September 25, 2016 by Katia
I rarely experience museums the same way anymore. At best they’re a promise that never quite gets fulfilled. Mostly we rush through them on our way to the usually overcrowded kids’ area, representing everything museums don’t stand for: noisiness, togetherness and inability to hear one’s inner voice making for a combination that is far from sublime.
We all have our personal history with museums. I constructed stories around impressionist paintings at the Tel-Aviv museum as a child, sulked as a tween when I was “dragged” to The National Gallery in London resentful about the offensive whispering and connected with an ancient Egyptian scribe figurine at the Louvre, on the Paris chapter of the same trip. I remember coming back and trying to describe that feeling of “beyond” awarded to me by the sculpture to a childhood friend. Exalted and looking for the right words, I tried to capture the dichotomy between the very realistic character and its essence of eternal, conveyed by the eyes that stared into a distance that was more than just geographical. I endured some harsh criticism that day for being “such a philosopher” and the foundations for the end our friendship were laid.
As a student, I found myself studying museums inside out, starting with their contents during my degrees in Art History and then moving on to the external shell, when I decided to add a “more practical” diploma in Museum Studies. Just like the masterpieces and less renowned works of art that converted from receptacles for my stories into independent storytellers and carriers, the corridors of the museums became a bit wider and the ceilings a bit higher to accommodate the added layers of history, context and meaning of the structures (physical and ideological) as I studied them.
Sometimes I get a short window of opportunity to actually look as I rush through museums with my kids and then I’m reminded of how museums actually talk to us on different levels, appealing to something very personal while evoking thoughts of the universal, so maybe it’s not true that museums are not about togetherness, maybe they’re just about experiencing togetherness individually. Museums elevate by placing their ceilings as high as cathedrals and by obliterating a distance of time and geography and allowing us to connect with the thought process of an artist, but essentially a fellow human being, who may have lived thousands of years ago.
I can’t always explain why I connect to certain works of art or artifacts. I know that I chose the Etruscan room in the Musei Vaticani because it was less crowded and I was more likely to hear the museum’s voice and my internal one responding to it and because I wanted to pay tribute to the meticulous overlooked labour of someone who created over two thousand and five hundred ago. I don’t know why a tiny hanging rabbit perfume bottle suddenly monopolized me, refusing to let go, but I found a connection and I paused for a long while delighting in it and exploring it.
Despite the curatorial texts and labels in museums a lot of our questions often remain unanswered. Hence the great silence. The great vastness and the tall walls, on the other hand, allow enough space for those questions to be born and being the one who asks the questions is a great luxury these days.
What did you give up as a mother that was part of your identity (beyond sleep and shower)?