limits of control

August 25, 2011

The exhibitionary complex, the institution of the museum: a formula for self regulation. Pervading society are unwritten rules (until broken and fined) that unwittingly regulate our behavior and social relations, rules that have become second nature and are part of how are society should preform. By abiding by these rules and social conditions you cement your position as a meaningful member of society. If you speak otherwise you are an outcast.

The museum is a control about how a civilized society should behave. When visiting a museum one should dress respectfully, admire the exhibitions at a distance, look but not touch. You must be aware of how loudly you talk, the speed at which you walk and everyone is bound to these conventions. Once you have entered a museum it is implicit that you abide by these social rules. The notion of a public institution is an illusion.  You are watched by security guards, and cameras but more importantly by one another ensuring that we act accordingly and appropriately.

As a cultural institution there is an indirect engagement with the cultural fabric of our society. The museum body, at the behest of the government, dictates what constitutes ‘culture’ and how we can interact with it. Our contribution is merely as an observer. In other cultures, say Australia’s indigenous heritage, culture is passed down through generations, through story telling and dance. Culture binds indigenous communities is a physical and spiritual connection with the land. In any modern western culture this engagement has been sterilized.

The impact of the exhibitionary complex is that the act of self regulation, the illusion of freedom, democracy, entrenches every other aspect of our lives, institutionalizing ones rightful position in society and the power relations which govern this. The transition to the museum as a public institution developed within the transformation to modern society, capitalist society. In feudal times the display of power, public executions and torture, was a visible reminder of the consequences of not abiding by the law of the day. With the onset of democracy punishment was delivered behind closed doors, criminals incarcerated in prisons hidden away from society. The system of the ‘rule of law’, of the justice system, incorporating ordinary people into the mechanisms that create stable and civilized societies, enables people to share the power which governs society. Everyone is beholden to these laws but the reality of this is contradicted by rife corruption by the rich an powerful who use their position in society to evade ‘justice’. Strauss-Kahn the former head of the IMF facing assault charges had them dropped this week.

The exhibitionary complex reinforces the notions of law and order. Violence is no longer necessary by the ruling power when you have self regulation and ‘democratic’ channels to provide justice. This is an achievement of the ruling classes, the illusion of democracy, the illusion that people have an equal say in how society operates.

salem

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