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Centre for Narrative Research, UEL ‘To Think is To Experiment,’ 18 May 2011 Siyanda Ndlovu Memorial Lecture Linda Sandino “Both sides of the story”: narrative.

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Presentation on theme: "Centre for Narrative Research, UEL ‘To Think is To Experiment,’ 18 May 2011 Siyanda Ndlovu Memorial Lecture Linda Sandino “Both sides of the story”: narrative."— Presentation transcript:

1 Centre for Narrative Research, UEL ‘To Think is To Experiment,’ 18 May 2011 Siyanda Ndlovu Memorial Lecture Linda Sandino “Both sides of the story”: narrative identity and the curatorial imagination

2 Curating Fashion at the V&A Photos © Victoria and Albert Museum

3 Narrative Identity The narrative constructs the identity of the character, what can be called his or her narrative identity, in constructing that of the story told. It is the identity of the story that makes the identity of the character’. (Ricoeur, Onself as Another, 1992, p. 147). Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum

4 The meaning problem Problem of coming ‘to terms with the meaning problem, or shall we say quest for meaning: the meaning or significance that we give to our lives, to our being in the world. The question arises again and again in the life of each individual in a particular, in fact, unique, way and it hence requires a patient and ongoing examination of the multifarious forms and practices in which individuals make sense of their lives. (RFM p.217). J. Brockmeier (2009) ‘Reaching for Meaning: Human Agency and the Narrative Imagination’. Theory and Psychology, vo. 19 (2), pp.213-233.

5 Radical Fashion, 2001 Photos © Victoria and Albert Museum

6 Radical originally ‘the humour or moisture once thought to be present in all living organisms as a necessary condition of their vitality,’ and it continues to denote a fundamental quality ‘advocating thorough or far-reaching change’ (OED, 2008).

7 Narratives of curatorial identity …you could say I didn’t [pause] stand up for what I started, but you could also say that I was pragmatic and I realised that actually you do need to balance the programme between very radical events and displays and slightly more accessible events and displays. So the pragmatic side of me thinks that actually you’ve done very well with the exhibitions that I did after that, but another part of me thinks that we could have been really bold […] but actually the Museum has many different audiences, so I feel very sort of Libran about it. I can see both sides of the story.

8 “I still felt it wasn’t me” I didn’t like taking on an existing exhibition… I like generating new things. Though having said that, it did teach me a lot about Italian fashion: I did really understand the couture and the, the couture system, but I still felt it wasn’t me. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum

9 ‘Narrative imagination’ A form and practice of human agency, making it possible to explore ‘action possibilities’ in the past, in the present and in the future. Narrative is the means by which this form of agency is made manifest (‘agentive discourse’). Contd/

10 Agentive discourse ‘ Subjectivity, intentions, agency, participation, decision- making, action possibilties, reasons for action […] all belong to what Rom Harré (1995) has described as “agentive discourse”. For Harré being an agent and discursively presenting oneself as an agent are one and the same.’ (RFM, p.224).

11 Imagining “The possibilities” ‘Satellites of Fashion’ [1999] to V&A ‘Radical Fashion’ [2001] was ‘one of the sort of most creative periods I’ve had really and I think I partially realised it at the time because I seemed to have a sort of bubbling over of ideas. I seemed to be unable to, to sort of contain my sort of excitement at being here and the possibilities [..]there was a wonderful opportunity which I saw and wanted to make the absolute most of…

12 “I was thwarted… quite rightly” … and I thought that we could do a wonderful exhibition which was composed almost entirely of images, of monitors, of holograms. I remember going along with this idea and [Senior V&A staff] saying to me that I was completely mad, that it was absolutely unheard of to have an exhibition at the V&A without objects in […] So, so, sort of – I was thwarted by this, and probably quite rightly so. I don’t think probably we could have – I don’t think we had the technology at the time to do this[…]

13 Curatorial imagination: “ Ahead of myself” I could actually see it and I can still see it now. And I think had it been a few years further on, had the people working had greater faith or greater imagination, then it might have been agreed, but I think looking back on it, I’m glad it became Radical Fashion because I don’t think people were ready for exhibitions without objects in them: they are now… the technology would have struggled and it would probably have been very difficult to achieve. I still think it was brilliant and I mean I think I knew even that even I was ahead of myself in some way.’

14 Identification: life imitates art What I particularly liked about fashion at that time, as I discovered it, was that it was completely [pause] – the ambition for fashion from people like Alexander McQueen and Japanese fashion designers, Margiela and Gaultier and Westwood and all the designers that I found so exciting, was that they, they seemed to be completely brave about how they approached the discipline. And it had all the wonderful craft, the skills of the atelier and it had functions to an extent, but those were not seen as constraints on creativity but almost as vehicles of creativity, and I think that’s what I found so exciting…

15 Creative Identity ‘I like generating new things’. ‘I felt I was my own brand really’. ‘I didn’t want to say what we were going to have in the exhibition until the last possible minute.’ ‘…the Museum trying to mould me into something I wasn’t.’

16 Identity and meaning: artist and curator ” Bruner discusses the ‘problem of the Self’ as a problem of cultural meaning construction. He suggests focusing “upon the meanings in terms of which Self is defined both by the individual and by the culture in which he or she participates’. (Acts of Meaning, 1990, p.116-7 cited in RFM). Choice between the bureaucratic culture of the Museum and the creative freedom of the artist.

17 “ Something that’s in me” I did a display in Buckingham Palace, last year I think, with a group of people from the department and it was for one evening only, and they were all amazed at the amount of focused attention and time I gave the actual display. I mean I wouldn’t rest until I felt everything was as close to perfect as it could be. And so when we put in the installation, they were sort of basically, you know, going to go and I said, “Well, no, we’ve only just started.” And they said, “But the objects are in place.” And I said, “No, no this is where the work begins.” contd/

18 contd/ I think I spent another sort of two hours moving things a millimetre or moving a collar, and I think it’s that sort of incredible attention to detail that, that I know I see and other people don’t; and I know that it’s vital to the absolute quality of a finished display, and I think it’s something that’s in me anyway, a kind of perfectionism […] contd/

19 contd/ it’s that sort of [pause] that incredibly calm space you’re in just before you finish something where it’s nearly perfect but there’s another invisible level only you see, and I, when I’m that state of mind […] then I become oblivious to everything that’s happening around me. It’s as if I go into this sort of great calm space where I […] - I can see, I can see molecules almost of the display and I know the molecules are not perfectly aligned, that they can be even better; and if I have to rush that last stage or, or stop before I’m ready, I’m very unhappy, and I think it’s that, that sort of precision, forensic precision that, that turns things that are great into the sublime.

20 “The deal” I’ve just begun working on the redisplay of Gallery 40, that’s what I’m going to be doing for the next year. I’m just going to ignore the problems of the cases and the lighting and just compensate by choosing objects that look good whatever the lighting and by having a really clear narrative and doing something hopefully quite innovative and fresh and arresting […]; and in a way, I think that that’s actually the deal, that’s part of the challenge and I’ll make it amazing.

21 Narrative Identity and imagination 1. Function of narrative: concordance discordant synthesis Narrative identity is ‘constitutive of self-constancy, can include change, mutability, within the cohesion of one lifetime.’ (Ricoeur, time and Narrative, vol. 3 1988, p.246). 2. Narrative imagination: ‘what makes narrative such a flexible form and vehicle of imagination is its capacity to tap into multiple frameworks of meaning that draw on both real [the Museum] and fictive [the Artist] scenarios of agency’. (RFM, p.227).


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