Museopathy





 
Curated by DisplayCult
Agnes Etherington Art Centre and Kingston-area
heritage sites
June 23-September 9, 2001



Artists:
Museopathy: John Dickson, FASTWÜRMS, Jamelie Hassan, Barbara Hunt, Brian Jungen, Komar and Melamid, Anne Ramsden, Mitch Robertson, Joyce Wieland, Mel Ziegler

Empathology: Diane Borsato, Peter Hobbs, Linda M. Montano, Clive Robertson.
  Museopathy brought together contemporary art and performance with museums and heritage sites throughout the city of Kingston, situated midway between Toronto and Montreal. Based on a reciprocal dynamic of exchange, artists installed site-specific works at ten venues, and over three hundred objects from these museum’s fascinating collections were featured in a contemporary kunstkammer at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

Museopathy explored the implications of museological affect – how museums feel and subtly influence visitors. The auratic features of museums –their particular moods, presences and ambiances – were highlighted, intensified or counteracted in order to examine meanings that may have been lost due to the exigencies of conveying persuasive, singular narratives. Our impetus was to foreground the great diversity of relational experiences within a civic exhibitionary complex rather than a pure aesthetic gaze upon discrete, autonomous objects. This emphasis on immersed beholding requires the apprehension of the overall reality of the display context, one that goes beyond reading an exhibition as if it were a linear text. Museopathy thus focused on the types of affective interactions that take place in museums, such as between audiences and objects, between objects and collections, and among the varied exhibition contexts of the city of Kingston as a whole.

The neologism of the exhibition’s title, “museopathy,” pertains first to “museo-,” the museum. The suffix “-pathy” evokes two related ideas: that of “moving” and “being moved.” In one sense the suffix alludes to the pathways that link the citywide components of the show, the peregrinations of the audience from site to site, and the many exchanges that occurred between artists, artworks, and artifacts. In another sense, the meaning of “-pathy” stems from its etymological origin – the Greek word for “emotion” or “feeling” and the root of words such as “pathos.” Rather than focus on the museum as something pathological, we premised Museopathy on a logic of homeopathy in which “like treats like” and each artist, to some degree, mimicked distinctly affective aspects of museum display.


For a fuller text, see Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher, Museopathy, Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 2002, 112 pp.
 
John Dickson, SOS, 2001.
Copper pipes, compressor, electronic timer, solenoid valves.
Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston.
 
John Dickson's artworks explore sensational notions of life at sea and the popular fascination with extreme oceanic phenomena and technological tragedies. His works here include an interactive installation simulating the whirling vortex of cyclones, a series of miniature sculptures based on famous shipwrecks, and a message that intermittently bubbles into appearance in the waters of the Museum’s dry dock.
  John Dickson, SOS, 2001.
Copper pipes, compressor, electronic timer, solenoid valves.
Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston.
FASTWÜRMS, Ms Rockhound 2001, 2001.
Installation with photographs, painted banners, maps, yarn, crystals, rock samples.
Miller Museum of Geology and Mineralogy.
   
FASTWÜRMS examines the popular culture practices that surround the appreciation of stones, minerals and crystals. Celebrating the prize-winning rock collecting adventure of "Ms Rockhound 2001," their installation blurs the divide between amateur and professional geologists, hard science and art.
  FASTWÜRMS, Ms Rockhound 2001, 2001.
Installation with photographs, painted banners, maps, yarn, crystals, rock samples.
Miller Museum of Geology and Mineralogy.

Jamelie Hassan, The Well, 2001.
Installation with objects from the museum’s collection, the artists’ personal archives, found and altered materials, ceramics, photography, drawings, watercolours, video.
Infant image: David Gordon. Video: courtesy Alice and John Williams.
Museum of Health Care at Kingston.
   
Jamelie Hassan strategically positions objects, texts and images to show the connections between Arabic and Western medical practices, the healing power of natural elements, and the idea of “beginnings.” Drawing upon her early personal history as a hospital nursing aid – while studying art in Rome and Beirut – this installation reflects on the Red Crescent and its sister organization, the Red Cross.
  Jamelie Hassan, The Well, 2001.
Installation.
Museum of Health Care at Kingston.
Barbara Hunt, antipersonnel, 1998-ongoing.
Knitted yarn, shelving unit, rope lights.
Royal Military College of Canada Museum.
   
For her installation in this 1840s Martello tower, Barbara Hunt displays intricate replicas of landmines in the reinforced arched chamber of the munitions magazine. Accurately rendered in pink, knitted wool from schematic diagrams, these weapons have been transformed into subversive metaphors of recuperation, protection and healing.
  Barbara Hunt, antipersonnel, 1998-ongoing.
Knitted yarn, shelving unit, rope lights.
Royal Military College of Canada Museum.
Brian Jungen, Isolated Depiction of the Passage of Time, 2001.
Plastic trays, television monitor, VCR, western red cedar, light.
Correctional Service of Canada Museum.
   
Inspired by the ingenuity of prisoners’ self-made objects, such as shivs made from toothbrushes and broom handles, Brian Jungen creates a sculpture out of hundreds of plastic lunch trays. This is the artist’s response to one of the most infamous objects in the museum’s collection – an escape pod fashioned from a hollowed-out stack of lunch trays clandestinely hoarded from a prison cafeteria.
  Brian Jungen, Isolated Depiction of the Passage of Time, 2001.
Plastic trays, television monitor, VCR, western red cedar, light.
Correctional Service of Canada Museum.
  Inmate Escape Pod, 1980.
Correctional Service of Canada Museum.
Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid with William McClelland, Call to Art, 2001.
Audio broadcast.
Grant Hall Tower, Queen’s University.
   
From this historic tower, Vitaly Komar & Alexander Melamid, in collaboration with William McClelland, broadcast a "call to art" performed in symphonic harmony by a full choir. This work coincides with the recent relaxation of the ban on religious worship in the artists’ native Russia and explores how spiritual aspirations can be channelled through artistic media.
  Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid with William McClelland, Call to Art, 2001.
Audio broadcast.
Grant Hall Tower, Queen’s University.
Anne Ramsden, Garden, 2001.
Installation with porcelain cups and saucers, seeds, text, artificial flowers, postcards.
Murney Tower National Historic Site.
   
This fortification was not only a station and barracks for soldiers, it was also a home for the soldiers’ wives and children. By revealing the domestic dimensions of this defensive military structure, Anne Ramsden brings out lesser-known historical realities through objects, fictional text, and a “garden” encircling the tower.
  Anne Ramsden, Garden, 2001.
Installation with porcelain cups and saucers, seeds, text, artificial flowers, postcards.
Murney Tower National Historic Site.
Mitch Robertson, World’s Biggest Ball of Hockey Tape, 2001.
Approx. 36 km of hockey sock tape, dimensions increasing. Tape donated by Renfrew Hockey Tape.
International Ice Hockey Federation Museum.
   
Mitch Robertson's installation comments on the practices of commemoration and merchandising that produce stars and celebrities – in both the hockey and aesthetic realms. He activates the museum’s showcase rooms with artistic versions of hockey cards, memorabilia and souvenirs, a video of arena audiences, as well as the creation of the world’s largest ball of hockey tape.
  Mitch Robertson, World’s Biggest Ball of Hockey Tape, 2001.
International Ice Hockey Federation Museum.
  Mitch Robertson, My Hall of Fame, 2001.
Installation
International Ice Hockey Federation Museum.
Joyce Wieland, Sailboat, 1967.
16-mm colour film transferred to videotape (4:00).
Museum Ship Alexander Henry.
   
Joyce Wieland’s 1967 film Sailboat is presented (in video format) on the Museum Ship Alexander Henry. This experimental film challenges real time through the depiction of a sailboat’s progress across wind-whipped waters in a series of near-repetitions that move towards what writer Bart Testa describes as “a soft annihilation.”
  Joyce Wieland, Sailboat, 1967.
16-mm colour film transferred to videotape (4:00).
Museum Ship Alexander Henry.
Mel Ziegler, Mail Order Authenticity, 2001.
Installation with furniture, utensils, household items.
Bellevue House National Historic Site.
   
Into the tranquility of nineteenth-century period rooms, Mel Ziegler introduces over forty contemporary and Victorian-style objects purchased from mail-order catalogues and the Internet. Relating the collecting activity of museums to more general practices of acquisition and display, the artist positions the museum within a larger, more diverse cultural network that determines history, taste, value and appreciation.
  Mel Ziegler, Mail Order Authenticity, 2001.
Installation with furniture, utensils, household items.
Bellevue House National Historic Site.
 

Empathology


Staged in the museums and heritage sites involved in Museopathy, Empathology consisted of four simultaneous performances which examined the display dynamics of museums, constructed unconventional audience interactions, and offered an alternative "embodied" means for generating aesthetic and historical knowledges. These performances intervened with implicated and subjective encounters that were at times surreal, disjunctive, confrontational or humorous. They worked with artifacts and modes of affect in order to pose alternative histories, politics and experiences. As much as connections were made between different exhibition cultures and practices, so too were the relationships between artists, objects, museums and audiences played with and reconceived.
 
Diane Borsato, Mannequin Impossible, 2001.
Performance with slides, mannequin, cake.
Royal Military College.
   
For more than three decades, “Mortimer” has stood in his blue officer-cadet uniform representing the typical Royal Military College student. Dusty with time and taunted by visiting schoolchildren, the mannequin seemed forgotten by history. In this performance, Diane Borsato honoured the 1960s mannequin with attention and consideration. Taking him out of the museum for the first time and into the formal rituals of the RMC’s Graduation Weekend, Borsato accompanied Mortimer as he graduated, met military officials, marched in a parade, and even went to the Prom. After many adventures on campus and in Kingston, Borsato and Mortimer shared photos and stories of this historic event.
 
 
  Diane Borsato, Mannequin Impossible, 2001.
Performance with slides, mannequin, cake.
Royal Military College.
Peter Hobbs, Gothic, 2001.
Performance with live video.
Bellevue House National Historic Site.
   
Museums often appeal to visitor’s feelings and sentiments, and in this performance Peter Hobbs took up the idea of empathy literally. Struck by the tragic illness afflicting Sir John A. Macdonald’s wife, Isabella, while in residence at Bellevue House, the artist responded emotionally to historical artifacts in the collection. Using acting, therapeutic and visualizing techniques, the artist sought to channel the affect residing within the site’s spaces and objects. This performance challenged the artist’s own sense of emotional propriety, as well as broader social understandings about the public display of emotions in soap operas and other media spectacles.
  Peter Hobbs, Gothic, 2001.
Performance with live video.
Bellevue House National Historic Site.
Linda Montano, Forgiveness as Art, 2001.
Performance with Jessica Wyman.
Museum Ship Alexander Henry.
   
In this performance, Linda M. Montano was available to share the concept of forgiveness with audience members. In her practice this has included taking care of individuals such as her eighty-eight-year-old father. Montano was interested in engaging with mercy and compassion publicly as art so that these virtues could be better integrated in her own and other’s everyday actions. For the artist, art is a vehicle to create a better daily life and she invites all to participate in this struggle for harmony and wisdom.
  Linda Montano, Forgiveness as Art, 2001.
Performance with Jessica Wyman.
Museum Ship Alexander Henry.
Clive Robertson, Speaking Tours, 2001.
Performance with Laurel Aziz, Jeff Brison, Jean Bruce, Lynda Jessup, Vojtech Jirat-Wasuitynski, Paul Kelley, Frances Leeming, Susan Lord, Jan Winton, and Jessica Wyman.
All ten Museopathy sites.
   
Adopting the role of interviewer, Clive Robertson engaged in an activity of “collecting” opinions about the site-specific installations comprising the exhibition “Museopathy.” Through a series of one-on-one recorded conversations with museum visitors and residents of Kingston throughout the summer, he assembled an audio archive of the issues and responses generated by the mixture of museum sites, artists’ interventions, cultural tourism, and collecting practices. Robertson invited artworld specialists and noted Kingston personalities to comment on the shifting cultural functions of public space, as well as making time available on a weekly basis for interested individuals to contribute their thoughts.
  Clive Robertson, Speaking Tours, 2001.
Performance.
All ten Museopathy sites.
Collectioneering, 2001.
Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
In a contemporary kunstkammer, or “wonder cabinet,” curators Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher presented over three hundred rare and provocative items gathered from eight Kingston museums – many of which are being displayed publicly for the first time. Under the title “Collectioneering,” this exhibition featured unexpected constellations of artworks, artifacts and relics that showcase the artful and auratic capacities of objects generated outside of the fine arts.
Confiscated Inmate Shivs, 1950s-1980s, mixed media, including metal, glass, plastic, wood, tape, string, leather and paint (collection Correctional Service of Canada Museum).

Executioner’s Knife (Ashanti), 1890s, metal and fish-skin (collection Royal Military College Museum).

Surgical Instruments, 19th-20th C., mixed media, including stainless steel, nickel, chrome, rubber and plastic (collection Museum of Health Care at Kingston).
   
One dialectical arrangement contrasted items designed to penetrate the human body – to either injure or save a life. Shivs (prisoners’ weapons), surgical tools and an Ashanti executioner’s knife signal extreme differences in technological sophistication and artisanal skill. Despite the differences between a dagger created from a razor blade and toothbrush, an intricately decorated ritual blade and fishskin sheath, or an ergonomic stainless steel scalpel, each reveal remarkable ingenuity. This posing of artifacts evoke comparisons between sanctioned and unsanctioned violence, whether through the lethal inventiveness of inmates, the visceral intensity of medical procedures, or lawful technologies of capital punishment.
  Collectioneering, 2001.
Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
Classical Bust Portrait, 19th C., plaster (collection Agnes Etherington Art Centre).

Inmate Decoy Heads, 1950s-1980s, mixed media (collection Correctional Service of Canada Museum).
   
Another juxtaposition set a plaster cast of a mythological bust against seven fake heads confiscated from prisoners’ cells. Both the sculpture and the escape heads suggest a kind of bravado occurring at polarities of the class divide. The oversized Hellenic bust, representing the pinnacle of classical civilization, hovers above crude bricolaged decoys. While the studio cast is oriented to education, the prisoners’ heads are geared to deception. Yet these contrary uses of portraiture divulge similarities regardless of the apparent polarity of aesthetic beauty and desperate functionality – art is often utilized as a form of escape, and inmates can gain renown as “escape artists.”
 
 
  Collectioneering, 2001.
Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
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