Affect and trauma in museums: an interpretive framework for understanding the real thing and its political potential
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This paper examines the exhibition of everyday war-related objects as ‘real things’ in museums. Specifically, it focuses on the bombed car that the artist Jeremy Deller used for his project It is What it Is: Conversations about Iraq–exhibited in various art museums in the US, then as a travelling show, and finally in the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester. It also discusses the Alfred Rosenberg Diary, a permanent exhibit at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which can also be seen online. The paper identifies four different, interrelated, spheres of engagement within which to examine these objects: an excessive mediation of trauma, the museum as an ideologically charged space, the visitor’s relation to the object, and the virtual online apparatus. These form a wider interpretive framework that allows us to better understand the war-related objects’ political potential to offer an embodied, transformative experience in the museum.