From Mausoleum to Living Room. Practicing Metabolic Carpentry in the Museum

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Museums might seem to be the enemy of metabolism: mausoleums that preserve collections and their knowledge-producing potential, out of time. We argue that museums are in fact intensely metabolic: in their attempts to manipulate the life course and temporalities of objects they proliferate metabolic processes, limits, and potentials. We suggest that looking at the museum in this way can help articulate pressing practical as well as theoretical issues: storage rooms are “constipated,” as traditional practices of disposal cannot keep pace with rapidly growing collections from an over-productive present. The paper consists of three main sections. First, we follow imaginations of the museum as preserver, contrasting these with more recent descriptions of the museum as metabolism, and highlighting the intimate relationship between the two. We describe the material and metaphorical ways in which objects and their meanings are transformed within a “museum metabolism,” and suggest that cultivating such transformations might help to imagine new approaches to problems of proliferation and disposal. This leads us to The Living Room, a workshop and installation at Medical Museion in Copenhagen, where we encourage fringe objects destined for disposal to metabolize, entangled with living heritage eaters such as fungi and worms. Following Ian Bogost, this is a piece of “metabolic carpentry”; a thinking machine that explores ontology by practicing it. In the third main section, we reflect on this approach, and on how materially producing metabolic paradoxes might open new avenues for thinking about their concrete consequences, within an ethos of hospitality. We conclude by arguing for the creative potential of metabolism to link objects, organisms, and environments, emphasizing exchanges between transformation and stability at co-constituting interfaces.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCentaurus
Volume65
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)387-416
Number of pages30
ISSN0008-8994
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ID: 375543203