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Histories and Theories (18th century Europe)

March 5, 2017

Gallery 4: The Salon

This room and installation examines the idea of Enlightenment. The globe is a commissioned piece for this space, providing a sitting area for visitors to think and reflect. An encyclopedia and several busts of philosophers, poets, academics and artists are located around the globe to further intensify the concept of the enlightenment of knowledge. The first encyclopedia aimed to become a publication containing all knowledge available, in 1772 and brought to the wider people[1]. The encyclopedia was also a way to organize and categorize knowledge. The globe installation aims to reflect these themes. Whilst sitting in the globe I felt far from enlightened, rather, I felt constrained it almost felt jail like.

Inspiration for the structure comes from the Panopticon the curators state that this would act as “ an observation point between galleries”[2] However the point of a Panopticon is that from the centre one has the ability to look out in all directions, if so why is this not placed in a larger room in which this could actually be done. From where this is placed one can only see out into two other exhibitions spaces. This would have more effect if it were placed in a larger room in which one could look multiple directions and see pieces from varying eras or regions, making use of the 360 degree viewing ability. Allowing viewers to truly think, reflect and create a network of ideas around a wider range of collections and not purely the 18th century European collection.

The installation aims to bridge the connection between enlightenment in the 18th century and now in the 21st century. However, this installation does not belong within the 18th century Europe collection. It feels alien amongst rooms filled with decadent mirrors, chandeliers, garments and furniture from 18th century Europe. This space is used for “intellectual debates” at the V&A[3] keeping the tradition of the 18th century European enlightened salon, where white upper-class men would gather for intellectual discourse discussing mainly issues of the day.[4] Where streams of thought turned into tides of history, where refined social gatherings of the cultured elites became the engine of the Enlightenment[5]. In which you are separeted from the world outside and create intimate connections with thoose within closed circles[6]. I do not agree with this notion of removing onself from the outisde world especially in the case of a debate in which topics and issues discussed have close relations and effects on the world outside. Placing the globe in the european exhibition and inviting visitors to sit inside perhaps insinuates that europe is the centre of the globe. This is a very colonial european way of thinking confining their thinking and disscussion groups to a small group of intellectualls and isolating themselves from the rest of the world, thinking of themselves as the most educated and superior that rule the globe. This limits education, art and enlightement to the intellectuals and does not invite others to join. On the other hand the open walls of the globe removes the isolated, confinedness of the space enabling thoose outside to still look in and hear the converstations within. Nonethe less in the 21st century in which we live in this digital age this should be placed in a larger setting in which all people from all walks of life could join, expanding the public sphere[7]

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