Project History

History of the project

In September 2013 we responded to the invitation of the Victoria & Albert Museum to think around the notion of activist objects. During that workshop two main issues emerged; the first concerned the political agency and nature of the ‘activist objects’: What makes an object activist? How are object politically activated differently in different contexts and situations? And to what extent these objects enable (or disable) different political possibilities? The second issue had to do with the process of contextualizing such objects for an exhibition: How to collect and exhibit objects without disarming its distinctive political nature? What kind of transformations takes place when an activist object becomes part of a museum collection? Would its political characteristics be deactivated? The entrance of the material culture of social movements into a museum poses a risk of institutionalization and makes evident at the same time the fragile political condition of these objects. A tension seems to emerge between the institutional practices of archiving and documenting and the political nature of these objects.

Considering the above we want to continue this discussion and propose an approach to activist objects that re-articulates the previous questions in relation to the practice of collection, archiving, documentation and exhibition. We want to test the idea that the activist nature of certain objects is intrinsic to the process of being documented and archived. There is an interesting arbitrariness here which requires our attention. This approach demands us to think the timeline from the moment in which these objects acquire certain political characteristics until the moment in which they become part of an archive. Can we discern a certain transformation between these two situations?

In the process of trying to engage with these questions we have decided to create a website that would act as an online exhibition in itself or as a political object that can potentially enable other kind of activities and open up a productive discussion concerning the politics of digital objects. In addition, through this framework we hope to establish very strong links with practitioners and other people who work and make objects as well as problematize with the idea of design and exhibition.

Attached here is our first ‘exhibit’ (below) – Eleanor Casella’s map of the idea of the intersection between activists, academics, and curators that was created during the process of finalizing this idea at CRESC in Manchester. The map was first created when we started thinking of this workshop and tried to conceptualize it in relation to the idea of the ‘tour’. The main idea was to focus on the design of a tour event. The idea was to create a collaborative partnership between curators, activists and academics in order to explore the constraints of the museum exhibit, of academic practices of contextualisation, and of activist provocation to ask how we might use the collaboration to go beyond what any one of these groups might be able to offer on their own. In other words, we were looking to explore the possibilities of ‘activist’ objects in ways that work at the intersection of curatorial, academic and activist preoccupation and skill. Working with the figure of ‘the tour’ – we wanted to produce a mobile critique through the staging of a series of dialogues that engage the V&A exhibit (both the objects to be included in the exhibit, the layout of the exhibitionary space, and the location of the exhibit alongside the wider V&A collections).

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