Through The Looking Glass

Exhibited at the Degree Show University of Northampton (Old Campus), UK - between 8th - 15th of June 2018 and in the Free Range Gallery in London, between 28th June to 2nd of July 2018.

Final University Project:

 

The project explores how cultural heritage is represented through mannequins/dioramas. It questions whether they create a dark sinister side to history and if there is any authenticity in what they show. Exploring The Uncanny by Sigmund Freud draws attention to how museums create eerie displays/shows by mistakenly making the person feel uncomfortable and uncertain. The play of fear on one's imagination is doubting whether it is animate (alive) or whether the life-less figure is inanimate. Ever since the renaissance, artists have used mannequins as tools that aid their drawing, painting or sculpting human form. It was not until the 19th century that this dynamic changed, no longer functioning as a substitute they now become icons, muses and fetishes.


Like shop windows, the mannequin itself is created from an idealised viewpoint of how someone should be/look i.e. slim body shape. One could question the true authenticity of the exhibit, as it could be argued that the mannequin and displays within the museum are an idealised viewpoint of history. Created by the creator who has specific viewpoints museums lack discussion, histories and interrogation (1). The life-like identifiable mannequin creates uncertainty, opposite to shop window displays of the play on the sinister and ‘eerily’ uncanny, preventing the spectator developing an opinion. 


Theatrical device: “dark space, through a brightly lit window is somewhere one can peer to see something magically different” (2). The dioramas in the environment of the museum resemble something lifeless and inanimate. Originally, dioramas were intended to be for entertainment purposes as art theatrical movement devices resembling the sublime. The dioramas in the location are initially 3D photographic stills, waiting for the spectator to come and gaze at it for entertainment (3). The level of entertainment can be questioned with the theories of Guy Debords Society of the Spectacle, that there is an abandonment of history founded in historical time and as false consciousness. 

 

Rather than a functional device of the mass media entertainment with modern capitalism, the result is also a separation of society of its own history (4). A passage way into a new dimension where the museum curators project their vision/style on factual history onto the world, often portrayed in darkened rooms and lit dramatically; the dioramas appear like a theatrical shop window displays, creating a commercial aesthetic. One has to remember that the display is showing something as it was in the past, or once lived - the commodification of death.  Playing on the distance, absence and presence is fundamentally the construction of material things as objects of desire. The reflections in glass is a reminder of the present while one gazes into the past. Museums are cemeteries in the sinister promiscuity of so many bodies unknown to one another (5)


The clothing on the mannequin is a reminder of the person who once wore the garment is no longer present. The photograph plays on the iconic ‘wholeness’ within the exhibition, as a syntagmatic visual spectacle of the posed image of both the dioramas and the object of the photograph itself - but they are separated from the materiality of the objects. 

Project images:

(1) The Americas Research Network. (2017) Interview: From the Museum of the Spectacle to a Museography of Scission. Arenet [online]. Available from: http://arenet.org/Borders-Participants.php [Accessed 23rd March 2018].

(2) Insley, J. (2017) A brightly-lit window in an otherwise dark space: the museum diorama. Museum Crush [online]. Available from: https://museumcrush.org/a-brightly-lit-window-in-an-otherwise-dark-space-themuseum-diorama/ [Accessed 23rd March 2018].

(3) Anon,. (n.d.) Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation (Dioramas). Dictionary of Victorian London [online]. Available from: http://www.victorianlondon.org/entertainment/diorama.htm / [Accessed 23rd March 2018].

(4) Debord, G. (1983) The Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red: Michigan, p.3.

(5) Kim, H. (2018) Graphic design discourse: Evolving theories, ideologies, and processes of visual communication. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.