I am an international presenter

Day two, and CIHA 2012 continues to be an amazing congress…  Highlights of today have been: hearing Janice Baker talking about about David Walsh’s controversial aesthetic ‘non-museum’ or temple to the secular at MONA, Hobart, Tasmania.  A bizarre text-less cavern-like performative space in which one man’s anti-curatorial collection has perhaps become highly curated – a mix of anthropological/ethnographic objects juxtaposed with contemporary art. Including Marc Quinn’s No Visible Means of Escape which of course I like (see Manchester Art Gallery and Creative Consultants’ project from 2009). Despite the criticisms, I really want to go there – indulge in my individual experience.  There’s even smelly artwork – Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca.  Say no more.  I stayed to the rest of the session to hear about the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver – again discussions around anthropology and/or art and aesthetics as modes of display or reading objects, and then a paper in French about Quai Branly and the Immigration Museum (no collection initially) in Paris – which luckily I understood the general gist of, having already heard about both places back in 2005 on the Museum Studies MA trip to Paris.

Following this, it was time for the long-awaited postgraduate papers.  8 of us presenting during the lunch break – in a rather vast hall.  Technical hitches initially (what – even in Germany?! I hear you ask!) – remind me to always bring my presentation on a memory stick – but luckily all was well after a lengthy delay, thanks to a very helpful member of the CIHA postgrad team finding my presentation.  I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to speak to this world audience (!) about sensory experience of the Mary Greg collection.  In only 6 minutes, I did an ‘off the cuff’ talk which I think worked well – a slightly different mode in a conference where most papers have been read out loud, and a more light-hearted approach than many.  I had lots of lovely comments afterwards and look forward to more to come.  I was particularly interested in Ivana Nina Unkovic’s paper (from Croatia) on involving audiences in conservation projects, and the problems and solutions that may arise as a result.  In addition, Jennifer Morris spoke about occult objects in Reformation Germany – and their mystical as well as material qualities.  Fascinating stuff, and wonderful to be part of this very generously funded programme.

Then I attended Howard Morphy’s paper in the CIHA special section (I felt I had to since he wrote the Foreword to my supervisor, Sandra Dudley’s book – Museum Materialities).  It was a fascinating look at aboriginal art and its links with contemporary work – particularly focussing on a snake image found in body art.  Art and anthropology as absolutely linked as art is a ‘form of human action in the world’.  The section was about CIHA’s role in the wider object world, so this seemed a bit of a tangent, but a very welcome one.  I then heard (back in the Museum Section 5) about an exhibition being developed, on art that hadn’t been recognised by museums, or by the avant garde artists, but in which the art was more than object (or not an object).  I needed a bit more here I think – I wasn’t quite sure how the works for the exhibition had been selected, except that they were innovative.  I think it was showing that there is a way of sharing such works beyond doCUMENTA.   The final paper of the day (Religious Object Section 3) was brilliantly quirky and I loved it – not because it was really anything to do with art – but because it was about an obsession with objects, making and leaving things behind.  Howard Finster was a minister who quit when he realised that nobody listened to his sermons, instead making a garden of paradise.  Some 44,000 ‘folk art’ works later, he died leaving an amazing and very odd place behind.  Cult leader?  Obsessive hoarder?  Eccentric maker and do-gooder?  I am not sure, but it was clear that his objects have affect on people.  (But do all objects do this?  Does any object have a capacity to do this, no matter where it is?)

So that was my day at CIHA.  But there is life beyond the conference walls, so I went for a nice stroll through the stunning ‘old’ town of Nuremberg, its churches, bridges, halls.  But was so struck by a 1945 postcard I saw in a tourist shop, of the city, totally flattened – and now by the rebuilding and shrapnel damage.  All that culture and historic beauty bombed. By us.  And this was further compounded when I went to the Nuremberg Bratwurst Hausle for dinner (nothing to do with the delicious sausages x 8 with kartoffelnsalat and a beer) but I randomly shared a table with an Austrian family, the son of whom had also been at the conference and amongst other discussions, he had noted how few British conveners and presenters there are here – something he thought was due to international politics between the British Museum and the Germanischse National Museum  – and Nuremberg in particular – which is a direct result of WW2.  Is this true?  I’m not sure.  I certainly hadn’t even thought about Anglo-German relations as anything to do with this conference, and not knowing about the art history world in the UK, I have nothing to go on, but it is interesting that this is an outside opinion and that a lack of British presence here has been noted in what apparently is a traditionally Franco/Germanic institution of CIHA.  And so I go to sleep with my head full of thoughts yet again.

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