Full-time scholarship (100%) for PhD project. “The Fragment and the Whole”

ref. BAP-2018-644

KU Leuven

December 09 2018 - December 09 2018


Throughout the nineteenth century, exhibition spaces like museums, collections, but also gardens or secluded landscapes, were intrinsically connected with catalogues, treatises, labels in showcases or with procès-verbaux. They were essentially spatio-textual. The same goes for their objects. The museum for example, which plays a paradigmatic role inthis respect, did not ‘find’ the objects it accommodated. It created those objects by turning displaced fragments into ‘documents’. These ‘documents’ would however remain mute without some sort of comprehensive framework, a wholeness or re-enactment, through in-situ orin-context display. The museum and its object-document thus negotiated the ambiguous relationship, throughout the century, between fragments, displaced from an original, absent or disappeared context and the re-enactment or vivification of that context.

            It may be argued that in this balancing of absence and presence into a coherent experience and knowledge of contexts on display, the visitor of these places played a fundamental role. The visitor functioned as an imaginative reader, ableto construct narratives and to immerse him or herself genuinely in the presenceof an absent world. This immersion was however never absolute. It was only provisional and elusive and required at the same time also distance from the re-enactment in display. Authentic immersion in an absent world that was evoked through visual and textual means, could in fact only work when also the visitor, and not just the exhibition space and its objects, was absorbed in a dynamics of distancing and displacement. This modern mobility (Sandberg, 2003) implied that the visitor coherently passed between the modern world outside and the non-modern world in the museum, in front and away from the show, moving from setting to setting. The spectator thus not only played a significant role in constructing the wholeness of these spaces, whether museums, landscapes showing objects, or their representations in catalogues or in travel literature. The spectator also fragmented and subjectified these spaces.

            This project aims to study the ambiguous role of the visitor, as both a constructive and disruptive agent in the development of comprehensive spaces of display, between 1750 and 1850 in France. One particular object-document and its relationship with the visitor is focused upon: the architectural construct. The relationship between construct and the visitor is studied in two types of sources: the garden treatise and the voyage pittoresque. These sources are from the angle of object representation and spatial arrangement intimately connected with representation and arrangement in the early long nineteenth century museum, like Lenoir’s Musée des monuments français (1795-1816)shows (Carter, 2007). Themes like (narrative) engagement, materiality, the body and bodily experience, the in situ understanding of (historical) objects, people and events, parcours, perspective, legibility-illegibility and deciphering are central aspects of this relationship to be studied.