Opening the “numinous” book: Exploring the “reading experience” as a curatorial and engagement tool in book exhibitions.
- Dr Kostas Arvanitis, Institute for Cultural Practices
- Dr Fred Schurink, English and American Studies
Overview of PhD
My thesis aims to be an exploration of the impact of the “reading experience” on interpreting, displaying and communicating books in exhibitions. The research will draw from museum literature on exhibition curation, object interpretation and visitors’ experiences. More innovatively, it will incorporate views from relevant studies in literary theory, in particular, those which argue that reading can be shaped by physical, cultural and socio-historical factors relating to the text, the reader and the book itself. Accordingly, there will be incursions into the history of reading and the history of the book to complement this view. It will then juxtapose this research with the notion of books as “numinous objects”, that is, as “emotionally charged objects” with a distinctive potential to trigger experiences in viewers as they respond to either the socio-cultural values historically associated with books, such as knowledge, wealth, power and prestige (and it is not uncommon for exhibitions to exploit this aspect of the book in addition to its materiality); or as they react to ideas, concepts and emotions (intellectual, aesthetic or otherwise) individually or collectively associated with the act of reading a book, and that are commonly referred to as “the reading experience”. This approach is still underrepresented in museum theory and will be used to:
- examine the extent to which the visitor experience of books in exhibitions may be based on the affordances of the book’s double-folded numinosity
- understand the interaction of the book’s materiality with the act and experience of reading in the context of book exhibitions
- What are the interpretive opportunities, challenges and limitations of treating books as numinous objects in exhibitions of books?
- How does the “reading experience” interact with, (re-)negotiate or expand the book’s numinous experience in exhibitions?
I am an Art Historian by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a graduate of the University of Manchester’s MA in Art Gallery and Museum studies. I have wide experience in the field of museology, with an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy, and a post as an Exhibition Coordinator at the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo de Malaga, Spain; I’ve volunteered for the Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art and worked as a Visitor Services Assistant & Gallery guide at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, where I am originally from.
My master’s dissertation explored the role that art galleries can play in the development of a young person’s personality, and all throughout my career, I have been drawn to issues of interpretation, education and audience development in cultural institutions. During the past 17 years, I have gained considerable experience developing outreach programmes for young people in partnership with community groups and creative practitioners using the skills and experience brought over from my academic training in engagement with the arts. I am also passionate about books and literature and an important part of my working career has revolved around the field of reader development in public and school libraries, where I have managed and implemented literary events such as author’s visits, reading groups, literary awards, book fairs and book promotions, creative writing sessions and online courses. I’m also a published children’s book author, both in the UK and Spain; a trained Arts Award Adviser (Discovery and Explore level) and have collaborated in literary projects with the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and with the Spanish organization dedicated to the promotion of YA literature “Atrapavientos”.
In addition, I’ve carried out a course on Rare Book Librarianship by Aberystwyth University and have led an Arts Council funded project digitising and promoting Chetham’s Library collections of broadside ballads from the 17th to the 19th century. On top of creating digital surrogates and providing cataloguing data to MARC standards, the role included curating a small exhibition of relevant material and managing a series of creative activities and workshops based on their early modern collections. Presently, I’m employed by the University of Manchester Main Library as part of the Content, Collections and Discovery Team as a Shelving and Stock Management Supervisor (P/T). I see this PhD as a fitting combination of the two strands of my career so far, and I am grateful to the ICP for awarding me a scholarship to carry out this research.