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  • Unfixing repair: A critical spatial practice to disorientate the British Museum's display

Spanou, Kelly, 2022, Thesis, Unfixing repair: A critical spatial practice to disorientate the British Museum's display PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This PhD argues for an expanded notion of repair which can articulate the ruptures that occur when an object in a museum collection is dissociated both from its history, and its community of origin. To do so it examines the UK based repair culture, with the British Museum archive as a focus. This thesis is concerned primarily with objects and artefacts contested by populations, nations and communities. It argues that in hiding damage, cracks, and subsequent repairs of cultural objects is to also conceal processes of colonisation, forced removal, denial of repatriation requests, and continued extractivist practices. Such practices maintain a colonial hierarchy between the technologies of preservation and repair of the Global North, versus those of the communities to which that object historically belongs.

In my research, I ask: What is being repaired? and I argue for an expanded understanding of repair beyond that of just fixing the damage, suggesting a less technological point of view that prioritises the latest technologies of repair over other knowledges, cultures and ideas of repair. Following on from this, I investigate the British Museum as an institution and technological apparatus, examining the Museum’s universalising and humanitarian discourse and the operation of international organisations such as the ICOM, the UN, and UNESCO.

The PhD consists of two outputs: a thesis, where the ethical and critical positioning is defined and discussed, and a practice component, an installation proposal interconnected with the thesis, where the reader can navigate through a compilation of artefacts collected through the research.

The epistemological framework of the study is informed by Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ postabyssal thinking, which advocates for a process of methodological decolonisation which allows for ways of knowing, rather than knowledge itself. Furthermore, my research draws upon feminist literature, specifically Karen Barad’s ethico-onto-epistem-ology and Sara Ahmed’s notion of disorientation as a political praxis, as means of justifying a situated practice of repair, fracture, and disorientation. As such, this PhD is embedded with an ethical commitment of situating knowledge that does not presume my own neutrality and subjectivity as a researcher. Moreover, the PhD documents a shift from on site and in-situ methods of investigation, to an exploration of the Museum’s online digital archive and the proliferation of virtual museum environments mediated by large technology companies, particularly within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In establishing a research framework capable of cultivating repair, my research aims to contribute new methods for unfixing repair and to address contemporary cultural discourse in museums particularly around reparation. The critical spatial practice developed in this PhD addresses ethical and political questions about subjectivity, epistemic ownership, provenance for spatial design practitioners involved in museums.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Other > RCA Additional Subjects > Curating
Other > RCA Additional Subjects > Galleries (display spaces)
Other > RCA Additional Subjects > Exhibition Design
Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design > W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: School of Communication
Funders: AHRC [1889433]
Uncontrolled Keywords: museums; critical spatial design practice; repair; exhibition; British Museum; practice based
Date Deposited: 06 Jul 2022 11:10
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2022 11:10
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5092
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