museum in a liminal state: cem prolongs the acceptance period for applications until 25 may 2020

In a situation where force majeure has left one and a half billion people isolated, closed cultural and educational institutions or forced them to work remotely, and has transformed (perhaps irreversibly?) the work of museums around the world, all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, are field researchers into the phenomenon of quarantine. The term appeared in fourteenth-century Venice, which, at the time, was one of the world’s leading port cities. “Quarantena” in Italian means “forty days”, it referred to the period during which newly arrived ships and their crews, who were suspected of carrying bubonic plague, were forced to remain isolated before landing. Then, as now, quarantine involved the confinement together, in strict spatial boundaries, of bodies and their activities. Thus defined, there is an evident affinity between quarantine and the function of the museum. Today, Venice, the world’s greatest open-air museum and a city which, centuries ago, paid with countless victims of plague epidemics for its right to ensure immunity, has been closed to visitors and left to the contemplation of itself. The same is true of other centres of production and preservation of visual culture around the world. We, as cultural workers, are now visitors to a Long Night of Museums, but where a large part of Planet Earth is the museum, and the night is a polar night. What happens when quarantine comes to the museum, what happens in “quarantine within quarantine”?

Taking the new circumstances into account, the Centre for Experimental Museology has decided to prolong the acceptance period for applications to the “Museum in a Liminal State” grant programme until 25th May 2020.
— the museum in a state of emergency
Think of a museum confronting risks, be they of human, ecological, or any other origins. Consider the museum’s responses to different types of challenge, think of its enemies and possible allies, and try to imagine the aftermath.

geological formation as museification
Consider archaeological layers as a display hidden from human view but organised according to the logic of chronological exhibition. Think of the Universe as a collection in a liminal state exposed to the laws of time and entropy.

control & security systems in the museum
The borders encompassed by the notion of liminality are inextricably linked to the figure of a guard. Consider the ontological change a museum experiences when (on the approach of the liminal state) security and control become the most prominent sector of its infrastructure.

the museum as place of exclusion
Consider the reverse side of a museum’s function as a refuge zone. Think of it as a place of exclusion where artefacts are in exile, deprived not only of their spatial context but also, to the fullest extent, of temporality.
Please submit your application by 25th May 2020 to Applications (in either English or Russian) should be in a single PDF format and must include:

— a description of the research project (1 page max);
— a preliminary research plan with timeline and expected budget;
— the applicant’s curriculum vitae.

Project proposals will be reviewed by the members of the CEM, with the selected projects being announced by 30th June 2020.

As an outcome of the research project, we will ask you to contribute to a publication with an essay (20 pages min) on the topic of the research conducted.
The research grant programme was launched in 2016; its first edition brought together 17 artists, curators, theoreticians and art historians from Belarus, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Greece, Russia, the USA and Ukraine. The results of their research will be published as an almanac in Russian and English in 2020.

For the 2nd edition we are calling for researchers in all fields of the humanities internationally who would like to conduct research in Russia or abroad within the period from 1st July 2020 to 31st December 2020, and offer our financial and administrative support. The financial support available depends on the required budget for each project and can include travel and accommodation expenses, while the administrative support is aimed at facilitating arrangements for research in Russian institutions if needed.

© Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

The Science of Liminal States of the Museum

“The Universe that we know was born from a point at which, for one fleeting moment, all times and all spaces came together. Such a point might serve as an ideal model for the museum, since the main function of a museum is that of unification in a limited space. But the cosmos that we know today, with all its beauty, grandeur and eternal order, cannot answer to the criteria of an ideal museum, because, when examined more closely, it dissolves into a constantly changing (temporary) collection of traces of the disappearance of other worlds. If this is a museum, it is a museum in a liminal state.

Since the time of the Big Bang, that which seems to be stabilisation is really a just moment, bounded in time and space only by the circumstances of its formation or the specifics of our perception. A moment in the sequence of extinction. The museum in our Universe smells of oil (like everything else). Oil is the product of the transformation of billions of dead organisms gathered together, which, tens of millions of years later, makes life possible for other billions of organisms that have gathered together. This same product makes it possible for certain things under the name of “works of art” to be gathered together in a museum exhibition, etc.

The withering of the past and the breakdown of the cosmic order is the main condition for the formation of a museum collection. Recall Alfred Barr’s torpedo, which ran on the liquid fuel of modern art. Or, more broadly, our Planet, this cradle of humankind, which, as interpreted by Nikolai Fyodorov, travels through the void with a mission to expand its resurrecting museum network. In Fyodorov’s vision, Earth is a museum-spaceship and the Universe is a museum network. Geology is an expanded museology. Geography is an expanded museography.

But Earth has its own time limitations. For a glimpse of its future, look at Mars or Venus, which show what may happen when a museum institution the size of a planet goes beyond its limits. Certainly, Mars and Venus, as they are today, also have their own strength limits. But they differ qualitatively from what is usual on exoplanets that are similar to ours.

At all events, stabilisation within certain limits is a source of conflict. And to view the museum as a zone of conflict is to view it correctly. This is equally as true on an “interplanetary” scale as it is within the confines of those provincial exhibitions that preserve a set of evil banalities about the origin of humankind. To study them is akin to studying the results of lab experiments which can sometimes offer more accurate information about what is happening outside the laboratory than field measurements. Traces of class, racial and gender-based violence are built into the microcircuits of the museum machine. This is not transgression of limits; it is the everyday working of the institution. Or, put differently, it is transgression with regard to freedom and equality, a beyond which has become an internal norm. Inside the “torpedo” there is horror and darkness, which, however, do not stop it being itself.

Perhaps, for all these reasons, the science of the museum should avoid the traps of stasis and “grounding”. Its brave adepts will set off into spaces devoid of life to gather materials on mechanisms which elude observation in ordinary conditions. They will be the first to visit the mysterious world of the local void of the Milky Way; to organise excavations of long-abandoned regions of the Internet, such as GeoCities; to study the activity of dormant social media accounts, to investigate criminal schemes for the turnover of dead capital and the market of funeral services, to document new burial technologies.”

Arseny Zhilyaev