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Preserving the World
Museum Ritual in the Digital Age

16. December 2015 — 28. February 2016
Esterházyho palác, 3rd floor, Bratislava
Curator: Lucia Gavulová

The exhibition deliberates over the roles of museums (depositing, preserving, treating, exhibiting, installing, etc.) in the present age of digital technology and the methods of the sensitive use of the digitizing of art in museums and galleries with respect to the preservation of the authentic aura of the original work of art. 

The exhibition project is one of the outcomes of the Digital Gallery project which the SNG worked on intensively for several years.

Museum
is a Greek word which refers to the Temple of the Muses, and its title suggests a ritual place with precious content, a space for “Revelational” creativity. In today’s secular world, an art museum is a spiritual platform where we encounter something that goes beyond us. At the same time, since almost everything that has been deposited there is considered to be worthy of attention it is preserved with reverence. A museum is not only a place for contemplation when observing art, but a warehouse, a classroom, a cabinet of knowledge… Each of these institutional roles has its rituals which are connected to the collection item which is the main building block of the entire exposition.

Visitors pass through the exhibition’s individual rooms, each of which has its own specific nature and concept and thus represents a complete and comprehensive whole. However, all of the rooms are related to each other and should provide a more coherent view of the diversity of museum functions and the methods for preserving art and cultural monuments. The technological superstructure, chosen in compliance with a methodologically anchored way of linking technology and the original, concludes the concept of the rooms in terms of meaning.

The role of Noah’s Ark was to save several people and animals of all kinds from the Flood and thus ensure the preservation of humans and animals. A similar “Ark” but with a different content has been installed in the atrium of Esterházy Palace as the representative work of the exhibition: it presents diverse attributes of Slovak museum culture while also referring to preservation as one of the fundamental roles of museum and gallery institutions.

The entry room introduces the issues related to this exhibition through the installation of the iconic work of art from Slovak National Gallery collections, Matka (Ružová madona) / Mother (Pink Madonna, 1933) by Mikuláš Galanda. It is presented in partnership with its digital, interactive counterpart and sketches, paintings and prototypes of the same motif, leaning against the wall. Thus it reacts to the museum obsession of establishing distance between visitors and collection items. Perhaps everyone is familiar with the restrictions posted in museum spaces – “Don’t Touch”, “Do Not Take Photographs”, “Do Not Get Closer than One Meter from the Painting,” in the form pictograms, information signs and alarm systems. However, visitors may touch the digital counterpart of Galanda’s original and destroy it with their touch. In the next rooms, visitors will also be instructed about where touching is allowed so that they can better understand why these signs and rules are justified, the purpose they serve and the guiding principles and benefits of digitizing methods in this respect.

The “Showcase” room entitled Inštalujeme / We Install is about the aura of the original of a collection object. Various historical and contemporary showcases found here are loans from the original collections of Slovak museum institutions (Bardejov, Martin, Betliar, Krásna Hôrka, Bratislava) and are filled with items from their collections. Visitors can see the installation of period piece electronics and home appliances (Bratislava City Museum), torsos of statues of saints (Šariš Regional Museum in Bardejov), folk art bonnets (Slovak National Museum in Martin), butterflies (Museum of Natural History in Bratislava) and the estate of Milan Rastislav Štefánik (Slovak National Museum in Martin). The showcases are installed as exhibits themselves, which is suggested by their placement on plinths and especially by the empty show-case (object) from the property of the Slovak National Gallery. On the technological level, visitors can look at the objects in one of the exhibited showcases from all sides without physically removing them.

Deponujeme / We Deposit is the depository which offers visitors a peek into a place which under regular circumstances is off limits. Gallery and museum depositories are places of preservation – democratic and free of any hierarchy – of thousands of collection items and objects, most of which have not been exhibited and many of which may never be. This depository is a small sample of the real thing. On the technological level, by sketching any shape on the touch screen, visitors can “pick” from the Slovak museum and gallery collections an unexpected object which corresponds in a certain way to the sketched shape.

The room entitled Objasňujeme / We Explain presents Svätá Praxedis / Saint Praxedis (1650 – 1700) another familiar painting from the Slovak National Gallery Collections, and numerous prints which depict the Turkish military invasions of the territory of present-day Slovakia. Collection items, which in museums and galleries become the epicenter of interpretations, are complemented on a narrative technological level, which places them within the relevant network of contexts of meanings. In the case of Praxedis, visitors will learn about the thrilling iconographic detection of the original content of this painting, period artistic techniques and the collection (of Count Pálffy) from which the Slovak National Gallery acquired this painting. In the case of the Turkish invasions, visitors can engage in an interactive game.

Zaznamenávame / We Record is the room in which visitors can slow down, stop, sit and immerse themselves in the most intimate and authentic stage of the creative activity of an artist – sketching, which represents the primary recording of the idea, the testing of artistic ability, the space where options and errors, erasing, re-drawing, writing, taking notes – anything is allowed (sometimes a shopping list or a telephone number can be found scribbled next to a sketch of a nude or a landscape). Sketchbooks of Slovak artists from the 19th century up to contemporary times are installed under glass so that visitors cannot browse through them – they are exclusive collection items which would normally be destroyed if this were permitted. But browsing is allowed on tablets which are the part of this installation. Through careful observation, visitors can also discover sketches which are true prototypes of later paintings hanging in the room (or even the opposite – an installed prototype of the transcription and painting).

There are monuments whose preservation and presentation as exhibits in a museum are not simple – for example, this applies to architectural works. The iconic grave of significant Slovak politician M.R. Štefánik on Bradlo Hill is an extensive monument that was built according to the architectural design of Dušan Jurkovič. The room entitled Vystavujeme / We Exhibit presents methods in which even an “impossible to deposit” monument can be preserved and exhibited in a gallery.

Poznámkujeme / We Note is the room in which the entire process of the creation of an exhibition – notes, primary recordings of ideas, concept designs, notes from meetings, e-mail correspondence, etc., is exhibited on a bulletin board. This exhibit shows a different type of preservation – the preservation of the process of the creation of a project. Unlike the rest of the exhibition, this room is without digital technology. The intent is not to show “how to create an exhibition,” but to document how this one was created…

The digital installation of contemporary artist Ján Šicko, which gently subverts and questions the idea of Uchovávanie sveta / Preserving the World, is an imaginary full stop at the end of this exhibition. It calls on the visitors to be vigilant and reminds them that a healthy dose of doubt is always appropriate. After all, isn’t the digital preservation of art forever and ever in a world which is transient only a myth?

 
 
 

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