Barcelona, August 10, 2011:
According to Thomas Crow (1), the composure and visual and gestural rituals that museums require of visitors are a legacy of the Parisian Salons of the eighteenth century. The men and women who attended these had to learn and rehearse gestures of pleasure and discrimination, as if it were a performance. This kind of performance was, in turn, inspired by the rituals of the aristocratic patrons of a century earlier.
Nowadays, we have presumably internalised these codes of behaviour. And while it is true that many artistic projects require a different kind of attitude from their audiences, most museums still demand certain composure. Hence the arrangement of artworks in display cabinets, the tape indicating where visitors should stand, and the other elements that protect artworks or indicate the distance from which we should look at them. Often, exhibition attendants and security guards are in charge of ensuring that these inherited and seldom written rules are properly followed.
Montserrat has been one of the few museum attendants who has truly immersed herself in her job. In spite of the inhumane working conditions (a monthly wage of less than 600 €, interminable working hours with only a 20 minute lunch break and a masculine-style uniform), her pride in her work was such that it almost seemed as if she were the one exhibiting. If anything ever happened to one of the works –although she made sure nothing did during her shifts– she took it very badly; to the point of getting angry with her colleagues or even crying with rage. If visitors failed to follow the rules, her anger led her to punish them with one of her special reprimands. Montserrat made well and sure of two things: that visitors were aware that museum premises are a regulated space and that they never forgot it!
Montserrat and I met because we are from the same city, but it was through the museum that we really got to know each other. Since she began her job as attendant, she has been telling me everything that goes on there. The idea of Montserrat’s memoirs or a collection of anecdotes began as a project to make a video, but this was quickly ruled out when I found out she loves writing. I thought this would make a more honest point of departure. Originally, the idea was that the book would describe the behaviour of visitors inside the museum. It is interesting to have an account of this kind from the perspective of an attendant working in museum security, given that very few museums have incident logs and data protection legislation requires security camera footage to be constantly overwritten. And in any case, when we turn to the memoirs of an attendant, we appeal to her subjectivity, her personal experiences and her opinions. And this is the result.
For My Museum, Montserrat participated in meetings with Ariadna Serrahima to decide on the design of the book, and also took part in some work sessions with Jordi Canudas for Espai 13.
As I write this, it is still more than a month before the opening of Her Museum. So I won’t prematurely reveal the contents of the room. I only hope that this book has reached you in the appropriate manner. You know what I mean.
(1) Crow, Thomas E. Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1985.
Written by Montserrat Saló
Edited by Mireia c. Saladrigues
Designed by Ariadna Serrahima
Published as a part of Her Museum at Espai 13, Fundació Joan Miró de Barcelona
Within the program The End Is Where We Start From curated by Karin Campbell
Working now on an annex about the experience in Espai 13, Fundació Miró de Barcelona to be added to the book.