Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rapid Response Collecting: A Practice in Wall Texts for Contemporary Collecting

Rapid Response Collecting in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum that is pioneering a critique of contemporary culture through the act of carefully collected and curated objects. In examining objects that have been selected to represent contemporary culture, the curators of the V&A are turning the focus from objects of the past (typically associated with museum display practice), in favor of turning an eye toward objects of the present. In singling out a contemporary artifact for the permanent collection, the curators are keeping objects that may potentially capture this moment in time for future generations to observe and form an understanding of what will become the impending past.

Some of the objects currently on display at the V&A include:
  • A 3D Printed Handgun
  • A pair of Primark cargo trousers, made in Bangladesh
  • A set of Katy Perry false eyelashes
  • Christian Louboutin shoes in five shades of "nude"

In response to Rapid Response Collecting, my Writing for Exhibitions course had each of us select three objects that represent the here and now of contemporary culture. Accompanying the pieces of our selection are succinctly written wall texts to aid in framing the objects on display.

9/11 Memorial Museum Commemorative Cheese Platter

This controversial cheese platter in the shape of the United States marks the three locations where the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. When the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened its doors on May 21, 2014, the tray wasn’t part of an exhibit—it was sold through the gift shop. There was an immediate public outcry over the object’s questionable taste, and the platter was quickly removed from the shelves. The 9/11 platter raises questions about the types of retail items museum stores choose to sell: is there a line between commemorative object and kitschy souvenir?

Stock photo from the launching of HealthCare.gov

On October 1, 2013 the Affordable Care Act launched the HealthCare.gov website. The problem was the website didn’t work. Users were greeted by the smile of a mysterious woman—a stock photo image that soon became an icon of the website’s unsuccessful launch. In the days that followed HealthCare.gov’s debut, millions of people tried and failed to purchase healthcare. The anonymous woman’s smiling face served as an ironic counterpart to the public’s frustration with a broken, ineffectual website. At the same time, this now-iconic image also symbolizes the start of health insurance reform in this country.

Unworn Hazmat Suit (2014 Ebola Outbreak)

“The personal protective equipment we wore in the Ebola Treatment Unit becomes excruciatingly hot, with temperatures inside the suit reaching up to 115 degrees. It cannot be worn for more than an hour and a half.” – Dr. Kent Brantly

While working in West Africa Dr. Kent Brantly treated patients with the Ebola virus and, after contracting the disease, became a patient himself. After testing positive for Ebola Brantly returned to the US for treatment. His treatment led to  worldwide media coverage of the virus, a response to him being white and American with a disease afflicting predominantly West Africans.

As of September 2014, an estimated 2,630 people have died from what is now known to be the worst Ebola virus breakout in history. Doctors are fighting tirelessly to contain the disease, but it shows no signs of slowing.

To see the rest of the entries written by members of the Museum and Exhibitions Studies Program at UIC, please check out our Tumblr

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