Museums – like archives and libraries – are widely seen as central agents of knowledge that create order out of the endless jumble of things through classification, preservation and arrangement. New museological approaches, aided by new technologies of presentation, refrain from classifying the corpus of objects, and present them instead in their numerical richness and disparateness without embedding them in an overarching hierarchy. Te Heesen argues that recent installations at a number of museums evoke amazement, reverence and fascination, but – unlike systematizers since the 18th century – no longer confront the viewer with a hierarchical classification. Instead, visitors are presented with the mass of objects alone. Where does that leave us?
Anke te Heesen, curator and historian, has been professor of history of science at Humboldt University Berlin since 2011. She has also worked at the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum in Dresden, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, and the University of Tübingen. Her research focuses on issues of objects and science, notation systems in science, art and science and their collecting and ordering practices. Her main books are World in a Box. The Story of an Eighteenth-Century Picture Encyclopedia (2002), and Der Zeitungsausschnitt. Papierobjekt der Moderne (2006; in English, Manchester UP, 2014). Her latest book is Theorien des Museums (2012). Her current research projects deal with the history of the research interview and the history of exhibitions in the 1970 and the 1980.
The lecture is part of the ICI Lecture Series Constituting Wholes II, which seeked to re-examine the critical potential of notions of wholeness by exploring the double movement in constituting wholes. How are wholes and other forms of association differently constituted and how do they constitute their parts or elements? How can one maintain a critical position towards persistent wholes without making them inescapable and foreclosing the possibility of reducing violence and arriving at more benign forms of association? Conversely, how can one be attuned to heterogeneities and potentialities without participating in the reparation of existing structures of domination? Conceived within the framework of the multi-discipinary ICI Research Focus ‘Constituting Wholes’, the lecture series addressed and debated these and similar questions from a variety of perspectives.
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