Thinking a lot about narrative in museums and, specifically, exhibitions. It’s at risk of becoming a ubiquitous buzzword.
I have seen or heard, written or said, all of the following
- What is the narrative of the exhibition?
- What is the narrative structure or frame for this piece of text?
- What is our narrative?
Why is it problematic?
Firstly, narrative is singular, but the museum experience (stories, facts, things, people, audiences) is diverse. Secondly, narrative is cohesive and repeatable: when I watch Citizen Kane, the narrative does not change, he always spends some time as a newspaper mogul, he always dies unhappily. This is not like a museum. Thirdly, narrative is linear: there is a beginning, middle and end. Few people experience a museum (exhibition) in this way, and the museum is conceptualised in law, policy and culture as a never-ending entity. Most difficult, though, is the notion of scale; the term is applied at all levels, some of which are useful some of which are not.