Fred: … You are speaking your language and hopefully they can grasp something from that language. I just want engagement.
Paula: But you know you can’t control that, right?
Fred: I cannot control it. No curator can control it. …I don’t want to lead anybody in any kind of didactic way. … I have a problem with educators who want to lead it to the degree where they [visitors] are not having their own real experience. (Letting Go, 238-239)
Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum installation pushed up against the norms of the museum. He took the forgotten, yet undeniably integral, items from the Maryland Historical Society and threw them into the forefront, but alongside the other traditional items the Society regularly had on display. Letting Go discusses how his work marked a shift as museums became aware of their exclusionary work, and they looked to consultants that might do the same as Wilson, even though his actions were a project steeped in his craft as an artist.
In Wilson’s conversation with Paula and Marjorie, he explains how, as an artist, he has several questions he hopes the viewer can engage with, but, at the end of the day, he can’t force a viewer to be vulnerable and open up to his perspective. That issue reflects an essential question of sharing authority/viewer engagement/co-authorship that is not necessarily limited to museums or other types of cultural institutions: how do we get people to listen? If someone doesn’t want to consider the questions you are asking, they simply don’t have to it. Understanding each other as humans–beyond the industry in which the conversation happens–is a constant negotiation of power and identity.
For those interested, more about Wilson’s work in museums: http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/fred-wilson/