Museum of Me
How do you engage with a museum if you are also a museum?
Museum of Me is a participatory performance and guided visualization that enhances awareness in museum visitors. A group of participants is invited to sit with me, the artist and guide, for 12 minutes of visualization followed by 10 minutes of structured reflection.
Museum of Me encourages visitors to envision their own bodies as sites for the production of cultural narratives and knowledge. This intentional use of imagination taps into their own sensations, emotions and perspectives so that they can be fully conscious and present with the art they will encounter in the museum galleries.
The intention of this project is to empower citizens to be active co-creators of knowledge and meaning in collaboration with an existing cultural institution.
Museum of Me primes museum-goers for dialogue by first placing them in conscious dialogue with themselves and their own imaginations. The Museum of Me performance draws on techniques of mindfulness that enhance awareness, consciousness and attention, building on the theory that enhanced awareness of one’s own sensations and emotions will result in a more meaningful and active encounter with the museum experience.
Museums have potential to become places to experience connection and practice empathy as well as to observe and analyze. In fact, observation and analysis are most available when people are also aware of their embodied and emotional presence. In order for museums to remain relevant, they must deepen their relationships with visitors and open new possibilities for what can be experienced at a museum.
We often speak of museums as houses of knowledge and precious objects preserved for contemplation and transmission of cultural values and narratives. While museums do fulfill this special role, in the age of mechanical (and now digital) reproduction, they have also become unique sites for embodied experience of objects, images and narratives in real time and shared space. In order to meaningfully connect museum content (exhibitions) with broadening audiences and draw them into conversation that goes deeper than the selfie, museums must engage the body and the mind.
Though they generally have strong codes of behavior, museums are also flexible social spaces where we can read, listen and look, and also talk, linger and go back and forth between exhibits. As such, museums offer an opportunity for the visitor to create her own narrative, using her body and mind to move from one experience to the next. The visitor takes in exhibition content as well as the characteristics of the museum itself - its architectural space, light, sounds, smells, and the other visitors. In spite of this flexibility, many visitors feel alienated, exhausted or even bored by museums.
Most visitors have been taught to expect the museum to transmit something to them - knowledge, beauty, awe - qualities that may or may not resonate right away. Mindfulness practices may offer a doorway into deeper inquiry and resonance with visitors, bringing them to questions about how they personally relate with the work on view and the environment in which they view it.
We are implicitly taught to negate our embodied experience of the fulsome aspects of the museum because they are seen as “distractions” from the important content of the exhibition. However, I believe that becoming aware of these embodied experiences lays the foundation for a more powerful experience of interpretive content.
In our current moment of deep political and cultural division, museums have the potential to be unique sites where people connect their own experience to the experiences of others who may be radically different from them. A generation of institutional critique has revealed myriad ways in which museums have transmitted dominant cultural narratives based in colonialism, patriarchy and global capital. This work is crucial and ongoing. At the same time, people living in our culture of endlessly scrolling social media feeds and “alternative facts” are in desperate need of communion with deep time and dialogue about our interconnected human (and ecological) narratives.
This is not to suggest that museums should discourage pluralism and opposing beliefs, instead that there is potential for museums to become places to experience connection and practice empathy as well as to observe and analyze. Observation and analysis are most available when we are also aware of our embodied and emotional presence.
Through mindfulness and imagination, Museum of Me helps museum-goers feel into their own relationships with museums, allowing them to “visit” their own internal museum and encounter what arises within it. This experience provides participants with physical grounding, acknowledgment of the body itself, as well as a journey through the diverse, vivid, and often unpredictable world of images and sensations generated by the mind. When we experience the power of our own imaginations and sensations, we are more likely to be able to take the position of the other - find inroads for communication and connection between ourselves, an artwork, an institution and our broader culture.