I am ambivalent about this post
A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to be part of the Myriad Faces of War conference, held at Te Papa. The focus of the conference was on 1917 and it's legacy. I was really pleased to revisit not only the military history part of myself but also literary me. I presented my work on Pat Barker, war poets and the construction of masculinity, which originates from about 15 years ago (times sure flies).
One of the keynote speakers was Dr Gorch Pieken of the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr who was considering how the First World War has been presented in German museums over the past century. A key concept for him was ambivalence and I've been thinking about this theme on and off since then. He talked about how artifacts and events provoke differing but equally true responses in people. A key example he used was the bombing of Dresden in 1945: while horrific and destructive to most people in the city, there were some in the city due to be deported to concentration or death camps and who were saved because of the bombing.
We need to be aware in the GLAMR sector that the material we collect can arrive with and elicit a variety of responses and a range of stories. In this day and age we cannot simply expect our collections to illustrate a simple didactic narrative. For me, a personal example would be Michael Parekowhai's On first looking into Chapman's Homer, aka the bull on a piano. Displayed in post-quake Christchurch it was greeted by many in the city with great enthusiasm. Yet for me, for reasons that are better discussed over a drink or two, it sums up a lot of post-quake bollocks that left me disillusioned and angry. Aesthetically I quite like the sculpture and I really like the Keats' sonnet it is named for, but every time it see it I pull a face.
We're not a homogeneous blob, we're full of stories and perspectives and experiences - so lets celebrate and sing ourselves. Hm - I've just quote Walt Whitman. I hate Walt Whitman - but that's another story.