Collections as Commons. Öffentliche Sammlungen im Zeitalter digitaler Privatisierung

lecture of Prof. Dr. Nora Sternfeld, June 4, 10 – 11am

From a radical-democratic perspective, I propose to understand collection from the standpoint of a place of action for an institutional-critical, reflexive practice. It gives cause for provenance research, restitution, repatriation, for the analysis of hegemonic discourses and their transition as well as for confronting the powerful knowledge formations, but also the coincidences of everyday life, which also play into the question of what is collected. However, working with gaps is not enough. It is also a question of positioning oneself in it and in relation to it, and of working on the responsibility associated with the history of epistemic violence. In 2015 the V&A initiated the collection intervention “All of this belongs to you” in order to make a broad public aware of the possibilities and limits of co-determination in a British “national collection”. Against the backdrop of a post-colonial critique, the title of the exhibition sounds uncanny. Who is this YOU? The answer to the question of who owns the public museum and its collections seems as clear as it is contested, and yet to be achieved. And it is precisely this contested public sphere that must be insisted on from the perspective of the radical-democratic museum. If institutions want to live up to this reality, they should actually transition into a different direction than the current one – because we are dealing with many more or less hidden privatisation tendencies, a secret sale of public and general property. In this sense, I argue for digitisation to be understood from the standpoint of publication of “knowledge as commons” and for insisting on digitisation as a practical necessity for museums and an indispensable part of museum work in the 21st century. Only in this way can and will a public collection in an open source museum benefit everyone. The Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid also organised a conference in 2015 entitled “Archives of the commons”. Questions about democratisation of institutions which remember and administer, pass on and produce were asked. For museums, this means a structural change, a redefinition of the assumption and transfer of responsibility. The artist Daniel G. Andujar, a central speaker of the conference “Democratising democracy by tracking the code” speaks with this in mind.

Nora Sternfeld is documenta professor at the Kunsthochschule Kassel. From 2012 to 2018 she was Professor of Curating and Mediating Art at Aalto University in Helsinki. In addition, she is co-director of the /ecm master’s course in exhibition theory and practice at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, partner of Büro trafo.K (Vienna) and since 2011 part of freethought (London). In this context she was also one of the artistic directors of the Bergen Assembly 2016. She has taught at international universities and published on contemporary art, exhibitions, historical politics and educational theory.