Recently I visited the state library. I inserted a coin in a locker and was still busy arranging my things on a small table nearby, when a man stopped suddenly in front of the lockers and groaned loudly. I thought he wanted to occupy the locker beside mine and was disturbed by the still opened door. I offered to close the door but he called: ‘No! You occupied the 1009! The first documented mention of Lithuania!’ Frustrated he pushed off.
I was too astonished to say something but later I wondered how the everyday life of such a person looks like. Does he ride by bus ‘End of the War’ (number ‘45) through Berlin? Meet his ‘Middle ages’ girl friend aged 40? Hate to call his friends who had a meaningless telephone number?
Dealing with narratives for my PhD and my curatorial work, I am amazed again and again, how deeply we all believe in the world we construct for ourselves based on our experiences, principles and knowledge. One of the most enlightening insights so far while doing my PhD research was that considering exhibitions as narratives – is in itself a narrative, a perspective, a truth to be challenged by new times and paradigm shifts.
Some weeks after my extraordinary experience in the library, I hold a paper at the annual meeting of the Society for Scientific University Collections in Hamburg. The ceremonial address was given at the State and University Library and when I walked through the entrance area I saw that the lockers were marked not with numbers but with fictional characters. My first thought was: what a great idea! My second: what a lousy day if only ‘Dracula’ is vacant, what a happy one, if I could put my things into ‘Jane Eyre’. Ha!
Photograph: © Jörg Amonat