Into a worm(w)hole: troubling careful engagements at the museum and beyond

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At museums caring usually means saving: preservation practices attempt to sustain artefacts across intergenerational timespans. But what if we take up DeSilvey’s call to move beyond our inclinations to save at all costs and develop ways of caring beyond saving? Drawing on my transdisciplinary collaboration with artists and conservators in the development of a site for exploring decay – The Living Room at Medical Museion in Copenhagen – I explore modes of caring that embrace processes of decomposition and invite heritage eaters (such as fungi and larvae) to participate in our careful engagements. I focus specifically on our work with wax worms that are capable of metabolizing soft plastic materials. Yet exploring our work with wax worms opens a worm(w)hole of unsettling careful engagements that trouble and multiply what it means to care at the museum and beyond. In the essay, I develop a chronological yet chronically uncertain story of ambivalent and uncertain modes of caring. As I follow the different steps in our process to host wax worms from home cultivation to museum installation and artistic performance, these different contexts reveal multiple objects of care simultaneously present (not just worms, but also institutions, buildings, selves and environments) and intertwined modes of engagement (nurturing, hosting, responding, noticing, controlling, killing). In the end, I show how our unsettling dilemmas of careful engagements with living organisms not just trouble our self-given understanding of what it means to care at the museum today, but itself is also troubled by the uncontrollable forces of life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthical and methodological dilemmas in social science interventions : Careful Engagements in Healthcare, Museums, Design and Beyond
Editors Doris Lydahl , Niels Christian Mossfeldt Nickelsen
Number of pages13
PublisherSpringer, Cham
Publication date2024
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-44118-9
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-44119-6
Publication statusPublished - 2024

ID: 358009279