Lebende Objekte

B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: »Live exhibits as a representational mode make their own kinds of claims. Even when efforts are made to the contrary, live exhibits tend to make people into artifacts because the ethnographic gaze objectifies. Where people are concerned, there is a fine line between attentive looking and starting. To make people going about their ordinary business objects of visual interest and available to total scrutiny is dehumanizing, a quality of exhibitions that was not lost on some nineteenth-century viewers in London who complained about live displays on humanitarian grounds.
Live displays, whether recreations of daily activities or staged as formal performances, also create the illusion that the activities one watches are being done rather than represented, a practice that creates the illusion of authenticity, or realness. The impression is one of unmediated encounter. Semiotically, live displays make the status of the performer problematic, for people become signs of themselves. We experience a representation even when the representers are, if you will, the people themselves. Self-representation is representation nonetheless. Whether the representation essentializes (one is seeing the quintessence of Balineseness) or totalizes (one is seeing the whole through the part), the ethnographic fragment returns with all the problems of capturing, inferring, constituting, and presenting the whole through parts.«

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: Objects of Ethnography. In: Ivan Karp, Steven D. Lavine: Exhibiting Cultures. The poetics and politics of museum displays, Smithsonian Books 1991, S. 386–443, S. 415–416.