The male ancestor of the modern museum is the Cabinet of Wonders, while its female ancestor is the church crypt, where the relics of saints were kept. Whereas the Cabinet of Wonders was designed to provoke an intellectual experience, the encounter with saint relics was meant to foster a spiritual experience. It involved not only the object or physical remainder of the saint, but also an atmosphere of sanctity. This atmosphere, which was activated – and is still activated – by the relic, was created by the connection between the souls of the pilgrims and the absent saint, and sustained by the intentionality of prayer. The most prominent example of a spiritual presence mediated in a state of physical absence is the empty sepulcher of Jesus in Jerusalem. Christians throughout the world embark on pilgrimages to the sepulcher, in order to witness the miracle of the Resurrection attested to by its emptiness.
In a similar manner, contemporary museum visits often center on the creation of a spiritual experience, which is triggered by certain objects yet is fostered by the intentionality of the visitors. However, in a manner reminiscent of the criticism directed by Protestants at Catholic relics, the material objects in a museum display do not always foster a spiritual experience, and sometimes even delay it due to their concrete nature and limited set of qualities.
Look around you attentively. Make an effort to pay attention to nothing. Things reduce you to their finiteness. To what they are. They distract you and hold back from you everything they are not. Instead, try to discern the potential, that which is absent, which does not fill you, but merely fills up and empties out. Pay attention to the container of spirituality: the space.
Peter Marigold, Split Boxes, 2007–2010
If everything that exists takes up space, according to Zenon, space itself takes up space, and so on to infinity. The system of shelves Split Boxes demonstrates this paradox. It is not any more imperialistic than a regular wall of shelves, yet the eye – accustomed to congruent spaces – lingers on the irregular distribution of space. This pattern does not raise questions such as: "What could we put here?” or “How long will it hold?” But rather, “Where can one hang this?” Space also requires making space.
Peter Marigold, Split Boxes, 2007–2010. Photo courtesy of Peter Marigold.
Talia Mukmel, 0.59 g., 2012
In order for a container to fulfill its function, it must be whole. 0.59 g was planned so that it would crack, break and crumble. From the moment it cracks, it becomes a useless object. Rather than holding liquid, it takes up space. Why, then, would anyone keep it? Because its function endures even following its destruction. Because it reflects not what we wish for, but rather our repressed awareness of our own dissolution. Standing at the threshold between something and nothing – cracked, leaking, and holding nothing but an illusion, 0.59 g is an inspirational container.
Talia Mukmel, 0.59 g., 2012. Photo: Oded Antman
An airbag is commonly mistaken for an envelope of sorts. It would be more accurate to think of what it contains as a hanger around which it is stretched. In order to catch a breeze of fresh air, we stand in the evening facing the sea, or a standing fan. In order to (almost) see and touch the air, we put it in a bag. The air packaged in tightly wound “sausages” is not essentially different than the air enveloping us in the gallery, museum, or elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is more stable, it can be pointed to, and one can stop and consider it. The air in the bag stands still, and is available for us to use.
Airbags. From the exhibition "Black Box: from the museum collection", 2020.
Cotton Gloves and Vinyl Gloves
How does one touch a glove? When held from the outside, it is deflated and formless. When worn, it is too close to our hand. When we touch a naked hand with a gloved hand, what we touch is not the glove, but the hand it envelops. The glove is a melancholic symbol for the mediation of reality, for indirect touch and even for the impossibility of touch. Yet a glove can also be an optimistic symbol for the preservation of what is not defiled through contact, or for contact that does not defile what it touches.
Lao Tzu says: “The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty, full; the worn out, new.”
Cotton Gloves and Vinyl Gloves. From the exhibition "Black Box: from the museum collection", 2020.
Jaime Hayon, Face Mirror, 2016
A giant god’s head stares out with a blind gaze. He does not see us even if we look into his eyes (one must not look into his eyes up close, since you will be unable to elude your own gaze). His vacant eyes are harrowing. He transforms our reflection into part of the display, an object observed within the exhibition. It reminds us of our existence in the gallery space, and of our participation in it. Just to be on the safe side, it is worth peering once again into the mirrors, from a safe distance, to ensure that we haven’t been trapped, while also gazing at the reflections of others.
Jaime Hayon, Face Mirror, 2016. From the exhibition "Black Box: from the museum collection", 2020.
Tal Gur, Mesh Chair, 2007
Konstantin Grcic for Magis, Chair One, 2004
These chairs are deceptive. Those sitting in them appear to be hovering in midair, when in fact they are seated on a prickly metal frame. The furniture items appear to take up space, yet one can see – and even pass one’s hand – through them. Are these half-furniture items, drawings bent into space, disguised as voluminous forms? Or is the problem
rooted in our perception, which is habituated to massive objects, to things that resist space and take it up rather than assimilating into it?
Left: Tal Gur, Mesh Chair, 2007. Photo: Ohad Metalon; Right: Konstantin Grcic for Magis, Chair One, 2004. Photo: Itay Benit
Rona Zinger, Model of the Lower Gallery for the exhibition “Black Box,” 2020
A model of an exhibition amounts to a promise. Sometimes it is kept in full; more often, it is kept only in part (the installation appears different than the plan); and sometimes, as during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it remains unrealized.
Yet the model never reconstructs a reality that has disappeared. It is neither a reflection nor a preview of it. It is always present, even during the exhibition which it anticipated (it’s a fact, look around you), outside of time. That is why we cannot see ourselves in it. And precisely for this reason, it can help us put things in perspective.
Rona Zinger, Model of the Lower Gallery for the exhibition “Black Box,” 2020. From the exhibition "Black Box: from the museum collection", 2020.
Scan the City, Missing Particles (short film), 2020
The short film "Missing Particles" features the spaces left behind by the exhibits taken out of the museum’s storage facility. This negative image of the objects in the surrounding exhibition points to the real price of mounting a display, beyond the exposure of the objects to light or accidental touch: the dismantling of the whole collection's integrity, which can only exist in storage. These spaces, to which the exhibits will eventually be returned, perhaps for several decades, are where they belong. Yet now that they are empty, one realizes that they are the underlying condition – even before the objects themselves – for the collection’s physical existence.
From: Scan the City, Missing Particles (short film), 2020
So much air. So little space. The solution cannot be the expansion of the space, which will only put off the problem, but rather making more space within it. Vacuuming the excess, dusty air, and leaving behind a cleaner space. The vacuum cleaner collects stuff is into a void that is filled (with dust). As the bag fills up, the space’s potential is restored. Take a deep breath. Now hold it in, and leave quickly.
Vacuum Cleaner. From the exhibition "Black Box: from the museum collection", 2020.
Ido Litmanovitch Phd, a scholar of philosophy specializing in material culture.
* Originally published as one of the itineraries in the exhibition "Black Box".