Making Histories, Making Memories Article

When we went to the Herbert Gallery, we were given an article to read about at the same time called “Making Histories, Making Memories” by Gaynor Kavanagh, which looks at, in particular, how museums can create histories. The article starts talking about how museums have an important role in making accurate, compelling and sophisticated histories, but there is a much equal important role in this idea: “the visitor and the nature of his/her engagement with the museum.” (Kavanagh, 1996) Straight away I began to build in the link to my idea with the marks on watches. By this I mean how the viewer looks at the object and how it engages with them on a personal level, and how they can invoke possible memories.

An interesting point made not long after is that “memories are the substance…and should be, in theory at least, a good part of the records behind the objects collected.”(Kavanagh, 1996) What’s so interesting about this is that these memories are the backbone of any object. You may be able to take something, such as a picture from the war, but on its own it does nothing. However it just takes someone to walk up and for it to be the trigger in a chain reaction that may let them think of a moment in time where they have seen something similar, such as a family member in a picture from the same time. What might be insignificant to one person will be significant to another.

However, sometimes it also depends on how the image is presented as well.  There is still a preferred way of working which prioritises the fabric and form of the object over the individual memories behind it, leading to the individual memories behind the object being subsumed or at worst lost. (Kavanagh, 1996) I think this is a key point to make as it links in to how we may present our images. For example, if I was to present a watch with just its face and nothing else, all we see it is as a watch; and its by this that we don’t associate any memories with it, as we have all seen watches before. However, if we were to look at something else on the watch at a different angle, then it completely changes the image as a whole, as we then might recognise something which might not have been seen before.

Yet at the same time when people visit museums it is hard for them to not bring their life histories and memories with them as well especially when they see certain objects; they might be there to  visit such an object for which it holds significant value to them.  In this book there is one particular section which highlights my idea in one go: “‘ Your Grandad used to have one like that, I remember when…’  Memories might also be stirred by exclusions and absences: ‘Your Gran could never afford one of those, so she had to make do with…'”(Kavanagh, 1996) This is the  type of response I want to trigger with my own pictures; I want the viewer to remember past conversations they may have had about a watch they saw, or they were given one time, or when they owned one. I want to invoke these emotions.

The article then goes on to reference something from Sheldon Annis called the ‘dream space’ (Kavanagh, 1996) in which as a visitor, we respond to various things in random ways, yet they are still personal. It could be slips of information we may have, conversations or memories; and this dream space allows us to open up our feelings and become more direct with our memories. One example used in the book is how some grandparents go to industrial/maritime museums and can recall about how it was to live in that period, the jobs that were available etc. But when they go, these recollections that they tell will be remembered by the ones they told, so when they go to something which is similar, it will trigger another lot of memories again.

However, there is a downside to being able to recall these memories, and that it is possible for them to change over time. Not everyone can ever be perfect and remember something to the point. Over time, they can become jumbled and confused, in which we may forget certain points made, leading to flawed memories. So can we be certain on what is said is the truth? Is what is being told being put on for a performance or for the sake of it?
At the same time, what happens when evidence is presented that can contradict some memories told by some people? Do we believe this new fact, or do we ignore it? It is hard to get a definitive truth out, but we must also look at it as a method of story telling as well.

Overall, I think this article is perhaps one of the most key things I have looked at to date so far for this project; it reiterates the idea that the meeting place of histories and memories evoke an emotional experience for the viewer. For me, this gives me a better context for what I want my images to do when seen; I don’t want it to just be seen as a watch with scratches. I want it to trigger a response which makes the viewer remember a moment where something of their own was like that.

Kavanagh, G. (1996). Making histories in museums. London: Leicester University Press, pp.1-13.

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