On object dialogue boxes: Silence, empathy and unknowing

Woodall, Alexandra (2019) On object dialogue boxes: Silence, empathy and unknowing. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 25 (1). pp. 96-111. ISSN 1352-7258

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Museums and the objects they hold are full of noise, yet at the same time, they are silent. This paper explores the oxymoronic ‘deafening silence’ of the museum object by investigating ‘Object Dialogue Boxes’ and visitors’ responses to these. Made by artists Karl Foster and Kimberley Foster, these boxes contain surreal things made as interpretive or pedagogical art objects. Use of these objects, as a form of ‘material interpretation’ enables visitors to respond to collections in imaginative, empathetic and playful ways. Yet the objects inside the boxes are unfamiliar and strange. Provoking an initial silence, they often destabilise visitors, whose expectations of museum visiting might be to know and find out, but who now find themselves in a situation of deliberate not knowing. This paper explores ‘unknowing’ as an interpretive strategy, arguing that it allows for rich empathetic responses to objects from visitors. Paradoxically, this engagement is often as much about silence as it is about dialogue. The paper experiments with the twin metaphors of cataphasis and apophasis (derived from mystical theology), to explore some of these paradoxes, and concludes by suggesting they are helpful in developing imaginative strategies for museum and gallery interpretation.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: object dialogue box,mystical theology,material interpretation,silence,unknowing
Faculty \ School: University of East Anglia Research Groups/Centres > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Centres > Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Art History and World Art Studies
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Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2018 16:30
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 09:48
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/66295
DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2018.1428665


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