Monday, February 22, 2010

Mexico and its huge textbooks

A couple of years ago I visited the then brand new MUNE (Museo del Noreste) in the city of Monterrey, Northern Mexico. Stupidly enough, I didn't take any notes, but I'm pretty sure what I remember is accurate enough for making a point out of it.

The flamboyant, shiny and spoiled museum occupied a huge cube building adjacent to the Museo de Historia Mexicana, right in Monterrey's Macroplaza. I roamed from up to downstairs, just as the tour was designed, confusingly following the region's history starting from the present and going backwards intro preshispanic times, supposedly time traveling after a kangaroo rat, the museum's mascot. After one hour, I was not even half the way down, still on the fourth level, with my eyes hurting and trying to make a mental inventory of what I had seen... perhaps 10 multimedia stations, four objects and walls and walls and walls covered with text and pictures illustrating text. Hustling my step, I rapidly went through the halls of the rest of the levels, taking quick glances at those walls with letters and letters and letters... and no more than 10 objects.

As a young museum professional, perhaps I shouldn't be scandalized about not-so-conventional museographical projects. But, although I won't get into controversies like science centres being or not being museums, I do miss collections when visiting a museum.

From my perspective —that is, a Northern Mexico perspective — I can perceive a tendency on Mexican institutions to open as many museums as possible in the shortest time possible. Is as if the only vocation for restored buildings was to turn them into museums. Museums with no collections. Museums with text and text and text and letters and letters and letters and a picture. Literally, six storie high textbooks.

Now, according to the International Council of Museums, a museum is a ‟non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”. When ICOM sanctions museums as institutions open to the public, I don't think about them having extended schedules or being government funded. More so, it refers to them as being spaces where the people pours its culture, via objects that represent something valuable for that people's society.

Where are our Mexican museums heading to? I visited a museum dedicated to mining. Text, text, text, three computers, a couple of scale models and one object, which was a facsimile of a silver bullion. Now take a look at this video. It sure looks like fun. No doubt it offers a very innovative perspective on a hard-learning human activity that most kids would find repulsive to approach. I bet is a powerful outreaching educational tool. But, is it really a museum?