Friday, January 12, 2007

Keeping up with Canada

Words of the late black American poet, June Jordan, can remind us of the limits of some of our national museums. They may even indicate one of the major challenges facing Canadian museums today:

"Take me into the museum and show me myself, show me my people, show me soul America. If you cannot show me myself, if you cannot teach my people what they need to know (...) then why shouldn't I attack the temples of America and blow them up?" [1]

Are we terribly out of touch with our country's social, cultural, economic and intellectual realities when we mount permanent exhibitions that depict and interpret Canadian history? Do you think that any interpretation of our past becomes out-of-date the moment after it is fixed to a museum wall? What if our national museums featured nothing but temporary exhibits? Taking a cue from theatres, all of these temporary exhibit spaces could be designed with flexibility in mind, for transformation to best suit successive exhibits.

Canada is constantly changing. Our political landscape shifts, bringing with it multitudes of new attitudes - dissenting and assenting - that affect our intellectual climate. New immigrants settle in Canada, and affect our cultural and social realities. The Canada that my thirteen-year old sister knows now is different from the one I knew at her age, and our present realities, of course, determine the ways we interpret the past. Do you think the steady change of exhibitions and exhibition techniques in our national museums might keep our institutions from becoming museums of old museology?

[1] June Jordan as cited in Edward P. Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums (Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 1996), 6.


Alex said...

Very interesting comments, Lauren. I was also struck by the comment in the Alexander reading. Shouldn't all the peoples' of a nation have their story told? I believe yes.

I am also a firm believer that for a nation to have a cohesive identity, it must have a narrative that is consistent, but also all inclusive. I raise the question, can we have revolving exhibits and still have a national narrative, hmm. Maybe, maybe not.

chris lorenz said...

Hi Lauren, since I accidentally discovered that you are intereseted in the New German Cinema I want to draw your attention to a very recent comment on 'Das Leben der Anderen' in 'Die Welt'(assuming you read German): .