"You took the part, that once was my heart
now take all of me"
Gerald Marks & Seymour Simms, All of me, 1931
Objects in museums are special entities, with a very unique status. They are deactivated from everyday life: a jacket can't be worn, an instrument can't be played, a totem can't be worshipped. These objects are to be pondered. They are dead. This does not mean that there is no afterlife. Indeed a museum can only be said to be a mausoleum for everything in it. The great Victorian collectors understood this when they gathered their collections of everything and nothing. Together, their diverse yet all equally petrified objects formed a very flawed facsimile of all fields of interests and the humans that inhabited them.
As such, it cannot be considered strange that what makes most objects interesting, is their trajectory towards their final resting place. It is their life, everything that we can't see but only surmise, that makes the dead come alive. Through their trajectories, we can reactivate the displayed objects in a different fashion, one that makes it possible to understand them.
Upon encountering a section of tree held in the Hunterian Museum, these thoughts became all the more poignant. It is twice dead. First as a living tree, growing and feeding on the soil beneath it, secondly as object in the sterile environment of a museum. Once this thought has sunk in, it becomes clear that this tree can't be there without a strong narrative. The less spectacular the object, the more it has to thrive in its exhibited afterlife on a previous existence of great interest and adventure. Perhaps the sign next to it, its epitaph, sheds light on this. We read. Then it becomes clear that this tree is said to have stood over the site where David Livingstone's heart was buried.
This makes one look at it with fresh eyes. The bland stump has to be reinterpreted. The spectator demands the tree to perform, but it does not. It is only in the mind. Various questions arise. If the tree kept growing, does this mean that it contains some particles that have previously been in Livingstone's chest? How do we know it was this tree, and not the one next to it? Why would one only bury a heart, not a man? The tree does not answer.
YOU TOOK THE PART THAT WAS MY HEART (NOW TAKE ALL OF ME) is commissioned by The Mutual for The Hunterian as part of The Mutual Charter in association with Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012
20 April - 07 May 2012 Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 – 17.00, Sundays 11.00 - 16.00
21 April Exhibition preview, publication launch and live event 13.30-16.30
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, University Avenue, Glasgow, G12 8QQ