Sensory engagements with objects in art galleries: material interpretation and theological metaphor
thesisposted on 15.08.2016, 09:55 by Alexandra Caroline Woodall
This thesis aims to explore sensory engagements with material objects. In other words, it investigates the physical encounter between a person and a thing, particularly through a focus on the sense of touch. It does so within the art gallery context. It looks at the capacity of such embodied practices to inspire creative response to objects, an approach which, the thesis argues, does not necessarily rely on knowing contextual information or fact, but rather allows for responses including imagining and making. The research coins the term ‘material interpretation’ to describe such an approach to the interpretive process. The work is interdisciplinary in nature: building on studies of materiality in the museum context, it draws especially from sensory anthropology and studies of material culture. Significantly however, the research develops an entirely new field of critical dialogue. Uniquely and unusually, by bringing museology together with concepts from the discipline of theology, the thesis develops an unprecedented approach to exploring interpretation practice through a lens of what it calls ‘theological museology’. Arising from the researcher’s professional practice and experience of interpretation projects in which such sensory engagements with objects were given priority, the research comes from a practical grounding. As such it argues that material practices be embedded within the institution through a strategic approach to creative and inclusive interpretation. The research takes a qualitative approach and is based on case studies. These include exploring a collection in storage (the Mary Greg collection at Manchester Art Gallery); projects based on artist-made interpretive objects called Object Dialogue Boxes (including at Museums Sheffield); and the creative use of a city’s handling collection (the Artemis Collection in Leeds).