Friday, February 25, 2011

A Week of Museums: Part 3

Today turned out to have an obvious theme-- life and death and all of the symbols, rituals and stories in between. This morning we started at the Tropenmuseum which is currently featuring ROOD or RED.

Red is an undeniable symbol to all cultures and people and its use carries many different meanings. It's actually my favorite color, but it's not a color I ever wear. In fact, I don't own anything red. The exhibit got me thinking about that, and it's probably because it is such a strong color.

As we entered the exhibit we could hear a loud heartbeat, representing the blood that pumps life through us; representing birth, initiation, marriage and death. As we went on we experienced red as happiness, luck, love, lust, energy, status, war and defense.

The Tropenmuseum's permanent collection was really nice from the perspective of cultural anthropology. It featured "tropical" countries from Asian, African, Latin and South American continents and everything was set up as a very interactive, walk-through tour that seemed to take you to a different place in time. I could have spent hours there and thought that this kind of museum could be an awesome place to do a briefing someday with a creative team.

Later we went to De Appel, or what I think was De Appel, but it felt like more of an annex. I've heard really good things about De Appel, which is why I was a little disappointed about it. To be honest, the current exhibit felt like an art school failure. It was so obvious that you walk away feeling like you really didn't get it or you did get it and "was that it?"

I typically enjoy contemporary/experiential art, but Diamond Dancer was a bit lazy and uninventive. The artist, Valerie Mannaerts, seemed to have thoughtful intentions, but executed poorly. Her use of multimedia wasn't stimulating, meaning, I didn't experience any real climax and left feeling a little blank. But then again, maybe that was the point and perhaps I'm being harsh and what do I know? If you go to this, I'd love to hear your take.

The best part about the entire exhibit was a quote that introduced the installation:

"An artist, just like an author, also creates fiction, but does so on the basis of objects. After all, art takes you to a different experience, which is at another level, not a higher or lower level, but somewhere else."

I agree that this is the role of an artist, but I really didn't feel myself taken anywhere else. Moving on...

Our last stop was the Utivaartmuseum or funeral museum and I was really drawn to this one. I've never been too uncomfortable with uncomfortable topics, but I understand how death can be very uncomfortable for people to explore and question. After all, it's surrounded with mystery, pain and loss. Typically when I think about death, I think about survivors rather than the end. This kind of museum isn't for everyone, as you can read from my co-worker Yuli's take. I agree with Yuli about focusing on the celebration of life rather than dwelling on death, but sometimes in order for us to truly celebrate life, we must learn how to mourn death. That's where the survivor part comes in.

Last spring I worked for an organization called Active Minds. My role as a mental health advocate was to take an interactive message about suicide awareness on a 10-city tour across the United States. Talking about death quickly became a proactive topic for me and during this tour I met a lot of survivors, people who had lost someone they loved to suicide and those who had survived attempts themselves. I can't tell you how many times I was thanked for sharing that message or told how important it was to keep sharing the message.

I really think there is a place for the Utivaartmuseum and I was really glad to experience it. I think this kind of museum is more comforting than it is uncomfortable and it made me feel more thankful than anything.

A really impressive and moving exhibit they are currently showing was Bedrooms of the Fallen. Ashley Gilbertson shares a strong and provocative message. Gilbertson spent time as a photojournalist in Iraq and Afghanistan, but realized that we've become desensitized with images of war. He wanted to depict war in a different light so he chose to focus on the survivor, to capture what is left behind. Often times when thinking of war, we forget to think of the individuals fighting that war, we forget to think about their relationships to others, their families, friends and communities. Gilbertson took a really different approach and I believe that because he was able to show us something we don't normally see, we are forced to pay attention and think differently.

It reminded me of a project by Joshua Berger, the creative director at my last agency. While Gilbertson honors soilders lost at war, Berger honors the lost civilians in Collateral Damage.

The theme for day 3 really was a cycle of life, beginning with energy and curiosity, pausing with some confusion and ending with somber, thoughtful reflection.

Looking forward to what day 4 has in store.

No comments: