Thanks a lot for making space for this podcast. I'm very excited to talk to you, because we have worked together a long time ago. But yeah, well to that, after 2012 13 to 1414. Yes, 14 was the last time, we haven't really worked together anymore. And I actually also don't know. So where what you're doing at the moment. So I'm very excited to hear. And I would like to start with asking you to tell me about your favourite museum. And maybe you can describe a little bit what this museum is like, and also what it is that inspires you what it is that you like about it.
Okay, give me a second to think. I think what I'll have to do instead, is piece together my favourite moments of museums. Because I don't have one favourite museum. But as soon as you ask, for some reason, the first thing that came to mind was a museum in Baltimore. It was probably the Baltimore Museum of Art. And I'm probably not even saying that right. But I, I was having heartbreak at the time. And I went into a gallery. And I don't remember what I saw. But it was an Art Gallery. And it was really typical white walls, colourful objects on the walls, there was a first time that I understood the idea of the museum as a sanctuary. Because I did actually get out of my get out of myself enough to feel the spaciousness and to feel that connection to things that had happened long before me and things that were not connected to this intensity of feelings that I was having. And in that moment, I really needed I needed the sort of the airiness of that space, I needed the coolness of that space, I needed the whiteness of the walls of that space. I needed this sort of puncture of intensity of the colour of the art that was on the walls. And, you know, I don't remember anything that the label tech said, I don't remember learning anything. I just remember that. I felt that I felt invited. And I felt like I could breathe.
so I think about you know, if I were to sort of make a little, a little trip tick, sort of an oral trip tick there's the entry way to the the Helsinki Art Museum, what does that one called? kiasma. Y'all, it's, there's a moment where we you walk in, you go past the coat, the coat, check people, and you start to ascend. And there's that feeling of ascension. Excuse me, there's a feeling of ascension. And that always opens me to sort of be prepared for what is going to happen next.
And I never really go to museums knowing what the exhibitions will be. And I never really go to museums in search of knowledge. So it's kind of ironic that I've spent my entire life working in museums because I
am not a text reader. And I I wouldn't necessarily choose to go to museums if I didn't just happen to go to museums all the time.
Yeah. So but then there is there is quite an important aspect for you that makes the museum special is the space itself the architecture or the way that that the museum welcomes you as a as a building. Yeah, I think so. It's
funny you say that literally tears comes to my eyes. I mean, I think you just naming that. It's so obvious, but it it. It connected very deeply with me. You're just saying that? Yeah.
I think museums may be the only place that I do feel that invitation but also that That sense of Yeah, that sense of
anything can happen. I like it very much. Yeah. Yeah. Because, you know, often I have the feeling in museums that I cannot breathe, or I get a headache or something is kind of too heavy. Oh, yeah. Why do you think so. But you mentioned, I don't know, maybe it's this conditioned air that is in there, or that is too much offered to the visitor. Or maybe it's also just a building that is not an inviting building, but it's made to exhibit the art the best way or somebody thought it is the best way. But when you said a chasm, I immediately also thought of this huge entrance, that is very wide in all directions. Because you don't have a ceiling, actually, it's open to all the floors in the beginning, as you come in. So there is a spaciousness that is very unusual for an indoor, indoor venue.
It really is, right? I mean, I also know of myself that, you know, some people are mountain people, and some people are forest people, and my calm always feels when I can see a horizon line. And whether that's a water horizon line, or whether that's fields, open fields, I, I noted my body that my sense of calm comes when, when there's a spaciousness, and
being inside with that sense of spaciousness, to me feel so rare. That it's like, there's a shift in the focus point in my eyes that I have this opportunity, you know, so often, because of our handheld devices, and living in small spaces, our focal point is, you know, sometimes six inches away, sometimes two feet away, sometimes just across the room. But ah, it's just feel so liberating to have focal points that can be sort of at a distance, and also have interesting things to see at a distance, and to have sort of punctuation across that spectrum or span of gaze.
Yeah, I like this very much. It just reminds me a bit. Because you mentioned the horizon and the mountains and the sea. And that somehow does architecture in that it is so spacious, it captures a quality that you often don't have indoors, but that you know from outdoors. So there's something there that I did remind is
interesting too, because it at the same time, like you're talking about with this pumped in air, it's sort of the antithesis of the outdoors, you know, everything is is curated or everything is artificial, except for just space. I mean,
unbounded, wonderful base.
You are, as you said, you were a museum professional, you have been working in museums for a very long time. You're an anthropologist, also, you work as you worked as curator, you work with cultural heritage, you work also with accessibility. So maybe you can tell a little bit about what your practice is about, and what fascinates you about your practice.
And I like the word practice, because as soon as I heard that I thought about improving,
working towards improving and I feel like a very general sense. There's so much more improving, and learning that I need to do even though my very first job at 19. I was not working in an ice cream shop, I was working in a museum, and yet because I'm white, and because I'm middle class, and because I'm American. I know that museums have been a comfortable space for me. And
so I'm mindful my
I have a practice now of listening as best I can, to ways that museums are not places that are safe spaces or places that are have not both historically currently been places that are open or have invite people. Whether tacitly, or, sort of specifically. But what that really looks like in in my sort of daily work is two things. One, I am a qualitative researcher working with museums and science centres and libraries, all of these spaces that have audiences, and focus on serving their audiences in different ways. And I am the person who gets to have conversations with those audiences as individuals, not as they're grouped into data and not as they're grouped into, you know, demographics. But I get to have sometimes long meandering, but deep conversations with individuals, about their experiences in museums, Library Science centres, and I'm learning to listen better, but really, I'm learning to be comfortable pressing points or asking questions that before would not normally be asked or would be sort of unspoken.
Yeah, and, I mean, I know a little bit that it's very much about the the bodily sensations also. Because you mentioned once that museums are intellectual and textural and visual and kind of object based, but bodies, the bodies that are visiting the museum, they are very complex, and there's many other layers that are not immediately visible or not immediately invited to participate in this visit. So maybe you can say a little bit about this embodied experiences that, that you work with.
I think a lot of museums are used to thinking about
the senses, as this sort of these five elements that are tied to body parts. And they try to control for those senses. And just like you mentioned, the visual, both in what you see but also in the textual and what you read. And you know, more and more museums are aware of and thinking about sound, the soundscape or echoes, but also creating and utilising sound and creative ways, but less, so some of the other, especially smell. And also less. So the tactile homeless are working with audiences who have vision loss or who are blind.
And I think about
the sort of the the five senses as the sort of the appropriate, receptive, the things that are people are aware of, can be controlled the external pieces, but also, I'm so deeply aware of the interoceptive the things that people come into the museum with, and that's everything, from the awareness of their hunger, awareness of their mood, wareness of their headaches, shoulder aches. And what's really interesting is what happens when that inside of the body meets the inside of the museum, or the sort of curated and controlled space at the museum. Because that's infinite in a sense, you know, imagine someone walks in and they're experiencing trauma, or they're experiencing grief, and they see a work of art, it's that it's that meeting point of what is inside of them, even if again, even if it's just a headache, or they're hungry are they had strawberries for breakfast, that that lingering taste of strawberries on their tongue, that feeling of having cried that morning because of something in their life, the shoes that are too tight, all of those things that make up the real body, when they come in contact with whatever the curated experience that the museum is providing. It's, it's, that's the magic. That's the really interesting points to me. And
the focus stays on the object or stays on the text or stays on the you know, the built space, the museum space and this idea that there's going to be this transference to everybody the same or you know, even to different groups. Have thinkers that think one way or another way. And so what's been really interesting to me is to actually step in, that's where my moment of sort of interception is. To stand next to a person that I don't know, when I'm doing this work, and I always have a clipboard, put my hair up in a bun and stick a pencil in it so that I, I look like a trustworthy and yet a bit weird and esoteric, so they know what they're getting into. But to stand next to a person, and to sort of weave a conversation that allows them through the conversation to be aware of that lingering taste in their mouth, and to be aware of how the bottom of their feet feel, not by specifically guiding them, but just by
there's a lot of quiet in the work that I do when I work with people in museums in on site. I often look away while we're talking so that they have a, they have also more space to feel what they're feeling. But I'll ask questions. And
I'm thinking of one moment, maybe I'll share. This was in the freer Sackler gallery of Asian art at the Smithsonian. And there was a there was a room, a gallery with some carpet and sort of greyish walls or pinkish greyish walls, low ceilings, and it happened to be sort of a, a humid room, I think the H back was such there. And there was a work of art. That was a bouquet. And the placement of the art was sort of lower than one would normally expect, I think it was probably like, between knees and hips on a typically bodied, standing adult. And we spent time looking and as we did, I remember, people weren't noticing, and starting to notice that because they were looking so closely. their sense of smell was evoked, which is understandable because it was flowers. But they would then recall, oh, there I have craniums at home that remind me of this. And when I look at this, I think about how the feeling in my fingers when I when I sort of absent mindedly pick off the the dead and drying pieces on my geranium. There, they would say, you know, oh, look at the way that this piece of art cuts off. And we don't get to actually see the stems of these flowers, we don't actually get to see what pot they're in. And then they would sort of add on imagination. And they sort of would describe without being prompted to describe what sort of what sort of bottom they would imagine these flowers were coming from. But it always came back to what was happening in their bodies. Let me give a different example. I use smells in museums, because it helps helps people to get back into their, into their awareness.
Yeah, and smell sense is also our oldest sense. So it kind of talks directly to this to our brain without we cannot really process it very well. Yeah. So I think we have first reaction to the smell, and then only we start thinking about it, because it's such a direct connection to our oldest part of the brain. Well, exactly. Yeah. And I think this is what you do, you kind of talk to this body wisdom somehow or you bring out a body wisdom to become more super on the surface. And to become Yeah, come more into people's awareness somehow.
Yeah, and to me, it's that awareness if they leave with a more nuanced sense of what is happening in their bodies, but also a more sort of beautiful sense of it. Because if we take this person, you know, who has heartbreak and ate strawberries and shoes are too tight, you know that if they can sort of reflect back onto their body, not just that they need to loosen up their shoes or brush their teeth, but that you know, what they that all of this adds up to be a moment that all of this adds up to be reflected back towards them. them, that there's this sort of beating, fleeting sort of senses that's constantly shifting that's shaping the way that we perceive everyday things. And, and, again, when there's sort of this explosion of that on and with the static experience or the static content that museums provide. And it's, like I said, it's it's infinite. It's a, it's a Wellspring.
Yeah, yeah. And it's, I mean, like, you say that there's been many possibilities of how the art can be perceived, just because you feel differently today, or because you become aware that your shoes are too tight, and that might have an influence on how you look at the painting. Yeah,
you know, it makes me think of the I think it's the Colombian room at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, in Georgetown, Washington, DC. And the reason that I love this space is it's the sort of picture a glass cloverleaf that you get to go inside of, and it's this sort of round, bulbous spaces that are relatively small. And each cloverly faces a different, something outside because they're glass, they look right out. And some of them are garden spaces outside, some of them are sort of suburban, you get to see, you know, an actual sidewalk or Street, some of them actually face to where garbage cans and, and rakes and the gardener's equipments are. But what they've done is they've, they've put up these objects, these mostly archaeological, historical, Colombian objects, some of them are large, and stone, and some of them are really bright, shiny gold. They put them up in a way that they almost look as if they're hanging in visibly. And so it's not this wall that is behind them, that is, you know, static, it's this ever changing natural space. So I like to go back there again, and again. And again, because it's not just in that case that I know, I go back with a different body and a different mind and a different heart, it's that the quality of light, the natural quality of light that comes in hits it differently, but also, that I'm having a relationship with the whole space around the object. So that again, if I'm looking at this beautiful, you know, really small gold trinket or bracelet, that if there's snow falling behind it, or if the the leaves are blowing, you know, in a sort of autumnal haze behind it, then all of that both aesthetically but also just on a, you know, the stories that that that tells shifts, and it becomes completely new, a new object and a new me and a new museum. And it's that sort of that refreshing. I think that it would be if you know, if we could make make people more aware of that or make museums more sort of open to how how things are constantly shifting.
Hmm. Yeah, and I think it's what you said also in the beginning, it's you take a bit this artificiality away, it's not a white cube anymore, but it becomes something that is shown in the reflection of how it is outside. So you somehow include the landscape or the weather or whatever is going on outside of the walls into the experience of observing this P Yeah.
And I mean, I love that and i think i think about and I think it was maybe Yoko Ono, I have to check. But I remember that there was a a TV that was set up at the Hirshhorn Art Museum as you would, you would come up the escalator. And, you know, escalators are sort of, you know, contracting and you're really aware of the movement and you're aware of yourself and you don't want to fall and it definitely is an indoor experience. And you get up at the top of this elevator escalator. And there is this large TV and the TV just is a sky. And it's actually a video that is up on the top of the museum that is pointing up towards the sky. And so even though you know, there's no skylights, it's not like you're suddenly you know, seeing natural light in any way. It just, it's just a moment right at the top where you get that outside perspective. And I think, you know, a lot of cultural heritage museums play around with affecting us You know, a sense of a sense of, quote unquote reality, you know, in the recreation of, you know, a sod house or the recreation of, you know, a disembowelled buffalo on the ground, where you learn about how the, the heart of the buffalo is here and the meat of the buffalo is here, this is at a particular Museum in Minnesota, I'm thinking of that does teach about the prairie in that way. But so often you find, don't you that you go into the cultural heritage museums, and there's, there's this sort of, you know, simple chrome or simulacrum of the, the outside world that's recreated sort of in plastics inside. And then I think even more about the old net.
Yeah, but yeah, and that goes very much against what you said before that, I mean, this makes everything very artificial and very stiff and very lifeless, also. So it's this capturing of one moment, but actually, yeah, I mean, life has changed, right? It does,
it does to me, but I, but I also know that there's a there's a sense of play to that, for me, like, there's a way in which I also enjoy that. And I think that there's ways that that could be tugged at a bit there could, you know, there could be really funny or weird overlays. And you know, I think also about the sort of continuing down that sort of that continuum. The really, really beautiful natural history dioramas, you know, that that captured down to the, the sort of leaf prints in the sand, you picture the, you know, the deer, the startled deer caught forever behind the glass, you know, centuries, and the way that they play with that depth of space. To me. Those are, you know, they're uncanny. They're disturbing. They're so so human. And yet, they're so beautiful.
What do you think about them? I'm very torn. And is because very often when I go to natural history museums, I find them just, too. Yeah, too artificial. And too, if there's a fakeness in them. And it doesn't inspire me very much. I think there is, you know, people, for example, when they stuffed animals, of course, there's a whole craft and the whole expertise in Taxidermia. And this has to be respected. And this is wonderful that they make them look as alive as possible. But there is something very fake in this whole thing. And for me, it loses a bit. Yeah, the connection to real life. So it's, it's almost like a cartoon or something that has nothing much to do with real life. So I'm very torn there. At the same time, I was talking to a friend about zoos, because I find zoos, places that I really do not want to visit anymore. But of course, as child, I went to visit them. And I'm very happy that I saw in my life when I was when I was young, I saw an elephant and I saw a tiger because they were just in a zoo. So I've seen this animal's life in front of me. So in a way, maybe they disappear. Maybe they maybe Yeah, it's, as I say, I'm not so much in favour of zoos, because of the way that animals are kept there. So maybe this is another way to show also to children, or to people who have never seen these animals to have a stuffed animal and show them this. But there is something very fake about them.
Yeah, and, and thick, too, for some reason, that's a word that come to mind. And I think about those spaces. And, you know, it's possible to because some of those were the older museums, you know, where the architecture itself, they use big stone and there's big stairs and the weight of the space is is totally different and often darker, and there's, you know, dark wood. And then in the midst of the dark wood and these bones that you see, there's this sort of window, you know, into the the Arctic tundra. And I think that's what I like about those spaces is that it's in deep contrast, if I were to imagine a diorama placed into the spaces that we were imagining before like the entryway to a bright, contemporary art museum. That would feel very unsettling and it would almost feel like you know, peach on white or grey on black, you know the country Contrast doesn't afford, but something about that sort of like, um, it's almost peep show ish, you know, it's this sort of like, this experience of like, I don't know, if you were when you were a kid, if they had boxes that you could have a hole in, in reach your hand and and you would just sort of feel around and they're just sort of reminds me of that, that, you know, there's these dioramas are set into this architectural space or this feel that it's this, you know, squeeze release almost.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And the question is, of course, what, what is the message there? What does the museum or what does this type of exhibition want to transmit to the visitor? And very often they're made for children or for young people, so that they can touch and they can open doors. And that is there's something active and something participatory, but I always wonder what is actually the message there.
In the in the touch exhibits are back to the dioramas
both both this way of exhibiting something that is so fake. And that, yeah, it like you said, it has something of a peep show. So as a visitor, you become also somebody who, yeah, almost watch is something that is a bit taboo, or I don't know, they, like you say it is there's this peep show energy somehow. Yeah. But it's, you know,
I think about the uncanny valley here. And I feel like, those are so realistic, and yet, in parentheses, so fake, so deeply, be fake. But so, so visually realistic. And so maybe, you know, there's this piece of the visual here, too, that the the cultural heritage museums that do this sort of mid level recreation that is not at the point of artistry, where it's very obvious that it's fake, as opposed to the sort of trick your mind through the visual, looking behind this glass is, to me, the more uncanny experience is in that cultural heritage space, where, in a sense, you're supposed to feel that it's real, but you're not. And I think sort of on the all the way, on the other side of it, are the, the type of small cafes that you and I have been to together, like cafe tagata, where the space is, itself sort of a Cultural Heritage Museum, yeah, where, you know, the owners over the years have tacked up everything from you know, Rusty, dangling ice skates to, you know, portrait of mannerheim split down the middle, so it can fit into a corner, you know, to the sort of every little object from their family and from history, it takes up the walls in a way that you would, you would, you would never see in a cultural heritage institution, and you would not really ever see in an art museum, but it sort of pulls it all together into this really small space. So you're having a very intimate, physical experience with these objects without having to quote unquote, learn about them, because there's no label text, and there's nothing, there's no apparent organisational or thematic sort of schema to it, it's just sort of you are having a relationship with historic objects in a historic space. But the purpose is actually for you to have tea with your friends, the purpose is for you to have bhula. And for you to be able to smell the fires from outside, and they change the spaces ever changing to I mean, you're how many coffee cups have been laid on that single table that you're sitting at, you know, over the course of a day, while those objects watch.
Yeah, and that's the thing. And that, for me is very much alive, because these objects also change because they plaster another thing on top of them. So there is the additions and there is something falls off and maybe gets thrown away. So there is something very alive in this cafe Regatta, which is not so alive in these so called fake museums or natural history museums that are trying to recreate something that is that is, you know, in the real world very much alive, but then they're freezing it. Right. And this for me makes it so so, so stiff somehow, and it's so authentic to in the way that,
you know, museums these days, I think in the beginning, you know for many years, it was about inviting people into have a have a to watch things or to learn things and now that's it's a far more discursive and there's far more about at least In lip service to creating a space for community creating a space for dialogue back and forth. And not saying that's not happening, but in a place like cafe virgata the primary function is actually for people to connect. And and so it feels so much, so much more authentic than the sort of an inauthentic or a sort of overthought, overwrought, created, contrived. Have a dialogue here in this space, because who's really comfortable with that?
You want to take your coat off, you want to let your guard down, you want to rest on your elbows and be able to blow your nose in front of your friend and burn your lips on the tee. And
yeah, and this brings me actually to the next topic that I would like to talk with you. And it's about, because you have worked very much in multi sensory learning and people with disabilities where one sense maybe is not as, as impaired. And with the topic of inclusion, I would like to talk a little bit about inclusion and what this really means and how we can achieve this and who has to be included and who? Yeah, is it only humans? Or can also other than humans be included? And how could this happen? So I would like to hear a little bit. What do you think about that?
There's so many, so many layers to your question. So you know, the things that come to mind. I want to I want to hold a place for a red Zinnia that came to mind when you ask that question, but also I, I heard a person recently say, this is in text, they were texting, they said when they were a child, they were given deafness. And I've never seen it written or spoken like that. And I, I loved it, because they recognised the gift of their disability. And I think, to me, it comes comes always comes back around to that to sort of centering the gifts of our abilities, our disabilities as opposed to this model of loss or this model of impairment
and when you're able to sort of centre or normalise, if you have the flexibility to centre or normalise, then
more imaginings are possible. I mean, I like to imagine, you know, in a, in a space that I mentioned that I feel, you know, comfortable, I feel welcomed, I like to imagine, you know, if the if 99% of the people that visited that space, were wheelchair users, then things would be at a lower height, that there would be a sort of concept and a setup that would be not for my body. And I can imagine that I would feel that this place was not for me. But also I love the idea of just sort of that shift in imagining that shift in thinking, where recentering the idea of quote unquote, normal or typical forge just so many more magical ways of looking at the world and thinking about the world.
And so when I think about that Zinnia again, I had a thought when you ask like what would what would make me
what would make me?
Well, let me first ask, what is Zinnia be the audience in a museum or what is Zinnia be an object to be gazed upon in a museum?
Very good question. I think it's all a matter of perspective.
Because if I think about traditional museums, and I think about
the things that you are to the audiences to gaze upon, I think why would I care like what makes me care about this? What is the connection point between me and this whatever this is. And if that if that this, for example, is is Enya frozen in time I use that example because if I look out my window, I see, literally a red Zinnia that is at this moment to be encoded in ice because of an ice storm and pelted with hail. But I think about the sort of the static moment of Zinnia. I mean, I feel like the sort of thread of this conversation is so much about things not being static about that sort of that, that I'm waving my hands taking one too far left and one too far right, sort of creating a horizon line. And I think that in order for me to sort of care about my red Zinnia, I have to know that I planted that resin, yeah. And I planted that red Zinnia, from a seed that I harvested from my last year's red zinnias. And I have to know that that red Zinnia that I planted from seed has gone through a lot this summer, and has seen the pandemic, from the perspective of as India. And I know that I have clipped its little friend, and I'm saving the seeds for next year. And so it's the sort of so often when an object or when something is frozen in time, but also, sort of you don't have a relationship with it, whether because you see it again and again, or you sort of know its lifespan. I feel like these pieces are all weaving around this sense of centering in the sense of relationships that, you know, whether it's a body that uses a wheelchair, or a body that is blind, coming into the museum, and sort of centering the gift and the depth of experience of that person, the sort of who they were before they came into the museum, who they are, as they leave the museum. Similarly, the objects having a having a lifespan. To me, it's, it's like, in order for me to care, there has to have to have a relationship. And in order for me to have a relationship, a snapshot is not enough. I can have a moment with it. But what I need is to understand it as its had as its lived its life and or to see it as a whole. Within the whole. Does that make sense? Are there pieces of that that resonate with you at all?
Very much. I mean, it's it's, yeah, because actually, it's what you say that you need to see the whole story, you need the whole lifespan, you need to see where it comes from and where it's going to. So you actually do not detach it from its context. Because if you detach it from its context, and it loses a lot of its soul in a way. And then it's much more difficult to connect with it. And then it's much more difficult to I guess it's also what happens when you do a guided tour of an art museum, that the guide tells you the background of a painting it tells you under which circumstances it was painted, and what happened to the Yeah, maybe it was stolen the painting and then bought by somebody. So I mean, there is a whole kind of history and story behind it that makes the thing come alive. And I think this is what you're talking about. And this can be an object, but it can also be a Yeah, life in itself. It can be a landscape or an animal or a flower as you talk.
And I just like this idea of the flower. I would love for there to be more natural scapes in the museum that you could go again and again, and you could see where things are in the in its lifespan, or even just take an acknowledgement of I think you did a piece where you acknowledge cracks in the floor. You know, it would be kind of wonderful if when you could go to the museum, if there was a new dent in the wall if it had a label text that said, you know, September 12 cart accidentally bumps and scrapes wall cart was carrying teeth of a Sabre tooth tiger on their way to meet 12 year olds. You know, just
if the if the sort
of the dynamism was was afforded a voice and I loved the idea of, you know, especially any any living materials that are outside of the museum being brought in on a regular basis to interact with and view the art and for the art to view the the natural.
Yeah. Yeah. But then the question is, of course, is the museum maybe trying to do exactly the opposite, to make everything that is natural, frozen in an artificial frame? So maybe with bringing in the natural, it would go very much against the concept of the museum as we have it today.
Say that again, in a different way. So I understand.
Now, you said it would be nice to bring in the natural but the question is, for me very much the way that museums define themselves or understand themselves today, still is very much the freezing or the conservation of a state or have a status and to not let it live and let it change and allow it to deteriorate and allow it to morph into something else. So by bringing in the natural into the museum, you would actually disrupt the concept of a museum that is about conservation and about categorising and about. Yeah, about showing something in an unchanged way. Yeah,
I think so. I think that's even more recent.
Hmm, yeah, I agree with you. And this is a bit my question. I mean, yeah. Because now, as the icon is so busy with redefining museums, I wonder, there is still the conservationist aspect is still in there. And I wonder if this has to be? Yeah, if this has to continue to stay in there.
Yeah, and of course, there's the, you know, the, just on a practical level of preservation, conservation of the objects and of the space, I think that's a practically a thumbs up. But it's more, to me, it's more about that acknowledgement. Not about the sort of, because we're all trying to slow down death and decay in our own lives. I mean, I think that's a really natural, human thing to do, I think we're all trying to live and persevere. But, you know, in the same way that rather than trying to, you know, wear my hair to cover cover up the, you know, the stress lines that have now turned into wrinkles in my forehead, you know, that all of the just the, the recognition of of death and decay, the recognition of transformation, and change, writ onto spaces, and onto changing perspectives. Because labelled texts are changing, I mean, as as we become more self aware, as anti racist practices and thinking becomes something that I think museums are capable of and willing to embrace, then you see, the shifting perspectives on the colonialist on the, on the everything from the collecting practices to the naming practices, the categorization. There are beautiful radical shifts in the way that, you know, label texts and exhibitions are changing, but it then that becomes the new, you know, that's the, that's the new hairstyle that covers up the, the wrinkles, you know, so I do like the idea of just if there was a way to sort of show those layers of thinking and show those layers of, of space. And, you know, to us, it's hard for us to perceive the slow growth of trees and of the natural world and even just, you know, institutions, these, you know, behemoths, but things like xenios and the change of things over one season allows us to really be aware of the of the pace of growth and the pace of decay and the pace of change.
And because you mentioned is I mean, I think slowly or Yeah, rather slowly. thinkers and philosophers and even, yeah, we all have to acknowledge more and more that we are not alone on this planet and that the other species, but also rivers and mountains and the sky that they have with us, and we are part of them, and they are part of us. So we, there is a process going on of inclusion, let's say, slowly, slowly. And I'm always reminded of how long it took us to recognise, for example, colonialism as something that was not very something that was not very heavily to do. And that we're now trying to step back and decolonial eyes and to shift our view on what was going on and shift our view on racism. And and, and that that, of course also changes what is happening in the museum's. So I have been wondering, is this or does it have to be similarly happening with our environment or co inhabitants of the planet? The atmosphere with how the way that we see the world or the way that museums make us see the world? Does this have to be also more inclusive on that level?
Yeah, I mean, I think absolutely, I think that's the right way to say it, too, that, to me, the inclusive is sort of the, the home the centering the normalising, and it's that that shift that, again, that flexibility, that shift in what was seen as invisible, if you were in the quote, unquote, norm, if you were white, if you were typically able bodied, then which museums are in that space of being, quote, unquote, neutral or being invisible and in to themselves of of their colonialist way, their white way. And so I think, having and shifting, shifting that centre, in is a inclusion to me always feels like it's still big brother, it's still the dominant paradigm, just sort of wrapping its arms around another way. Whereas rather than thinking about inclusion, I just sort of thinking about shifting centres and shifting homes and sort of renormalizing possibilities.
I like this very much this shifting centre, because I think this is what it is about. It is actually not about including anybody, but it's about moving a step to another. Yeah, to another place where we can see things differently. So it is not about moving the other in, but it's about moving ourselves to a different spot. And in that sense, it's very much about re centering ourselves.
And there's a beautiful quote that I see if I can find for you while I'm here. If not, I can find it and read it to you after but I thought it might change our conversation.
I'm hovering over my bookshelf. I'll read these and I'm not sure. I'll just read these and we can see. Now again, this is a museum making the statement and they say it's with great pleasure. That Museum of Contemporary Art can now announce that accessibility no longer means for us merely promoting access to what already exists, but rather thinking and building the reality that we want to live in. The aim of the programme has always been to enable people interested in various fields of art to develop their own creative trajectories, with the same quality of opportunities as every other person. Given that artists creative processes are diverse and unique. It is always necessary to be aware of the specific needs of each participant in each group to invest in dreams and skills. people with visual disabilities it goes on to say people with visual disabilities taught us to see something that transcends the visual. In our courses, blind and sighted students alike investigated space carried out exercises and sensory exploration and describe the images to one another. The imagination is enriched by the development of sensory perception and creativity is fueled by description. And a contemporary world brimming over with images blindness is an interesting condition that helps us to work on developing visual sensibility and the purpose of the creative process, scripts, sensory activities and audio books. guides are now part of the museum's education programme. We learned from the deaf community how the body speaks, we discovered the power of a non oral language. We understood that the inability to hear creates communities within their own language and culture, and we were able to work with them to produce artistic projects. These initiatives have helped to spread awareness of Deaf culture to strengthen its identity and to enable deaf people to work in the arts using their own language. The mental health community made it clear to us that we needed to overcome our prejudices and work with diversity in a more sensitive and wide ranging manner. They showed us the infinite possibilities for creative expression that open up, open up when we allow ourselves to stray from the mainstream. They also showed us that in their case, the issue is not accessibility, but acceptance of people with different viewpoints and different sensibilities. The members of this community are avid supporters of the museum, and they help us now to constantly rethink the relationship between art and life.
the reason that I like this is because they acknowledge that when a museum comes in contact with people it affords if the museum is really flexible and listening, a way to sort of expand their own sort of dormant senses and expand their perception. And I love just the the fact that they centre, they say, people with visual disabilities taught us to see something that transcends the visual. And so the language, the genuine language, that that affords the learning that needs to happen on the part of the museum on the part of the institution on the part of the staff. It's a real, it's something you can give lip service to, but it's a real intellectual, it's a real sort of cognitive emotional shift that needs to happen. If you place yourself in a position of disability, meaning, I don't have the ability, my perception at this point is limited, my, my sensitivities are limited, my empathy is limited. And I am in a position now where I, I have to learn, I need to learn, I want to learn and the people that I can learn from are the people who have been exquisitely creative and innovative in the way that they have had to adapt this misfit between their bodies or their minds, and the built and the world of expectation that they come into contact with. And I think that when museums and museum staff and museum professionals are in a place where they can position themselves as, as the people that can learn from this exquisite realm of perception and experiences, then I think that's where the real sort of shift and change can happen in the museum. But if museums continue to insist, and staff continue to insist that they are the sort of the experts and they are there to be inclusive, as opposed to break down their own sort of sensitive ways of perceiving. But I think it's always going to be sort of perpetuating that dominant narrative or perpetuating that dominant sense of the museum is, is this sort of soul confident, ever changing? I mean, not ever changing, static behemoth that we say we can welcome you in. But I would love to sort of think when they say death to museums, I think it's that idea of the the breaking down of the sort of essential confidence in the essential sense of
Yeah, yeah. And there is something now when you're talking that there is something of making yourself vulnerable and stepping out of this position of knowing at all and, and being Yeah, being totally on top of thing. And this moment of making yourself vulnerable and saying, okay, I can learn from somebody who I thought was less gifted or Yeah, was impaired. I think this is this is a crucial, this is the crucial moment where things can really turn into something else. So I like very much how you describe this now? And then yeah, and the shift really has to happen from. Yeah, from the inside. And as you say, from the staff and from this dis supremacy, you're thinking of museums, but I think of, I mean, this is also how humankind is thinking in general. So, yeah, I think this shifted, like you describe it, it's, it's very well said, I think.
Yeah, I mean, human kind of thinking, in general. Culture is so awkward in that way, because it perpetually Reese enters a previously Supreme, white colonialist, typically able bodied culture, you know, sort of cultural narrative. But if you were to ask someone with a disability, who is still human, they would probably say, no, this is not the human way of thinking, this is not the human way
Yeah, and, and I think I mean, my my whole point here is that maybe we have to become even more radical than this and think, even further than just within our human race, and open this, this idea of redefining and re rebalancing, much more radically, because the segregation that is has been happening between us and everybody else, us and them, whoever them is, is still happening very much between us as human race and everything that is nature, or what we call nature. So I have been wondering what kind of how can the practices that we are doing? or How can a curatorial choice be proposed to try and overcome this dysfunctional segregation? And I don't know if you have any answer to this, but yeah, the the way I'm working with it is by thinking a lot about this definition and how this definition is, again, perpetuating. It's trying to redefine, but actually the real root of Reddit redefinition is not happening. So my kind of, yeah, my way of approaching this whole issue is by thinking about a definition and trying to disrupt and to hack this definition. But I wonder also, what, what can you do from from a curatorial point of view? What can be proposed?
I mean, I think you're absolutely right. It, when you name something, it shifts the way that you see it. I mean, when I take walks, if I know the name of a plant, if I know the name of something, not only do I see it, but I see it through that name, there's a one of my favourite plants is the orange eye butterfly bush. And you would never think it's this dark purple, it almost looks like a leatrice. It's this dark purples sort of thrust up from the ground, sort of tubular, but when you look at it really closely, you see the that actually it is these tiny little pinpricks of orange that are these, you know, thousands of eyes on there. And only because of the name, so I digress. The, the naming, I think is, is absolutely crucial, both at that macro level of a definition of museums, but also at the metadata level, at the sort of micro level.
And you see This just in,
within the human domain, the more sort of increased practice of giving proper names, excuse me to Native American individuals or Native American tribes. Whereas before, if you think about the naming practices within the, you know, the practices within the metadata, which can come out as label text, or just sort of be stored in the computer with a, you know, a scan of a historic photograph, for example, that shows Native Americans, you know, looking at their wristwatches and waiting for a bus 1960 you know, that it would say previously, Native Americans, you know, where as more contemporary practices would name again, the tribe or if they knew the family or if they knew the individual, and so sort of that drilling down to in this case, humanise and to bring familiar to things that people That before just sort of got classified in sort of general ways where you don't have to see the details or see the reality. So I think yes, to your point, the naming both at that micro level, and at that macro that the language that you use to, to balance the human with the non human, but it's so radical for me, like, I have so much more practice as an anthropologist seeing all humans as, as equal beings. But it is still, I can feel the tug in my brain, when I start to
think, Oh, shit.
I've been eating animals, like, that's akin to thinking about slavery. In my I mean, in, it's almost, I hear I hear myself say it, and I, immediately the other voices of you know, the joking about PETA, PETA, or whatever, you know, there's just so much counter narrative to that, that Reese enters humans. You know, that's no way that's nothing like it. But when if I do, just in a thought exercise, if I make that shift, it's like dangerous territory at that point. Like, if I can make that shift, then I don't see the world the same.
But I think that's exactly the point. I mean, I think we are at this point. And this brings me to what we are experiencing at the moment of crisis with the virus, because there is such a militant language that is being used with this entity that has entered our, our being that I wonder if this is going to advance us in any way. So it's still this old way of thinking us and Damn, it's humanity against the disease, it's humanity against a virus. But it's such a simplified way of seeing the world. And I'm not sure if this is taking us anywhere, if this is advancing. Now. I mean,
it brings me back to thinking about the strawberries and the shoes and the sadness. And that the sort of this, this idea of this monolith of, you know, a person or a virus, but the more that we're aware of even thinking about, you know, gut biomes you know, the more that we become aware of the nuance, the impact the complexity
the way that systems relate, and break each other down and fight out things and support each other. And you know, that wars are being fought on the, you know, subtlest glances and gestures, you know, it's how is humanity being transformed because of this virus?
It's, again, it's
magical thinking. I mean, when you think about you think about the power of tiny little things that you don't even think of, as you know, it doesn't, you don't even think of is as sort of, quote unquote, alive.
they have such a big thoroughness.
Yeah. And it's almost like I have to bring it back to just, it's, I have to always bring it back to just one body, you know, it's like taking an aggregate, the virus becomes, again, the virus and humanity becomes humanity, you know, when you start thinking in economic systems, and you start, you know, we become charts and
but just on,
when it breaks down went to the, to the single conversation to the flavour of strawberries to the individual biome at work and in our bodies. I think, finding familiarity with that, and even, you know, if I get the COVID if I get the virus, how will? How will I be able to communicate with it? How, how will my body be communicating? Will language be a part of it? Will? Will perception be a part of it? I mean, I think ways that we don't just talk about things but communicate with things.
I think this is a very important point that you're saying also this, breaking it down to the individual and not talking about it as stiff as if it was a general something. And as if it is humanity against the virus. I mean, this is just Such as simplification again of things. And indeed everybody reacts differently. Everybody perceives it differently. So I think although it's maybe a very dangerous disease, I think you cannot generalise. It's just so yeah, it's, it's just too simple.
And yet, if I were to put myself on Mars, or even further out, you know, put myself on the planet formerly known as Pluto, and look back, it could be humanity against the virus, I mean, playing with scale like that really does. If you decide to stand in one vantage point, you see it in a totally different way.
or humanity in the virus and then the same.
Yeah, it's, it's a question how you see it. You know, I was reading this beautiful book by Manuel Akasha. about plants. It's called Life of plants, I think. And he describes how plants are actually creating our atmosphere. Without them, the atmosphere wouldn't be the same, and we wouldn't be able to breathe oxygen. But he says that the atmosphere is something a bit like the ocean. And the ocean is thicker, because it's liquid, whereas the atmosphere is, so it's more difficult to imagine. But actually, it is a substance. That is everywhere, it's in our nostrils, it's in it's everywhere. So we are in the substance, but the substance is also inside of us. And this is the shared space that we have with plants, for example, because we're all in the same thing. And in this way, if you look at a virus and humanity, I think too divided into us and them is again, a bit of a Yeah, it's a strange viewpoint. Yeah.
I mean, even if you as you're saying, this, I was breathing in my atmosphere, and so aware of this transference, this, the sharing of that, all the things that I that were in my body for a moment out of my body, and then back into other people's bodies. And I read Have you you have read the overstory? Right? Yes, how did that change your thinking about trees in particular,
night was fantastic. It was fantastic. And of course, the story is wonderful, because it gives you so many different ways of dive into this topic. Because it there's so many different stories in it. And it goes into history, and it goes into the future. And so I mean, there's so many different ways that that the story takes you into different perspectives. And but I think there is also what you mentioned his individualization that it talks about chestnut trees, it's not just trees in general. So it kind of it goes into this detail. And suddenly you imagine what a Chester tree looks like. And it becomes there is something very respectful also in this detailing. And I think there is it Yeah, this changes your perspective entirely.
Yeah, you know, and just thinking back to that book, no spoilers, but
it's, it's really about
death in so many ways. And, you know, this, this sort of ever changing, can connected, you know, that, that humans, whether it's an individual level, or the sort of, you know, standing on Pluto level, looking back at humans,
the shifting, growing,
breathing, constantly dying, and being born and that the natural world is equally connected, and equally doing the same. And we, you know, somehow just sort of seeing these these entities as in this dynamic process. It's, I don't know, it's a lot easier to sort of see us as one, you know, like, we're all constantly in the throes. You know, we're all constantly trying to grapple with the ice storm that has come just have to re put out new pedals. You know, and sort of, there's this, this poem that you and I, we we read together when we were on a road trip four years ago. About as I sit in my garden, chair, let me pull it up.
But it's about Yes, let me hear it again. I love it.
Who was the author? You told me and I forgot Of course. I'll find it. Look for garden chair.
I did. Yeah.
It's my lonely. They're long. Yes. Okay. As I get ready as I listened, from a beach chair in the shade, to all the noises that my garden made, it seemed to me only proper that words should be withheld from vegetables and birds. A Robin with no Christian name, ran through the Robin anthem, which was all it new, and wrestling flowers for them, for some third party waited to say which pairs if any, should get mated. Not one of them was capable of lying. There was not one which knew that it was dying, or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme, assumed responsibility for time. Let them leave language to their lonely betters, who count some days and long for certain letters. We to make noises when we laugh or weep. Words are for those with promises to keep.
And so that's, it's fun.
It's so fantastic. So that's odd, in wh Auden written 1950. And it's interesting, because in some ways, I mean, you know, in some ways, it's a parody, right? Like, oh, this great gift that we have of self perception, you know, like, knowing that we're dying, knowing that, you know, this, this cognitive self awareness, quote, unquote, you know, is what a gift, you know.
And at the same time, all these birds and plants are happily singing their anthems. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It's a fantastic poem. I love it very much. I'm just it's
because it's now 70 years old. It's interesting to think how much of it, how much of this was sort of timeless insight, how much of it was not in the realm that we're thinking now about, about the tumult that humans and the natural world are experiencing together? Because you know, who john didn't have climate crisis he didn't have to think about in this context, you know,
not yet. Not yet. Yeah. But I think it's a very helpful bomb to have to pull out now, with the view that we have on the world now.
Yeah, Leslie, maybe we can, we can make a stop here with this beautiful boy. Thank you very much. It was a very inspiring conversation. And it took us in many different directions and many different places. And, yeah, I was thinking that in the future, maybe in the near future, I would like to organise a conference around this topic. And make it almost like a matter know, like a public event in a theatre or something. and invite the people, yeah, the experts have different museum practices to talk about these kind of things in public. So to make it like, yeah, like a conference with an audience. So let's see. But yeah, just to let you know that this is my long term vision on this on this world. And I would love to have you as part of it, of course. Thank you. So yeah, we were saying about the language and I've been always wondering if, because we always say that language is what differentiates us from from all the other species. But first of all, I don't agree, because there's many animals that have languages plants that have languages, but they're just very different from ours. And so when you're telling me the stuff about a memory I yeah, and that things have to be named or things have to be categorised or code is a codified which is a different thing. But yeah, I always wonder if we are again, very human centred. By thinking that we are so different from all these other species die? No,
I mean, but I think it's so interesting to think about on the cellular level, what gets imprinted into a tree, for example, and on the cellular level, what gets imprinted into us, and memory in terms of things that again, we can name, but just that bodily memory that we carry with us?
I feel like that sort of stuff gets called out, like, constantly, right? Like we're smelling something and we don't, we don't stop and say I'm smelling. I remembering the steps up to my aunt's house. And that feeling of trepidation, as I held my father's hand, you know, I mean, it's, it's not like that, but it's still lives in us, you know, it'd be so fascinating. I don't know, I don't want to cut us up and look at our look at our tree lines. But
no, but I think especially the smell, the smell of the sense of smell, has this capacity of taking us to very old places, or Yeah, without having to think about it just pops up and is there.
Right, and most of the time, we don't notice, I mean, I remember I was having lunch with a neuroscientist, and I had a salad and I happen to have red pepper in my salad. And he said, Oh, red pepper, there's been studies done on red pepper, for example, that someone can be across the room. And their brain is lighting up red pepper, even if they do not know that they are smelling red pepper. And they may not actually be able to smell red pepper. But the chemical cells have been caught in the air of red pepper, and are in their brains. And so then, you know, if something, if a balloon pops at the same time, then maybe for the rest of their lives, there's this sort of lingering smell of red pepper when they hear, you know, a gunshot or something go off. I mean, I'm just making that up, obviously. But it's like
complex layers because our brains are in a constant state of sort of imprinting and recording things around us that don't turn into language and don't turn into ideas and don't even turn into the type of visual memory that we call forth when we think about memories.
Yes, and indeed, I mean, like you say that the smell sense, it's just this very old part of the brain that it doesn't connect to any language. I mean, there's many things happening before even this language aspect is coming in. By that time, it's already recorded and categorised, but in a totally different way. And since this is such an old part of the brain, most animals also have this. So already in that we are very similar. And I guess Also, our way of processing smell is similar, it's maybe less pronounced in us and in other, I don't know, a cat or a dog or they all smell much better than us. So they they give more attention to that smell. The way it functions, I
think is very simply I just read this article, and I'll be honest, I just scanned this article. But it was it was a finding about humans and spaciality remembering the way to get from here to there or remembering certain places in space based on high calorie foods. And so they actually did these repeat these repeat tests, if you can imagine, like people like you know, mice and a little maze where they would put various high calorie foods in different places. And you know, some of them were sweet. Some of them were savoury some of them tastes great, some of them did not taste great. It was everything from like, you know, potato chips to butternut squash, watermelon. And then they had people sort of go through and stop at these places and they could have a bite, they could smell it, they could engage with it. And then they went back and they asked them to sort of say where these places were or where was this in relation to that and people's minds imprinted their memories jarred with and locked into the high calorie food spaces mostly because of smell. And it showed that actually humans olfactory is hugely hugely, hugely powerful in this way. That is goes back to you know, this, you know, quote, unquote, animalistic way of survival. But that again, it imprinted in a way like how honey bees can find their way back, you know, from here to there to here to there.
I had no idea. But this is kind of going to some subconscious level so we cannot really access it or can we access it? Oh, yeah, no, this
was too Totally subconscious because they didn't tell people what was high calorie they didn't. And again, because it wasn't like, they made it all the, you know, chocolate chip cookies that people could remember. So it wasn't like they were trying to sort of create these spatial memories of all the yummiest things that, you know, we think about, I would remember where the yummy stuff was, it was it was not like that at all.
I'll send you that
article. Because as I say it, I guess my only question to myself is, were did they just smell it or they eat it too. And because it was, I'll send it to you. Nice. But it said unconscious, that subconscious, pre perceptive layering, that is, to me the most interesting and like, that's where the poetry can come from. And that's where the freshness can come from, when there's that, like, that moment of holding, to try to notice it. And I think the ability to notice it also takes I
basically like, like, we're at least like tuning out all of the, the stuff that's in our faces in our, in our ears, to just let the weird stuff come up and to be able to speak without words. You know, I mean, I love the idea. Just have like, red pepper, you know, that red pepper could stand as
as something. Yeah, yeah. But like you say, I think it's because our, these other senses became so dominant that we are that we lost the so called language of the primitive senses, I think.
Yeah, makes me wonder what, what cultures or what spaces in the world are, are left protecting that because you know, every place in the world now has cell phones and, you know, has social media?
attention? Yeah, yeah. And, exactly. And cell phones and social media and everything that we are practising every day is actually the visual sense. Maybe our hearing, and and in the intellect.
Yeah, we don't, we don't get to, we don't get to work on those muscles. The really, really, really subtle stuff. I mean, I tell my husband all the time. He's always engaged, always, always engaged in he's on a walk. He has a podcast, if he is doing the dishes, he's listening to music, and it's, you know, it's wonderful.
those times, like in the shower, like maybe it's that, maybe it's about the shower, really, like, because everyone has a moment in the shower. And not even on the toilet. Because on the toilet. Most people have their cell phones. You know, it's like,
everything. Yeah, absolutely.
Nothing like in the shower is the space
you can actually be feel the water, smell the water, taste the water, but also that your mind, I mean, my mind, my most freedom of thought comes in the shower.
But this is so interesting lately, I've never thought about this. But it has to do with the water also, because the water doesn't allow any device. Exactly.
Exactly. And, and there's the sound of the water and there's
wetness of the I mean, all of it is both like deeply, deeply old. You know, we're nude.
Yes. And then
there is not afforded the ability. I mean, to be honest, I keep my little cell phone right outside the shower, sometimes my little wet finger pokes out of the shower curtain and I you know, scroll Yeah.
This is so interesting. Yeah, I guess we will be soon connected much more and on a physical level also, it will be somehow implanted somewhere and we will also be able to take a shower with our device,
but for now, you know, maybe I don't need to look for a you know, an entire sort of like, pre colonised forest or you know, an entire, like, continent of ice that I can retreat to but I just need to find the Find the showers and the sort of the literal and metaphorical showers.
Yes. Yeah, yeah. They are like refuges in a way. The showers a refuge. I love it. I have to eat now. Yeah,
I heard your bowling it up.
I heard the Tink Tink is good, great asleep for you.