Museal moods and the Santos Museum of economic botany (Adelaide Botanical Garden)
journal contributionposted on 14.12.2016, 03:18 by Kerr, Heather
Abstract: My paper considers some affective atmospheres in the Adelaide Botanical Garden's enthralling Museum of Economic Botany. My compositional mode traces an itinerary that begins with the Museum's important collection of model fruit types, displayed in nineteenth century Arnoldi pomological cabinets, and ends with the artist Fiona Hall's specially commissioned multimedia installation, the enigmatic 'Grove' (2009), a latter-day Wunderkammer (chamber of wonders). I work, too, with the Museum's publications and interpretive texts, treating words as artefacts, quotation marks putting them on display in the space of my own text. Along the way, I linger over cultural remnants, notice curious ways to bridge apparent discontinuities, combine awkwardly disparate discursive registers, and spend too much time on discredited tropes and figures of thought, especially personification. The figure of speech which assigns agency and a voice to non-human things, personification is one of the governing tropes in the Museum's publications, most obviously in the assertion that 'objects speak'. In particular, I spend time with some of the potentially embarrassing, because na ve, sentimental, or otherwise conceptually unwelcome aspects of 'enchantment' and 'melancholy' as dispositions, considering what the philosopher Jane Bennett calls 'moods of attention'. In doing so, I pay attention to the interplay of production and reception aesthetics: I examine what is offered by the Museum's material objects and words-as-artefacts, and experiment with the interpretive possibilities I bring as a visitor to this place. Such a compositional mode also obliquely alludes to the Wunderkammer's well documented embrace of both 'wonder and melancholy', at least in so far as this provides a spectrum for museal atmospheres and their disturbances. I ask, in other words, what atmospheres 'the last colonial economic botany museum in the world' might generate? For example, visitors and commentators remark on 'poignant', or just plain sad feelings upon encountering the cabinets of nineteenth-century model fruit, particularly a single, 'lonely' wax pomegranate, and the important collection of papier- mache pomological models made by the German company Arnoldi (1856-1899). These cabinets of model apples, pears, plums, peaches and apricots attest to a colonial urge to know about and acclimatise many fruit varieties as well as to our own eco-melancholic awareness of the potential loss of type diversity.