Before continuing, I would like to acknowledge the setting for which I am making my portrait bust of Edith Kramer.
In their collection of essays ‘Museum Materialities’ Sandra Dudley collates different definitions of the object within a museum setting, which all collectively acknowledge the materiality of the museum object. While materiality is, essentially, us and everything around us, within a museum setting this comes down to the physicality of the object, which triggers the viewers sensory experiences, and emotional and cognitive associations (Dudley, 2010, pg. 7).
This definition of object materiality also insinuates an ‘interaction between [the] inanimate, physical thing and [the] conscious person’ (2010, pg. 5) known as an ‘object-subject interaction’. Through this understanding, I would like to propose the development of a relationship between an object and the viewer, which in a museum setting happens due to the visitor bringing their own frame of reference towards the object. Each viewer will bring their own individualistic frame of reference construed from their own knowledge and life experiences. Thus, an object’s materiality is important to respect as an open-ended question left to be explored by the visitor of the museum.
‘We are material bodies in a material world, and our engagement in the flow of things can only be through our sensory perceptions.’Susan M. Pearce cited in Dudley, 2010, pg. xix
I wanted to raise the significance of object materiality within a museum setting, as I believe that this unique and intimate relationship creates a narrative that is to be experienced by the museum visitor. As such, they can undergo an emotional and cognitive reaction, leading to educational value, which I can utilise to present the significance of Edith Kramer. This is something that the Madame Tussaud’s museums utilise – they encourage their visitors to physically engage with the exhibits –but which goes beyond just interaction.
It is not only through touch that viewers experience objects – our sight and imagination are just as important tools for engagement. Thus, along with the primary function of being a museum model, I have chosen for this portrait bust of Edith Kramer to be a realistically finished object. In ‘Realisms in Contemporary Culture’ Birke, Butter, and Auer (2013) describe how there is a ‘hunger for ‘the authentic’ in an age saturated by virtual reality, artifice and commodification.’ (pg. 6). The visitor, a likely participator of this ‘contemporary desire for authenticity’ (Birke et al., 2013, pg. 8), will make this a part of their interaction with the object. Consequently, I would like to respect their frame of reference by providing a realistic depiction of the individual I am introducing them to, leading to an authentic narrative.
If realism is the goal though, why am I not using the processes of facial reconstruction? Simply put, I am not interested in presenting an object of identification of Kramer’s features. If the visitor wanted an exact recreation of her image, a video screen could be used by the museum to meet this function. Instead, I am emphasising the narrative of authenticity, by creating a representational object for the viewer to experience. As such, the viewer is introduced to Kramer through the perceptions of the maker (me!), which relates to the work of Kramer within the art therapy field – the focus is as much on the end-product of an artistic creativity, as the process the maker took to get there. Lastly, the material from which it is made (wax) expands on the aspect of authenticity through its natural rawness and history of human usage.
In this way, the viewer is introduced to Edith Kramer through an authentic object-subject interaction, creating a representational function in an open-ended narrative. As she herself was an avid participator of the social realism art movement which aimed to symbolise the importance of others through art, it deepens the narrative through which the viewer learns of Kramer.