Robot, Researcher, or Exhibit? Tour Guides in Museums

Sara Herczyńska
2020 Prace etnograficzne  
In this paper I will focus on guides in museums and different ways of thinking about them. This is an important subject for me, because apart from my academic work, I work as a tour guide in an art gallery. Being a guide and knowing this profession from my own experience challenged the way I approach museums when writing or talking about them in an academic setting. This experience helped me understand the plurality of people and phenomena, which shape the experience of visiting a museum.
more » ... ing a museum. Exhibitions are usually seen as static representations of what was chosen by the curator, and often as results of the politics led by directors of institutions. However, there are many people involved in the process of producing meaning, and in the final effect experienced by the visitor. Guides are crucial elements of the ecosystem of a museum -they give meanings to objects and act as facilitators between the museum and the visitors. As Erik Cohen describes, guides work mostly in two dimensions: as pathfinders (leading an audience around a site) and mentors (providing information about sites) (Cohen 1985: 5-29). Sometimes they help visitors see the exposition as a linear story with a clear narrative and sometimes they disturb this narrative with their approach, allowing different voices and interpretations. They cater to the needs of visitors: their approach depends on the age, level of knowledge, or possible disability of members of the audience. Their main function is to give the objects on display a body and a voice. At the same time guides often seem invisible -they're easy to forget, as their function in the whole museum experience is supplementary. Even their bodies seem transparent in comparison with the materiality of objects on display at the exhibition. They function as invisible guides to the visual sphere.
doi:10.4467/ fatcat:7tcszxchjjgujhdpm67xnivtce