Materiality Matters: Experiencing the Displayed Object
A presentation by Sandra Dudley, Programme Director for the MA in Interpretation, Representation and Heritage, in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, in the 2010-11 Issues in Museum Studies lecture series.
What happens when we engage with material things in museums and galleries? What is the nature of our experience of objects? What is the potential impact of such experiences on our state of mind and quality of life? Why does it matter? This lecture addresses sensory and emotional aspects of people’s experience of material objects. It explores what does and might happen when museum visitors are able to engage with objects in multiple, sensual ways. In the process, it investigates the implications for both theories of the material world and museum practice.
Dominant ways of thinking about objects emphasise their potential in the communication of meaning ““ their role, in other words, as representations of something beyond the object itself. Most approaches thus tend to concentrate on the stories of objects and associated people, rather than on the fundamental ways in which people perceive and respond to physical things. In contrast, this lecture argues that instead of regarding as partial or even useless those objects that lack information or context, we should be aware too that the links between physical and emotional experience of an object ““ even an object of which we may know nothing ““ are themselves of potential value.
Sandra Dudley is Programme Director for the MA in Interpretation, Representation and Heritage, in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, UK. She is a cultural anthropologist who has worked in museums and in southeast Asia. Her main interest is in human experience of the material world. Recent publications include Materialising Exile (Berghahn 2010) and her edited volume Museum Materialities (Routledge 2010).