Sunday, 27 April 2014

Digging taskscapes

It should be extremely easy writing this blog after two weeks juggernauting first around Finland visiting relatives in different kinds of typically Finnish settings - a new 'self'built detached house, small independent 20th century farm with its buildings from the different phases of its residential history and an older detached house - and then attending the Nordic TAG and holding a session. Sadly, the whirlwind of it all is getting best of me. And I have to spare some innovative thinking to my many applications. I basically have to tackle three this week. I will definitely bury myself in the library, storage room and study during my coming stay in Rome. I really have to concentrate on research for change in the nearest future.

Our Landscapes of temporalities and activities was lively - also in the ways unexpected. The programme was living until the day with people dropping out relatively late and special requests made. However, the end result was a series of interesting papers that all discussed the subject matter from different angles. We heard about start pistol shots over lakes with rock art or Sámi sieidi sites. We were introduced to the secret pagan shrines in the fifth century Athens. We heard about the meshwork at Stone Age quarries in Norway and Devil's swans in Karelia. Not to mention the sealscapes of the disappeared seal species in the Baltic Sea. I made the audience dead quiet more than once - I seem to have that special touch - but everything was lighthearted and serious at the same time. We did not discuss as much as the colleagues in the Sámi session, but the session was definitely alive.

The reoccurrent theme in the conference was multi-, inter- and transdisciplinarity. It was fascinating how the papers complaining the lack of wider understanding of other disciplines we work with and from their part the deeper knowledge of archaeology were presented in different sessions specialising on the questions of different subdisciplines at the different ends of the science - history spectrum. It is clear that the field of archaeology is wider than ever and one person cannot handle everything. The funding bodies seem to love archaeological science, but the historians have self-respect. Since the dawn of archaeology the discipline has fluctuated between positivism and idealism and the practitioners of these strands tend to 'settle' in different camps and represent different subdiscipline. This time it was pity, since the paper in the science session got discussion going, and if the two papers in question had been presented in an integrated session - we would have had a long and lively discussion!

PS. The papers of the 2012 Oulu Nordic TAG are now available at the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland web site. Sounds Like Theory to me...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Empty museum

Recycling my local Metro too early had the consequence that I did not know much of the events of this weekend in Stockholm. Nevertheless, just because I had decided to go to see the Kastellholmen off Skeppsholmen where I had never walked before meant that I managed to walk into the event of the weekend. The National Museum, Stockholm’s main art museum, devoted to the old European art, has closed and is about to go under a major renovation project in order to bring it up to the modern standards in security and otherwise.

Exhibition hall

Nowadays all major excavation and building project have open days where these projects are presented to the community and different stakeholders. Even if there were some very fancy printed leaflets around, most of the posters were simply A1 printouts and many of the smaller posters just A4s with handwritten texts. I assume this is a way to bring that sense of the moment and familiarity of everyday life into the event, although one must say it was very much cheaper this way. The museum had been emptied of all the art works, all the tills had gone and most of the specially built displays had been dismantled. In a few rooms some of the old displays and signs had been left in order to underline the change that is around the corner.

Museum Chief's former office

It was marvellous to walk around the empty rooms and wonder the many classical features of the architecture and the painted murals of the main staircase. Many of the rooms open have never been open to the general public. The emptied rooms included the former workspace of the director of the museum, the paper preservation halls and the research library. All these rooms happened to have marvellous views over Skeppsholmen or the Royal Castle. No wonder the internal workings of the museum are to move somewhere else and all these marvellous rooms become part of the exhibition space or different cafeteria or restaurant areas.

Former paper conservation laboratory

This eagerness to open the whole building to the general public raises one important question. Where are the conservators going to go? When I asked this from the black-coated person – one of the army of ‘guides’ from the restoration and building company of the Swedish state – in the former paper preservation laboratory, he did know. He said that they have been told that the conservators will move outside the city. However, when I asked, if these will be new purpose-built premises, he said they had not been told. In an empty building the restoration of which had been decided at the government level and that is filled with posters telling us how this is an important part of our Swedish heritage, this raises uneasiness.

Empty offices

The commercialisation of most cultural experiences and activities is quite alarming. The University libraries are renovated with more words spent explaining the new online facilities and cafeteria places than is used to describing the improved preservation of collections. Now here we have a museum that ‘oursources’ its conservation work somewhere nobody knows where. At the moment everything is on the neighbouring Skeppholmen, but this is not a long-term solution as the ‘guide’ explained. This shows that showing the collection and serving the viewers food is seen as the core activity of the museum, but the preserving the collection and making sure it will be presentable, is apparently an afterthought.

Former research library

Everywhere in the posters the visitors were told how the renovation work will open the museum and bring the light in. The film shown in the auditorium showed literally sunlight coming into a classical exhibition room filled with white marble statues. Maybe that will be all they are showing, since the last time I checked oil paintings and the direct sunlight do not go well together. Maybe they have some new technological solutions that allow to get rid of the dimmer rooms where the most valuable paintings are held and allow both the works of art and the visitors to thrive in the modern airy spaces. Otherwise museums have been taken over by management consultants who hope that they can pull the rabbit out of the hat...

PS. Apparently the renewal of windows includes some new high-tech material that takes away the harmful rays. Let's hope it will be a success. And not just expensive.