‘Direction - Museum’ – relation

The series of meetings 'Direction - Museum' is a scientific initiative aimed at enabling the exchange of knowledge and experiences between the widest possible range of museologists and historians. Since 2017 Polish and foreign representatives of museums as well as scientific centers have been coming to Białystok at the invitation of the Sybir Memorial Museum to talk and learn from each other.

This year's, third edition, took the form of an international panel discussion entitled 'About The Limits In A Modern Museum's Transmission’. The invited panellists, as well as guests representing the museum community analyzed how the limits in the modern museum's shape the transmission which regards totalitarian crimes.

The panelists' attention was focused on the problems raised during the three thematic blocks:

  • Tragedy Vs. Comedy. Limits In The Transmission Which Regard Totalitarian Crimes,

  • To Tame The Trauma. In Search of Limits In A Modern Museology,

  • How To Sell A Museum - Marketing Experts Debate.

An attempt to discuss the challenges facing modern museology was made by dr. hab. Hubert Chudzio - the director of the Documentation Centre of Deportations, Expulsions and Resettlement. In the introductory lecture, he focused his attention mainly on the difficulties of building a transmission which is directed to the youngest generation. He noted that exhibition techniques are dependent, among others from the pace of technological change, and the museum should adapt the transmission to changing realities. According to him, the impact on all senses of the recipients has already become a common practice of modern institutions, but the moral aspect of the activities carried out in this way can sometimes raise doubts and constitute the titled limit.

Ethical dilemmas resulting from the use of modern forms of communication were one of the most frequently discussed topics during the meeting. Attention was paid to excessive display of photographs depicting the drastic death of victims, historical reconstructions referring to the crime, or cases when exhibits which show suffering are recepted by the visitors as fun attractions.

Eugenijus Peikštenis, the head of the Museum of Occupation and Freedom Fights in Vilnius, told about his doubts related to sharing photographs of corpses of those who were massacred. In his opinion, excessive exposure of such photos should be avoided, even at the cost of disappointing the expectations of recipients, who often demand increasing the realism of museum exhibitions. Such visual material reinforces the lack of respect for victims. In his considerations Eugenijus Peikštenis also pointed out that the ongoing discussion on the question of the limits in the museum transmission mainly involves younger generations, and those who have experienced totalitarian crimes mainly try to deal with trauma and pain.

Robert Kostro, the director of the Polish History Museum, also referred to the same issues, reminding us that in building a museum’s transmission the context of the presented materials must be understandable for all recipients. Both the manner in which photographs of the victims and totalitarian symbols are displayed cannot bring the risk of ambiguity in reception. As an example, he used a pop culture case which illustrates a particular kind of using comedy showing the cheerful aspects of Polish communism. However, the museum's transmission should bear in mind the repressions of this system.

The topic was continued by prof. Wojciech Śleszyński, the director of the Sybir Memorial Museum. Referring to the methods of building a transmission in modern narrative museums, he noted that enhancing the effect is achieved in them, among others by displaying testimonies of witness accounts. He added that in Western European institutions the history of crimes is often presented from the perspective of many witnesses - both victims and perpetrators. In Poland, a narrative shaped from the point of view of torturers would surely raise great doubts.

Roman Romanow, the director of the State Museum of GULAG's History in Moscow, focused in particular on the difficulties associated with searching for the right language that will tell about Stalinist crimes and the problem of adapting the transmission to the sensitivity of the recipient. He wondered how to translate the memories of witnesses of history into the language of the youngest generation, in whose memory the experience of this crime goes far beyond the sphere of everyday life and it is simply absent.

Dr. Julia Kocur, the head of one of the Departments of the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide in Kiev also mentioned the memory problem in her speech. Her lecture was an introduction to the second block of discussion devoted to the topic of the tame of trauma. The author reminded that the talking about the victims of the Terror Famine was strictly forbidden and for decades had a significant impact on the attitudes of witnesses.  The museum's workers in Ukraine still observe the continuated lac of talk about this crime. With this problem, the purpose of the Kiev museum is on the one hand to build a historical transmission for future generations, on the other - to create a place of open talk about trauma which will also serve as  therapeutic functions.

The third part of the panel was dedicated to non-standard marketing methods used in modern museology. They shared their knowledge: Judyta Ścigała - a specialist in archival documentation and education at The Cetre of Documentation of Upper Silesians Deportation to the Soviet Union in 1945, Sławomir Frątczak - the head of the Katyn  Museum the Martyrological Department of the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw, Bartłomiej Garba - the head of the Exhibition Department of the Museum of the Second World War and Jan Roguz - a marketing manager of the Sybir Memorial Museum. Participants in the discussion were confronted with bold ideas of events which are organized in cultural institutions. Panelists, referring to their own experience, tried to answer the questions: whether the martyrological museum should be promoted by known media personalities, how to cooperate with influencers, how to choose sponsors and what threats are associated with the active presence of museums on social profiles and in online media.

During this year's edition of the 'Direction - Museum', attempts were made to define the current museum transmission's limits and to formulate a catalog of restrictions that martyrological museums face. Participants of the meeting agreed that it is worth to talk about the challenges of modern museology and keep in mind that the positions developed may change in the near future and the limits may be shifted again. The expectations of contemporary recipients are forcing the museum staff to look for new forms of communication and to set further directions of development.

We kindly invite you to watch photos from the event.

photo. Krzysztof Karpiński

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