Monday, 30 April 2007

active (non) violent museums?

I was in Tate Britain on Friday briefly, and had a quick look at Mark Wallinger's Tate Britain. I've never been quite sure what I think of it... part of me wonders what the point was of replicating all the pieces that were on the grass outside the Houses of Parliament; if he waited a while he could cadge a whole load of originals. (I'm also a bit of a sceptic about Brian Haw, having read an article where he says 'I wish I could just go home to my child and my wife'. Its a valiant protest, no doubt, but then you've heard me banging on about strategic change and the need to be focussed, and I can't see his focus. He's a reminder, sure. Is that enough?) Is it art? (okay, don't answer that. Dull, oft-repeated question).

But seeing the show reminded me of Goodbye Lenin and a spate of books that came out around a decade after the Berlin wall came down about return, and dissadents' experince of dislocation. It was as if, ten years on, history could become culture, we can deal with it on another level - enjoy it as art, somehow unreal. (Though Susanne deconstructed this argument a little on Saturday, reporting that the director of The Lives of Others had struggled to get funding, since people kept encouraging him to tell the story as a comedy. The message of that: Don't take the Stasi too seriously?) So what then does it mean that Brian Haw's presence is in a gallery? Does that ossify it? Mean it is history? What does it mean for us?

I also finally visited my local museum a couple of weeks ago. I have been putting it off for years, partly because it is just too close, partly because I don't want to celebrate these things in boxes. But I figured I need to engage with whatever it is the Imperial War Museum is trying to do. Confusing thing is, I still have no idea what it is trying to do.

You walk in and face a barrage of tanks and an enourmous V2 missile (I now understand why I have an allotment; that great hunk of vile metal hit houses opposite me on Aylesbury Road). They seem to be pointing at you, or rather (since you move) at a tiny dog hanging from a parachute. The little signs are all 'objective', descriptive enough. Each individual piece is not, as far as I can tell, glorifying war, but it's hardly critiquing it either.

Having faced the tanks (and survived), I watched a film on crimes against humanity, and wandered through some of the Holocaust exhibition. It's huge, and made me feel sick (which surprised me, given that I read masses on the Holocaust for my PhD and before, so thought I might be somewhat innoculated). I didn't make it to the small corner that looks at the Gulf War or the Falklands; will go back.

Outside, you meet a piece of the Berlin Wall, and the Peace Garden (ahem, peace is only outside). It's a gorgeous sunny day and you are face to face with two enourmous guns. I stand in front of them and am just bemused; I just don't understand how anyone can see these and not think of the pain/death they cause. I'm losing/lost my ability to empathise with people who 'get' war.

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