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Museums modernus

24 July 2012 by Richard

At the end of May I left these shores to give a public lecture in Copenhagen as part of the MeLa European Museums in an age of migrations project. MeLa is a four year long research project which aims to define new approaches for museums in relation to the conditions posed by the migrations of people, cultures, ideas, information and knowledge in the global world. Furthermore, the project will evaluate how these changes can interfere with such organizational issues as communication strategies, physical structures and exhibition places. I was invited by the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) who organized this particular event and who presented some very interesting and innovative design solutions focusing on visitor studies.

To gain some early support from the Danish audience my paper was titled “The Museum’s New Clothes: a way forward” – passing reference to Danish national hero Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. My presentation highlighted the fact that museums are more than one at first perceives, they are not neutral spaces; they can be both controversial and politically charged especially concerning representation and inclusion.   I gave the example of the recent Liverpool Mayoral elections where the National Front candidate announced, “Shut down the left-wing guilt driven divisive Slave Museum and open up an English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh museum of unity and pride.” An oxymoron if there ever was one. I concluded by noting how museums should be shaping a new Pan-European culture of respect for human and social rights, promoting greater democracy, solidarity and social justice. Something which would confront the oppressive ideologies of far-right and ultra nationalist groups.

museum interior

Danish Design Center

Although a busman’s holiday in some respects I managed to visit the Danish Design Center, which was located only a few hundred yards from my hotel on, what else, Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard. The Alexandra is a must for design lovers by the way and I was excited to stay in the Finn Juhl themed room (apparently on the bed he actually made!). There is also an Arne Jacobsen room whose classic the SAS Royal Hotel Copenhagen was just around the corner. As someone with a penchant for midcentury and modern design I headed for the ‘Denmark by Design‘ exhibition which showed the development in Danish design from 1945-2010. It was fascinating to see just how much Danish design has become an integrated part of modern society. 

In June I was closer to home (not just Liverpool but  where I was brought up) when I spoke at the  EUROTAST network symposium in York, a pan-European interdisciplinary project exploring the transatlantic slave trade through research projects in history, archaeology and genetics. I discussed the representation of enslavement in a museum context and Professor James Walvin gave the keynote “Then and Now: Viewing the Transatlantic Slave Trade Over Forty Years”. It was a fascinating day and I look forward to further related events.

On a personal note, last week I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Edge Hill University (I am an alumnus). It was a great honour for me and my family and I would like to thank everyone at Edge Hill for making it a special day.

Bye for nu,

Richard

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