Eilean Hooper-Greenhill

> Space has a History

In the Middle Ages there was a hierarchic ensemble of spaces and fixed places. The medieval space was the space of emplacement, with reciprocating spaces that reflected each other; urban and rural spaces, sacred and profane spaces, supercelestial, celestial and terrestrial places. Within these fixed and hierarchical emplacements, meanings, relationships, and similitudes proliferated endlessly. Within the princely collections of South Germany and North Italy throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the interrelationships of material things could be endlessly conjured according to secret analogies and resemblances [1], signatures could be read and reread, magical and carefully crafted artefacts placed in conjunction with natural things to reveal the hidden links of the world. [2]

The static, enclosed space of emplacement with its endlessly circulating interior meanings was opened up by Galileo whose work exposed an infinite and infinitely open space, where a thing's place was revealed as only a point in it's movement. Extension was substituted for localization. Thus the meanings of things had no anchor and it became necessary, in an endlessly fluid universe, to find fixed points of relationship between things. The two-dimensional table of knowledge was substituted for the circles of reciprocity [3] and taxonomies were drawn up that established, once and for all, the 'true' families and exact relationships of things. Notionally, the old fables and stories of the incremental Renaissance way of knowing were discarded as false, irrational and unscientific [4], and measurement and order were used to establish proximities among material things.

The great theme of the nineteenth century was history. The accumulation of material that demonstrated the contingently renegotiated meaning of the past was one of the elements that constituted the emergence of museums as public places. Napoleon used the rewritten script of the King's Palace of the Louvre to show and celebrate the Republican government and to constitute the potentially dangerous masses as citizens of that Republic. Through the bringing together and displaying of material things which had been violently taken away from their previous religious, aristocratic, royal and enemy owners a space was constituted where new values of liberty, freedom, fraternity and equality among citizens of the State could be both produced and reproduced. In becoming a visitor to the Musee du Louvre, the subject willingly and enthusiastically embraced a new ensemble of social, cultural, political and economic values. The reorganised newly disciplined spaces of the old haphazard royal palace acted as one of the new technologies of power, control and supervision of both subjects and material things. In the assembling, ordering, classifying, placing, cataloguing, labelling, conserving and displaying of thousands of paintings, sculptures, clocks, tapestries, mirrors, jewels, coins, books, live animals and plant specimens new curatorial practices and values began to emerge in the Musee du Louvre, the Jardin des Plantes and other related institutions. [5] New separations were made between types of material thing. Natural things had their own spaces where before they had often been part of a general collection. Separations were made between the works of living and dead artists where previously the size, shape and content of a painting had been the factors that determined the classifying code. The 'authentic' and the 'fake' became new categories, where previously a complete series had been more important. New subject positions emerged. [6]

The Louvre acted as a programme, a model for other museums that were rapidly established in Europe in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. Museums emerged as part of new relations of power and of new forms of governmentality. In Britain, the British Museum had been established before the Louvre and thus followed the earlier programme, that of a princely or gentlemanly cabinet. Napoleon had established a network of interconnecting museums across France, with the Louvre acting as the central clearing house. In Britain no such logical programme was followed and museums emerged haphazardly during the century, some run by Literary and Philosophical societies for their members, some, in the first half of the century, set up by mechanics institutes for the benefit of the working population. Most museums were linked in some way to philanthropic movements, and most had quite explicit, although varying, educational aims.

Contemporary space is still not entirely desanctified and this hidden presence of the sacred nurtures spatial divisions that we nowadays take for granted; the divisions between private and public space, or family and social space for example. [7] The spaces and sites within which we live are constituted through specific sets of relations that delineate one from another. 'Hetereotopias' function as sites that are real and lived, but which act as counter-sites, counter-utopias, special spaces that are simultaneously both mythic and material. The functions of heteretopias can be constituted and reconstituted according to the needs of the specific society within which they are located. Thus the 'museum' as heterotopia in the fifteenth and sixteenth century functioned as a space where meaning could be eternally reread, reinterpreted and rerepresented, where the relationships of the world could be reassembled; the 'museum' of the seventeenth century functioned to fix a final meaning for material things in order to bring words and things into a finite and visible relation. The 'museum' of the nineteenth century functioned as a general archive in which time never stopped building, in which things of all epochs, all styles, all forms could be accumulated and preserved against the ravages of time, in perpetuity. The Museum acted and in many ways still acts (and not least, conceptually) as a microcosm of the world, as a universal sacred space where Man can rediscover and reconstitute his fragmented self.

But how is it that heteretopias actually work? How is the project of accumulating the archive of the world organised and whose world is it that is so organised? How is the myth of universality created and sustained? How is the myth of the universal Man constituted? What are the power/knowledge relations within this particular sacred site? And if the functions of heteretopias are open to change, is this happening in the site of the museum and if so how? In standard 'museum' literature, the identity of 'museums' is taken for granted, accepted as given, as are practices of collecting and of accumulation. A continuous identity is assumed from the 'cabinets of curiosity' to the present day: thus 'the modern museum effectively dates from the Renaissance' [8]; and 'collecting is an instinctive drive for most human beings'. [9] Essentialist notions of ahistoric practices blind us to both the genuinely long-term but changing and often discontinuous persistence of some elements of the musological articulation, and the often abrupt re-evaluation and reclassification of other elements.

One of the problems of starting to analyse a field as diverse as that of the museum is to find a way of dividing the area to be tackled. Foucault uses an analytical scheme based on the spatialisation of the medical discourse in 'The Birth of the Clinic' which is likely to be useful in other fields. Foucault used three levels of spatialisation of discourse. In applying these levels to the field of museums, primary spatialisation will focus on the selection and meaning-making practices that relate to the material things that constitute the collections of museums; secondary spatialisation will pay attention to the museum as a multiplicity of frames for the articulation of material things, subjects, and knowing; and tertiary spatialisation is characterised as the study of the social processes and the broad contextual field within which specific museum-related practices emerge and operate.

> Primary Spatialisation in the Museum

'The museum has a unique role as a repository for three-dimensional objects gathered from both the natural and the man-made environments'. [10] The gathering of objects is generally referred to as collecting. Collecting can be active or passive. An active collecting museum would be buying things on a regular basis and soliciting material from other appropriate sources, gifts, bequests, permanent loans. A museum that collects passively waits until things are offered and then decides whether it is appropriate to accept them. In both cases the decision as to appropriateness should be referred to the collecting policy ... Policies are premised on the idea that a complete table of knowledge is possible. Thus curators are exhorted to fill the gaps in the collection, [11] eliminate the empty spaces in the table of difference, complete the picture. In this respect it is very likely that the work of the museum curator in classifying his/her collection is close to the work of the nosographers classifying disease. Morphological differences define the position of the object within a hierarchical taxonomy.

In thinking about what to collect and in defining collecting policies it is the material thing that has predominated. Thus museums hold collections of 'costume', 'lepidoptera', 'silver', 'German Expressionist paintings'. The disciplines of the museum are those that tend to be object-based; natural history, geology, art, decorative arts, archaeology, social history. These divisions spring from nineteenth century concerns and from the collections that were accumulated mainly by private collectors at that time. Later these collections found their way into museums and in many instances form the base upon which practices today are articulated. The concentration on the the artefact or specimen as material thing tends to lead to classifications that emphasise the visible features, the technologies or types of thing, the stylistic variations, rather than the social relations or articulatory practices through which the particular artefact emerged. Thus we have different types of iron artefacts, demonstrating different iron-making processes and different uses of iron at the Museum of Iron, Ironbridge. It is the substance, iron, and its different material manifestations that is the concern of the museum.

Museum classification and documentation systems constitute curators as seeing, knowing, and valorising subjects. Where classification systems are consciously in operation, they can reveal both those things which are to be valued and, simultaneously, those things which will not be accorded value. Porter has demonstrated how recent British social history classification systems treat the work of men and women differently, and how this has contributed to the invisibility of women in displays. [12] 'Domestic life' and 'working life' are two separate categories, with things which were used for washing, cleaning or cooking by women being placed into the category of 'domestic life' regardless of whether or not the items might have been used in an industrial situation. She also demonstrates how the concentration on material things to display 'history' presents an entirely distorted picture in respect of those people who barely had a material existence. Curators working only from material things cannot see or know about those many aspects of life that are not revealed through this perspective.

'The primary purpose of collection documentation is to insure the permanent and individual absolute identification of each item in the collection'. [13] Material things on entering the museum are labelled with a number that positions them in both a spatial and a knowledge hierarchy, a place on a shelf and in a card system. The opportunities for exploiting multiple meanings are limited by the amount of cross-indexing that is possible. 'Few museums have the resources to provide more than five manual indexes ... an object name index, object period index, collection place name index, donor index, and storage location index'. [14] Any other known information about an object is placed in a file which may contain related letters, press-cuttings, references to similar items in other collections etc. It is easy to see how the human dimension of artefacts is irretrievably lost in this system, and how dependent museums are on knowing about the history and articulations of the material thing before it entered the museum. The museum itself is a data-processing system, often rather an inefficient one, but one which is absolutely dependent on forces and relations that operate outside its parameters.

At the level of primary spatialisation, therefore, much of the curatorial work of the museum at the present time closely resembles the work of the classical episteme. A two-dimensional encyclopedic classification, based on the visible features of things is perforce the goal. The development of philosophical questioning or of the human sciences in the museum is hindered firstly by the concentration on material things which effectively conceal non-material human relationships, and secondly by the dependency on the information which accompanies the artefact or specimen as it enters the museum data-bank.

> Secondary Spatialisation in the Museum

With the concept of secondary spatialisation, the analysis focusses on the way in which material things, having become part of the data held by the museum, are framed and articulated. We could address how and why some things are concealed and others are made visible, in other words what are the procedures and decisions that are necessary before material things are regarded as appropriate for display. We could consider how the building itself, its internal and external spaces and its furniture, articulates with the processes of display and exhibition. The social, ideological, economic, and cultural factors that interact in the constitution of the tasks the museum undertakes should be analysed. These tasks are currently being re-articulated in Britain with the emergence of a new set of prescriptions of what it is possible to do, say or see.

The primary feature of display as a mode of transmission is that it is structured on the principle of visibility. Objects are laid out so that they can be seen. The sense of sight takes precedence over other senses, those of taste, smell, hearing and touch, and indeed it is a rare display that manages to incorporate any of these. The visible features of the objects are the most important and other features of them, their use, their history, how they would look in motion, etc, are all difficult to portray. Display is static and timeless. Time is not a feature of most museum displays, in that the effects of time are minimized, and indeed often disguised or denied. The objects are not perceived in space and time, so that only a very limited experience of them is possible. The visible itself is often only a limited visibility, with what is considered the front view offered to perception, and this is presented within narrow height limits.

The combination of objects is generally linear. They must be consumed while on the move, walking, past a series of fixed points. The effect of laying out objects for linear consumption is to produce a single narrative, generally with only one viewpoint, or one argument presented. Often the theme of the display will be so concealed that even this narrative is unappreciated. The three-dimensional, philosophical links between the objects are inaccessible and unattainable to almost everyone. The internal furniture of the museum has a part to play in the way in which things can be spaced, placed and known. The display cases themselves dictate the organization of knowledge. Four display cases of the same size requires an exhibit with four even-sized parts to it. Each section must be of roughly the same aesthetic quality, and conceptual weight, whether this suits the material or not. Space and knowledge articulate in the museum in a specific manner. The spatial arrangements of the exhibition divide, control and give meaning to the material things, the desires of the curator, the bodies of the public.

This kind of physical structuring, this three-dimensional classifying or cataloguing, this physical organization of material according to the dictates of an external matrix is likely to lead to a form of knowing that consists merely of a showing, a putting out on display. In the seventeenth century this form of knowing was paramount: to have seen something was to know it. But today, it is often felt to be inadequate and constricting. What happens to a philosophical argument if the display case is too small?

The building which houses the collections has been usefully analysed as a script for social action [15] where the material references of the architectural spaces and forms act as 'doing codes' both in the constitution of an ideal citizen, and in the understanding, in terms of things seen when and where, of a specific discipline, art history. But it is useful to ask how far does the form of the museum building and the arrangement of internal spaces in fact construct a way of seeing a particular subject matter? Is history to be seen as a chronological single thread narrative, or do the spaces permit a thematic comparative approach? Does the knowing subject (curator, visitor) abstract the building from the perception of things or does the form and material specificity of the building intimately shape the way things can be known? Does the building itself influence curatorial decisions as to what can be shown and what must remain invisible and if so how?

That the museum programme is currently being rewritten can be observed from the way in which new subject positions are emerging. Up until the last twenty years the professional staff of a museum was almost exclusively made up of curators. During the late sixties, new positions evolved, those of the designer and the conservator, and the numbers of education officers expanded quite considerably. In the past two years subject positions have shifted again with the emergence of the marketing manager and the development officer. The role of Director is now firmly one of manager and entrepreneur rather than of scholar.

> Tertiary Spatialisation in the Museum

In museums in Britain during the last century there has been little evidence of as compelling a conjuncture of social, ideological, economic or political factors as was the case in France at the end of the 18th century when museums were established as an intersecting and coherent network across the country. Up until very recently the museum field could be described as erratic, fragmented and diverse [16] and in many ways, many museums were and still are underdeveloped and archaic. However, in the last two years there has been a quickening of events at the tertiary level that will lead to changes in museums in the next few years that can barely now be envisaged. Thatcher's Britain is a society in the throes of radical shifts in values, practices and ideologies. One probably unanticipated effect of the lurch into the enterprise culture with its emphasis on plural funding for previously state funded institutions, its call to the market as an arbiter of survival, and at the same time its need for a rewritten history to justify very hard-edged social policies, is newly written scripts for museums. Museums are currently referred to by government as the 'museums industry'. The annual turnover of museums and galleries has been identified as £231 million. The overseas earnings of museums and other arts organizations equals that of the fuel industry. Museums are presented as having the potential for inner-city regeneration, and for propping up the economy in run-down urban and rural areas. [17]

Recent research [18] has for the first time presented a comprehensive picture of the range, identities, scope of collections and staffing patterns across museums in Britain. This research is on-going and will gradually become more and more detailed. Research into visiting patterns and patterns of museum use are increasingly called for as financial accountability begins to bite. As local services are privatised, and competitive tendering becomes more common, museums are having to describe, justify and quantify their work in relation to the work of swimming bath managers and cemetery organizers. Time management in relation to new descriptions of duties, with each quarter of an hour noted, described and accounted for, is becoming a part of the work culture of museums as in other sections of society.

A demand for training has accelerated, both from museum workers who feel their lack of both specialist and general expertise in relation to other professions and from government, who are currently funding a training needs assessment on a national basis for all levels of workers, and a new Museum Training Institute which will deliver new forms of training on a far more thorough and regular basis than hitherto. Regional training officers will be established across the country and new methods of quality assessment are being developed. Training officers are being appointed in some of the larger national museums.

Government wishes museums to be more self-supporting and to this end has cut budgets in real terms and insisted on museums finding new sources of finances with new funding partners. The Audit Office has investigated some of the National Museums and on discovering the need for enormous sums of money for building repair, object conservation, and redisplay, has suggested the sale of some of the collections to meet the bills, and prepared legislation so that powers of disposal have been given to the trustees. As new trustees are appointed, industrialists and entrepreneurs are replacing academics and new, more interventionist ways of working are evolving. Museums are being redesigned as corporate industries, staff roles at all levels are being redefined, and new relationships to the burgeoning tourism and leisure industries are being negotiated. Museums are beginning to become conference managers, and hotels owners. Employees who fail to adapt to these new demands, or whose skills are no longer seen to be relevant, are abruptly removed.

All these changes at the tertiary level will have extremely far-reaching consequences at the levels of both primary and secondary spatialisation.

> Conclusion

The nineteenth century museum was constituted as a general archive, an accumulation of things from all places, of all styles and all times, with a double mission to both transform the mob into 'men' of taste and discrimination, and to provide a sacred site for contemplation and self-renewal. Although these and other forces (civic pride, individual vanity, educational desires) led to the establishment of many museums during the latter part of the nineteenth and the very early twentieth century, the vision was lost and the enterprise foundered on the need for ever increasing resources at a period when two World Wars drained what resources there were into more pressing areas. During the twentieth century the growth of museums was relatively haphazard and their role in social life tenuous, uncertain and variable. Collections were accumulated without clear direction and were often held without registration or documentation.

It was not until the mid nineteen-sixties that collection management procedures were overhauled and a long process of developing systematic procedures was begun. [19] These processes themselves are currently generally limited to the naming, numbering and listing of individual items. Knowing, seeing and doing in museums is constituted in a unique way through the articulations of material things and space at many levels. The organisational demands of handling and sorting large quantities of three-dimensional things are superimposed on the need to research, document and make available the information that may or may not accrue to the artefacts and specimens. The techniques of collection management which are vital to the project of the museum are often so overwhelming because of the numbers of things involved and the paucity of resources with which to work that the manipulation of data is severely hampered.

The internal and external spaces of the museum partly constitute the way in which material things can be grouped and made visible. The articulations of material things, internal gallery spaces, internal and external built structures affect both the desires of the curator and the perceptions of the visitor. The physical three-dimensional experience of the subject in the space of the museum is the knowing in the museum. It is a spatialised perception, a form of knowing that involves bodily responses and movements in a three-dimensional knowledge-environment where the possibilities of what may be known are partly defined in advance through both the processes of collection management and the interrelationships of material things and museum spaces.

Up until recently this knowledge-environment has had the appearance and presented things to be known in a form reminiscent of a three-dimensional trade catalogue. In the last few years the shift in museum practices has been away from the accumulation and mere documentation of collections into a need to 'interpret' those collections for a broader audience. The presentation model generally referred to is that of television, and new displays have been designed that work with themes, with three-dimensional models, with computers, and with audio-visual equipment. The last two to three years have seen an extremely rapid acceleration of change, and specifically in relation to the audience for museums. If museums are to become largely self-supporting corporations, then the museum visitor, tolerated in the curatorial hey-day of the 3-D catalogue, offered educational and enlightening experiences when the designer and educator had greater power, now becomes, in the language of the marketing manager, the paying customer, the market. As museums become market-driven, and collections are 'delivered', the older values and assumptions that have under-pinned museum work since the beginning of the century become redundant.

Identities of material things and of museums themselves are unstable and precarious and subject to constant change and modification. The qualities and quantities of change have varied at different historical moments. Currently, in Britain, the pace of change has quickened and the change is of a far-reaching and radical nature, touching all aspects of social life. Museums, so slow to change at the primary and secondary levels of spatialisation from internal impetus, will be radically reconstituted through the articulations at the level of tertiary spatialisation of external economic, cultural, ideological and social ruptures.


[1] H. O. Bostrom, 'Philip Hainhofer and Gustavus Adolphus's Kunstschrank in Uppsala' in O. Impey,and A. MacGregor, eds., The Origins of Museums Clarendon Press, 1985, p.90-101.
[2] L. Laurencich-Minelli, 'Museography and ethnographical collections in Bologna during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries' in O. Impey and A. MacGregor, eds., 1985, p17-23.
[3] M. Foucault, The Order of Things Tavistock Publications, 1970, p.74.
[4] Older practices continued to persist after the emergence of the Classical episteme, see W. E. Houghton, 'The English virtuoso in the seventeenth century', Journal of the History of Ideas, v.3, 1942, part one, pp.51-73; part two, pp190-219. This suggests that Foucault's episteme is not monolithic and that more than one way of knowing can exist at any one time. See E. Hooper-Greenhill, 'The Museum: the socio-historical articulations of knowledge and things' PhD thesis, University of London, 1988, pp.345-346.
[5] P. Wescher, 'Vivant Denon and the Musee Napoleon' Apollo v.80, pp.183, 1964; E. P. Alexander, Museum Masters: their museums and their influences American Association for State and Local History, 1983, p.93-4.
[6] Alexander, 1983, p.95 and C. Gould, Trophy of Conquest: The Musˇe Napoleon and the Creation of the Louvre Faber and Faber, 1965, p.20, both discuss the emergence of picture conservation as a discreet and specialist activity; K. Hudson, Museums of Influence Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 6, and 41, mentions dealers and art historians; and Wescher, 1964, p.183 discusses the specialist staff recruited for the new museum.
[7] M. Foucault, 'Of other spaces' Diacritics v.16, no.1, 1986, p.23.
[8] P. Whitehead, The British Museum (Natural History) Scala, 1981, p.7.
[9] E. P. Alexander, Museums in Motion American Association for State and Local History, 1979, p.119.
[10] S. M. Stone, 'Documenting collections' in J.M.A. Thompson, (ed) The Manual of Curatorship Butterworths, 1984, pp.127-135.
[11] P.J. Boylan, Towards a Policy for Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Services Leicester Museums, Art Galleries, and Records Service, 1977, p.26,28,29.
[12] G. Porter, 'Putting your house in order: representations of women and domestic life' in R. Lumley, (ed) The Museum Time-Machine Comedia/Routledge, 1988, pp.102-127.
[13] C.E. Guthe, The Management of Small History Museums. American Association of State and Local History, 1964, p.35.
[14] Stone, 1984, p.134.
[15] C. Duncan and A. Wallach, 'The Museum of Modern Art as late capitalist ritual: an iconographic analysis', Marxist Perspectives Winter,1978, pp.28-51; C. Duncan, and A. Wallach, 'The universal survey museum' Art History v.3, no.4, 1980, pp.448-469.
[16] A. Drew, 'The Presidential address' Museums Journal v. 85, no.3,1985, p.115.
[17] J. Myerscough, The Economic Importance of the Arts in Britain Policy Studies Institute, 1988.
[18] D.R. Prince and B. Higgins-McCloughlin, Museums UK: the Findings of the Museums Database Project Museums Association, 1987.
[19] Stone, 1984 and D.A. Roberts,'The development of computer-based documentation' in Thompson, 1984.

A longer version of this article originally appeared in Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, vol. 3 no 1 (1990).


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