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The Impediment of Conscience

In Foundations: The Consolations of Museology, ed. Nadim Abbas (Singapore: WORM and Studio Bilbliotheque, 2008), 15-26.


At the time of writing this article, my own perspective of Michael Lee’s latest project, The Consolations of Museology, is a mixture of actual, shared, fictional and projected states. The outcome, I am told, is a series of paper models, ten of them, laboriously made by hand and delicately bound into books. The ambition, on the other hand, is much larger, touching the chords of human emotion, and thus, pervasive to every living soul. Our conversations have been both intellectually invigorating and emotionally draining. Lee’s idea is to make ten models of hypothetical museums. Each museum would address a key inadequacy endemic, he says, to humanity – jealousy, cowardice, stupidity, ugliness – dark states of being which lurk beneath each personality, and which threaten to shatter our perfect world. The pairing of museum to problem is a twist to the architectural method of pairing building type to programme. However, the problem with the ‘problem’ in this case, is its immediacy to the personal. In our preliminary conversations about the project, it became evident that while the inadequacies could be cast as theoretical ‘problems’, it was impossible not to embody potential ‘solutions’ with knowledge from personal experience. It seemed that Lee had set up an incredibly intriguing but exceptionally complex brief for ten museums, which we could each take apart, re-imagine, re-build and inhabit. The temptation in each viewer to identify with one, two, or all of these human failures, would not be uncommon. Thinking through how the artist is compelled to confront these failings in public, I am reminded of what feminist literary critic Elspeth Probyn calls a “fear of the near”, in this case, a fear of exposing the self, or an anxiety of being in proximity with one’s own experiences, thus inducing a disembodied and distanced response. 1 Instead, Lee’s project turns this kind of distanced criticality on its head. It draws the viewer simultaneously inwards to his or her self, and outwards towards the artist and the work. It is critical. It is personal.


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