From 1st December 2011 - 29 January 2012 we are bringing Scotland's historical treasures to life at the National Museum of Scotland, telling stories from Scotland's geological roots to its technological future. Treasure indeed.
|Touching the Past by David Manderson
Why does 26 Treasures matter? Why do museums matter, if it comes to that? Why not just record everything digitally and store the real objects somewhere else, out of harm’s way?
My treasure, the Instrument of Authority in the National Museum of Scotland, records the storage of the Scottish Crown Jewels. They were lost for a century, kept in a chest until the great Romantic novelist Walter Scott set out to find them. But so what? What difference did their real presence make?
A book I read recently brought the answer home. Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’ is about collecting; gathering beautiful objects together– furniture, netsukes, paintings, buildings – and arranging them in one place.
Collecting can be seen as mere ownership, an expression of wealth and power. Private collectors can be seen as ruthless buyers, museums as narratives that subjugate the meaning of their exhibits to their own.
But in fact, as de Waal reminds us, collecting is about touch. It’s the feel of bone china under your finger, the exquisite flaw in a varnished surface, the fineness of a carved figure in a tiny piece of wood.
26 Treasures isn’t about objects in glass cases so much as the people who used them. That gown rubbed a real woman’s shoulders, real hands forged those drag chains, real bums polished that chair, that mask lay hot with its wearer’s breath against a real minister’s face.
If we don’t know who came before us we don’t know who we are ourselves. And we can only know those who came before if our lives touch theirs.
Long live touch. It’s makes us who we are.