A digital platform conveying, sharing and cohering the interdisciplinary and multifarious investigations developed by the MeLa research project.

Adopting the notion of "migration" as a paradigm of the contemporary global and multi-cultural world, MeLa investigates new roles and practices for twenty-first century museums in Europe.

Single click
to open connections

Double click
to browse contents

Use the link on top right
to view the index version

Add to "favorites" the
most interesting dossiers

Next tip
Show favorite dossiers

Architecture and Identity

Architecture has always highly contributed in shaping the museum experience, contents and identity; at the same time the museum architecture can bear its own meanings, and thus adding an additional level of significance. Whether the museum is located in a new building designed in relation to its collection or mission, or housed in a preexisting venue purposely restored, these interrelations could be enhanced to enrich and further layer the museums’ message and narrative. This is particularly evident, for example, when the museum’s venue is chosen because of its particular historical, social or architectural value, and the memory embedded in the building itself is integrated within the displayed narrative, as well as when the musealisation of a site is designed to contribute to unveil the trans-cultural and multi-layered traces embedded in its history, by acknowledging the different stories which have taken place there and contributing to build a more inclusive place representation.


The archive as an entity above all manages documentation, produced throughout the duration of an activity of a person or entity, conducts tasks that are fundamentally technical: describing, classifying, conserving, attending to researchers and various other actions related to administrating, coordinating, preserving and giving access to documents. Throughout history, the concept of the archive has not only been dealt with from the point of view of the archivist – of professional management – but it has been studied and theorised within various fields of culture. Different authors have treated the notion of the archive from the perspective of the philosophy and the cultural studies, such as Giorgio Agamben, Michel Foucault, Boris Groys, Jacques Derrida or Wolfgang Ernst. Also artists and curators have experimented with the archive as part of artistic projects.


At its simplest, belonging is about emotional attachments that lead to feelings of being ‘at home’. Places can therefore be the ‘sources of belonging’ through which people construct identities, and they can do this on an individual basis or on behalf of others, as we see in curatorial representations of places in museums. Belonging exists in representational form in museum displays as implicit or explicit projections of group identity. Museums may represent and even foster senses of belonging. However, they may create boundaries of belonging and therefore foster the exclusion of certain peoples or histories. By stressing the connections between places, museums can enable multi-geographical perspectives that constructively open up, problematize and render the complexity of place identities, identity objects and place histories, potentially contributing to the development of the kind of ‘extroverted’ and ‘progressive’ sense of place.


States provide the matrix for the obligations and prerogatives of citizenship as well as its denial, determining both full juridical and political membership and conditions of depoliticisation and statelessness. The criteria by which States exercise their power of inclusion-exclusion, and their relation to the non-citizen migrants, should be opened up to include a different form of citizenship, propelling us beyond the given institutional dimension of rights. This clue highlights how participatory practices (such as contemporary forms of collective public art, music making and literary pratices) may enhance active processes of social recognition and empowerment. They produce a wider and more flexible, though concrete, sense of one own's "belonging here", concerning both de jure and de facto citizens.

Constitution moments

Constitution moments are historicized identities are constituted in museum representations in relation to ‘moments’ of greater or lesser duration selected as being somehow pivotal for and emblematic of those identities. They may include which include: purges; civil unrest; killings (including those presented as ‘genocides’ or denied as being such); the foundation, expansion and break-up of geopolitical units (countries, regions etc.); moments of loss, crisis and recovery; moments of response to Others, moments of constitutional change; moments of suppression and authoritarian rule; of independence; and of denying or being denied the agency for self-determination. A key component of such moments is their symbolic durability and capacity to connect situated historical events to contemporary places and identity work.

Cultural cooperation

Cultural cooperation represents a crossroad of policy strategies, legislative frameworks, funding programmes and partnerships between museums, libraries and public cultural institutions. To support cultural dialogue and cultural management, it is important to understand how cultural cooperation is created and works, how to assess it and monitor it, and how to support it in the context of changing dynamics between diverse actors across local, national and transnational contexts, in an age of migration. As noted by the Council of Europe within the Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, ‘The dynamics of trans-national mobility have led to fundamental changes in the way governments address cultural cooperation in general and exchanges between artists and other cultural professionals in particular.' (Council of Europe/ERICarts, 2012). UNESCO further noted that ‘International cultural co-operation shall cover all aspects of intellectual and creative activities relating to education, science and culture’ (Article III, in UNESCO, Declaration of Principles of International Cultural Co-operation, 4 November 1996). Finally, cultural cooperation is also one of the key concepts for the creation of a European cultural area, as defined by the European Parliament in its 2001 resolution on cultural cooperation in Europe.

Cultural cooperation policy

The idea of a network or system of cooperation, based on a non-territorial approach between cultural institutions engaged with cultural dialogue activities is an appealing way of breaking through Europe’s geographic, sociological and political borders. Cultural networks, at local, national and transnational level, can contribute to the development of new models and institutional practices of heritage within cultural institutions, as also suggested by Culture Action Europe (http://www.cultureactioneurope.org/) and by CultureLink (http://www.culturelink.org/), a Network of Networks for Research and Cooperation in Cultural Development established by UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The potential of these networks has not yet been recognised nor it has been supported by policy makers, as confirmed by the lack of penetration of such themes into cultural policies reported in the Council of Europe Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe (http://www.culturalpolicies.net/web/index.php). To fill this gap, field research was carried out with 24 real life case studies and 43 interviews with cultural institutional stakeholders, including museums, libraries, foundations, research institutes, professional and thematic associations, networks and European cultural divisions. These institutions were investigated both within the context of wider cultural networks and as individual initiatives of cultural dialogue.

Cultural network

Cultural networks are playing an increasingly important role in supporting transnational, cross-sectoral cooperation and cultural dialogue, and creating cultural value. UNESCO’s notion of cultural diversity and the Council of Europe’s holistic definition of heritage leave the dimension of interactions and exchanges between cultures to be further explored and defined, for example in terms of ‘cooperation capital’. Also of interest is how the usage of digital technologies is changing the dynamics and scoping of cultural networking and of memory construction, display and understanding in a networked society. The idea of a network, or system of cooperation, between cultural institutions based on a non-territorial approach is an appealing way of breaking through Europe’s geographic, sociological and political borders. Cultural networks, at local, national and transnational levels, can contribute to the development of new models and institutional practices of heritage within cultural institutions. The potential of networks for cultural dialogue has not yet been recognised nor has it been supported by policy makers. To fill this gap, investigations in this project were led on real-life case studies of cultural institutions working in what is defined here as ‘migrating heritage’, organised either in wider cultural networks or in individual initiatives of cultural dialogue.

Diasporic archives

What is the role of memory in the construction of the migrant’s identity? What kind of archives can host these memories? Diasporic Archives suggests cultural memory be considered a contested process, able to account for different views expressed by identities in flux during the process of migration. This clue proposes a reflection on both the processes of the construction and erasure of memory. Consistent with the idea that memory is never neutral, Diasporic Archive investigates how cultural memory is constructed during migration and what are the practices by which events that might fracture the hegemonic understanding of History are put under erasure. It also suggests that archives can be deployed to share memories outside the purview of official institutions and the state. In this sense, diasporic archives can also consist in a personal diary, the family photo album, the community museum, the interactive electronic archive, a collection of seeds, objects found ashore on the sea, and so on.

Digital cultural heritage

The use of digital technologies in the service of cultural heritage, which has been rapidly growing since the early 1990s. In several ways, culture has been one of the driving forces for research and technological development in the last few decades. However, digital and communication technologies in cultural heritage also raise challenging questions regarding the convergence and integration of ‘memory institutions’, the arts sector and information and communications technology (ICT). How could and should cultural heritage be preserved, represented, given access to and disseminated in digital and networked environments? How can digital media be contextualised, interpreted and considered authentic? Who are the privileged users in digital literacy and who is left out in the digital divide? How can cultural dialogue and social inclusion initiatives benefit from digital technologies? New interdisciplinary areas of study and of practice have emerged to circumscribe the use of such technologies to cultural heritage, such as virtual heritage, digital cultural heritage, new heritage , cultural heritage informatics and eCulture, with the intention of addressing new social, political and economic dimensions of sites, artefacts and other aspects of cultural heritage. The definitions of these areas of study and practice have been evolving in parallel with the development of a normative definition of what constitutes cultural heritage.


Display is understood as the organisation in space of cultural objects (ranging from tangible objects to places, concepts historical events or personages) for staged, and sometimes cumulative, encounters between visitors who are assumed to be engaged in co-ordinated acts of locomotion, sensing (primarily looking), reading and viewing. Museum display is not merely ‘reflective’ in the sense that the museum cannot be conceptualized as a ‘mirror’ (for example of society, of history etc.). Rather, it is a technology for constructing knowledge and for theorizing about the world or aspects of the world. This theorizing is done through the physical organization of objects set up in certain ways for pre-imagined encounters with visitors, who are themselves ‘imagined’ by curators engaged in acts of production. The theory embodied in finished displays is always inevitably compromised because of physical, logistical and political circumstances which effectively limit the theoretical potential of displays.

Display politics

Display Politics considers how cultural representations are constructed and how cultural identities are framed in museum spaces. As a place where artefacts are stored and exhibited, but also a site for constructing different identities. With the expansion of empires, museums where both repositories and exhibitionary apparatuses that sustained colonial ideologies. However, since cultural meaning are always contingent and never fixed, there cannot be a single way of narrating history and identity through exhibitionary practices. To focus on the transformation of museums in the age of migrations means to consider the histories and meanings provided by the museum as not-neutral and to expose them to the unauthorised questions coming from beyond their white walls. In this fashion, museums can now be conceived as space of on-going processes and procedures, encouraging participation and promoting innovative approaches.


More than information recorded in a medium it is evident that when one is working with historically valuable archives of documentation, the document is a witness of events, it is an archaeological remain that serves for critically analysing the history of ideas. Artistic practice can not be understood anymore only through the works of art but the document becomes part of the language that composes a complex cultural production such as the art (in relation to the dematerialization of the art object process). Art agents use archival documents as a prime material in their work to generate ideas and critical visions, which at the same time produce new documents.

Entwining layers

The museums practices set on a temporary basis have assumed a strategic role in the enhancement of contemporary museums’ mission, because they allow a constant upgrade of contents and tools, prevent the obsolescence of representations and messages, boost wealthy and differentiated programmes, and attract audiences. At the same time, they may facilitate the approach to difficult topics, offer alternative points of view, and pluralize the perspectives on collections and narrations. We might talk about the raise of an “ever-changing museum” model, related to the spread of new programming patterns, ranging from the development of semi-permanent/semi-temporary exhibition strategies – e.g. cyclic renovation of permanent exhibitions, setting of long term temporary exhibitions – to the entwinement of different layers – e.g. promotion of short term temporary exhibitions “grafting” alien objects, artworks or performances within permanent spaces or installations.

Ethnographic Patrimonies

The ethnographic museum is an invention of the age of European Empires. During the colonial era, ethnographic ‘finds’ were increasingly gathered, collected and exhibited in museums throughout Europe. Such collecting and collections intersect with the question of who holds the power to define, own and represent another culture. Since the 1960s, with the impact of the hermeneutic shift in anthropology and museography, and with native communities increasingly requesting the restitution of their objects, crucial changes have taken place in ethnographic and museographic theories and practices. Today, the questioning of the role of ethnographic museums is still ongoing. Under critical investigation is their institutional role as public spaces and their social and cultural mission. Such issues are made all the more pertinent through the persistence of a power to represent and consume ‘the spectacle of the Other’ in global consumer culture.

Identity objects

Identity objects are objects that assume value through their association – usually tangible and material – with place. These associated meanings can be mobilized by museums to stand for affective relationships and experiences of place. The identity object is a concept that recognises the ways in which objects, as understood in their relation to place can stand within and for complexes of ‘other things’: other places (and routes or connections between them), entities, events, relations, ideas, emotions, political, religious and moral positions and histories.

Identity places

An identity places is more or less explicitly and consciously used by individuals and/or groups as a resource for the maintenance or construction of identity, and/or is a place set up, offered or imposed as a resource of this kind through ‘from-above’ representations such as in museums or in the designation of places as heritage sites. It may involve not only spatially displaced settings but also proximate locations remembered as they existed at different points in the individual's life. Individual locations may become imbued with a temporal depth of meaning. Identity places are not necessarily ‘positive’ or psychologically accommodating resources: they may relate to experiences of belonging, attachment to place, personal history within place or indeed to non-belonging and exclusion from place in relation to identity in the present.

Images, sounds, bodies

The proposal of a post-colonial museum has to face the challenge of exposing official History to the emergence of the unregistered narratives it has structurally excluded. These minor histories are able to draw upon maps of the uncharted routes of diasporic, hybrid and subaltern subjectivities. These are alternative and yet co-existent with the official ‘white male’ Occidental normative subject. These stories – these alternative maps of memory – are transported over space and time in historical and cultural bodies: through oral narrations, gestures, tastes, perceptions, touch, sounds and music. Such languages can be considered as alternative vehicles for different modes of experiencing and transmitting memory. Bypassing the traditional Western ocularcentric vision of the world – in which the normative subject is the one who sees, controls, orders and subjects alterity – multisensorial perception in general becomes central in this context and in relation to art and museums.


The questions Lyotard posed in his exhibition 'Les Immatériaux' (Paris, 1985) are more important today than ever as technological change increases and the impact on artists’ practices raises key curatorial questions of exhibition display, acquisition policies and collection management. Historically contrasted with painting and sculpture, the rise of time-based, artistic practices since the 1960s such as performance, sound, light-based, and digital art have challenged the Modernist atemporal, autonomous art object and the modernist display paradigm of the white cube space. As artists from non-Western Fine Art traditions increasingly enter the field of ‘global contemporary art’ their non-object based work is often left to be presented as part of ‘programming’ culture. Without occupying a material aspect, or being rematerialised as document to be archived, such work does not enter museum collections, and hence history, leaving the project of Modernism and the museum of modern art unchanged.

Interactive / interaction

How do these technological, mediating, realtime, responsive content presentation engage users? More particularly to the MeLa topics, this theme reflects on case studies and technologies that develop questions or express ideas of “place” and “identity” inside and outside of the museum. We are interested to include topics and project examples that go beyond 'interactivity-as-technology' from academia and museum design practice. We reflect more broadly on how interaction changes subject-object relations and the composition of self through experience.

Media / mediated

All mediations of the institution and the archive provide opportunities while filtering representations. The affect and effect of media technologies, applied within the cultural sphere, come with presumed educational and social goals, written into these systems. All archives (of which the museum is one) are mediated, so how do we account for the subtle, and not so subtle, details of these mediations. How are presumed "equal" sets of “content” expressed in different ways? Could we develop non-totalised, in-conclusive and open-for-discussion resources? Museum and archives become a location for a comparative media study.

Migrating heritage

In a world increasingly characterized by mobility, travel and social networking history, what could be the cross-border heritage and memories of a heterogeneous and contested place such as Europe today? What kind of cultural identities can be welcomed in and across the European space? Which could be the institutional actors involved and how can they work together across borders and across domains? How can policy bodies support the contexts and practices necessary to encourage this? We are witnessing a complex mixture of shift and continuities from the classic identity-marking heritage of European nation states to a contemporary migrating heritage, a new concept introduced in this project research (Innocenti 2014 and 2015). One key feature of (multi)cultural migrating heritage is the drive to unbind identities and let them interweave in new networks, in new pathways of exchange and hybridization. Migrating heritage encompasses and acknowledges the migration of post-colonial artefacts and also the migration and mobility of people, technologies and disciplines, crossing boundaries and joining forces in cultural networks to address emerging challenges of social inclusion and cultural dialogue, new models of cultural identity, citizenship and national belonging.

Migrating modernities

Migrations – of people, objects and ideas, have been a central driving force of modernity. New ideas, new ways of making and doing, the construction of memory and cultural identity are all processes that have accompanied the mass movements of people in the globalized societies of Europe today. In art the notion of ‘migrating modernities’ is part of a critical postcolonial constellation of artistic practices and research that aim to challenge dominant mono-cultural and Euro-centric understanding of Western modernity. Artists and curators are using and manipulating anthropological, ethnographic and archival practices to challenge the stability of Euro-centric constructions of space, time (history) and knowledge. The research based practices of artists such as Kader Attia and Camille Henrot explore the complex ways migration- of ideas and knowledge as much as people – fundamentally alter the production, reception and circulation of art and the stability of the art object itself.

Narrative Museum

In contemporary museums it is possible to acknowledge an overall shift from an object-focused to a content-oriented approach in the narratives’ construction, which is resulting in a more crucial role of exhibition design in bearing the museum contents. A new array of exhibition techniques are being experimented to more effectively convey the museum message, foster visitors’ interaction with the exhibits, encourage physical participation and create a sympathetic connection. The viewer becomes ‘The User’, who is not detached from what’s represented, but rather touches, chooses, plays an active role and act as part of it. The museum becomes a stage where space, time, bodies, movements and emotions contribute in conveying a multilayered narration. This approach is frequently implemented in contemporary migration museums – it may be considered an archetypical design model for their exhibitions – but it is increasingly used in other museums e.g. those focused on contemporary societal issues.

New (im)materials

Heritage is incorporating a material and immaterial dimension, being culture and memories a social construct that in-forms, on contextual bases, objects, spaces and practices, even in dissonant and plural ways. The new museum objects are presences that testify both the de-materialising of the documents, the complexity of multicultural immaterial value embodiment in phisical artefacts, and the production of new contemporary cultural processes. Understanding the heritage in its intangible and minor forms too, as a repertoire, performance, knowledge subject to execution and evolution, questions the strategies of museums and archives towards more open and updatable systems that should enable multivocal and participative processes of self-representation of identities, the re-enactment and re-use of this heritage as an open-ended system, porous understading and performative experiences in a dialogic and discursive exhibition strategy. How the museums exhibition systems should be revised and innovated, also by the use of technologies, in order to challenge with these new (im)materials the politics of display?


Art practices with a basis in performance and including elements of performativity are playing an increasingly important role in contemporary art. Works of art encompassing performance and performativity extend beyond the material object to include ideas and forms of process, action, participation, site-specificity, time-based practice, sound and moving image. This expanded idea of art practice poses significant challenges to how the meanings of art works that encompass performance and performativity are processed and accounted for in museums in relation to the traditional (modernist) narratives they have historically constructed. Projects by Kader Attia, Leo Asemota, Quinsy Gario and Lawrence Abu Hamdan all significantly contain elements of performance as a spatio-temporal event and performativity as forms of discursive interventions and articulations as discussed in the RCA’s 'Transfigurations' publication.

Personal / Social

Museum technologies are traditionally divided into two groups: personal technologies on one side (e.g. audioguides and interpretive tools) and public technologies on the other (e.g. information totem, interactive tables). The emergence of new devices, generically defined smart, such as smartphones and tablets, is overcoming this dualism and introducing a new dichotomy played between personal and social: smart devices are indeed strictly personal and allow high levels of personalization of the visit experience, but at the same time they let users bring their social-2.0 life within museums and cultural institutions. The self-contradictory nature of these devices, that are both personal and social, opens to novel dynamics of interaction between visitors and cultural contents, but also between visitors themselves, that can be beneficially exploited to foster personalized interpretations, as well as dialogue and confrontation.

Perspective / Reflective

In the context of a trans-European research project about relationships between individual museum visitors and European cultural institutions, we concentrate here on the opportunities technologies open up for self-reflection. These ideas speak about the use of the technology of the museum itself, as well as designed technologies within museums, in ways which help people and ideas reflect upon themselves and against one another. Avoiding determination or simple novelty in presentation, this theme absorbs contemporary thinking of the museum as a place where techno-material cultures and identities are placed in relief against one another.


The term ‘post-critical’ was designated in the publication 'Post-critical Museology: Theory and Practice in the Art Museum' (Routledge 2013, Dewdney, Dibosa & Walsh) to describe a methodological approach to ‘problem-solving’ research in the curatorial and museological context that brings together practice, policy and theory into the same sphere of interaction and analysis through grounded, critically self-reflexive, collaboration between practitioners. While New Institutionalism assumed the mantle of structural, institutional critique from Foucauldian studies and relocated critique of the institution and its curatorial practices inside the institution, the post-critical rejects the idea of a coherent ‘institution’ that can be examined or engaged with as a structural organisation of power. At its core, the post-critical aims to enact change as part of the process of its grounded, practice-led and collaborative methodological approach.

Proactive Spaces

The ongoing revision of the museums’ social and political role and the related reassessment of their mission, practices and approaches, might be as well complemented by a transformation and reorganisation of their spaces, intended as essential components potentiating the effectiveness towards contemporary society. By analysing some significant newly built or recently renovated European museums, it is possible to detect the recurrent presence of strategic spaces, that are meant not only to accommodate but also to support and even foster the development of new practices. We may refer to them as “proactive” spaces – where the adjective “proactive” suggests their ability in consciously reacting to events, in timely adapting, or even fostering and driving changes. Proactive spaces are flexible, adaptive, multi-purpose and in-progress spaces, which remain “open” in their form, function and meaning in order to better respond to the evolving needs and activities of 21st century museums.

Reach-out museum

Among the practices recently implemented to potentiate the social role of contemporary museums, the activities they develop outside their walls are assuming a crucial role and proving to be particularly effective. The experimentation of outreach programmes encompasses a wide array of participatory and community based projects aimed at fostering a bi-univocal relationship with the local population, furthering the possibility to draw in a larger and more differentiated audience, and boosting a more active involvement in the museum’s contents production, experience and sharing. These practices imply the development of innovative curatorial approaches, but also the design of new communicative tools, exhibition devices and spaces e.g. outdoor arenas, mobile laboratories, travelling access points, pop-up exhibitions, urban installations, etc. These “outreach” displays have an in-between and hybrid identity, serving as a bond among the museum and the outside places in which they stand.


Within the RCA project both artists and curators highlighted the limits of representational practices in terms of the organization of culture, and particularly those informed by discourses of the politics of identity based on the visual markers of cultural difference i.e. race. The need to recognise new forms of subjectivity not exclusively defined by migration but also the conditions of globalisation and digital transformation which are dismantling the historical structures and institutions of the nation-state was established. To avoid reproducing the conditions of cultural difference through representational practices, national museums need to acknowledge current forms of subjectivity of both artists and audiences by engaging with the specificity of the work through new forms of display and collection which equally do not subsume it within Modernist narratives or strategies of display.