Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The exhibition portrayed a history of torture featuring instruments from Europe between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. When considering this exhibition we conducted a peice of research to gauge responses to the concept among potential visitors. The study combined a mixture of surveys, depth interviews and a focus group. I am posting a summary of the findings here as they relate to our All About Evil exhibition.
The research indicated that there was an audience who would be interested in visiting the exhibition. The majority of visitors surveyed (62%) indicated that they were likely to come to the museum to see an exhibition on the topic of torture. However, only 14% expressed strong likelihood, others expressed a milder intention.
The potential audience for this exhibition was very similar to audiences for other exhibitions the Museum had recently held on contemporary culture, particularly Body Art and Death: The Last Taboo. Adults over the age of 60 did not expect to attend the exhibition. In contrast, adults aged between 18 and 35 were much more likely to expect to attend the exhibition. Adults aged between 45 and 60 also expressed high levels of interest in attending the exhibition. There were also gender differences, with women somewhat more likely to indicate that they would come to see an exhibition on this subject than men.
The majority of AM visitors surveyed (96%) indicated they felt that it would be appropriate for the Australian Museum to display this exhibition. The appropriateness was sometimes judged in the context of recent AM exhibitions and several people said that an exhibition on torture was as appropriate as an exhibition on death or body art. Some respondents also felt that the Museum would treat the topic of torture with respect and avoid being sensational. This contributed to the sense that the Australian Museum would be an appropriate venue for the exhibition. The primary concern raised when respondents considered the appropriateness of this exhibition was that it was not appropriate for children and they felt it would be appropriate to display the exhibition if there was an age limit or warning.
The majority of AM visitors surveyed (52%) did not feel that this exhibition was relevant to Australian society today. They did not see this as detrimental to the exhibition or their interest in it. A third (34%) saw it as relevant. A number of these respondents mentioned that it related to topics such as detention centres and the treatment of Indigenous people in Australia and suggested that the exhibition could address these topics.
Most respondents felt that this exhibition should convey a general anti-torture message. It was expected that the exhibition would have some educational elements, so that visitors could learn about the mistakes of the past and be encouraged to prevent abuses of human rights occurring in the future. Three themes emereged. First, it was suggested that the exhibition should contrast practices in the past with those of the present. People felt that the exhibition could be related to our society today through showing the benefits we have, such as freedom of speech. Some of these people felt that it would be interesting to see how the past abuses of human rights have helped to shape society today, for example by influencing our legal system. This message was seen to be positive, as it would highlight how lucky we are in current Australian society.
Second, other respondents felt that the exhibition should be linked to the present, and that this should be done through showing that torture still exists in the modern world. These people felt that the exhibition would educate visitors about the current practices of torture. They also saw that the exhibition could have a more positive message by showing the people and organisations who are working against torture in the modern world.
Finally, some respondents felt that the exhibition should have a more historical message. The exhibition was seen as educating through showing what happened and who it happened to. Some also felt that the exhibition would reveal what people were capable of doing to each other. When asked, nearly all participants surveyed indicated that they felt an important component of the exhibition would be to include a section focusing on the way forward. This was conceived as including information about human rights activists and ways in which the use of torture could be prevented in the future. Respondents saw this as an essential part of the exhibition as it would be a way to connect the exhibition to the present and also educate visitors on how to prevent the practice of torture in the future.
The primary concern of respondents from all age groups was that children should not be able to access the exhibition freely. Most respondents who raised this as a concern felt that there should be a warning on the exhibition regarding its content and a recommended age limit. They also felt that there should be a staff member monitoring the entrance so that children or families could not inadvertently enter. A number of people indicated that the contents of the exhibition could be educational for children, particularly if they visited with their parents. These respondents felt that parental discretion should be used in deciding whether or not children could be allowed in the exhibition. Parents interviewed at the Museum were divided about whether they would take their own children to the exhibition and some thought that their children would love the exhibition. This response did not appear to relate to the age of the children being discussed.
The second major concern raised by museum visitors was a fear that the exhibition may be too graphic and have disturbing depictions of violence. Several people who expressed this concern said it was not a personal concern but may affect other people. Others indicated that this was not a problem, because the exhibition would be showing events that actually occurred therefore the depictions would not be gratuitous.
A further concern was that certain groups in society may be offended by the exhibition. This was particularly perceived to be a problem if the exhibition addressed the persecution of minorities (e.g. Protestants or Jews) through torture. Respondents emphasised the need to address these issues with sensitivity.
Finally, a substantial number of respondents said that there was nothing about the exhibition that concerned them. When this statement was followed up, most of these people indicated that they meant that they thought there was nothing that the exhibition could display that would prevent them from deciding to attend.
Monday, June 8, 2009
We've been busy looking at witches and witchcraft this week. Getting into some detailed research, we realise there's potential to do a whole exhibition on the topic! But here's some info about some content we think is relevant to our exhibit... with great thanks to my 'evil intern' for compiling a brief history so far...In various historical, anthropological, religious and mythological contexts, witchcraft to the believed use of certain kinds of supernatural or magical powers.
We've come across some awesome objects in the Museum collection such as Indonesian Rangda masks, representations of the widow-witch who rules evil spirits in Balinese symbolic plays. Rangda is the queen of the Leyaks. The Leyak shadow puppet offers up great imagery, as a mythological creature represented by a flying head with entrails. We're also investigating stories about the Azande divination rituals and practices throughout Sub-Saharan Africa with related items in the Museum's collection. We have a great opportunity to add a great deal of detail to documenting our collection. I'm excited! But the story of witches and witchcraft is much bigger than the AM collection items can tell alone...
The persecution of individuals as ‘witches’ is a phenomenon that has regularly recurred throughout the last millennium. Such persecution reached its zenith in medieval Europe when many individuals – especially, though not exclusively, women – who were suspected of performing ‘sorcery’, ‘magic’ or other forms of witchcraft were executed, many by being burned at the stake. Often such individuals were merely practitioners of traditional or herbal medicine; midwives; healers.
The Spanish Inquisition:
Commencing in 1478, it was responsible for the torture and death of tens or even hundreds of thousands of individuals. Its primary aim was to halt the advance of heresy, but many other ‘offences’ were included – bigamy; solicitation; homosexuality; bestiality; and ‘superstitions’ – as well as practices identified as witchcraft.
Such persecutions throughout the latter half of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries in Europe were assisted by the 1487 publication of the Malleus Maleficarum which detailed the way witches could be identified, tortured, tried, and executed. The work became an instructional handbook for Christian witch-hunters, being re-printed 36 times between its original publication in 1487 and 1669.
The Salem Witch Trials:
Such courts would be considered of dubious legality by contemporary standards, as is attested by the well-documented North American example of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93 in which 150 individuals were arrested and imprisoned, twenty-nine of whom were legally tried and convicted of witchcraft – at the time a capital felony. Nineteen of the accused were hanged; one was crushed to death; and at least five others died in prison. A year later the ‘Court of Oyer and Terminer’ which had made the convictions was dissolved, notably with one of the court men stating that, "It is better that 10 suspected witches escape than that one innocent person [is] killed."
..and the witch-hunt continues...
Monday, April 27, 2009
It’s all very subjective... my blood pressure rises instantly when I think of my evil accountant holding on to my 'economic stimulus cheque' for more than a week, but on the flipside, I guess he does an OK job for my annual tax return.
Other more obvious examples of corporate evil that involve financial fraud, human rights abuses, and environmental negligence impact us not only as individuals but as a human collective when our moral structures are seemingly failed. A corporate moral good existing in the framework of globalisation and capitalism may be something of an oxymoron.
Here are some obvious examples of corporate evil I’ve been looking into:
Exxon Valdez – In March 1989 an oil tanker spilt 10.9 million gallons of crude oil on the Alaskan coastline creating the greatest oil spill in American waters. In the days immediately after the oil spill, scientists estimated mass mortalities of 1000 to 2800 sea otters, 302 seals, and an astounding 250,000 seabirds. The Local economy loss was estimated to be between up to $580 million US dollars from tourism and recreation industry. For the last 15 years the health effects for 11,000 workers who were exposed to extremely high levels of toxic benzene vapour in the initial stages of cleanup have become a major concern.
ENRON – The company had a range of claims against it ranging from rigging California’s energy prices, years of fraudulent accounting practices, as well as corruption and conspiracy including insider trading. It finally sank to bankruptcy in 2001 after audits revealed the US$ 1billion annual profit was in fact a US$153 million cash flow deficit. “The company lost $60 billion in market value, long-serving employees lost more than $2 billion in pension money and 5,600 people lost their jobs” according to a Time magazine article. The Enron collapse is coined ‘the 9/11 of the financial world’ showing how the evil acts of a few have far reaching social consequences. You can see more at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zMakN-EMLg
Corporate abuses don’t stop with environmental disasters and creative accounting leading to stock-market crashes. The claims against Nike for human rights abuses, including child labour, show the degree to which corporate responsibility can fail us as a population over two centuries beyond the industrial revolution.
And all in the name of progress! (?)
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and how 'corporate evil' stories may be communicated in a museum display.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
* Real life examples were of most interest here, particular the footage of an exorcism in Sri Lanka. The voyeuristic appeal of this showed distorted humanity before their very eyes. It also met the audiences’ desire for a real look at evil (as opposed to solely a ‘mythical’ one)
* Subcultures are of high interest to potential audiences – they are interested in how evil ‘plays out’ in the modern world. Subcultures are a great manifestation of the other as non-conformist and, therefore, scary
* This was a popular topic as it made the connections between ancient and contemporary evil – how have the icons of evil changed over time? It was also seen as a relatively safe way to explore evil, while unpacking some commonly accepted clichés
Other aspects that were of appeal:
* Colourful, visually engaging material – objects with a strong sense of dynamism were more engaging rather than those that were ‘brown’ and ‘static’
* Moments of light relief were welcomed, examples of impotent evil that are sanitised become funny rather than scary
What ‘failed’ to engage?
* Too much religious iconography – religion is something to look at but not overdone, they return to religious class at school – yawn!
* Mythical evil has become impotent, rather than true evil and is not seen as contemporary and, therefore, relevant to them
* Amulets and other symbols of protection – only of interest if real life stories of ceremony are also shown
* Two dimensional displays are not welcomed as our audiences expect objects and interactivity not paintings
My next blog post will look at how the Museum could better articulate the ‘evil’ idea based on audience feedback so far...
Sunday, March 29, 2009
In Lynda’s post of March 10th she talks about perceptions of the theme of Evil that were the outcomes of the Audience evaluation. Again in this post I would like to ask a few question in regard “What is Evil anyway?” but try to retrace the ‘origins’ of Evil and look at cross-cultural explanations of Evil.
Illness, death, disasters, violence, crime – they are all considered to be evil influences and threatening and disruptive of the harmony and balance most people strive for in daily life. In this broad sense of the word ‘Evil’ is a concept and reality of all peoples of all times.
Evil or negative consequences happen to everyone at some point in their lives. Consequently people of all times and places have tried to protect themselves from that evil and ward of anything that could disturb the balance and harmony in their lives. People can protect themselves by wearing amulets or offering to protective gods and spirits to watch over them, or one can take preventative medicine and hope that this winter one will not fall sick. In most religions and belief systems there are laws and moral standards that followers should adhere to to ensure a good, virtuous and pleasant life (and sometimes even after-life). Derived from this many people accept superstitions and will not walk under a ladder, or get married on a Friday the 13th.
Interestingly though is that also from all time and places are stories that recall people that have wandered off the good path, have ignored the laws and moral guidelines, and were tempted and seduced by evil forces. The most infamous account in Western thought is off course Eve’s temptation of eating the forbidden fruit and condemning mankind to fall from grace and living a sinful existence. Other stories like in the Hindu-Javanese epic where the hero Arjuna is being visited while in deep meditation by seducing temptresses, similar to the occurrence of the Sirens in Homers Odyssee, or billabong dwelling female spirit beings, yawk yawk figures, in Aboriginal Dreamtime stories from Arnhem Land which may tempt people to ignore the Law of the Land by being tempted by these mermaid-like, female spirits.
It seems that stories and interpretations of Evil are universal and thus from all times and places, so in what way is ‘Evil’ relevant to us today.
How do we interpret ‘Evil’ today and how do we look back on it in our (not so) distant past? And also in what way are historical accounts, folklore, myths, and fairytales that deal with good and evil connected to the stories of good and evil in modern-day popular culture.
More to explore it seems...
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I've been inspired since I stumbled across the Louvin Brothers Satan Is Real album. As the cover attests - "Ira and Charlie pour out their beliefs and convictions born of a deep-seated religious upbringing. You will hear them raise their voices in honest opinion, in quiet beauty, then in the same breath, call out in furious outrage as they conduct, through their music, a personal crusade against the Prince of Darkness.."
Back-masking - I've been looking at Youtube trying to find good examples of backmasking... gee there's some extreme views out there! I'd like to investigate it further though... I'm gathering a list of tracks that have 'satanic verses' when played backwards.
The sinister tone - why do all horror movie scores have that familiar creepy sound? Is there a formula for a chilling mood? Don't get me wrong I think theremins are amazing instruments and all; but.. boy they make my spine tingle!
I hope you can help shed some light!
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
All These Evil Things in Me by Martin Pueschel 2009
Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a while, but I’m back from exhibition changeovers and museum conferences and getting into some more reading and thinking and finally writing. I'm now investigating some of the specific subject areas mentioned in Lynda's last post.
My favourite bedtime reading these days is a fantastic overview of the subject “Evil- A Primer: A history of a bad idea from Beezlebub to Bin Laden, by William Hart.
I’ve been particularly engrossed with his chapters on Survival of the Worst, Postmodern Demons, The Monster Within, and Heinous, Cruel, Depraved. It gets me thinking about the nature of evil and some of the scientific viewpoints outside of the debates on ‘morality as a human attribute' and our continually changing ethical framework.
Hart introduces us to the field of Evolutionary Psychology (EP) and the principle question; “If natural selection drives changes in physical features then shouldn’t it also shape the evolution of humans’ brains and thus behaviour? Although evil is not the preferred path for humans, we routinely do bad and heinous things. The EP point of view suggests that perhaps this has arisen from some neurological misfire that occurred in our biological past. Furthermore, the force which drives us to commit evil, is simply an act of survival and our brains and nervous systems are biologically stuck in the past while our social systems and cultural world had evolved at breakneck pace”.
Other scientists such as Edward Wilson and Richard Dawkins in the field of sociobiology even go so far as to state that this struggle for survival has made 'aggression' a positive, and after all “we are survival machines guided by selfish genes”. While the debates around cultural (memetic) and biological evolution are complex, the simple idea of “us all being capable of evil and possibly biologically programmed to commit it” is certainly an interesting idea isn’t it?
Studies on psychopaths and people with antisocial personality disorder also bring up ideas of their disposition being a ‘wiring’ issue. While these people are described in Robert Hare’s psychopathy checklist as having certain qualities such as a profound disquieting boredom, lack of empathy, remorse and guilt, they are also described as rational, having a strong need for stimulation and superficial charm. These qualities make them great “social cheaters,” and Hart explains “it makes sense in terms of evolutionary drives for socially disadvantaged to employ deception, manipulation and even violence to obtain resources and access to reproductive opportunities”.
…and so “in every man, of course, a demon lies hidden” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
So, how did the audience sampled conceive of evil? Their ideas were grouped under six thematic areas.
Abuse of Power:
* Abuse of power is seen as constituting evil when it results in unnecessary suffering or gross neglect
* Abusers of power have denied their victims the right to free will and fairness
* The abuse itself may be very deliberate (Nazis, organised torture, arsonists, corporate evil or animal abusers), or a neglectful shirking of responsibility (governments who tolerate homelessness)
* The Terrible Unknown is a distorted or disguised version of humanity
* Evil masquerading as goodness (in human form but really soul-less, behind a mask) includes an element of deception, amplifying the evil via a demonstration of intent
* Common disguises interrupt the accepted norms of safety: clowns or other common children’s icons of safety
* The Other is evil as it disrupts conformity (EMOs, extremists, scientologists): humanity fears that which we don’t understand
* The lack of conformity is seen as irrational due to the breaking of accepted social norms, therefore it is possible for individuals or groups to be non-conformist and non-evil (goths, EMOs) –the evil occurs when The Other attempts to challenge social norms via recruitment/preaching (religious fundamentalists)
* Vices are evil willingly played out in the face of evidence and reason
* Cigarettes, alcohol, gambling and drugs were repeatedly raised as evil that is amplified because it’s unnecessary and preventable
* Interestingly, humans who fall victim to vices aren’t the evil, the humans who provide, create and encourage the vices embody evil (cigarette companies, drug dealers, pokie manufacturers)
* Impotent Evil is a representation of the old manifestation of evil
* This version of evil has been so commonly used in public dialogue that the icons of devils, demons, skulls and the fires of hell have become impotent and kitsch
* Impotent Evil has been so neutralised it’s now commonly used for invoking humour rather than fear
* The only core theme that isn’t a human evil, Everyday Beasts invoke an emotional response from pure fear
* Sharks, snakes, spiders and aggressive dogs all represent a fear of violent physical harm
* Unlike the other themes, this evil is largely random, often heightening the fear
* This theme was strongest with kids, indicating the fear is often neutralised with age
Aspects of these themes of most appeal to potential visitors will be explored in my next blog post.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
The exhibition will investigate the view that the underlying driver of evil is fear. Over time the things that people fear has changed and so have our perceptions and opinions of what is evil. The exhibit will explore the roots and essence of evil. It will demonstrate that evil in modern popular culture has roots in historical culture. We journey through genocides religion, slavery and the face of evil. It will explore significant objects, personal stories, powerful sights, sounds to show the variety of perspectives on some of humanity’s darkest experiences.
How we will do this is all a movable feast at the moment but here’s four main themes identified (and also adapted from the Tropenmuseum exhibition) so far -
1. Origins of Evil
· Duality – Good vs Bad introductory theme. ‘maintaining the balance’ in life.
2. Protection from Evil
· Amulets and incantation
· Ritual and superstitions and Exorcisms
3. Faces of Evil
· Demonic representations
· Natural world, Everyday beasts
· Perpetrators and victims - Exploitation, Abuse of power.
· The other– the terrible unknown distorted or disguised version of humanity.
· Subcultures - disrupting conformity
4. Impotent Evil - representations of evil so commonly used in public dialogue that the icons of devils and demons and Hell have become impotent and kitsch.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
So, what was our audiences’ connection with ‘evil’??
We found that the word ‘evil’ had powerful connotations:
* Evil used to have strong spiritual references: evil was previously the devil’s work, part of the underworld
But evil has moved on and now has much stronger human connotations:
* We are saturated with images of humans exacting evil on each other every day
* Evil is now present and very real
* So evil has taken on a contemporary meaning that is inextricably linked to human behaviour, as opposed to mythology or theology
Given this contemporary perception of evil, audiences were largely confused by the exhibition theme:
* Contemporary evil covers themes such as terrorism, pedophilia and drug use which doesn’t seem like content for a museum exhibition
* Our audience expects to see more historical vs. contemporary content at museum exhibitions
The confusion also comes from the topic as they couldn’t identify a learning outcome as most audiences presume they will learn something on a specific topic at a museum exhibition:
* But no one could state what they might learn at an exhibition on evil
* Parents were particularly concerned as they see museums as a way of secretly ‘smuggling learning’ into their kids under the guise of having a good time
* Participants couldn’t articulate any potential benefit of an exhibition on evil
Because evil is now seen to be the realm of humans not myths, they felt evil was personal:
* Respondents’ personal concepts of evil are extremely varied and personal but nearly all modern
Those sampled expected to see some representation of their personal concept of evil in the exhibition, which given the variation of what they thought evil was, means that there is potential for disappointment. These conceptions of evil will be explored in my next blog post.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The Australian Museum is adapting a Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam exhibition concept for an Australian audience. Originally titled, Het Kwaad (All About Evil), the Tropenmuseum described their exhibition as being about “... the root of all misery, utter disaster and every kind of bad luck. This exhibition tells the story of man’s struggle against evil down the centuries. A story that spans all ages and countries, cultures and religions.
The Australian Museum (AM) exhibition will be arranged as a world cultures/ popular culture exhibit. It’s not intended to be a factual treatment of actual Evil events; rather it is intended that the exhibition select a range of historic narratives, legends and myths, sagas and folklore, superstitions and contemporary belief systems to explore both the popular and exotic concepts of evil and how these concepts have shaped cultural perceptions and behaviour. We’re aiming to show a range of historical and contemporary perspectives in order to challenge the audience’s preconceptions of evil.
‘Evil’ is subjective and the concept of what is evil has changed significantly through time and varies between western and traditional cultures. While the exhibition will include objects from the Museum and other collections around Australia, strong 2D/3D visual elements, film, music, text, audio visual and multimedia as well as interactive components; it is a difficult topic including contentious themes and explicit imagery and objects.
There is opportunity to challenge, provoke, surprise, be controversial, show contemporary viewpoints, display popular culture, inject humour, have slick technology and create an immersive experience. This is where we need your feedback and so we’re inviting you to participate and tell us what you think about the idea!
We look forward to hearing your (evil) thoughts to help us make this exhibition a real showstopper.
...remember - “it’s not a soap opera until someone’s evil twin shows up”