Appropriation as appropriate practice

Biologiska Museet – Stockholm


Marie Therese Luger

Based on my interpretation of “appropriation as an appropriate practice” I have over the last years focused on researching art institutions, galleries, cultural platforms and – last but not least – museums. I have tried to analyze which power structures they entail or (re)produce and how artists, curators and academics might appropriate them with the aim of generating a different outcome. A key aspect in this body of work is my own position and relation to these institutions. First and foremost these institutions are as places I somehow need to enter to get “work” or to reach proof of valuation for my work within society (as an artist or curator). Further, these institutions decide what knowledge is important and what knowledge is not (which affects me as a researcher and academic). In this context, museums especially are places that create power structures in terms of who has the power, who gets to be visible, and what knowledge is accepted as “truth” or worth communicating in a privileged setting of knowledge distribution.

The common denominator in my research is always the issue of how we value art and cultural practices in our neo-liberal and capitalist society. This has always led me to inquire about art versus science, which culminates in the “offer” of artistic research as a new and discussed field of practice within the power structures of academia.
This affected my research and appropriate practice with Biologiska Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. Due to its history, its special position as an institution combining art and science, as well as its current position of being closed/on hold and the inevitably following power struggles that are motivated by the value of art as applied to this museum, Biologiska Museum is the perfect place to appropriate and try to install an appropriate practice.

Biologiska Museet is marked by a couple of special and specific circumstances: First and foremost, it is called “Biological Museum” but is not per se a museum of natural history. Instead it is a 360° degree diorama (also called cyklorama) that was initiated by hunter and zoologist Gustaf Kolthoff in the late 1800s with the aim of getting the more and more urbanized inhabitants of Stockholm excited about nature again. For this, Kolthoff created a diorama, that historically is – as a middle stage from theater via photography to film – a piece of media. From this position, Biologiska Museet can not only be approached as an institution and a museum, but especially as an institution that opens up questions about the use of artistic practices in illustrating science and/or knowledge. A position which I am critical towards.

In order to revive Biologiska Museet with an “appropriate program” I have tried to appropriate it from the position of a curator. This research process has brought to light an interesting assortment of power structures that accompany and are constantly reproduced at the backdrop of this museum – both by others as well as by myself. In presenting this research and my findings I am hoping to produce and contribute with knowledge about my own practice, the concept of appropriation as appropriate practice and a sustainable way of curating Biologiska Museet.