Throughout their history, museums have been deeply tied to Western notions of conservation and permanence. “Every specimen is a permanent fact,” wrote Henry Osborne in his 1922 Annual Report to the Trustees, AMNH. According to Osborn, books and human works are fleeting, but the facts of Nature are immutable.
What motivates collection? What motivates preservation?
What is the relationship between an object and its context? The idea that objects ‘represent’ a larger whole - whether that is a culture, idea, or history - often conceals the historical relations of power that allowed for its acquisition.
Radically different versions of preservation are practiced elsewhere. The Zuni people of the southwestern United States carve wooden war gods, which are placed on the top of mesas and left to slowly return to the earth. Tibetan sand mandalas are painstakingly created by monks and then ritually destroyed.
Back in April, we hosted a Living Library Exchange Day with Sunrise Movement, Houston. We invited Hub members to bring a personal object related to climate change and environmental justice to leave with the museum, participants pictured below.
This is an ongoing project, and we continue to accept and document submissions. The project is built around an understanding that objects can continue to have a life outside of the museum walls. For example, air monitors actively used by Air Alliance Houston are on display and in limited use for only a short duration at the museum. The devices will then be returned to the organization and their monitoring network.