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British Museum director Hartwig Fischer and National Museum director Mathew Trinca, 20 September 2018

MATHEW TRINCA: Good afternoon. It’s great to have everybody here today at the National Museum of Australia for this clearly very auspicious day opening a major exhibition. It’s always a lot of fun. Such is the schedule today that fun might not be uppermost in our minds the entire day. My colleague Dr Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, his call this morning was around seven o’clock, and it’ll finish at around 10 or 11 o’clock tonight. So you get some sense of how people are fascinated by this work that we’re doing together, and indeed fascinated to hear from him today. Can I start this conversation as always at the National Museum of Australia by acknowledging that we meet on the lands of the Ngunnawal–Ngambri peoples. And just to reflect for a moment on how important that relationship is to all of us here at the Museum, but also what it says to us in acknowledging the people of this place, the traditional owners of this place, who I’m pleased to say afford us such a welcome in this institution where we’re sited, they’re great friends of ours here at the Museum.

But I’m always struck at how for all of us, in this country, reflection upon our fortune, our great fortune to live in a place that has such a long human history is one of the things that I think reaches right to our soul, to our core in this nation now, and we’re all on a journey of realising the power of that narrative in our lives, in all our lives, I think, as we also look to the great successes, the great wonder of the making of modern Australia. So I do thank the Ngunnawal–Ngambri peoples, their elders, past and present for the welcome that we are afforded here at the National Museum of Australia. I am very delighted to welcome Dr Hartwig Fischer to Australia for the opening of Rome: City and Empire.

I also do thank him for, with good humour, agreeing to media calls at 7.30 in the morning. And also for accepting the suggestion when we met just in July this year when I was in London, that we might have a conversation of this kind here when he gladly accepted our invitation to visit, in the context of opening this remarkable show. And I hope you do get the chance to see the show in the next few days because it is a knockout. It’s fantastic. And we’re very lucky to have the exhibition here. Dr Fischer is a distinguished art historian and scholar who was appointed Director the British Museum in 2016, and previously he was the head of the Dresden State Museums, one of Germany’s great cultural institutions with responsibility for a total of 14 museums. I just worry about one; 14 boggles the mind, really.

It’s a measure really of his stature in the museum world that his appointment to his current role at the British Museum marks the first time, I think this is right, that someone from outside the United Kingdom had been appointed Director for 150 years. The last was an Italian as it happens, I think.


MAT TRINCA: For those of you who know that I have some Italian antecedents in the audience, I know there’s a lot of our friends here who know that and that was in 1866, I think 1866 when he left, and it has taken 150 years for another appointment, but it is a sign I think of the esteem that Dr Fischer is held in the United Kingdom, across Europe, but also around the world. Last year, he announced an ambitious 10-year scheme for what’s been described in some of the accounts as a radical rearrangement of the collections, and a revamp of some of the areas of the British Museum. And the Financial Times described it as a project that combines intellectual vision with pragmatism, which sounds like the sort of thing that we’re always hoping for in Australia, I think.

We’re a deeply pragmatic nation, as well as having a great capacity for ideas. So I’m very interested to hear from Dr Fischer about some of those ideas, and how they are laced with pragmatism. His own Art History doctorate, was on the German artist Hermann Prell. But in Dresden he was really responsible for an extraordinary range of shows, covering really the history of Western art and beyond, and many things into the bargain beyond that as well. And so we’re really delighted to have him with us today. Please join me in welcoming Dr Hartwig Fischer.

HARTWIG FISCHER: Now, can I say something?

MAT TRINCA: Of course, please.

HARTWIG FISCHER: I just want to say how delighted I am to be here with my colleagues, to have had the chance to work with our colleagues at the National Museum. It’s been a fantastic experience, a great journey of discovery for us too, and I think [inaudible] Hopper, who’s here too, will corroborate that. And we’re extremely happy about the result, I think you’ve done a fantastic job in bringing this exhibition here. It’s been a big challenge for all of us. And in setting it up. I think this exhibition will make it very easy for people once they enter the exhibition space to engage with Rome and its various aspects, grand politics and daily life, faith and sports and entertainment. So my congratulations for that. And I’m extremely impressed by the quality of the work and the partnership and the trust and the fun we’ve had together.

MAT TRINCA: Yes, good. We hope we can have a little more as well in the time to come. We’ve got a few more things to do though, including this discussion. But I just wanted to start by asking you, I think it’s a couple of years now that you’ve been at the helm of the British Museum, just your initial sense of the institution when you joined in 2016 and how you feel as though your enjoyment of these early years has developed.

HARTWIG FISCHER: Well, it’s a unique institution. Because of its history, because of its collections, because of the scholarship that has always been at home in this institution, and this institution has always supported, and because of its global reach. And when I say global reach, I mean the partnerships with institutions, museums, universities, and otherwise across the globe. That is fantastic. And it’s fantastic to work with a team as expert and as passionate as you find at the British Museum. So that, for me as a person who has always wanted to work in a museum since I’m 17 years old, is an absolutely wonderful experience. At the same time, it’s obviously much more than any mind can ever grasp. Just if you take a walk, a stroll through the galleries, I’m not even talking about the storage, it’s worlds and dimensions and universes. And being responsible for that is a fantastic challenge.

It’s an encyclopaedic collection. We call it encyclopaedic for want of a better word, what we mean is that it covers two and more million years of human history, of the history of humankind. And it spans with its collections the entire planet. Now what are the stories that you want to tell, or what these objects inspire you to tell. And that’s the big question for us. There are six million visitors a year plus minors. We lend a lot across the country, across the UK, but also internationally. So there’s many, many more millions of people who see objects from the British Museum. And as with this exhibition, what is it that we want our visitors today to understand? What is it that we expect them to tell us about what they see and how they make sense of it? How can we incorporate that into our work?

So when you asked about my first two and a half years, it’s really getting your head around such an institution. And based on an incredible intensity of research and thinking, which is done and which has been done for so many years, where are we going to take it next? That’s the questions I deal with day and night.

MAT TRINCA: I want to come back to this idea about story, but I am interested in what you’ve just said about wanting to work in museums from the age of 17. Is that true?

HARTWIG FISCHER: Yes. Because I grew up in a totally normal, which is to say a normally complex, difficult environment — family. And had the chance to engage with museums and opera and ballet and music very early on, and I just grew into it. And in Hamburg where I grew up early on I met people — collectors, artists, people working in the museum. And there was one moment when I visited a museum with the director who had just put on a show of paintings. We went through the rooms, and at one point we were standing in front of a self-portrait of a German impressionist, Liebermann, and she said, ‘Turn round.’ So I turned round, and on the opposite wall, she had placed another self-portrait of that artist. And that was the moment where I understood that when you work in a museum, which is to say, when you arrange things in a space, you create a dialogue.

And I thought, Wow, the possibility to create a situation where you engage others in a way that makes suggestions but doesn’t tell them exactly what they have to think. So it’s a kind of poetic constellation. Poetic in the sense that you are in the position of creating something yourself, that’s what really got me hooked to it, that capacity of the museum.

MAT TRINCA: That’s interesting, isn’t it? Because, ‘curatorship’, curating things is very overused these days. People are curating used car lots, I’m told. Everyone’s a curator. But what do you think is the real essence of that? This capacity to create a dialogue between things rather than having to be spoken or written about our ideas.

HARTWIG FISCHER: Yes, of course, when you create this, you better be really knowledgeable. I mean, you have to know what you’re touching there, what you’re talking about. The word ‘dialogue’ has those two components ‘dia’ and ‘logue’, and ‘dia’ is the distance, the space in between, and it’s crossing that space. And the ‘logue’ is the logos, is the mind. So it’s the mind crossing a distance and creating a connection, a translation if you like. When you go to the British Museum, you’re struck by the fact that the most visited object is the Rosetta Stone. You all know it, I can tell by your smile. And why should anybody be interested in that slab of black stone which is totally unattractive, and which, the text on it is really boring. It’s a decree, it was probably put up in a temple by Ptolemy in 196 BC. Well, you know the story, it was found by the French when they invaded Egypt under Napoleon.

He came with a host of scholars and they instantly understood when they found that piece of stone which was part of the fortifications of Rashid in the Nile Delta, where it had simply be used as building material that this was the key to unlock, to decipher the hieroglyphs. Because you had the same text and hieroglyphic script — demotic, which was in everyday use, and Greek. And of course Greek those scholars knew inside out. And then unfortunately the British thought that it’s not a good idea that the French be in Egypt. So they got involved and there was a famous sea battle and the British won, and seized this group of antiquities that the French had actually intended to bring to Paris. They brought it to Great Britain, it’s now in the British Museum, it was gifted to the museum by George III. And then the British published the text on the stone and had the whole learned community of the Western Hemisphere participate in that endeavour, and who won it? The French, in 1822. So there’s some justice in there, if you want.

Now, why do I talk about this? Because it’s about translation. And the museum is a translational space. It’s a space where you enter, especially a place like the British Museum, but also the National Museum, where you enter to translate cultures into your own sphere, when you connect with them. And that’s why this object is so symbolic and why I think instinctively our visitors want to see it. It’s all about how is it possible to understand each other, even though we speak different languages? And all the fascination, the challenge and, let’s say, the joy or the bliss, of making an effort and reaching out and reaching the other and being touched by the other. It’s all in that one object, I think.

MAT TRINCA: There’s something about the civility of that discourse though, isn’t there? I was thinking about this when we were talking earlier this morning about, you know, the crisis in the [inaudible] as well. And idea that instability is an enemy of our political systems in this moment. The instability is corrosive of the kind of discourse that we need. Does that mean then that these spaces might be places for exactly the kinds of conversations for discourses that we need in this age faced with those challenges?

HARTWIG FISCHER: Well, yes, I think absolutely. And actually having been to a number of museums in this country and talked to colleagues from the museum world and university, I was really struck and deeply impressed by the role museums play in the ongoing debate about how to bring together worlds that were in conflict in a specific way, and find common ground to make that conversation possible. So it’s a symbolic space, I think, that makes discourse dialogue and perhaps reconciliation, and that creation of common ground, which is to say, a future, a common future, a shared history. And that’s a shared future possible. And I would hope that museums can play this role wherever they are. Now, when you go to a museum, of course, when I go to a museum, or even when I go to the British Museum, because I’m not a specialist of the Middle East or of China, or Sub-Saharan Africa, I read labels and panel texts too.

MAT TRINCA: That’s a comfort, isn’t it?

HARTWIG FISCHER: And of course, you depend on that scholarship and this is a very special kind of scholarship that you have in a museum because you have some of the finest minds, with highly specialised knowledge, terminology, methodology, and since they are in a museum, they have to work for the widest possible public, people from all walks of life. So they have to be ingenious short story tellers. They have to boil it down to something which is really accessible. And if they don’t, they fail, I think in their job. But then besides being instructed, there’s also that moment, and you all know it as passionate friends of this museum and of other museums, where suddenly something hits you, and you don’t even know why, it’s a moment of epiphany, of revelation, it bowls you over, and that’s the other side of the museum. And of course, we hope this to happen many times over in the Rome exhibition. That we can just prepare as much, and then you have to leave it to that encounter, which is always individual, and this is why I mention it. There is a moment of true freedom, I think, individual freedom in a museum. You go there, if you want you can partake in the scholarship that is being produced, but then you have to make sense of it yourself. It’s like touching something because you’re not supposed to do that …

MAT TRINCA: Don’t do it in this show, please. It’s very important.

HARTWIG FISCHER: … other than with your eyes, and that’s the way a museum functions. But there’s that moment where you touch something and it touches you back, and suddenly you connect with other people’s lives, be it ever so remote, either in time or space. And because of these things, the museum has the capacity, to come back to your question now, to play that role of being a space where conflicting views and experiences can come together, can be brought into dialogue, and can be negotiated.

MAT TRINCA: Something about that idea of story. That is, the stories that are possible in the museum seems to me to oscillate, from hearing you, between the two poles of those stories needing to impart affirm, affirm a knowledge that you might bring into the museum — I said this actually in discussion, earlier this week, to some staff — and on the other half challenge, that there’s this tension in the very best work in museums between an affirmation of the self because we feel good about seeing something we recognise to some degree, or we understand to some point. But then the thing that challenges, that takes the narrative that we have, and extends that narrative, allows us to develop the narrative in another direction. Do you think there’s something to that? About the way that object can work in the story making of the museum works?

HARTWIG FISCHER: I think we have to be very conscious of the fact that a museum, as you might put it, is a technology, is a medium. It is not obvious to place an object that was meant to be touched in a victual use or individual piety, and that you would have perhaps even put flower gardens around or do libations on it, whatever. To take that and put it in a showcase, behind glass, and if you get too close, there’s an alarm that goes off, there is a certain degree of alienation in this. And of course, we do everything to make you forget this. And to make ourselves forget this, but we must not, the museum is a very, very special place that has, I think, it’s inscribed in this institution that whatever enters into a museum has left its world and has moved into a new world where you look at it differently, but that’s also the potential of this space, that you can look at it differently. And that you can take a step back, so to say, and say, ‘How did that sit in life back then?’ What is the real meaning of this, not only the one meaning that people might have wanted to infuse it with, but what was its social function, for instance?

So the museum is generator of questions, of questioning, and out of that grows the possibility to develop narratives, I think, and to develop narratives without patronising, without telling you, ‘This is the way you have to see it.’ It’s a big challenge because we all have a tendency of believing that what we find is the truth, but because there is a space and because there is a distance that you have to bridge it.

MAT TRINCA: Yes, you have to reach across that space.

HARTWIG FISCHER: Yes, you have to reach across that space at the same time. That’s why I call it poetic, because in that distance, you come into play, and you have to make sense out of it. Now, in a way you can only go wrong, and you have to go wrong as best you can. As Samuel Beckett says, ‘Fail, fail again, fail better.’ And because we all know we’ll never get there, because we cannot, how do you want to do justice to a society that is 10,000 years old in a museum with all the technology around it. And yet, it’s almost the only way we can do it.

MAT TRINCA: But it’s the metanarrative that, really, isn’t it? It’s not so much what you might learn, but the provocation to learn, that happens to you in the exhibition. What I think will happen to people going to Rome is about the delight and the fascination and the way that you might create some knowledge for yourself in Rome, but then also the provocation to something else, the idea of a thinking life, in fact. And do we need this more now than ever, do you think? This provocation to a thinking life, in a post-Brexit world?

HARTWIG FISCHER: What do you mean post …

MAT TRINCA: Dare I say it.

HARTWIG FISCHER: Well, let’s wait and see.

MAT TRINCA: [inaudible] to tell.

HARTWIG FISCHER: If that ‘post’ comes true.

HARTWIG FISCHER: But, be that as it may, that’s only one small part in the world, which certainly will have a big impact on a certain part of the world, and perhaps lesser on others.

Yes, I think it’s important you have that provocation, which is to say, a kind of unsettlement which perhaps allows us to look at something else. When you go to the Rome exhibition, you wonder about all these monumental statues of rulers that were put up all over the empire. And as soon as a new part was conquered, of course you would have statues of the emperor. So looking at Rome, we obviously look at a history that is quite violent. There is a power that expands, that takes hold of other territories and integrates them into their own whole. But at the same time, you have something which must have been very attractive. What it had to offer, by way of organisation, by way of structuring society, by way of offering opportunities to develop and to be in touch. You had a very intricate system of roads, of communication, of administration, you had amenities, you had bath, and arenas for entertainment and so forth.

So the whole thing could never have existed for so long without there being a real attraction, and I think that is a tension which speaks to us today as we try to come to terms with our own history, and that is to say also with empire. And there again, I think the museum and the exhibition is a fantastic example for that, it is the space that allows us to debate these things civically.

MAT TRINCA: We’re reminded that cultures aren’t just one thing though, aren’t we? I mean, it strikes me that when you’re given those sets of correspondences or conditions that existed in Rome, you start to understand the sheer complexity of the social form. And it reminds us that our own organisation, our own challenges today are the result, not of simple positions that we might adopt or conditions of work, but actually things that are much more complex and to which then the answers are more complex. Isn’t that what complexity reminds us? That we shouldn’t be seeking simple answers.

HARTWIG FISCHER: Yes, I think that’s very true. The possibility to think and to incorporate things that seem to exclude each other mutually seen from a certain vantage point. And I think just coming back to this exhibition for a moment, that state allowed for a certain degree of individuality and particularity of its various regions, and had one language that allowed them to communicate across the whole territory. But then you have many other languages within that same territory. So I think that question of how much individuality and particularity do you allow for? How much of it is possible to survive and to thrive actually, and to make a contribution? That’s part of the success. Now, we all know that this hasn’t always worked like this in Rome. And there are other moments where people have to put up with something much more brutal.

But I think as you try to go from what the museum offers to the challenges of us today, there is something to learn there. And that is perhaps one of the great challenges. We have a tendency of saying, the British Museum is an enlightenment institution. What does that mean? And people might say, ‘Well, enlightenment, yes.’ But isn’t enlightenment intimately linked with empire, with controlling the world, and enlightenment is just another realm this time of certain ways of thinking and of organising knowledge, which is also meant in the end to control the world. These things are extremely complex. So we might today call for an enlightened enlightenment, which is to say, thinking that allows you to integrate the other, and as a kind of vital necessity, in fact, yeah.

MAT TRINCA: When we met in London, we were discussing more conventionally the idea of the British Museum as one of the world’s great universal museums, and that’s been a narrative about the museum certainly worked for it in the last, perhaps forever but certainly, the last few decades, it had a lot of purchase. But you turned that on its head in that discussion that we had, I remember, because I was talking to in these terms, and you said, ‘I’m quite taken with this idea about the museum as a house of spirits.’ It’d be interesting for you just to draw that out a bit, and why you came to explaining the museum as something quite other than that convention of talking about it as this is world museum, this great universal institution.

HARTWIG FISCHER: Well, what I told Matt about was an encounter I had at the British Museum with the Ooni of Ife, the spiritual head of the Yoruba in Nigeria. And he came to visit the museum with a number of people, and a number of chiefs. And he wanted to know how we function, so he spent half a day at the museum looking at different galleries, collections, but also storage facilities, conservation. So really came to see how we work and, as he told me, with the intention of thinking about the role museums could play in his communities to engage people, especially young people, have them connect with their own culture, and quite explicitly to take them out of delinquency, as he would say. So he thought about the museum as a social project.

But then coming to the museum, he said to me, this is a house of spirits. And I thought, this is a fantastic definition of a museum because most of the objects that you find in a museum and especially in an encyclopaedic museum, were endowed with life, they played a dynamic part in the lives of people, they were living beings and agents. And I was impressed by him saying that as a spiritual head of the Yoruba he could communicate with these spirits. So when I went to Nigeria a couple of weeks ago, I asked my colleagues there, ‘Is the museum for you a house of spirits? And all these things that we were looking at, in the galleries and in the stores, are they alive?’ And my colleagues said, in a fantastically reconfirmed enlightenment spirit, ‘The museum is neutral, the museum is a neutral space.’

So we wouldn’t invite people to use the objects that we have in our collection for ritual purposes, for instance, as they used to be in the past. But they also said that, ‘At any rate, as long as you don’t activate them, they just sit there.’ Now, I thought, these are very illuminating experiences and statements. So, where are we in all this, with the museum? I like the idea of the house of spirits because it makes you understand that you are custodians of something which is really much grander than any of us can ever be, and much grander than any mind can ever really grasp. And yet we are responsible for this. So, how do you make this accessible? And at the same time, the thing I just told you, you study the labels and the panels, we learn. But then there’s that moment of epiphany. But that’s the moment of activating these things. So in a way, you bring back the spirit or the spirits in a certain way. And activating means that you somehow intuitively get in touch with what these things in the past might have been, actually, as agents.

MAT TRINCA: And also, surely it reminds us about the embodied nature of the museum experience that, you know, we’ve been talking around the quality of story and narrative in the museum, expressly different it seems to me from the book or film or any other, sometimes analogies are made with filmic techniques in the museum. But actually the museum is distinct in itself. It’s a special kind of environment that allows this possibility of story-making in the terms that we’ve been talking about, and to think about the collection almost in the museum as a house of spirits, rather than having recourse to an argument about the museum that emphasises a certain kind of rational exegesis, seems to me speak more directly to this possibility of embodied learning, embodied experience in a visit to a museum, it seems to me at least, I’m interested to hear from you about this, that half of the pleasure, at least that I feel in museums is the relational one, of myself in relation to the objects and indeed the other people in the museum. Do you feel like that?

HARTWIG FISCHER: Yes, absolutely. And the French philosopher François Jullien says, in a recent publication, the title of which would be something like, ‘There is no such thing as cultural identity, it doesn’t exist’. Off course that’s provocative. And then he develops this idea in a very impressive way, and he talks about the activating resources, you’re not part of a tradition, it’s not simply given as long as you don’t activate it. But that also means that you can be in relation to so many traditions, if you activate them for yourself. And that is a grand statement, I think, because it also means that you can be just as a marked by ancient China, as you might be marked by the Incas or the Yoruba, if you activate the resources. And the museum really is a place to activate resources, I think.

And for us to come to speak about another experience that we share, in preparing the Encounters, exhibition, which was first shown in in London and then then in Canberra, that, for all of us, was an extremely important experience because we had this privilege and this chance to be informed and to be illuminated by representatives of those communities, of the first nations, who were the creators of these objects. And to learn something about these objects, which has nothing to do with the museum, but it has all to do with life, and how you organise your life on Earth.

So that experience we tried through the exhibition, through the catalogue and everything that surrounded this exhibition in both places, to make accessible, to enable visitors to activate this resource. And as you said at the beginning, where we stand, we find ourselves on this land, and there’s the offer of being part of a much grander history and story. But this can only happen, this will only be a reality if you activate it, and if you activate it in a respectful way, I think. And again, I think the museum should aim at that. It has a potential to be that very place where this can happen.

MAT TRINCA: Is there a guide in all of this, this idea of an essential opportunity for cultural exchange and the spaces of the museum, if I hear you right, is there a guide in all this to what you want to do at the British Museum?

HARTWIG FISCHER: What I would like to achieve, yes. When people come to the museum, every once in a while I sit on the information desk in the Grand Hall of the museum, and I see people coming up to us, I sit there with colleagues, unfortunately I sit there with colleagues because very often they have to tell me what I have to answer. I know where the restaurant is and the loos and the Rosetta Stone, but just to see that expectation in their eyes, to encounter something that will be important for them is enormous. It shows you all the potential of the museum. Now, what is that experience that we would like to offer to our visitors? And I think put simply, I could say it’s shared humanity and unfathomable diversity, otherness through the whole institution. And that’s what is the richness of it all. We would like our visitors to be able to engage with Aboriginal culture or with China or Egypt and understand how they developed and how they thrived over millennia.

At the same time, we would want our visitors to understand how closely these cultures were linked, and in which way they were linked, peacefully or violently. And we would then like to make certain offers to our visitors and say, ‘You could look at it from this point of view, you could also look at it under the aspect of this question or that question.’ Now, when you have objects that way, tons as you have down in the exhibition, you don’t shove that around every second week. So when you install it, there is a certain stability to it. And that’s fair enough. Egypt, once it’s installed, will stay for some years like this. But then you need spaces in between, intersperse spaces that challenge you, that ask certain questions, that bring together other ideas so that you change the way you look at things. So all these things, stability, dynamics, diversity, shared humanity, narratives that enable you to engage with these ideas and find your own path, because we talked about the freedom in the museum, you can never tell anybody how to explore the museum, you can make certain suggestions, and then everyone is on her own, on his own.

So when we think about the new museum, and it’s a fantastic experience within the staff of the museum, because we have to start working together differently. We have to leave behind the silos of departments, we have to sit around a table — the Asia department, Greece and Rome, the Americas — and think about, well, if we talk about shared humanity and interconnectedness, well, then we better find out what that is. And no single department can do that on their own, they have to team up. So preparing the British Museum of the future, we changed the way we work together, and we think about these objects in our collections and the cultures they represent.

MAT TRINCA: Now, I fear that we’re — am I right in saying, we’re almost on time? I can see people nodding and saying, yes, it’s almost 1.30. But I do want one final question of you answered, and that is, are you confident about all of this? Are you confident about the museum as a form, about not just the British Museum, but the idea of the museum for the future? In the face of, you know, the disruption that we’re experiencing through digital technologies, the clamour that seems to exist now, from so many different information sources, for our attention. Are you confident about the museum?

HARTWIG FISCHER: I’m totally confident. Which is not to say that I’m not taken by doubt every once in a while, I have sleepless nights, and wonder about what we’re doing. But I’m totally confident that the museum, whatever it will grow into, it’s not been what it is now, why should stay what it is now? It will evolve. But the museum as a place where you encounter through objects the cultures of the world, of the world and of the past, that this is a vital institution. It’s a fairly new institution but it’s one of the most successful institutions, I think. And I think that possibility to learn and to enhance your experience, your mind, your understanding of the world, that a museum offers is unique. Now, digital, in a way, would not exist had there not been the archive and the museum. In a way they are prefigurations of the internet and of digital storage, and digital information management.

So we feel comfortable, this has grown out of the museum without replacing the museum, because you cannot replace the objects. They are there, they are what we stand on, or what we aspire to. They carry us into future knowledge. You could also say, the museum is a repository of future knowledge. So I think, yes, the museum is there to play an important role in the future and digital will develop on its own. And at the same time, it will be very helpful for museums to intensify that experience. So I’m confident that there is not a clash or a conflict but an enhancement. And I’m confident and I’m sure if you go down to see the exhibition, I’m sure you will come away with the same impression that the possibility to look at these objects is absolutely irreplaceable. That’s unique. And once it has happened, nobody can take that away from you. So, yes.

MAT TRINCA: That’s a great comfort, I think. In all seriousness, it’s a great comfort to all of us that love these places. Hartwig, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you here, speaking about museums, speaking from the heart, it seems to me about what it means to both work in these places, but also be in these places, and a great encouragement to all of us that it’s still worth fighting for these places, and ensuring that they are key features of the way we think about ourselves as a people and a set of peoples that inhabit a globe together. And if there’s anything that it feels as if this age needs, it is places that extol the virtues of the human and the possibility of the human, in the way that I think we’ve heard today museums can do. So please join me in thanking Dr Hartwig Fischer.


And it wouldn’t be an event at the National Museum of Australia, if you didn’t allow me a shameless plug. The exhibition opens tomorrow, please get along to see it. I think you’ll see that it is quite a wonder that our friends from the British Museum have been prepared to share with us these collections, and give us an opportunity here to see these great things that provoke us to the sort of reverie and thought that Dr Fischer has been speaking about today. And on your way out, you should look at the knock-’em-dead catalogue, which is the only example of a book that you can judge by its cover. I’ll leave that with you. And you can discover why I said it when you see the book. Thank you again, thanks for your time.


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Date published: 13 November 2018

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