Reflections on “Museums Beyond the Crisis”

I had the privilege to attend CIMAM’s ‘Museum Beyond the Crisis’ Conference in Istanbul, Turkey last November 2012. Below are reflections on the experience:

SALT Galata Istanbul
SALT Galata Istanbul

The notions of scale, relevance and engagement linger with me long after the conference ended. Aptly titled “Museums beyond the Crisis”, the conference signaled the need to overcome challenges from contexts constantly besieged by crises. In Manila where I teach, write and organize projects, our circumstances have long taught us to live amidst limits. The orbit of our practice to say the least is forged by our living alongside crises of mutable forms. Such conditions perhaps have taught us to be inventive and in some ways, self-sufficient. As cultural workers based in academe, I feel the greatest challenge we face is that of relevance to and engagement with a larger community. Yet censorship issues, the sprawling force of the art market, increasingly benign institutions of culture, and media instigated furore all demand that we respond with sobriety, swiftness and clarity. Constantly striving to be intelligible to increasingly diverse audiences is a goal that cuts across our practice as culture advocates.

Collaboration and collaborative practice were central concerns in the workshop session I was part of. Elusive trust figured prominently in the discussions. I was given the chance to work on three international projects with exhibition components in the past five years, and ‘prospect and peril’ hound me long after they ended. For these projects, I had the good opportunity to be working from two vantage points – from the viewpoint of an independent group, an NGO and from an institution, the university museum. In the last project, I was skittering between these two. Asked in an interview two years ago about the nature of collaboration and the dangers of compromise, I responded with an assertion of working around mutually decided parameters, a keen recognition of interests and respect. While we benefit from global interaction and international collaboration, I think we should be vigilantly aware of who our audiences are and where our interests lie. The question of how relevant our cultural practice can be should be a main force that determines our engagements.

A pragmatic lesson learned from the keynote lecture, and one I believe we instinctively know is the lesson of scope – to keep projects small and manageable yet enable them to cut across multiple platforms and endow them the possibility of being grafted onto other relevant and urgent issues. Yet the lure of the global, its smooth fluidity and vertiginous speed seems at times irresistible and leads us astray. Reflexivity, focused relevance, and a contextualized response may perhaps be useful signposts for organizing cultural projects. In a time when our imprint is most palpably felt in the world, advocacies that carry this awareness offer the greatest form of hope.

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