I have been really looking forward to reading Show Time, The 50 Most Influential Exhibitions of Contemporary Art, by Jens Hoffmann published by D.A.P and available from the Hiddingh Hall Library. Something about the title made me burst with curiosity and an almost palpable anxiety not unlike FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out- for those less familiar with urban slang). Finally, after some waiting and a light tussle in the library for the temporary ownership of this desirable item, the curator’s version of “100 Places to See Before You Die” was in my hands. The obvious thing to do, if I am really honest, is to quickly look through the Contents page to check out your personal score- how many of those exhibitions listed in the book I have actually seen. I have to admit my score was a pathetic 3. It seems that throughout my years living in Russia, the UK and South Africa I was never in the right place at the right time to witness the history of exhibition making being shaped. Oh well, at least I can read a book about them to make up for this lack of first hand experience.
In a world where it appears that dominant culture is progressively giving greater acknowledgement to queer and LGBT experiences, Susan Ferentinos’ Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historical Sites presents an essential guideline to the interpretation of a varied and multifaceted field of study, rich in its histories, people and experiences. Attempting to provide a “starting point for museums and historical sites interested in interpreting LGBT history” (p. 3), Ferentinos succeeds in her endeavour and, consequently, puts together an enlightening publication on the art of interpretation at a time when demands for texts, such as Interpreting LGBT History, are mounting. The fairly recent and historic ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States on Friday 26 June 2015, which guarantees the recognition of same-sex marriage across the country for all citizens, has certainly propelled LGBT issues into the mainstream. This is but one instance of LGBT history which will surely call for interpretation, and despite Ferentinos’ book being published prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Interpreting LGBT History may well come to serve and guide those who wish to interpret this event, and other events prior or subsequent to it, within the spaces of an exhibition, museum or historical site.
“Archives require active curatorship”, asserts Pippa Skotnes in the foreword to Nick Shepherd’s The Mirror in the Ground: archaeology, photography and the making of a disciplinary archive. Implied in this assertion is the idea that archives are not fossils, passive bearers of meaning shelved in back rooms and moulded case files. Archives need not, should not, die with the age or people they record. Nor should they exist in stasis, their formulations and interpretations fixed and unmoving. If archives are “actively curated” as Skotnes suggests, if they are brought into the present moment through re-examination and re-evaluation, they can serve as powerful tools for new investigations into the past, and daring reflections on the present.