About Museum Fatigue

"Scarecrow Video. Seattle. 2009."

“Scarecrow Video. Seattle. 2009.”

“The museum…functions in its own way. It conceals from users what it presents to observers. It stems from a theatrical, pedagogical, and/or scientific operation that pulls objects away from their everyday use (from yesterday or today), objects that it offers up to curiosity, information, or analysis. The museum forces them to move from one system of practices (and from one network of those who practice) to another…The question no longer involves renovated objects, but the beneficiaries of the renovation.”

—Michel de Certeau, “Ghosts in the City” (The Practice of Everyday Life, Volume 2: Living and Cooking, 138)

A few years back I was in a video store looking for a rental. Drama? SciFi? The latest release? Something classical perhaps? Many of the movies I had seen already, some I had heard from friends were “must see”. I had a few free hours and wanted to fill them with some entertainment.

I had a desire that needed to be met. As the amount of time I spent walking around the store gradually increased, however, it became increasingly clear that I wasn’t finding what I wanted. Despite a world of films spanning decades, costing many millions of dollars to produce, I couldn’t find a single film I wanted to watch.

Actually, this isn’t exactly true.

The problem was that I couldn’t choose a single film from among all of the ones available.  After what must have been an hour walking through the rows of shelves browsing, I left empty-handed and fatigued.

Museum designers know that the longer visitors spend in a museum, the more fatigued they become. If, however, a visitor comes to a museum with background knowledge or purpose, fatigue doesn’t set in as quickly or as intensely. Just looking becomes tiring without a context for practice. Humans need a context for understanding what they observe—a narrative or an interpretation.

Somewhere outside professionally published work and research and teaching I wanted a place to write and share some of my observations and interpretations of things that I observe in the world around me—a place to collect, comment and store things. Also a place to sometimes “get things out” in an informal way. Just in case someone else finds something of interest or has an idea to share, I thought it would be fun to also make it public. I have been considering a blog for years, but never seemed to get around to setting one up.  This spring, just before setting off on my annual trip to China, I decided to give it a go.

When it came to naming a blog, I reflected on the curious feeling of excitement, awe, and frustration that I feel when I encounter new things. Social life entices me, but it is aggravating when when meaningful interpretation is elusive. Then, the memory of the trip to the video store came to mind.

I’m hoping this blog might be part of the cure for museum fatigue.

June 2010, Nanjing.

One comment

  1. Nimrod Luz

    I was intrigued by your the “culture wear” assignment – any chance of receiving the initial assignment as it was given to the students?


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