Is the museum a collective reservoir of knowledge or a platform for experimentation? White cube or workshop? Architectural icon or forum for interactive communication?
There have long been a variety of notions, theories and utopias about the museum – an institution that has itself changed again and again over the course of its history. It is not least of all artists who continually investigate this public venue of imagery and the experience of the same, this space that oscillates between opposites such as history and future, boom and crisis. On the one hand, museums have traditionally served artists as means of training and sometimes as studios. On the other hand, – in their art and manifestos alike – artists have persistently attacked museums, critically addressed their supposed neutrality and objectivity and questioned their gestures of showing, for example from a feminist, anti-racist or anti-colonial perspective.
Entitled »Museum Matters«, the current Videobox series concentrates on works by emerging and established artists and filmmakers addressing the theme of the museum. Pursuing documentary, experimental, essayistic or narrative approaches, they explore museums, their policies, presentations and forms of mediation with the aim of exposing the conditions of collections and provoking alternative forms of archives.
»Museum Matters« is supported by:
As institutions of the modern era, museums were instruments of national state power and colonialism alike. The Royal Museum for Central Africa Tervuren on the outskirts of Brussels was also a propaganda instrument. Founded in 1898 by Belgium’s King Leopold II and opened in 1910 – one year after Congo had changed status from royal possession to colony of the Belgian nation – it was a museum of colonial Africa. As such it collected African art, ethnographica and natural objects, thus also pre- serving the enthusiasm, as well as the pretentious- ness, exploitation and brutality with which the Europeans long encountered the rest of the world.
Before the Royal Museum – presumably Europe’s last major colonial museum – was closed at the end of 2013 and is being converted into a museum of contemporary Africa, Katarina Zdjelar took a look behind the scenes. In her two-channel video “Into the Interior (Last Day of the Permanent Exhibition)” she captured the final moments of the museum before its “general overhaul”: she pointed her lens at depots, dioramas and archive material. Rubble con- tainers alluding to the imminent turning point in the museum’s history also caught her attention. She patiently listened in on employees matter-of-factly checking inventory numbers of decaying trophies possessing neither scientific nor cultural value – only to pack them up again afterwards. In the double projection, Zdjelar juxtaposes shots of trophies with details of a faded wall painting showing a Congolese landscape. Hunting and painting were the favourite pastimes with which the colonial lords penetrated untouched landscapes of Africa.
Zdjelar’s calm scenes are accompanied by a disso- nant soundtrack combining the voices of museum employees, harp music and the sound of broken glass being swept up. The museum is being ideolog- ically decluttered. And nevertheless, the soundtrack to the video seems to convey anxiety about whether it is really possible to decolonize the museum.
1979 born in Belgrade, Republic of Serbia, lives in Rotterdam
1999–2004 University of Arts, Belgrad
2001–2002 Centre for Contemporary Theatre and Performance Art, Belgrade
2004–2006 MA, Piet Zwart Institute, Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam
Between the Sounds, Museum Sztuki, Łódź (2016); Towards a Further Word, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Bielefeld (2014); Artium, Victoria-Gasteiz (2013); SpazioA (2012)
5. Marrakech Biennale, Marrakesh (2014); Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (2013); Hartware MedienKunstVerein, Dortmund (2013); 5. Moskau Biennale (2013); Thomas Locher. Katarina Zdjelar. And in Between, Galerie Stadtpark, Krems (2012); Art Sheffield 2010, Sheffield (2010); Morality, Act II, Witte de With, Rotterdam (2009); 53. La Biennale di Venezia, Serbischer Pavillon, Venedig (2009).