Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Laura Tan

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 

In December 2014, 8 interns joined us to work with the curatorial and outreach teams, conducting research for upcoming exhibitions and programmes in 2015 at the museum and the NUS Baba House. Besides those involving our collections and recent acquisitions, the interns prepared for upcoming exhibitions surrounding the work of alumni artists, the T.K. Sabapathy Collection, as well as SEABOOK. They also assisted with ongoing happenings at the museum, including exhibition installation and programme facilitation. 

Laura Tan is a Masters student at NUS Architecture. She spent December 2014 as an Open Excess Curatorial Intern, during which she assisted with the research, development and installation of the exhibition.Opened on 23 January 2015, the exhibition, which is conceptualised as a prep-room initiative, is presently showing in the NX2 Gallery (Concourse Level).

“the paratext is … a threshold … an ‘undefined zone’ between the inside and the outside, a zone without any hard and fast boundary … ‘a fringe of the printed text which in reality controls one’s reading of the text’ … a zone not only of transition but also of transaction.”
- Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation 

I was introduced to the concepts of intertextuality and paratexts during the course of my internship. Referring to the shaping of a text’s own meaning by another text, intertextuality is a method that charts out connections between different ideas. This act of drawing up relationships between concepts is something that underpins the curatorial intentions of the museum as each exhibition subtly calls back to another exhibit, or is framed by and seen through the lens of yet another exhibition.   This literary technique perhaps became all the more relevant as I was working on the T.K. Sabapathy book collection. Intertextuality and paratexts became a meta-rule of sorts as I was lucky enough to be involved in the conceptualisation of the exhibition. One of the tasks I worked on was to think of new ways to frame or re-arrange the extensive catalogue of books for display. This in itself became an exercise in intertextuality as I attempted to find, posit or speculate upon connections between the books, which spanned across a range of topics and academic disciplines.   

L: The donated books, wrapped up before the set-up
R. ‘Getting a feel’ of the space during set-up
Another text that underpinned my internship experience was probably Gary Radford’s “Positivism, Foucault, and the Library,” which touched on the systems of classifications a library uses, and the “presence of an infinite number of spaces ‘in the interval between books. In such spaces reside the possibility of ‘impossible worlds’” – worlds for readers and researchers to discover. But drawing up these new worlds requires the reader to undertake a curious process of triangulation. The reader must work within a rational grid of library shelves, immersed in (or constrained by) a coordinate system that is arranged by topics, disciplines, and call numbers. Yet he or she must also challenge and circumvent the logic of the library, mapping out connections across this grid in order to determine the location and shape of these hidden worlds.

Working on the Sabapathy exhibition got me thinking about what it means to be cross-disciplinary. Coming from an architectural background (which is in itself an interdisciplinary effort), curatorship had always lain on the periphery of ‘related fields’ but was something I had very limited understanding of, and subsequently, had much to learn about. 
Experimenting with furniture layouts
Coming in “with fresh eyes” also meant “getting one’s eye in” – and perhaps this was the most memorable aspect of my internship, where I was formulating ideas in response to the material set before me, (naively) unfettered by my own newness to curatorial concerns.  Perhaps this is the essence of interdisciplinary work – working with uncertainty of the parameters, testing and reshaping the limits as one goes along.


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