I found this week’s discussion question very interesting and a touch more complicated that the simplicity of the question implies. Immediately, my mind did summersaults down a kaleidoscopic rabbit hole of related questions. How museums collect, what they do with what’s collected, and how it’s represented, including how collecting caused and continues to cause harm. My mind takes the question further, how far did or will we go in the name of collecting, and images of raiding tombs and destroying structures to get inside spring to mind, pillaging culture to put it behind glass while destroying it in the same move.
There are a number of reasons why museums choose to collect certain objects, mainly rotating around grand ideals of education and accessibility, preserving history in order to learn from it, with reasons for particular collections depending on the specific goals and mission of an institution. However, those altruistic ideals from their onset sprang from somewhat dubious roots. We learned in the first weeks about cabinets of curiosities and how their contents were the earliest examples of collection and cataloging of flora, fauna and other trinkets. When going over essentially the birth of museums, it’s easy to understand why, in the beginning, wealthy men wanted to collect. It was a way to explore and understand the wide world that was being discovered, while at the same time owning that world in some small way for themselves. When I consider the ongoing discussions about ownership and reparations that occur within the modern museum landscape, it often time feels like those roots of control still very much have a firm grip on the museum as an institution, despite the best intentions of those who work in the name of the institution. While I recognize a growing concern for repairing these issues of collection, I’m not sure they can ever be fully be remedied, as the world they were collect from doesn’t exist anymore. These issues are complex and multifaceted with no real black and white answer, but ignoring my death spiral into the negative side of museums, collecting obviously has played a role in understand our past and our world.
I accept, and understand that museums played a huge role in our self education where collections of objects lead to so many areas of study, too long to list. That aspect of collection and display it truly amazing. So is the way that collecting IS able to preserve culture that has been erased or overlooked. Especially, when displayed by those of who represent the culture.
The last facet of the question for me is how it related to the personal. Why do we as humans collect. I think in many ways the reasons mimic those of larger institutions. I know that for me, collecting is about connecting. Whether it’s the photos of my family on my fridge, the mugs from ceramics friends in the cupboard, or the trinkets, pinecones, and pebbles from various adventures, these objects connect me to those I love, the places I’m from, my memories. I’ve said before my apartment consistently reminds me of my own cabinet of curiosity to other people. To me that’s a somewhat beautiful thought, that through my collecting, you can see into my life, where I’ve been and what is important to me.
Do you enjoy collecting? How do you feel about curating your own space?