Displacement as enchantment: the poetic potential of the museum

Stara, Alexandra (2008) Displacement as enchantment: the poetic potential of the museum. In: Location: the museum, the academy and the studio. 34th AAH Annual Conference; 2-4 Apr 2008, London, UK. (Unpublished)


This paper proposes a discussion of displacement as essential to the museum and key to its cultural relevance. The museum relies on a fundamental act of distancing – a de-contextualisation of objects and a deep unsettling of their significance. Any attempt to refute or reverse this distance is not only doomed to failure but also, this paper will argue, unwelcome. For it is precisely this distance which allows the museum to realise its potential and become more than the sum of its parts. Not by evoking authenticity or attempting completion, but by accepting the gap between itself and the course of living history, and transforming it into interpretative potential. It is in this gap, this margin between museum and life, where perspectives change and enchantment takes place, where imagination is activated and can re-appropriate the distanced objects and meanings fruitfully, while acknowledging their otherness. Following a discussion of the notion of displacement in a philosophical context, the paper will then focus on the contentious ground of museums of anthropology and ethnography, with brief studies of significant examples.

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