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Biomedicine in museums

Towards a museum of garbage culture — integrating blogging, archive creation, artefact collection and exhibition making

By January 4, 2008No Comments

Apropos our former discussion about blogs and exhibitions — here’s another way of integrating the two genres:

In yesterday’s Material World blogHaidy Geismar, an anthropologist at New York Universityrelays the experiences of teaching a class in material culture studies together with Robin Nagle, an anthropologist-in-residence at the New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY).

Titled “Making a Museum: Materializing Regimes of Value with the New York Department of Sanitation”, the class worked closely with the DSNY to collect and curate material that could be used for a future museum of sanitation.

The DSNY archive was restricted to “a series of mouldy cardboard boxes” and the artefacts were scattered all around, so the students collected archival material, interviewed managers and workers, and did ethnographic fieldwork into “the contemporary landscape of garbage in the city”. In short, they engaged in a kind of “social activism” – “to not only teach the public more about the job, about waste management and the cultural landscape of trash, but to publicly integrate the DSNY into the fabric of the city in a representational as well as practical way”.

Integral to the process was the class blog (authorized access only, unfortunately) — used to post continuous commentary on their own work, to devise key word lists for the archive, and to share media clips and articles on the subject. It was also used “to discuss issues of copyright and fair use, and to talk about the limitations of the different fields in the archive on how we were framing and presenting our newly created digital objects”.

“In this way”, says Heidy Geismar, “both blog and archive were tools in the imagination of what a museum both is and could be”.

The grand finale of the course was a small one-room exhibition which opened on December 12 in the DSNY’s Derelict Vehicles Office. They used artefacts “to recreate an old-school style locker rooms”, they put their archive on display, and they permeated the place with a soundscape “evoking the gathering of trash in the city”. For press coverage of the exhibition, see here.

Small exhibition, yes. But Heidy Geismar’s enthusiastic report is contagious — and a wonderful example of how teaching, blogging, and collective exhibition work can be integrated.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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