Daniel Tyradellis‘ ‚Tired Museums‘ [Müde Museen] is one of those books I begin to read ready to highlight remarkable insights. But after the second page I put the pen away because I could underline every passage. I fully agree with Tyradellis’ main thesis that museums are (still) too often boring because it is not understood profoundly enough that exhibitions should be, from the bottom of their heart, communication. What makes the reading so exciting and what bears such a potential for change, is the philosopher’s understanding of ‘communication’ [Vermittlung]. According to Tyradellis, curating should not pursue the purpose to explain things but to enable visitors to THINK. By thinking he does not mean to ponder about the exhibits but to comprehend that knowledge is not self-evident but can be questioned – that different viewpoints are thinkable. To screen self-evidences is ‘the key to communication’ in exhibitions, according to Tyradellis (page 158). He writes:
The evidences of humans are the joint for the range of communication as genuine form of cultural work in exhibitions. At every time and in every society there are things and contexts which make sense and remain widely unquestioned. The thinking and feeling is in that case so immediate that no thought emerges at all that the contexts could be different ones. Things seem to be definitely the way they simply seem – evident. This holds not only true for the immediacy as such but also on a deeper level. Evidence is also a word for the point where you begin to stop asking. (Tyradellis: 152, my translation)
The author explains that such a ‘thinking in space’ is difficult for museums for historical, psychological and structural reasons. To me the latter seems to be of special interest. Many expert scientists – according to Tyradellis – aim at exhibiting ‘professional evidences’ and ‘heaving’ the visitor onto the correspondent level (page 149). Communication is delegated to designers and educators. Tyradellis is not the first to complain about these circumstances. But embedded in his argumentation this point gains explosive power because he sees that specialisation hinders a ‘dissociation of evidences’ (page 155). But it is the museum, as a ‘third place’, a place ‘in-between’, that could be an ideal place for forcing open entrenched ways of seeing:
Actually, there is none other social place and no institution which would have the ability to do this. This is down to the fact that the medium exhibition is potentially not only interdisciplinary and thus brings together different expertise; exhibitions are also intermedia, and it can belong to the curatorial tasks to force the games of truth of the particular knowledge to leave its own specific mediality. Due to this inevitable translation and exposition, evidences and specifications change their obviousness. The own thinking then represents itself differently.
(Tyradellis: 240, my translation)
But how can we curators question evidences? In order to find an answer to this crucial question I visited the exhibition ‘The Ties of Friendship’ Tyradellis curated at the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum Dresden. In his book Tyradellis only frames an aspiration, of course, and of course, it’s difficult to realise theoretical concepts and ideals with the highly complex medium exhibition.
To anticipate the result: if I had not read the curator’s book I would have simply thought the exhibition appealing and well done. Especially the idea to offer different versions of the (excellent) exhibition texts depending on the questionnaire about friendship every visitor is invited to fill in at the beginning, is fantastic. Perhaps even more important for my positive response would have been the fact that many interesting and inspiring aspects were touched. But this is exactly why Tyradellis, in my opinion, did not succeed in unsettling evidences. A variety of perspectives on friendship is deployed, but the multitude neutralizes their explosive power. Or, to put it another way: some questions have the potential to comprehend one’s own point of view as one among many, but even though some are posed explicitly, the questions are raised too gently. No emotional impetus unfolds. And emotions could help the question to eat through one’s consciousness in a painful or, in the best sense, unsettling way.
Two examples: An impressive monument shows a dog. The question is: is it possible to befriend an animal? This is a really interesting question that challenges the whole concept of friendship! The monument is huge – but it is only one among many that show more types of friendship: friendship among colleagues, comrades, team members and even with God. Among all of them the peculiarity of the problem disappears. What is more, the monument says there are people who consider animals their friends, but the opposite (people who don’t accept animals as friends) is not shown on the same (visual) level. My conclusion: a more effective way to debunk evidences would be to let contrasts clash.
Another interesting issue in the exhibition is the border between friendship and love. Again: this is really challenging! In a time where ‘friends with benefits’ have become popular, sex as a unique feature of love is radically put into question. Notions and connotations about different (are they different?) types of relationships are shown on a map which I really enjoyed to study. But again, because of the variety of terms the questions were only touched upon not ruptured. I think a deeper immersion into one of the aspects and a bolder display of emotions would have been more promising.
To conclude: the exhibition presents evidences and states of knowledge and raises questions. The questions are potential starting points for challenging these evidences. But because neither the questions nor possible, different and controversial answers are shown in depth, the thinking wanders, even if in some cases with a stumble, over the aspects, but it does not pause long enough for getting aware of itself.
Is it perhaps time to curate more radically?
Daniel Tyradellis: Müde Museen. Oder: Wie Ausstellungen unser Denken verändern könnten. Hamburg: edition Körber-Stiftung, 2014
‘The Ties of Friendship’, curated by Daniel Tyradellis, Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden, 18/04/2015 – 01/11/2015
Photographs: © Ariane Karbe, published by kind permission of Deutsches Hygiene-Museums Dresden