Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE credits
The purpose of this paper/Master thesis is to discuss the problems arising when an object is removed from an original site, place or context and is museialized and placed in an exhibition room. This is done by examining an 1800-century hat, which is displayed in an exhibition shown at the Nobelmuseum called Alfred Nobel: Networks of Innovation, by analyzing the hat through five theoretical perspectives develop by Christopher Tilley, Igor Kopytoff, Paul Ricoeur, Donald Preziosi and Ivo Maroevic. These theories are drawn from anthropology, philosophy, art history and museology.
The study is divided into four parts. In the first the exhibition Alfred Nobel: Networks of Innovations is presented in detail and of course also the hat, which is the primary subject of the investigation. The second part focus on how the hat is made available to audience, how its meaning and significance is created by interaction with other objects, with texts, photographs, illustrations and copies and replicas of different sorts. Together with these other objects and texts, photography’s and illustrations the hat symbolizes and tells about the Alfred Nobel who lived in Paris at the close of the 1800th century. It also tells about his social, economical and cultural status, and bears witness of his networks, his membership of a social class, the Parisian upper class. It is argued that the exhibition which the hat is a part of is to be understood as something separate from other forms of media like theatre, film or litterateur, because the exhibition not just something that can read or watched, but also something that the audience are moving in. Therefore it is argued that the exhibition as a whole should be understood as a spatial and material narrative. The function of the within this spatial and material narrative is just not to tell the audience about Alfred Nobel, because the narrative that is presented by the Nobel museum is not primary dependent on the display of authentic objects but the primary value of the hat, or any of the other authentic objects, then, is not primarily to be a “true” documentary, although it is important. Instead it is argued that the primary significance of the hat is to give the narrative about Alfred Nobel life and drama. In this way the hat placed in an exhibition can be compared to a religious or ritual object, because, in capacity of being an authentic hat from the 1800th century it creates a sense of physical closeness Alfred Nobel. The third part of the study focuses on the problem of transformation, since when a object is removed from its original context it is also transformed in something else and acquires new functions, abilities, values and meanings. The problem discussed here is whether or not it is possible to say something true about the history of an object that has been museialized, like the hat in Alfred Nobel: Network of Innovations. Here the hat is analyzed through two opposed theoretical viewpoints develop by Donald Preziosi and Ivo Maroevic respectively. This generates two complete different understandings of the displayed hat: One where everything that is said about it can be understood as a construction, where the meanings and values of the hat are dependent on contemporary ideological structures. Here the hat is also understood as a means for the formation of a national self-identity and the fostering of citizens. The other one creates an understanding where the hat is a time document that bears witness about the objects original context as a carrier of information both in its psychical and semantic structure. In the exhibition, different aspects of the hats information are made readable and understandable, with the help of other objects, texts, photographs and illustrations. The exhibition is a communication system, where the object sends information to the public or audience. What is said about the object in Alfred Nobel: Networks of Innovations should therefore be considered as a truth.
In fourth and last part of the study these two opposed understandings of the hat is discussed criticized. It is argued that while a critical point of view is necessary it cannot be allowed to take over and that any true understanding of an objects history in a museum exhibition must remain perspectival and incomplete. The original site, situation or context of the object can never be reconstructed in its entirety, but only aspects of it.