lne Gevers curator  \  writer  \  activist

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The Museum and the Shaping of Knowledge

In this lecture I first want to adress the problem of representation in terms of the museum­practice nowadays. One of the most important thinkers in relation to 'representati­on'to whom I will pay attention is the French thinker/ historian Michel Foucault. Foucault also was the inspiring voice behind Hooper-Green­hills analysis of the history of musea as 'shapers of knowledge', which, as we shall see, does not imply that knowledge started at these places but more that these institutions were part of certain histories and as such took part in 'practices' that shaped the conditions for a certain kind of knowledge in that particular time and space.

As an introduction I will try to generally situate and explain the discourse around representation as it has been developed within the study of culture (cultural studies).

As language operates like a representational system -the system with which meaning is being created- many theortists have taken language as a model to look at and understand other modes of representation that are part of our culture. Of the different theories about how language is used to represent the world (* the reflexive, the intentional and the constructi­onist) the constructionist approach now seems generally accepted and used in different discourses about representation, meaning and culture. Among the major variants or models of the constructionis approach, which questions the very nature of representati­on, are the semiotic approach (Ferdinand de Saussure) and the discursive approach (associa­ted with the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault). These approaches analyse the processes of representation: the way in which 'things' (people, objects, events), concepts (mental map), and signs (f.i.language) are linked to each other.

Exhibitions or displays in a museum or gallery can be thought of as representatio­nal systems, signifying practices, functioning more or less 'like a language'. Through the display of objects and artefacts meaning is being produced. The elements exhibited are often 'things' (works of art) rather than 'words or images' and the signifying practice involved is that of arrangement and display within a physical space, rather than a spoken sentence or a layout on a page. Every choice -to show this rather than that, to show this in relation to that, to say this about that (labeling)- is a choice in how to represent for instance 'works of art', a choice that has consequences for the meaning that is produced and for how this meaning is being produced. Therefore the practice of exhibitionmaking is not only a 'practice of representation' that works 'like a language', it also is a strategy of producing meaning that cannot be but implicated in relations of power -between those who are doing the exhibiting, those whose works are being displayed and those who are observing what is represented. The two critiques of museums and exhibiti­onmaking that have recently been advanced, one using the insights of semiotics and the manner in which language constructs and conveys meaning (thus analysing the poetics of exhibiting), the second forefronting questions of discourse and power to interrogate the historical nature of museums, collecting and exhibiting (concerned with the politics of exhibiting) are both indispensable to understand contemporary practices critically. To put it simply: museums do not deal solely with objects but with ideas, with knowled­ge, notions of what the world is or should be. Museums do not just issue objective descriptions or form logical assemblages; they generate representations and attribute value and meaning in line with certain perspectives or classificatory schemas which are historically specific.

This brings us to the main topic of my lecture today: museums and the shaping of knowledge, quoting the title of Hooper-Greenhills book that is being used today. The writings of Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who has been called the most important French structuralist and post-structuralist (although he himself denounces both terms) of our time, were at the source of Hooper-Greenhills analyses. Concerning representati­on, Foucault shifted his understanding of discourse away from the formal analysis of the universal workings of language (De Saussure, Roland Barthes) towards an analysis of the rules and practices which shape and govern what is sayable and knowable in any given historical moment. Discourse for Foucault embraces a field which is much broader than language itself. He did not study language, but discourse as a system of representation. By 'discourse' Foucault meant 'a group of statements' which provide a way of represen­ting a particular topic, concern or project. This 'group of statements' is however far from restricted to language. It is the whole set of rules and practices that produced meaningful statements and regulated discourse in different historical periods, that interested him.

In his later work, this attention to the way discourses make possible certain kinds of representati­on and knowled­ge, was connected with a focus on the apparatuses and instituti­ons through which discursive formations op operated throughout history. Central to this focus is his attention to the way knowledge about certain issues or topics was inextricably linked with the workings of power. For Foucault knowledge was connected with the concern amongst experts and professionals to regulate and control the habits and actions of the wider population and particular groups of individuals. His aim was analysing the way specific social practices were regulated by discourse. In addition Foucaults conception of discourse also offers a specific account of the place of the subject in relation to discourse. While problemati­zing traditional notions of the subject, seen as the source and guarantee of meaning in relation to language, representati­on and knowled­ge, he emphasi­zed the way the subject itself is produced in discourse. Foucault argued that there was no possibility of any form of subjectivity outside of discourse. Rather, discour­ses do not only produce 'subjects', they are the bearers of 'subject-positions' as well. In order to communicate we have to locate ourselves in the position from which the discourse makes most sense, and thus become its 'subject'. By 'subjecting' ourselves to its meaning, power and regulation we can enter the discourse.

Hooper-Greenhill's aim is to start a more critical analysis of the 'history of museum practi­ce' in a way similar to the careful historical studies of Foucault (Madness & Civilisation, The Order of Things, The Archeology of Knowledge, Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punishment, The History of Sexuality). Until recently the structure of rationality that informs the way in which museums come into being, both at the present time and in the past, is taken as unproblematic. We take the material things as 'objects' of a particular character, without realizing that these material things can be understood in a multitude of different ways and that their meanings can be manipulated in time and space. Also we take the way these objects have been divided and classified (collections) throughout history for granted. Then there is the manner in which these objects are positioned in the context of others (exhibited), a practice that is determi­ned by a number of factors too. Within museums there is much discussion about the control of the artefact within the space of the museum and its relation to other artefacts, but the spatial divisions themselves are not problematised in terms of what they reveal as well as conceal. In relation to the represen­tations that are constructed the subsequent subject-positions are not questioned either. Relationships between subjects and objects are taken as a given, as natural and the underlying power relations are not recognised.

Not only is the existing make-up of museums taken as a given, this given is being projected back in time to explain the identities of museums at other historical moments and in other geographical spaces. The writing of museum history, for instance, consisted of identifying a forward linear development of the same relationships. Museums from other historical periods are seen as direct ancestors of contemporary museums which, at its turn, is used as legitimating tool of actual practices.

How does Hooper-Greenhill use Foucaults' critique on what he would call 'blind history', a history that fails to analyse, understand and articulate historical practices (as being plural, changing and specific) as well as the practices of the present? As a researcher of history Foucault calls into question the rationality that we all take as a given, including the very basic notions that we understand to be reasonable, or 'true'. He understands reason and thuth to be relative, rather than absolute concepts, and he proposes that both reason and truth have historical, social and cultural contexts.

In his writings Foucault has developed tools that enable him to interrogate the ensemble of practices, understood as givens, and thus understand and evaluate them. Rejecting the notion of a continuous, progressive and totalising history he works with what he calls an 'effective history', a view of the past that emphasises discontinuity, rupture, displacement and dispersion. His target are not the institutions, theories or ideology, but the 'practices' in general and the grasping of the conditions that made these practices acceptable at a given moment. This effective history focuses on long-term movements that span centuries. It priorities its breaks and ruptures instead of its smooth development in order to understand that different events and different knowledges have their own times. Just as rationality is not absolute, but relative and shaped by culture, so what counts as knowing has varied across centuries. These contexts of knowing -epistemes - described by Foucault as the unconscious, but positive and productive set of relations within which knowledge is produced and rationali­ty defined, can be regarded as tools as well.

The shifting of these structures of knowing from the Renaissance to modern times are used by Hooper-Greenhill as a method of mapping the history of the museum in a more critical manner. Foucault discovered and described three major episte­mes: the Renaissan­ce, the classical and the modern epistemes, each of them with specific characteristics while the shifts from one to the next represented a massive cultural and epistemological upheaval. Each rupture implicated a complete rewriting of knowledge.

Where the Renaissance episteme is based on resemblance and interpretation, the classical episteme no longer consisted of drawing things together, but in setting them apart, in discriminating on the basis of visual difference. Within the modern episteme things are no longer understood by how they look on the surface and classified as such, but seen as organic structures with different levels of complexity and a variety of different relations­hips to each other.

Using these epistemes as explanatory contexts Hooper-Greenhill sets out to rewrite the 'histories' of museums, as such putting aside the all-encompassing accounts that attempt to produce chronological descriptions of the development of the 'essentialist museum'. Throughout the centuries she has taken four 'case-studies': I The Medici Palace, Florence (1450-1494, three generations), II different examples of the i6th and 17th century Wunderkam­mers/Kunstkam­mers (mostly referred to as the 'irrational cabinets' or cabinets of curiosities'), III The Repository of the Royal Society (founded in 1660 and dismantled in 1779), IV The Disciplinary museum (1793 -Louvre). 

Before analysing the Medici Palace in fifteenth-century Florence, according to many museum histories the 'first musem of Europe', Hooper-Greenhill attempts to describe the historic epistemic configuration of that period. She points out how, with the new wealth of the merchants in the different city states and the accompanying conspicuous consumpti­on which soon became an expression of power, the emphasis came more on the importan­ce of a life in the present rather than the comtemplative ideal of earlier times (Middle Ages). This emphasis on contemporary active life went along with a rapid growth of the secular arts, including the arts of ornamentation and display (which effected the social status of 'artists' as well as technicians in respect to the liberal arts).

'Art' as a distinct body of experiences and classification of particular material things did however not exist at that time, neither did aesthetics in the sense we know it now. Some sort of an aesthetic sense (though no fully developed theory) existed already in the medieval period and with the growing attention to materiali­ty this led to the emergence of an aesthetics of an organism based on proporti­on, luminosity and relativity.

Another general change was the growing awareness of time. In the 15th century people became gradually aware of temporal differences, something that defiitely was not part of the consciousness of the Middle Ages, and became interested in and reactivating their past (the antiques, the ruins of Rome). This had its influence on the princes, merchants and scholars who began to establish collections (demonstrations of knowledge of the past).

Despite this growing historical interest the world was still conceived in Medieval terms: as articulated through correspondences, identified through analogies, similarities and the play of sympathies (for instance. the order of the macrocosmos resembled that of the microcosmos). The mental universe, organised by resemblance too, was animated rather than mechanical, organised in terms of correspondences rather than causes. Animals and artefacts were thought of in human terms (animated as opposed to unanimated) and the universe was both hierarchi­sed and moralised, although contradictory pictures could exist as the result of different interpreta­tions and correspondences. Also divination and magical practices formed an integral part of the structure of knowledge. Lives were subjected to planetary influences and astrology was even allowed by the church. Magic and erudition were placed on the same epistemological plane. This moralised animate universe is difficult to understand for us today: it is guided by supernatural signs, while finding its equivalent in all kinds of articulations of the many interrelati­ons­hip between human subjects, animals, artefacts and words.

Concluding one could say that the groupings of disciplines that were in operation in the fifteenth century were very different from those we know in modern times (particularly in relation to art). At this stage of the early Renaissance, the idea that the world may be at once represented, and thereby controlled, by man, has not yet emerged. Later, at the end of the sixteenth century the first efforts are made to collect and assemble the world, to represent the entirety of nature and picture the world through the arrangement of material things, both natural and artefactual. These museums of the world as a view, the 'cabinets of the world' were however not yet the aim of collectors like the Medici family.

The wealth of the Medici was, certainly at the time the palace was built (1440) and the collection established, still to be measured by weight and precious metal. In this the Medici family followed the older practices of hoarding treasure, either by storing the gold and silver artefacts in the treasure chambers, or by using the plates and vessels on the table or the altar. Later collecting began to be combined with patronaging (at first patronage was linked with communal, religious and guild-based group activities rather than being linked with personal glorification). The opportunity to commission decorative and expensive artefacts led to the birth of notions concerned with 'taste' and 'discriminati­on', having of course direct influence in the sense of creating new subject positions and new relations of advanta­ge/disadvantage. In the operation of private patronage, and the commissioning of ever more grand, complex and often narrative things which were imbued with many levels of meaning, the Medici were able to direct the gaze of their fellow citizens. They provided the visitors of their palace with a target for their expertise but controlled these new subject positions at the same time. As the Medici Palace matured, the prince himself took on the policing and directing role through the subject position of the 'connoisseur', thus separating between production and consumption.

Although there is not much hard evidence, Hooper-Greenhill makes clear through descriptions and deliveries how the entire collection was organised around the principles of the Renaissance episteme. The question is in what sense this complex articulation of different aspects, including private domestic space, material things, wealth, patronage, mercantilism, as sense of the past, and the supernatural, can be understood as 'the first museum'? It is clear that the spaces have been deliberately constructed with a view to creating an imposing impression, and to the demonstration of power. The collection included things that were specially made for a particular space and things that had been acquired from other contexts. Tapestries, tiles, sculptures and paintings belonged to the first category and in terms of quantity they belonged to the largest group. In terms of valuation the second group was much more important. These would include gems and jewels and carved vessels of precious stone, the classical statues in the house and the courtyard, and the 'curiosities' like a unicorn horn, a copper clockwork, the ostrich egg and the mirror-glass sphere. These curiosities were valued far more highly than all the commissioned contents of the house (something we would now judge different­ly) and it is this inversion of values that according to Hooper-Greenhill suggests other inversions as well, ones that we can no longer perceive but may well have existed.

By the end of the sixteenth century, collections and 'museums' had become commonplace in Europe. Although different in practice, they all had one single objective: that of producing a 'cabinet', a model of the universe made private. Till recently these 'cabinets' have been presented by museum historical surveys in quite stereotypical manners. The 'cabinet of curiosity', the archetype of which is the German Wunderkammer, was understood to be a disorde­red jumble of unconnected objects, many of which were fraudulent in character. According to Hooper-Greenhill these cabinets can best be better understood as 'cabinets of the world'. The rationality that underpinned them can be captured through a combination of different elements, including the epistemological practices of the Renaissance episteme (interpretation, resemblance, esoteric knowledge), mnemonic techniques and models of the world, which were at that time presented through two- and three-dimensio­nal exemplars, produced by writers and philosophers (Camilio& Fludd). In fact, the cabinet, insofar as it had the function of 'theatrum mundi', was among the earliest and most comprehensive attempts to constitute the world as a view. The 'cabinet of the world' in fact was a form of language, with a complex relationship to other languages all over the world. Placed within Foucault's Renaissance episteme revealing a centripetal world of order where the macrocosm resembled the microcosm through similitude, where man occupies a privileged point in the universe, and where magic and erudition are accepted as being on the same level, elaborated systems of correspondences were constructed following the model of the art of memory.

The art of memory was a mnemotechnic skill used to train and extend the memory, something like an inner writing. As such it acted as a tool for knowing. The basic structure of this skill was the imprinting on the memory of a series of places (loci) and images. There existed precise rules in relation to such mnemotic spaces, with acute visual emphasis on the regulation of space, light, the control of people, the distances between objects and subjects. Artists, f.i. Giotto, are likely to have known the rules of the art of memory, and so have collectors. With the advent of the printed book during the 16th century, it was no longer necessary to remember and be able to articulate all the parts of a complicated programs like the virtues as defined in the Summa Theologiae or the entire ordering of the universe. Already of ancient origin and practiced by the scholastics in the Middle Ages, the art of memory did not disappear when no longer necessary, but was taken up by the neoplatonic movement of the Renais­sance (ordering of the universe).

In the work of Giulio Camillo (born 1480) memory spaces and images were no longer abstract and found only in the imagination but took on material forms. He created a concrete 'memory theatre' which acted as a cognitive tool. In a single glance this 'memory theatre' could reveal the secret of the universe which could then be apprehended, understood, synthesised, and memorised. This structure of the world must have appeared to most thinkers in Camilio's time as being orderly, rational and stratified. According to the old rules of the art of memory and following a neoplatonic scheme the method of presentation was allegorical, using symbols of classical mytholo­gy, signs and words. As such Camillo's theatre represents a new Renaissance plan of the psyche, a new mental map, a mind that believed that through the divine magic power of memory it could grasp the nature of the world.(f.i. by the magic of celestrial proportion that flew from this world memory into the magical words of poetry and into the perfect proportions of art and architecture).

The 'cabinet of the world' (the memory cabinet) was like another example of this encyclopaedic project, encompassing both the space of the library and the space of the theatre. The 'cabinet of the world' presented physical things whose identities, links, and connections would be articulated and interpreted according to their visible (or made visible) signatures, and which in their totality would represent a world view, a cosmologi­cal explanation, which included within it the position of the subject for whom the view was constituted.

Many different 'cabinets of the world' emerged, different according to the major ow­ner/collector, the kind of powers the collector had,   which worldview was upheld etc. Examples are the 'theatrum mundi's' at the south of the Alps (where architecture blurred the distinction between indoors and outdoors), the princely Wunderkammers and Kunstkammers which were mainly to be found north of the Alps (Germany, Bavaria, Austria), or the Kunst­schranke (limited to a cupboard). To be mentioned is the Studiolo of Duke Francesco I (1541-87) (inspired by Camilo's Memory Theatre). Francesco used specific guidelines for the setting-up of an all-embracing collection. He was in debt of the Memory Theatre as well as the writings of Quiccheberg. The Kunstkammern (Antiqua­rium) of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich, of his brother Ferdinand II (1529-95) at Castle Ambras, and their nephew Rudolf II in Prague are close connected to one another*, not only because of the display of the items along the notions of similitude and correspondence, using 'the Art of Memory' as its main instrument, or because all of them have the same aim of encyclopaedic representati­on, but also because the items often originated from the same geographi­cal source or having been acquired by the same agents.

The most complete example is the Kunstkammer of Rudolf II in Prague. Designed to be encyclopaedic in scope, the emphasis lay more on the magical aspects of the world. Most of the objects symbolised all aspects of nature and art as conceptualised by occult philosop­hers like Robert Fludd and Giordano Bruno( magical memory system). Again the organisation depended on the concept of resemblan­ce, where the objects and their proximities suggested macrocos­mic/microcosmic links (vb Arcimboldo's portrait of Rudolf II as Vertumnus).

The Repository of the Royal Society is Hooper-Greenhill's third case-study. In the Renaissance, she states, an accumulation of objects and an accumulation of texts signified in the same way and were displayed mixed together in the same places. Interpretation was the key-word and thus writing was the privileged epistemological structure. Knowing consisted of 'relating one form of language to another form of language; in restoring the great unbroken plain of words and things; in making everything speak' (Foucault). The classical episteme can be defined by the separation between words and things. Language ceased to be the material writing of things and became simply the way of organising the representations of signs. Instead of resemblance as   primary function of empirical knowledge, since the beginning of the 17th century experience was analysed in terms of order, identity, difference and measurement. The activity of mind would no longer consist of drawing things together but in discriminating them (establishing the identity on the basis of difference). Language was no longer some hidden truth to be found, but was to be constituted as an instrument of analysis, of calculation and clarificati­on. Language became a reliable, uncomplicated and transparent medium of representation and thus became the way of organising things. History became 'natural': history was nothing more than the nomination of the visible. The documents of this history were not words or texts anymore, but spaces in which things were juxtaposed: herbaria, collections, gardens. To quote Foucault: the place of history was a non-temporal rectangle in which, stripped of all commentary, of all enveloping language, creatures presented themselves one beside the other, their surfaces visible, grouped according to their common features, and thus virtually analysed, bearers of nothing but their own individual names". Sight was left to be the almost exclusive privilege now, although, according to Foucault, there wasn't much to 'see' anymore. If we look at the botanical gardens and natural history collections from this period their importance for the classical culture was not to be found in what they allowed to be seen but in what they hid and what, in this process of obliteration, they allowed to emerge. In terms of natural history one could say: they screened off anatomy, function, concealed the organism, in order to 'raise up before the eyes of those who await the truth the visible relief of forms, with their elements, their mode of distribution, and their measurements' (Foucault). The collections born in this time were like three-dimensional catalogues, which in their physical existence confirm a being, a knowing and a truth. Although the interest in exotic plants and animals has been described as constituting the establishment of herbaria, botanical gardens and zoological collections in the classical episteme, it is not true that such curiosity did not exist earlier. But were during the Renaissance the strangeness of animals was presented as a spectacle, arranged in the form of a circular procession, the natural history room and garden, as created in the classical period, was more like a fixed ordering of things on the table. What was new in the 'age of the catalogue' (Foucault) was the form of arrangement and the ordering of material, which introduced a new way of seeing and saying, a new way of connecting things both to the eye and to discourse. The dynamic potential of relationships between things and new ways of interpreting them would vanish in the two-dimensional epistemological space of the 'museum', along with the words that formerly had contextualised material things. Things were now placed apart on the basis of their morphological features. The develop­ment and display of series of similar things became a priority. Specialised collections developed, and with them specialised institutions. Along with other separations the ordering of paintings for instance was part of a series instead of displaying them together in a mixed group of objects, titles and inscriptions* (Bretschneiders' picture gallery of the Habsburgs in Prague). Arrangements were decided according to visible features rather than symbolic meanings or correspon­dences as was the case in f.e. Francesco's Studiolo. Paintings were 'formatised' to fit into the space that was available, or even 'refor­med' to fit the pattern and match. In the same way that paintings were seen as series, as elements making up part of a whole, sculptures and other objects were to be completed. Fragments were not acceptable and replica's or smallscale copies were used to form complete representati­ons. Only at the beginning of the 18th century the question of distinguishing between 'true' and 'false', 'real' and 'copy' would arise. During the 17th century the concept of authenticity was not important and the formation of the category of 'art' had not yet emerged.

The Repository of the Royal Society was founded in 1660 by a group of men who had initially met at Gresham College as an experimental science club. They re-established themselves as a self conscious public institution. Their intention was to completely reform knowledge as an instrument to create a new 'truth'. A new rational language was to be created that would enable the new rational ordering of things. Representation of the empirical world was to be effected by language which bore a transparent relationship to things. Words at that time were still understood as representing things rather than thought.

The aim of the Royal Society was to accept as 'true' only what they could prove through replicable experi­ment and to start a comprehensive collection 'in order to compile a complete system of solid philosophy for explicating all phenomena produced by nature or art, and recording a rational account of things' (Ornstein). Together with this 'complete collection' was the aim of developing a universal 'rational' language (latin). To constitute these the tool of the art of memory still could be used, though transformed to an investi­gative tool for natural science (Bacon), with its principles of order and classificati­on being adapted as tools for further classification.

Although the Repository had specific 'Classical' epistemic intentions, other epistemic and non-epistemic factors played a role in not being able to achieve them. Certainly in relation to the lack of support and technology the aim of a complete and comprehensive unity was too ambitious. Further, as the members of the Society (virtuosi) showed, new mathemati­cal and mechanistic explanations of the world coexisted with a whole range of other, even contradictory, philosophies that had their roots in the occult explanations of the 15th and 16th centuries. So, the idea of an 'institutional museum' was emerging in 17th century England, but for a number of reasons, including the failure to develop appropriate technologies, the Repository was unable to fulfil the aims that would have established it as a new prototype/programme.

Towards the end of the classical age disciplinary technologies of power begin to emerge. According to Foucault disciplinary methods, based on visibility and control (already existing in monasteries, armies and workshops) became general rules during the end of the 17th and 18th century. Discipline was a power/technique operating through hierarchical observation, normalising judgement and examination. It is indicative of the connection between visibility and the establishment of deep-seated relations of advantage/disadvantage and the introduction of an apparatus designed for observation. Modelled upon the military deployment of resources (surveying gaze) and military administration on the one hand, and running parallel to the institutionalising of medical practice through the division of spaces and bodies, a new kind of museum emerged: the disciplinary museum.

In concrete terms it were the ruptures of the French Revolution created the conditions for a new truth, a new rationality. Out of this came a new functionality for a new instituti­on: the public museum. With the invention of democratic culture the 'museum' was created to expose both the decadence and tyranny of the old forms of control (the ancient regime) and the democratic freedom and public utility of the new, the Republic. With the liberty that was gained though, other forms of control had to be established. Education became the new form of popular management. The museum, constituted as an elitist temple that should protect the treasures of the state, also became the new apparatus for the production of knowled­ge. Museums became instruments for democratic education, and as such regulation and control. According to Foucault it is at this stage that museums begin to shape both knowled­ge and bodies.

In 1793 the 'Museum Francais' was founded in the galleries of the old royal palace of the Louvre. At first this 'museum' arranged the items as they might have been assembled in 16th century collections, with tables in the centre, paintings in multiple tiers on the walls between the windows. The only new practice was the separation between works of living and dead masters (more convenient).

However, the museum soon rearticulated its collection and methods of display. Most of the new 'curatorial' practices were, however, contingently related to political, military, and social moments. Due to the nationalising of ecclesiastical property (after 1789), the confisca­tion of the property of the aristocracy and the royal family, together with the decision to levy war indemnities in the form of precious material things (Napoleon), new and firm methods of identification and documentation had to be installed. These went hand in hand with new technologies emerging to facilitate the identification and removal of works from the conquered territo­ries (Foucault stresses how the artistic conquest was organised as systemati­cally as the military). The selection of items that were to be displayed and the separation of these from the items that would be stored or otherwise disposed of led to the develop­ment of new categories of inclusion/ex­clusion, and to new 'curatorial' processes. Among the re- articula­tion of the old palace to become a new, public, democratic space was the reorganisation of light and space. Spaces were partitio­ned and illuminated. As new classifications were made and objects were made meaningful in new ways the concepts of 'storage' and 'reserve collections' emerged. Spaces were divided into 'repositories' and 'exhibition spaces'. As such the concept of the 'temporary exhibition' surfaced. The conservation of collections became a specialist activity as well. Resulting from the production of works that were to celebrate the new history of the revolution and its greatest heroes, classifications had to be established according to size of the paintings as well as the expertise of the artists. As such a new race of dealers and 'art historians' was born, the training of artists was altered etc (Academia).

Last but not least new practices emerged as the 'museum' attempted to fulfil its function of transforming the population into a useful resource for the state. Administratively and legally the museum formed part of the state education system. In terms of the division of work subject positions were split according to different classifications of 'care'(for the collections, for the visitors). All these factors culminated into the representation of a 'museum' as open and free to all, though at the same time becoming one among many apparatuses of security and surveillance. As a result of the policy of decentralisation, these institutions -museums- were established all over France in the early years of the 19th century. Once these 'museums' had been set up in a regular geographical network in France, they were established in other parts of Europe as well.

The 19th century was the period in which all these developments coincided, resulting in the liberation from Classical rationality. In the last years of the 18th century again a great discontinuity in the space of knowledge occurred. The flat table of difference mutated in the three dimensional space where organic structures and the internal relationships between elements of these functional totalities counted. Explanations of the world were to be based on deep structural relationships (at this stage in Western culture the third dimension is the dimension of philosophical questioning). The modern episteme was constituted by the emergence of the human sciences (which is science understood as a form of knowledge   which takes knowledge itself, and knowing, as problematic). Sociology, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, history, art history, biology and geology tell the stories of the history of the earth, of life, of man, and of civilisation. The interrelationships of these forms of knowing constitute a totalising order of things and of knowledge and as such the human sciences have established themselves as the most characteristic mode of knowing in the modern age. As the basis structures of knowledge of the modern episteme are totality (a story, a theme, a history, organic relationships) and experience (relationships of things to people), knowing and knowledge have become all-involving and all-encompassing.

Although the modern age began to emerge at the beginning of the 19th century, develop­ments did nor occur everywhere at the same time and in the same way across all the various knowledges that can be grouped under the term 'human sciences'. This also counts for the developments in the 'museums'. The first cultural shifts that can be identified in 'museums' was the shift in the display of its objects. Paintings, for instance, were hung together such that the functional relation between them was revealed (chronologically, in schools, according to style). In contrast to the earlier 18th century display methods (classification in terms of theme, material, size) now a 'history of art' was created.

But as the main themes of knowledge are now very wide in scale (people, their histories, their lives and their relationships) the technologies, articulations of space, the placing of object and the creating of subject-positions become numerous. Examples can be taken from 'museums of art' as well as from other fields. Hooper-Greenhill discusses for instance the organisation of space and knowledge of the Natural History Museum in Paris under its first director Richard Owen. In 1859 Owen proposed the idea of an "Index Museum', which was much more in tune with the out-of-date theories of Georges Cuvier than with the modern ideas of Lamarck, Darwin and Wallace that were already available at that time. This Index Museum, based on Cuvier's concept of the relationships of groups in the animal kingdom as variations on an archetype, was actually realised at the end of the 19th century, when the museum opened to the public (1881). The bays of the 'Index Museum' in the central, cathedrallike hall, labelled 1-12, were to 'convey an outline of the divisions of natural History, which would be fully and systematically illustrated in the several Galleries in the Museum'. Through these spaces a knowledge was expressed that looked back to the end of the 18th century rather than having made the shift into the modern age.

Compared with the exhibition of human biology that opened at the end of the 1970's, were the space was completely rearticulated, incorporating ideas informed by several divisions of the human sciences, including human biology (exhibition content), educational technology (exhibition design), and sociology (visitor studies). A very different spatial environment emerged, with convex spaces, curved lines, smooth transitions, and several choices of route shaping both the physical and intellectual experience of the museum visitor.

The conclusion of this analysis might seem trivial but is nonetheless of a liberating importance: there is no essential museum. The museum is not a pre-constituted entity that is produced in the same way at all times. No 'direct ancestors' or 'fundamental role' can be identified. Identities, targets, functions, and subject positions are variable and disconti­nuous'. Not only is there no essential identity for museums, but such identities as are constituted are subject to constant changes as the play of dominations shifts and new relations of advantage and disadvantage emerge. Foucault: "Thruth is of the world: it is produced by virtue of multiple constraints'.


Ine Gevers

Lecture at the Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, 1995

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