a visual hierarchy, it should allow for a sensory point of entry into the objects which creates openness for new interpretations and meaning-making.

I believe there lies a creative potential in the "equalizing" quality of the storeroom and in the possibility to happen upon things.

Therefore, I find it helpful to think of the storeroom "as method" (Thomas Thiemeyer 2017) following Nicholas Thomas' (2010) conceptualization of "the museum as method". Thomas emphasizes the epistemic potential of the direct work with museum objects, which includes making "discoveries". "Finding things that were not lost" may destabilize classifications because they just do not fit into existing categorizations. Thomas pleads for making theoretical use of such contingencies. Paying close attention to the objects unique qualities and histories may challenge scholarly understandings of what things are and what they represent.

In this paper, I will discuss the potency of working with contingency and unpredictability for this exhibition project, which I assume are made possible by the distinctive features of the storeroom.

Panel P032
Museum Affordances: Collections, Interventions, Exhibitions