Saturday, May 2, 2015

Images from the Cervantes Dig

There is a small exhibition of photos from the Cervantes dig currently being displayed at the Museo de la Historia de Madrid.  So these aren't my photos. Well, they're my photos of somebody else's photos. Jaime Balaguer was the photographer with the archaeological group and they are his. 

It's really too bad that the museum didn't even see fit to mount this as proper photography exhibition and show real, good prints of the images; it gets back to what I said earlier about nobody wanting to be bothered about cultural patrimony but wanting everyone else to be super excited about it.

The exhibition is presented like a philological exercise: the photos are organized by lemma — niche, exhumation, laboratory, etc. — and each begins with a dictionary definition of the term, explaining how the concept it names was an important part of the exhibition with that depressingly misleading tactic of making it seem like the dictionary is the artiber of all meaning.

This one reads: "Even though the convent isn't the ideal location for this purpose, since the terms in which it is defined specify that it is is the 'the place that is set up with the necessary equipment to carry out investigation, experiement and scientific and technical work,' the crypt and sacristy had to be used as make-shift laboratories." The convent isn't an ideal location for investigation not because the dictionary says that a lab is something else, but for all the actual practical reasons that a lab isn't an ideal location for that kind of work. It's a small distinction, I know; but it betrays a very rigid approach to things. An approach that says that the dictionary is the final arbiter of meaning isn't the kind of approach that makes concessions to practical usage or public concern.

The consequence of this is that I saw some cool photos (and realized that the room I was kicked out of the convent for entering is the one with the trap door down to the crypt) but still don't really have a good sense of what the real purpose of the dig was or what the scientists believe that they have accomplished. It still seems like disturbing human remains for the sake of a badly mishandled PR whim.


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