by Amir Parsa |
Preamble to the Coming Overtures
Not quite a riddle. Almost a conundrum. Definitely an aspiration—that we surmise can’t be fulfilled. (A question mark?) A delightful vision—for sure. A forever possibility. An undeniable possibility. A necessary possibility, we insist.
Work in the museum. Work for the museum. Work at the museum. That’s the usual relationship to the museum(s). Not with Museo Equis. There, we’d say: Think it. Imagine it. Make it. Work it. That should be the expression. Really. Work it—so that it comes to exist. Work it, once it exists.
What is, after all—after everything, I mean—a museum? (Don’t ask.) Ask again: What is a museum? (I repeat: Don’t answer.) Ask a different way maybe. How is a museum. When and where. Why, is a museum?
Don’t answer. Change the thinking around it. The action upon it. Say: Work it. Work the museum.
Museo Equis. Not a thing, necessarily, or an edifice, or an architectural entity. Not a physical, fixed space. Rather, a fluid and figurative space. Of imaginings and actions. (Not just one or the other, but both—that’s crucial.) A conceptual (un)reality. Not the name of the museum as such. Although maybe once it exists, the name on the (non)building is also that: Museo Equis—spelled out. An operative concept—always at play. Never graspable, always playful. Always idea(l) even if forever (un)done in non/manifestation.
Museo Equis. Its own manifesto. Its own preamble to the manifesto, I should say. The forever-unfinished manifesto. Performing its own unfolding. Its own Becoming.
Museo Equis—a universe of redefinitions, reconsiderations, revisions. An encyclopedia of projects. A realm of thoughts and writings. A poetic and analytical articulation of new concepts and engagements. Immersed in the journey of perpetual innovation.
Q: What if… What if it actually is a place, a space?
A: Then, it’s a place that insists on re-imagining what has existed; transforming what exists; operating tirelessly to fashion what can be. Simultaneously, Museo Equis is the unapologetic design of what possibly could not be. Futuristic and utopian—yet cherishing the present, and operating in the now and the real.
Q: If it’s not a place, an environment, then…
A: A placeholder, a name, a symbol, for a discursive practice. Immersed in the merging of practices. Curatorial and educational and exhibitional and everything else museums do. Using alphabetical languages, visual imagery, performative actions, social unfoldings, Museo Equis generates a parallel discourse, a rival discourse.
With twelve sections (plus a supplement). Twelve… Commandments? (Not!) Propositions? (No. Too cliché, maybe even too modest?) Declarations? (Too confident. Too final.) Steps? Literally? Of course not—not therapy, this… Then… Then twelve… Winks? Dares? Provocations?
Openings, I’d say. Twelve Overtures—to relaunch and rethink the museum’s form and functions and quiddity.
Q: Would it be fair to say that Museo Equis actually is not? That it can’t exist?
A: Not quite, no. That would not really be fair.
A live organism. Growing. Ever-changing. Going through the cycles of maturation too, the growing pains, of live organisms. And then on to death even, and rebirth. And that cycle!
Museo Equis is a pledge, a jester’s vow. A manifesto-defiance. Au audacious call to action. Call to imaginings. Call to new forms of liberty. A delirious vision. A rave. A promise—and a trickster’s dare.
1. On (with) the Museist’s Adventures
The actor has appeared on stage and faces the audience.
This was a long time in the making—and yet, so obvious from the get-go. ‘Do you like museums?’ I was asked. ‘Well, not sure,’ I hesitated. ‘And why not?’ I’m asked. And then I tell. And, amazingly, the critique, the restlessness with the shortcomings of museums and the seductive articulation of possible innovations is convincing enough that I find myself for almost a decade navigating the hallowed galleries.
‘And what were you doing, exactly, what do you do, in the museum,’ you’re sometimes asked… But the question shouldn’t really be along those lines. Not, ‘What were you doing?’—but more along ‘What kind of venture were you engaged in?’
And the answer is, well, that, specifically! A grand project that is best conceived as an adventure! A grand multi-sited, multi-pronged, ongoing adventure.
The actor now takes a step back and the spotlight is squarely on him. The rest of the stage is dark.
For, that indeed it is—an exciting and uncertain venture. Here then, a snapshot of how this adventure unfolds, along with some of its properties.
>> The adventure is made up of vectorial sweeps and thrusts that are interventionist conceptualizations and implementations. Contributions that hope to be innovative and, by necessity, what we call these days, disruptive.
>>These vectorial sorties hit at the heart of museological practices. Without any attachment to doctrinal imperatives, or any thoughts of sacred legacies, they are unbound also to orthodoxies, received ideas and normative edicts. They are born of imaginative inventions and immersed in the wondrousness of new experiences. They propose a poetics of perpetual institutional convulsion.
As the actor continues, his tone becomes ever more passionate.
>>These vectorial parties constitute individual and collective gestures that are temporary, yet powerful and multidirectional, of varying types and modalities. Dances and choreographies. Weavings and dribblings.
>> This adventure recognizes its own fleetingness, granted, but also its potential puissance, its energy and verve. It embraces, ultimately, its own overcoming.
>>The adventure fashions spaces and environments for meaningful, provocative—even radical—interactions. It inspires and instigates the formation and sustenance of communities of interpreters, creators, critical practitioners.
The actor’s tone has now reached a paroxysm of sorts and he stands on the stage bellowing the intricate properties of the venture.
Hear me my colleagues (he carries on), the adventure undertakes a perpetual critique of the institutions and their practices and emphasizes the consciousness of the necessity of this critique!
The adventure embraces risk (really, it does, meaning, it could fail), and it dares to integrate questions of social transformation—within and outside the museum!
This adventure endeavors to explore and exploit what is particular and unique to the museum, while simultaneously transforming the museum and thus entering into this eternally revisited cycle. No specific adherence to any one type of museum no, or any one direction, but the perpetual rebirth of the museum as an organism! Perpetual invention and intervention.
And this adventure ultimately helps fashion new categories of engagement, new frames of understanding the world, new epistemic and performative orders. It ultimately leads to new connections between things in the world, the self, others.
In this vision of vectorial interventions and sorties with various durations, intensities and modalities of performance, new forms of being in the world are also fashioned. We usher in new vocabularies, new conceptual frameworks for practices, a new map and a new geography of being.
>> We call, then, for an adventure that remains nimble and a site for certain types of encounters.
What transpires then is a moving, fluid sitemap of projects and interventions that speaks to the nature of the adventure!
Vectorial sorties. A sitemap of projects. New conceptual frameworks and languages. Residing at the edge of a practice. Messing with, infringing upon, the realms of practice and developing a museographic poetics. All unfolding… at the edge.
Strangely now, the actor is subdued. He comes to the edge of the stage and sits. Lights on him alone, still. After the last sentence, he simply stands and exits, stage left.
The adventure is just that. An Edge-Walk. An Edge-Run. An Edge-Fugue.
2. O Musauteur!
O musauteur, welcome! We are quite fond of you, believe us, but maybe we didn’t believe you could become real until, well, we invented you!
O musauteur! Trust in our capacity to define and defend you! To champion and protect you! To elevate and embrace you!
The word… It sounds like it must already exist! Image of a laborer or worker comes to mind, in that the French acceptation would be an actual occupation, a profession: Le musauteur… Except that our musauteur as concept, as popularly accepted term, as aspirational figure, has not existed heretofore. No one (that I know) says, I want to be a musauteur! No one’s parents or grandparents were musauteurs. That is about to change!
The musauteur is the ultimate museum practitioner! The one who merges multiple branches and realms of museum practices to fashion new ones, the one who masters domains only to go beyond them. The fusion of an imagined museologist (the scholar and analyst of the museum), a potential museotician (the scientist attached to the museum as object of study), and the cool museist (the creative type engaging the museum in idiosyncratic ways)! O what a fusion, O what a being! Who authors, yes authors, an opera—as in a personal work!
And what exactly are some of the characteristics associated with this author? Here we go, a non-exhaustive but certainly relevant listing:
- The musauteur is a creative-critical theorist/practitioner who pushes and changes the language of museographic practices!
- The musauteur introduces new genres and new forms in relation to museum practices!
- The musauteur knows the theories and histories and many a technical dimension sure, but is not satisfied to merely repeat or even excel at what has been done. The musauteur charts new courses of thought and action!
- The musauteur signs the work! Shamelessly. Without false modesty. At times even prances around with an attitude. A frame of mind. Distinguishes and differentiates the work, and sees it as a potential ToCA—a Totally Creative Artwork!
- The musauteur conceives of the work as a discursive intervention!
- The musauteur’s work is thus not based on scripts or vocational perpetuating. It is not passive or derivative, but generative, innovative, and provocative. It might annoy and enervate, and many might not even know what to call it or how to evaluate it. But all of that is a good sign—that the musauteur is up to something.
The musauteur has its roots in a neighborly concept I came up with a while back, that of the ‘educauteur’. One can deem the contemporary curator as already a ‘curauteur’ of sorts, and from there, the cureducauteur even is born! The highest aspiration though, the grand finale, I say now, the chief auteur of the museum, the true auteur, could only be the musauteur—the ultimate museum author! (Proof of these being new concepts is that the computer on which I type keeps underlining all terms because it does not recognize them! Well, soon you will, you machine you, soon you will!)
The musauteur might provoke the same scoffing as the ‘film auteurs’ at the dawn of their birth, but that indeed is a good analogy. Passage from being merely a wheel in a big machine, a pawn in a big studio, a spare part for hire, to a thinker/doer, theorist/practitioner, who will intervene and innovate or altogether rethink the form or even the entire paradigm.
O musauteur! Save us from complacency! Lead us to the kingdom of innovations! Believe us, we will go with you and won’t hold back!
O musauteurs of the world, we’ll hold yearly extravagant gatherings to celebrate you! With little statuettes too, and a prime-time TV slot to boot!
O musauteur, there will be festivals in your name! Festivals and prizes! And red carpets! (Or maybe purple, just to differentiate a bit!)
O musauteurs of the past, we might even posthumously pay homage to you! Special privileges for your families! Belated recognitions!
A hall of fame even, yes, maybe even a hall of fame—on top of the annual ‘top ten musauteurs’ list, of course!
A new hybrid, this ecstatic whirling dervish. Who embraces delirious states and leads us to singular experiences. The epoch of the musauteur is well-nigh upon us—and we need to all stand and mark the date of the musauteur’s birth into the world. Within this pamphlet. This spring. What better, than one dedicated to museum futures!
O musauteur, feel the love do
Hear the clapping and the hullabaloo
It’s all for you yes, ooo ooo
It’s all for you…
Feel the love do, it’s all for you
3. Unveiling the Museographic Spectacle
I call upon all museums to put on scene what is at the heart of the enterprise—and make a museum-on-museums within their halls!
Every museum a museumsquared!
A museum-on-museums that resides within the museums. A metamuseum, of course!
The exhibition of the very spectacle of the museographic universe should be everywhere at work—and extravagantly inviting! The main practices that make up the general outline of museums—from collection to conservation, curation to exhibition, education to archives and digital futures!
And let’s not just present the museum’s particular approach, but also exhibit variations—theoretical and historical. Variations that make the audience conscious of the operations at play in bringing about the museum—the poetics and politics of the museum! Yes, exhibiting the museographic spectacle in the museum allows the considerations and debates and rituals going on behind the scenes to come to the forefront. It will also reveal, yes, reveal, the logic of the museum, its history and birth even, within its own confines. Its mode of operation. Its reasons for being.
And with that, the reasons for its mattering. Its relevance! And the relevance of the order of the world it invites us to construct. The relevance of the frameworks through which it allows us to see the world! The relevance of the relationships it invites us to entertain—with objects, with histories, with realities, with ourselves and the Other(s)!
Let’s do it up people! Let’s exhibit wonder! The wonder of the works the museum exhibits and champions yes—but also the wondrousness behind the museum’s own operations, its own creative framing and ordering of the world. That wonder—of the museum as fact, as living organism! The wonder of the spectacle that it actually performs. That wonder!
Museo Equis—the metamuseum. Inevitably.
Museo Equis—a museumsquared. Always.
Vamos al museo!
We’ll see on display the politics of a collection! The debates around acquisitions!
We’ll see the logic of the exhibitions! The performance of the exhibitions! And even all that is not exhibited! The works tucked away! The vaults holding treasures!
We’ll see the conservators at work! In their elements! The works being worked on! The light that floods their spaces!
We’ll see all ‘education’ at play, from the labels to the programs! From the lectures to the projects! From the gallery learning experiences to the makings in the studios!
And the archives and the curatorial decisions even, and the publications, and the historical and cultural construction of the edifice (if applicable of course)!
All of that on permanent display, because all of that through a microscope, placed on the platter for the museum-goer!
Museo Equis, the metamuseum. Inevitably.
Museo Equis, the museumsquared. Always.
4. A Haven for Critical Problematics
O my brethren! O my colleagues! Allow me to also propose that in addition to the revealing of the spectacle itself, the institutions we dub ‘museums’ are the ideal environments for the elaboration of certain crucial—and I mean crucial—topics. A very specific series of critical problematics that pertain to a number of disciplines and that I propose are most relevantly and poignantly explored at the museum.
The thrust of my argument is that art museums—as they are mostly constituted already—render themselves extremely relevant to the discussion of these critical problematics, because of the structure and poetics that govern them, and because of the expectations and the experiences of their varied audiences. The excavation of these problematics is thus not only possible in museums but possible in the most portentous ways, and perhaps even in ways that it is not in other contexts. In fact, I’m ready to propose that had museums not existed, we would create contexts and agglomerations that look just like museums in order to deep dive into these very critical issues. What are some of these? Here’s a partial list:
Hermeneutics as such—and we would explore various schools of interpretation and their main theses.
- Canon-formation, as a phenomenon and a constantly shifting practice.
- The very fact of disciplinary formation, divisions, and transformations, along with the manners in which disciplines fuse and merge—from ‘disciplinarity’, in other words, to inter-, trans-, post-, and neo-disciplinarity!
- The very problematic of ordering, categorizing, and making sense of the world.
- The relationship of works—and thus the range of attendant phenomena, from referentiality to intertextuality and more, all along the spectrum of influences and relations.
- Institutional critique—of course.
- Innovation—ideas and theories in the art realm, along with accompanying debates.
- Comparative analyses per se.
- And yes, the vexing question of intentionality.
Indeed, the experience of the museum, and the expectations of engagements within museums, lend themselves almost ideally to these issues—explorations that can skillfully be weaved in and integrated into programs and experiences.
Let us take one example—that of canon-formation.
The museum is an ideal environment for a discussion of canon formation in general, and by extension, canon formation in other disciplines. And this can be extended into an exploration of the impact of various canons on our value systems, on our relationship to knowledge and epistemology, and on the way we see the world. And, by extension, the relationship between power and knowledge, and power and culture.
To begin with, the anthological nature of the museum lends itself very well to the type of questioning that renders an audience aware of the selection and exhibition of the works. The museum invites the examination of a series of works from multiple sources, geographies, time periods—a comparative framework that is ideal for such debates. That is, not only delving deeply into one work, but delving deeply into the connections between works, medias, disciplines, the connections between creating and exhibiting, creating and collecting—and how all of that feeds into the formation and perpetuation of canons.
Second, museum-goers’ reactions often reveal that they are aware of this phenomenon in the museum in ways they are not—for reasons that would need to be elaborated elsewhere—in other contexts. Indeed, they ask questions like ‘Why is this person included?’ and ‘Who said this is good?’ and ‘Who makes these decisions?’ These reactions are ripe for bringing forth the phenomena and processes related to canon-formation.
Third, the museological exercises that invite audiences to reshuffle the works, to include or exclude works, to re-curate or re-imagine installations and exhibitions—exercises that are successful because of the materiality of the works and the context of their presentation—allow the discussion around the rationales for valuation, for inclusion, for marginalization, for exclusion.
In addition, the informality, the lack of a threat (we can’t, after all, actually change the canon on the spot!), allows us to discuss the role of the museum/institution/power in forming the canon, in constructing reality, in elaborating the creation of the narrative. Deeper conversations around the construction of any grand narrative and the various dimensions and implications of canon formation can ensue.
Just one example—but with each of the listed domains, the museum is the ideal environment for exploration and debate! Gallery experiences, along with more in-depth workshops and playshops, exercises and activities, and further deep dives, can create truly unique opportunities for the exploration of each of these arenas, and for thinking further about the applicability in other contexts and fields.
5. Prelude to a Future Museum Educatics
The first inkling to fashion new terms, create a new language, forge a new terminology to render accurately the educative happenings in museums, along with the relationships that such new systems can engender, was inscribed in my mind in the very earliest stages of my deep dives! The urge never left, and the time of this call to action is here—to mark down museum educatics as a territory ripe for (re)search and practice, for the burgeoning of a discipline, for the advancement of a field!
I am not calling for one type of museum over another, but envision a network of linked cells—or rather, networks of linked networks with linked cells—that intertwine various dimensions of the educational endeavor within the fabric of the institution—an educative unfolding permeating the gamut of the work of the museum. Inevitably, museum educatics precipitates new frameworks for action, new categories and projects. Nourishment without equal. Always keeping the museum alive.
A museum educatics then, is composed of various strands of thoughts/actions occurring in multiple figurative and literal spaces that constitute the veins of Museo Equis—a life-blood for sustenance and livelihood.
An organism where:
- New pedagogies are elaborated—new pedagogies in tune with research within the museum context, and that allow fusions and syntheses of theoretical approaches;
- A critical practice is encouraged, initiated, developed—and put into motion;
- The museum takes a hard look at its potential mapping within the overall societal, cultural and educational ecosystem! And takes advantage of the possibilities and the potential!
- Curricular innovation is generated and new curricular futures are propounded! Imagined! Delivered! We are talking:
- Synthesized Integrative Bundles (SIBs)!
- Individual Learning Networks (ILNs)!
- Flash Learning Opportunities (FLOs) & Flash Learning Academies (FLAs)!
- Unique Knowledge Domains (UKDs)!
- Program Suites, Microeducative Suites and Curricular Threads!
- Degrees, Badges, Culturally Relevant Recognition Uniquely Designed & Delivered by a Museum!
- Scientific studies are propounded—on anything from the study of perception to a revision of art historical mappings based on audience reception of works;
- The programs and projects are driven by a poetics of innovation and framed around pinoptic and panoptic interventions, and at micro and macro levels—where cool stuff is constantly initiated;
- Guerilla and radical learning co-exists with conventional experiences that still meet pre-established learning outcomes—a range of skills, behaviors, competencies;
- The digital domain is seamlessly intertwined with the overall educational mission;
- Laboratories for new learning in the museum world are developed, and innovation in museum learning theory and practice that can then be applied in other venues is pursued—a sort of ‘learning about learning’ lab;
- The education projects transform the museum as such, and, in constant complementary fashion, the museum keeps generating changes that allow more innovative educational happenings;
- There is the constant development of the GLEx, the Gallery Learning Experience! A new day, in fact, in the physical learning in the galleries!
Museum educatics, then, is not about visitor services, not about audience development, not about supplementing school curricula. Rather, there are operations upon the parameters of the educational forms, such that the educational endeavors affect both other museological practices and other pedagogies and pedagogical environments.
Let’s go people! We are at the forefront of possibilities, and educatics can pave the way—if we get our groove on and resist the temptation to remain in the safe zones! An evolving universe, an outlook for pedagogical innovation and cultural design—and one that generates a new way of being in the world!
6. The GLEx Imperative
They say ‘Tour’, we say GLEx!
They say ‘Talk’, we say GLEx!
They say ‘Workshop’, we say GLEx! And keep saying GLEx! And keep shouting GLEx! And yet, I still warn students: Don’t say GLEx in your letters! Don’t write GLEx on your portfolios! Not yet anyway. No one uses the GLEx expression yet, or knows what GLExin’ is. But we know everything opens up when we think of the GLEx as the central locus of educational interaction in the museum!
We’re calling all of these educational experiences happening in the museum—well, we’re calling them Gallery Learning Experiences! And interchangeably, we’re including all educative interaction within the museum galleries in the GLEx universe!
The GLEx is at the foundation of the museum learning experience. As long as museums are around and as long as they house original works, GLExes will be there!
The GLEx can take place with any age group, any type of museum visitor, any number of logistical environments, any type of cognitive situation, any level of interest and knowledge!
GLExes are built on proven methods and approaches, some of which can be exported to other milieux and environments!
GLExes also allow the crossing of disciplines and fusions in ways that are not possible in other contexts!
And yes, the GLEx is an avant-gardist educational practice, an educauteuristic act—a rigorous and perpetual critical theory in action!
GLExes are germane to the gallery and museum world. They are organically grown educational experiences synthesizing theories and praxis. And as we continue to embrace the traditional GLEx and the rituals associated with traditional gallery learning, we call for innovations at multiple levels within that realm!
GLExes can also be longer—spectacular and macro-GLExes. (See the MoMA course, ‘1913: That Year This Time’—MoMA, June 2008.) GLExes can also incorporate an exploration of the ‘critical problematics’ as described above. Or the ingredients of the museum spectacle! GLExes don’t have to abide solely to the central examination of an artwork either. They can examine critical questions first and then approach them through the lens of the artists’ works. Targeting certain cognitive, metacognitive and collaborative skills. Learning about particular works of art. Creating work. Thematic explorations and disciplinary expansions. These are all the domains of the GLEx!
And yes, over time, GLExes can be strung together. We can move from a
SINGLE GALLERY LEARNING EXPERIENCE
GLEx ENSEMBLE = Suites of Gallery Learning Experiences
to what we could dub a
GLExic CURRICULAR THREAD = A Suite of GLEx Ensembles (Ensemble 1 + 2 + 3…)
SCT= A Suite of Curricular Threads (CT 1 + CT 2 + CT 3 + ).
O glorious GLEx, see where you lead! A blissful land of new explorations and unique experiences!
O glorious GLEx, you too deserve a poem in your name, and we shall not disappoint—but a longer one you deserve, and so a long ode it will be, on a day soon to come!
To you, the GLEx theorist/practitioner, we raise our glass! To you, O GLEx maven, we still aren’t sure what to call you! GLExor? GLExer? Or GLExist, after all?!
To you we raise this glass, all GLExists past and future—and even GLExists present! A toast to you all! A toast to you all!
Q: Your suggestion that a museum praxis, a museum-centered work, can constitute an avant-garde endeavor will continue to raise eyebrows, you know that?
A: Of course! And since it will do that anyway, let’s embrace the claim, let’s embrace it with gusto!
Q: But how exactly do you mean it? What do you propose?
A: There are many definitions and approaches to the meaning of the concept of the avant-garde, as we all know, and, in fact, many have called the avant-garde (any type of avant-garde) dead. It’s very specifically within this space that I think it makes great sense to reignite and rejuvenate it.
Q: How do you mean?
A: Well, it seems to me that a cool avant-garde gesture, in the realm of avant-gardish practices, is so to get out of the usual realms, the ‘habitus’ of art in our case, while engaging in those domains where there hasn’t been an avant-garde per se. That’s what is really exciting. To actually take the avant-garde out of the realm where it is usually debated and at play, and generate it in a new universe. That is beneficial to the new environment in that innovation is wrought on the field, and it dispenses with the tradition of avant-garde gestures in the regular realm. Frankly, it’s the truly avant-garde gesture because of that very displacement of the universe of the avant-garde move.
Q: At the vanguard of even that…
A: Yes, precisely. Truly avant-garde because it’s at the vanguard of avant-garde practice—at least for a little while!
Q: How did all this come about?
A: Well, there’s the general inkling of course. The general temperament. A habit of fashioning new forms. Of embracing innovations of the artistic kind. The first of the museum practices I dubbed and truly lived in that manner was in education—AME: Avant-garde Museum Education. A critical praxis that affected all dimensions of my educational work, from teaching to program design to project conceptualization and implementation and even the design of multi-dimensional rubrics with and for my students!
Q: How did that turn out?
A: Great! It was vangardish relative to the traditions it was working within and an avant-garde gesture in the museum. Relative to museum practices, that is…
Q: And that led to…
A: Right. And that leads us to the here and now. AMP: Avant-garde Museum Practices overall! In a similar way, AMP is at the vanguard of multiple practices at play in the museum while revising and fusing them, and it’s also at the vanguard relative to the entire visioning of the museum.
Q: And tradition?
A: Tradition is acknowledged of course. There’s a recognition of links to tradition. But also the desire to overcome various aspects and elements of that tradition. And the necessity to explore new paths and chart out new possibilities.
Q: So what are some of the elements associated with your version of the AMP?
A: Well, to begin with, we operate on the parameters of existing forms of the practices and introduce new dimensions. We discover new openings. Operations brought upon the parameters and the generally accepted grammar of particular practices within the museum realm. Apart from that general modus operandi, there are certain time-tested characteristics of the AMP endeavor!
Q: Such as…
A: Well, I think within AMP, you will have liberational and transgressive actions taking place, you’ll be shocking and disrupting, and along the way, you’ll be re-examining and redefining the forms and functions of the institution. A general critical stance vis-à-vis the museum, the actual foundations and traditions of museum practice. Inevitably, I think we engage in rethinking those key elements, like categories of knowledge, activations of space, forms of intervention, authorial (de)statusing, durational performance, forms of interaction and varieties of agencing. It’s deeply political, as you can imagine, and functions along a spectrum of collaborative practice. Probably a lot ends up being controversial, but it will generate new rituals, new names, new categories, as it should! And new types of being. A way of redefining yourself really, and the world! The performance of an avant-garde.
Q: And the future of it?
A: Aha, the future of it! Well, you certainly don’t codify it. Or put out normative orders. In a way, AMP invites all to the constant awareness to discover and come up with more of the gestures I describe—not to codify the ones I deem important now, or the interventions anyone in particular thinks are crucial and relevant. Rather, cultivate the ongoing, constantly revisited gestures for AMP. We hold nothing about museums sacred. Nothing that you can’t question or challenge.
Q: Would you say the avant-garde is an imperative? An adventure? An approach?
A: AMP to me was timely. It was necessary. It was also exciting. Riveting, really. And I’m using the past tense paradoxically because perhaps as soon as you start talking excessively about an avant-garde practice, it can perhaps no longer be. It might, because of that very reason, already be passé!
Q: And thus, an abrupt end to this imaginary interview?
A: As you say.
8. These Are the Musies!
You have always thought, and at times seriously and rigorously proposed, that you can look at the projects fashioned and implemented—the stuff birthed into the world of museums—as artworks—that is, within the history and the theory of art, within the habitus of art.
It is indigenous to your way of seeing the world and working in the world. Here we are, in the museum, associated with the museum, and these endeavors can be tinkered with, conceptualized as art. The most important criteria though, must be met. Indeed, you are not arguing that all projects enacted in the museum, all actions within museum practices are artworks—of course not! But some can be. And for any such endeavor to be dubbed ‘art’, it must have attributes that are necessary in a work of art (as you see it). Adherence to the criteria then, along with the possibility of situating this new type of work on a reconceived art-historical map—a mapping that we recreate based on a reshuffling of forms and artists.
You will, of course, refuse to provide a taxonomy of what could constitute such works, since one of the points of this search is to find the right fusions and the precise actions that will generate the artwork. Still, herewith, some attributes of these works…
- Museum practice as artwork is a type of intervention and political gesture that fashions a new form.
- These works are often ‘logistics-specific’ performances. Founded upon forms of interaction and forms of learning and creating. Where the time, duration, space, participants with whom one interacts, the subject and modality of interaction, along with the spectrum of participatory possibilities, contribute to the logistics.
- These works also generate queries and problematize forms and contents of exchange as such—from words to gestures to communication in general, as well as information of any kind, along with the modalities of interaction that allow the exchanges to occur.
- The works also have, as form and content, issues related to valuation—valuations of different kinds at that, from monetary to emotional and intellectual.
- By necessity, they happen in/around the museum as their original site of unfolding.
- The works also fashion conditions that problematize the very awareness of the audience as to whether they are experiencing an artwork. We call this statusing. For example, the works can use the museum as a site without the consent of the museum—in which case the work is a clandestine work. Or they could take place as commissioned pieces without the knowledge of the audience. Or else, they could even be presented under some other auspices (an education ‘lecture’ or a ‘panel’), yet cunningly constitute an artwork.
- These can also appropriate and operate upon existing artworks, or they can take museum matters that have not been categorized as art and reclassify them as such.
- These can be fusions of current same-spirited types of works at play for sure. We acknowledge seeing some of the resemblances to situationist art for example, happenings, fluxus-like occurrences and actions, education-as-art sensibilities, Art Brut, institutional critique, social practice art, public art, and most recently, what gets dubbed ‘relational’ art.
- These works bypass/critique/interrupt/disrupt the logic and cultural process of any work becoming art (the necessity of inclusion in galleries/shows/journals) and inhabiting the social habitus of art, while simultaneously occurring within an institution of art! In the belly of the beast of the art world, yet purposely not entering the ‘space’ through the requisite channels! And that is the force of their impact, the avant-garde gesture at the heart of the enterprise! Unveiling the fundamental paradox. Almost funny to be honest.
- These works will surely not go on forever. The suggestion is that a new art form can be established and elaborated—and that the space of this artwork is by definition the museum. (Helpful analogies: You cannot have works on paper not on paper. You cannot have a ‘public’ work that is not public. In similar fashion, ‘works-in-museum’ is a work by necessity unfolding in relation to the general space/practice of the museum.)
You then propose two major names. One for a certain form of engagement that straddles art and critical praxis, that is, in a way, camouflaged most of the time—a discursive, interventionist praxis: we dub this museactions, and they reside within the previously defined musauteur’s realm of practice—inspired by the museist, of course! And another for the particular new art form, for this type of artwork whose aesthetics/politics is founded on the characteristics listed above. We are tempted to dub them museart works, or museart pieces, but we find this a bit too obvious and direct. And so we have settled on: musies! Yes, musies! Under the auspices of this type of work, you can have individual pieces of course, each bearing its own title—just the way we have many paintings, sculptures, installations, movies, photographs, all with their own titles…
Let us add that the future iterations would actually envisage operating upon and undermining the very bullet-points listed above, including taking this kind of work outside the museum! Let us also add that it is quite possible that the most interesting works of this universe, the best of the lot, the only relevant ones, the best musies, were the first musies, since they birthed the very category through particular projects. And let us add that any future versions may end up being very derivative.
And that, as a result, it may be time to cease making/creating them.
9. The ASCD Stamp
We call on museums to recognize and embrace the fact that they are agents of social and cultural design!
We call on them to recognize and embrace this agency and embolden themselves to be at the forefront of innovations in the design of culture and the design of societies. Beyond just providing access, beyond presenting debates and interactions that might lead to those designs, becoming active agents…
By cultural design, we mean two major threads of creative/critical practice.
One is the design of various conditions for possible interactions with cultural artifacts, ideas, and theories of cultural formation and transformation. Attitudes towards the forms and functions of culture itself, the consumption of culture, and the relationship of citizens to culture—and, at their logical extensions, the creation of a form of citizenry that is founded on these relationships to culture.
Second, we submit that the museum can become a platform, a hub, for the rethinking of elements of the (sub)culture(s) that govern our lives. Literally a place/space to valiantly and surely provocatively invent elements of culture. Propose new cultural norms (and margins) and design new elements of what one imagines constitutes culture—from calendars to rituals, from religions to realities. Not just a presentation of what the contemporary landscape offers, but an active critique of what exists and an active design of completely new and surely unnerving propositions.
By social design, we mean those processes whereby the engagement is directly—and perhaps more often indirectly—designing component parts, slices one could say, of social life. Here too, we first propose a more active embrace of the fact of social design at work/play in the inevitable components and properties of the current museatic existence and experience—from architectural design to the emplacement of the institution to the type and flows of interactions that they generate and the relationships they engender. Beyond this inevitable social design dimension however, museums can both directly and indirectly, and at both macro and micro levels, generate a form of citizenry with particular values, attitudes and behaviors—one where the habitus of culture is the domain of a larger segment of the population, and that inevitably over time generates a new type of society. A social design project, in effect, that becomes part of the DNA of the museum in the ways it currently is not.
Museums are already pregnant with this realm of possibilities—but somehow… Here, in effect, we are not merely calling for a more active museum, we are calling on the museum to recognize the possibilities to fashion a certain type of society. By provoking new ways of understanding the world, by creating new questions, by creating unique experiences that generate new perspectives on the world, a type of society indeed—and a new cultural order.
Now, for the purposes of such a shift, for a more vibrant and vital museum, a host of unique thinkers/doers, makers/believers are needed.
Museum missionaries? Can’t bring ourselves to think that way!
Agents? We’ve already pronounced the word, but it may have a whole other meaning in certain circles!
Perhaps then a fluid group of hanger-outers with the appreciation and the drive to fulfill the potential of the endeavor… ASCD Fellows, in a way, or an ASCD Corps!
Keeping the flame alive, periodically and perpetually inciting the flowering of the museum as an Agent of Social and Cultural Design. An ASCD institution. Thus tagged. Thus certified. With that very mark, that very stamp: ASCD.
10. On the Mysterious Appearances in my Abode on a Rainy Eve
—‘Hey psst… Hey, hey…’
—‘Yeah, yeah, what the…’
I thought I was dreaming but it was coming from… Somehow this voice around me… And I look around and I see no one and yet, I’m sure I heard something…
—‘‘What about me? Hey, what about me?!’
—‘‘What the—who’s talking?! Who’s there?!’
Starting to panic, I…
—‘‘It’s me. Here. Turn around. Right here!’
No doubt about it. Not a hallucination. Not a crazed vision. Not even a momentary foray into playful affabulation. No. It was real. It was happening. And it was the mask. The mask on that figure on the bottom-right hand corner from Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. What the!
—‘The mask! You speak! After all!’
—‘Of course I speak dude! What did you think?!’
The Demoiselles mask! Somehow here! In my hovel! Not in its usual spot on the 5th floor of the museum no, but here, by itself, freed from the others in the painting, prancing around my studio.
—‘Yo dude, I like all the crap you’re laying on us but did you notice that you didn’t say a single thing about us! The works in the museum that make the museum hello! Like, what gives!’
—‘Dude!’ I counter, now having overcome my first shock and fully prepared to respond. ‘Do you know how many times we’ve put you on the pedestal! You and your brethren! The masterpieces! Please! Give me a break!’
The mask is taken aback for the first time and relents a bit.
—‘Fine! Maybe we shouldn’t be worshipped or venerated—although honestly, I’d love it if everyone continued to do it—but seriously, not a word?! Not a word in your manifesto—or shall I say, prolegomena for a manifesto?’
His last expression is totally sarcastic and I do not take kindly to it.
—‘Let’s stop with the attitude ey!’ I say. ‘Besides, we still carry on with the analysis! You’re still all there! All over in the GLExes. Please! Like, you don’t have to be the only thing now do you?!’
—‘Just in the GLExes and the labs and whatever?! That’s it? Where are we going to end up with this Museo Equis stuff!’
—‘Chill out yo! We’re still gonna do the close looking! And the interpretations! And the rest of it! We’re gonna forever keep doing that. Can’t handle not being the only thing ey?!’
—‘Not true,’ the mask jumps. ‘Not true!
But it was true! It wasn’t enough to remain central and share the spotlight, as they say, the mask and other works seemed to want to be the only game in town! Wanted all the attention and all the privileges!
And indeed, before long, other works from galleries and from other museums have invaded my private space! A piece from Braque and another from Kandinsky! An Indian Buddha figure and a Persian vessel! All in my studio! Babbling and yelling and screaming! Relentlessly carrying on! ‘What about us, what about us,’ they clamor. And it doesn’t help that I keep reassuring them, or even advising, that they remained, always and forever, special! No, just doesn’t make a difference. ‘What about me,’ each keeps crying out, ‘What about me!’
Increasingly worried, I’m now fearing that an actual throng of humans with torches and pitchforks will come after me, starting with the artists, joined even by the collectors and their curators, and even the conservators who care for the works! All coming after little ol’ me, for daring, deigning, to dream up Museo Equis! For daring to work it, as I said, to work Museo Equis! Nothing I say seems to matter, nothing I promise seems to make a dent. The cacophony gets louder, the noise drowning out any and all appeal to reason!
And when I can’t take it anymore, I yell out, louder than ever before, I cry out: ‘Enough! Enough!’
Somehow, miraculously, all the works still on the ground and the walls go quiet. What the, I think to myself, what just happened! There is a total silence. A total pull-back. I ponder I do, and think about the potential reason for their sudden acquiescence. After all that inexplicably belligerent interaction and the interruption and attendant cacophony!
And then it dawns on me. Then it becomes clear. The unforgiving silence. There was nothing else to explain or defend.
All the works suddenly vanish. There are no more works there, nothing on my floor or on the walls. Nothing. No works, and no mask from Les Demoiselles either. All gone. It was over.
Museo Equis. Somehow victorious. The revolution, somehow triumphant.
11. Writing the Museum
Long ago, I envisioned a pamphlet that would put in motion the different ways of writing the museum. A necessity, I felt, and not a gratuitous exercise. Or a diversion. Or a pleasantry. What is important here is to indicate what we mean by writing. We mean a full writing, a pleine écriture—and by that, we mean a writing that constructs the reality of the ‘world’ written! That is, as far as our present concerns go, a writing that makes real the museum thus written.
Without space to elaborate on this theoretical position, or to articulate its implications, it suffices here to point out that the general writing of the museum as concept and reality has not benefited enough from imaginary digressions and affabulations, from the genre-breaking poetics necessary—crucial in fact—to rejuvenate the museum itself. Museums that could be built on aphoristic elaborations or conceived through Socratic dialogues. Imagined through multilingual polylogues. Through schemas and maps. Through poems or poetic fragments. Museum drawn from tales and fictions. Museums drawn from juxtapositions of writing practices.
Indeed, this very manifesto is a performance of a novel writing of the museum. This very manifesto is replete with figurative layers, complexity and ambiguity. Different genres and textual unfoldings to ‘render’ the imagined museum. The concrete museum. Museo Equis.
This manifesto, one could claim, is not a manifesto, after all, but a new articulation of the museum. And an articulation that could not be done any other way. This, its only possible articulation. Its only possible rendering. Museo Equis could not be written any differently, in any other form. And that indeed is the highest ideal—to express and articulate and construct a reality through the necessary form and structure and style, with analytical propositions invested within it.
Writing the museum then, means to perpetually wed the unfolding reality of the museum, the performance of the actual museum, the coming-into-being of the museum, to the form and style of its articulation. Essential is the recognition that the museum happens only through the conceptual framework in which it is imagined and played out, in the ways in which it is thought and spoken about—in the ways, ultimately, that it is written.
Museo Equis cannot be written any other way. Period.
12. The Museum at the Edge of the World
When Jimini Muse arrived at the museum that had taken him ten years to build, he was very surprised to see that the entire edifice had moved about a thousand and one feet, all the way to and slightly over the edge of the ravine the locals called, giddily, The Edge of the World.
‘Hmmm,’ Jimini thought, how could this happen.
Nothing had been destroyed, nothing had been broken. Not the windows, not the doors, not the façade. He even checked some of the smaller details, and, again, discovered that nothing at all had been even slightly damaged.
‘Hmmm,’ he wondered again, not offering anything back in the form of an explanation.
The next question Jimini asked himself was the following: Was there anything he could do to bring the structure back to its original spot? And if not, could it survive, right there, at the edge of the world… In other words, he thought, is there even enough reason to bring it back.
As Jimini met with friends and brought in engineers and architects and other experts to see if he could bring the museum back from the edge, he realized ultimately that the museum needed to stay rigt where it was.
He even withheld from any attempt at finding out how that incredible and perhaps forever unsolvable movement of the museum to the edge had—or could have—occurred. He welcomed the mystery, thinking that it would ultimately take its deserved place in the dictionary of legends.
Forever at the edge, the MEoW would surely ensconce itself in the glorious annals of unexplained phenomena, not to mention in the pantheon of architectural oddities and wonders. But more than anything else, this unexpected—and surely, he mused, not accidental—phenomenon had brought about the most emblematic of insights and illuminations to Jimini—a most poignant series of realizations. Had he believed in some deity or other, he would even have called the entire episode divine intervention.
Jimini realized that there was something weirdly funky about the museum situated at the very edge of the ravine, and that it was, in fact, performing the playfulness and carnivalesque essence of this thing called a museum. It would always and forever remind all of its fantasticalness. We know the experience that awaits us, and yet that very experience will always surprise us, will make us wonder and even fear, will always thrill us.
Jimini also realized that a constant ordering/reordering would be an actual necessity at the MEoW. An imposition to look at the practice of arranging artifacts and curating experiences. The very fact of being a discursive space was embodied in its position, and its positioning. An epistemic ordering was not only at play, but on display. Yes, the museum at the edge of the world needed to infuse, systemically and insistently, the cognition of the ordering systems at play in its work, and its role in creating knowledge and experiences.
Jimini also realized that the museum would be a constantly morphing performarium taking its role very seriously as the peripatetic symbol of a laboratory in constant rejuvenation of its own tenets. There it was, at the edge of the world. Truly embodying the performative paradox. In its twists and its angles. In its relationship to the cliff and the surroundings. A meta-performance of the museum!
Jimini also realized that no one working at the MEoW would be able to create artificial questions or build anything on false premises. Couldn’t just keep doing things as before. Could not be weighed down by legacy. By the received idea. Every question and every motion was directly linked to its survival. To its flourishing yes, but simultaneously, its survival. Its situation, always in a state of equilibrium-creation and maintenance, would spur the MEoW to invent and constantly re/imagine its forms and functions. A constant performance of its literal (and figurative) un/balancing act.
And Jimini finally realized that the perpetual negotiations and actions necessary to retain the right levels of this balancing act were perhaps ideal. For they constantly made him aware of the fragility of the enterprise. The MEoW initiated the creation of new questions. It was involved in not just problem solving, but problem creating. (Had the MEoW, in some strange way, become the living embodiment of that never-so-real Museo Equis?) In performing its own un/balancing, it was, like any entity that is truly alive, in pursuit of the zest for life, and finding the most wondrous equilibrium! Jimini was, after all, quite fond of all his realizations after the still-mysterious movement of the museum he had built!
And in that equilibrium, in that acrobatic and perpetual balancing act on that fragile ground, the MEoW became the most talked about, dreamt about, written about, exciting, and yes, even visited, museum in all the world! And that is the tale of the Museum at the Edge of the World. Of a museum in this and other worlds of fiction and myth, of this and other worlds real and not.
(Indispensable Supplement to the Prolegomena)
There’s Dax. Dax’s mom, actually…
It was several months back when in the sixth floor galleries, as I was walking back from another lecture, I hear a woman calling me from behind, screaming my name. I’m not sure who it is—even after she has run to me and held out her hand and said her name.
And then she says, breathlessly: ‘I came to your family program a couple of weeks ago, here, a few weeks ago!’
She notices I’m still smiling but also with that perplexed look of a person not recognizing their counterpart.
‘Dax’s mom,’ she says finally. ‘I’m Dax’s mom! Dax, you remember Dax?’
‘Dax, yes,’ I holler! ‘Dax, sure, four year-old Dax! Dax’s mom, how are you?’
I’m telling this story to a group visiting from Europe, in front of one of Andy’s most famous works. We’ve already gone over how Andy thought about, or rather, maybe didn’t ‘think about’ but ‘brought forth’ the problematic of the status of the image to bear on the idea of what constitutes art. We’ve touched on multiples and dissemination, how artists could not ignore the acceleration of the dissemination of images, not to mention the systems and supports through which these images were distributed. Television, advertising, posters, brochures. We’ve also touched on the notion of the ‘factory’, the artist as a machine, the proliferation of museums and the changing landscape of the consumption of art. I’ve even lectured on how Andy, at some point, among many other things he’d said that have fortunately or unfortunately seeped into popular culture and lingo, at some point intimated that the museums of tomorrow—that is, for us, today—were going to be like supermarkets. Everyone had even kind of giggled and I’d added: ‘Although you might not see it at this point—it’s early afternoon after all—it’s not untrue. It gets much worse than in supermarkets sometimes in here!’ This last statement had gotten a real good and loud laugh…
I’d set them up the whole time though, for the story of Dax. Dax’s mom, that is. And that’s how I’d gotten to launch my tale, telling my European visitors that I wanted to share a really funny anecdote that is quite revealing, not only about what we’re talking about, but in terms of everything that has happened in culture, art, museums, and more… And so I tell them the story, with Dax’s mom, starring Dax himself, a story I shall now pick up again from where we left off.
So Dax’s mom has caught me and I remember Dax and I’ve even asked how Dax is doing. She’s very excited and out of breath, but she carries on enthusiastically.
‘Fine fine,’ she says, a little more comforted that I remember her son and by extension, herself. ‘I’m glad I saw you. I want to tell you something really funny. You’ll be real proud of Dax!’
I’m thinking, Wow what could this be, even though I don’t really want to stay or listen, but really, I don’t have a choice…
And so she tells of how the other day, ‘We were in the supermarket, and we’re minding our business, kind of going through the aisles, nothing weird or special, and then I notice Dax transfixed by a woman picking up items from the shelves. I see him looking at her and I’m wondering why he’s so fixated.’ She stops. Dramatic pause…
‘And then I see him run to her!’
‘You know what was happening?’ she asks incredulously and with a big smile on her face and almost expecting me to, well, know.
‘No,’ I say, playing along with the breathless sense of wonder and excitement. ‘What?! What?!’
‘Well,’ she says, ‘it turns out that Dax ran to this woman because she was taking Campbell’s soup cans from the shelf, and so he started screaming, yelling at her insistently, he yelled at her with fervor and he was almost possessed I tell you, he screamed at her, ‘No! No! You can’t touch those! You can’t touch those! Those are the soup cans, those are Andy’s soup cans, you can’t touch those!’’
She pauses. She smiles. She calms down.
‘Isn’t that hilarious?’ she asks. ‘Isn’t that just hilarious?!’
‘That’s too much,’ I say. ‘Really, that’s great! Great story!’
‘I thought you’d enjoy it,’ she says.
So then I pause and tell my European friends that I told Dax’s mom it was really funny and quite the anecdote and that it was good seeing her and that we then parted. And then I add: ‘This is what I want to leave you with. That the story Dax’s mom told me wasn’t just so cute and funny, which it was, but it was much more! That in fact, it behooves us to link the story to all that we’ve talked about up to now, and thinking back to what I just told you about Andy and his comment on museums becoming supermarkets… Andy, I laugh, was wrong. It wasn’t that museums were going to be like supermarkets, it’s more that supermarkets were going to be like the art museums! It’s that the supermarket has turned into the art museum! Today, the tomorrow of yesterday! The supermarket is the museum!’
I carry on while everyone has a smile and is truly getting, I think, my very, ehem, subtle point. I’m almost preaching to them now, on the meaning of art and the changing nature of museums. Think, I go on, of the nature of art and of our experiences! It’s a hilarious story yes, but also a great and revealing one! And a troubling one and a despairing one and… It’s the supermarket that has turned into the museum, and not the other way around! The supermarket is the museum, the library too, is the new museum, the library is also the new supermarket, the museum is the new library, the university is the new hypermarket, and on and on! An erasure of borders, a fusion and confusion of spaces and their forms and roles and functions! I’ll leave you with that, I said breathless, I’ll let you ponder it all, and let you mull over and imagine all that it reveals…
A big applause from the crowd and one of the men even offers to take me out and buy me ‘ein Bier!’ I have to decline. ‘Kein Bier für mich,’ I say smiling. I’ve got to run! I have things to do after all, chores and work ahead. Thank you I say again, it was a pleasure, but I have to get going. I wave and smile and walk away.
Work and things to do, I whisper to myself, in the museum… And then some shopping to do, grocery shopping, in the other museum…
And as I walk out of the hallowed halls and vaunted galleries, I whisper the little tune, the little ditty I’d composed to honor the new invention on the horizon, a little ode, the secret ode to that greatest of all museums, theee Museum one should say, to Museo Equis…
O Museo Equis, feel the love do
Hear the clapping and the hullabaloo
It’s also for you yes, ooo ooo
It’s also for you…
Feel the love do, it’s also for you
O Museo Equis!
Amir Parsa is a pioneering multilingual writer, poet and translator, a cutting-edge cultural designer, and an acclaimed and innovative educator searching for new ways to understand, represent, and operate in the world. His literary oeuvre—written directly in English, French, Farsi, Spanish, and various hybrids—constitutes a radical polyphonic enterprise that puts into question national, cultural and aesthetic attachments while fashioning new genres, forms, discursive endeavors and species of artifacts. These provocative works include Kobolierrot, Feu L’encre/Fable, Drive-by Cannibalism in the Baroque Tradition, Erre, and L’opéra minora, a 440-page multilingual work that is in the MoMA Library Artists’ Books collection and in the Rare Books Collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Parsa was born in Tehran, attended French International schools, Princeton and Columbia, and currently lives in New York with a slew of literary, artistic and educational projects in the works. A former Chairperson of Pratt Institute’s Art and Design Education Department and Acting Associate Dean, Parsa is currently an Associate Professor and Director of Academic Transdisciplinary Initiatives in the Office of the Provost.