There is a useful taxanomic list that an English museum made of its collections. I love lists, as they are often full of unexpected poetic moments. This list towards its conclusion contained this :
vessel, perhaps (1)
It is a moment caught between pathos (the curator struggling to define an object) and insight (how can we list the objects in our lives?). It brings up the question of what objects we have in our lives, and what objects are deemed worthy of museums. Listening to stories of how collections came into being is a very good way of thinking through the levels of meaning that they embody. The narratives of collecting (who collected, why did they collect, what is missing from the collection) are often effaced by museums. The labels, acquisition numbers, contexts in which they are shown, inhibition about touch are all signals of removal from the narratives of our own lives.
In 2006 I made an intervention at the Millgate Museum to bring these questions -and narratives- to life. Given the huge diversity of its collections (industrial archaeology, agricultural history, social history, material culture, typographical materials, art) the objective was to give the visitor an alternative route around the museum, one that brings these questions alive. But rather than thinking of it as a roadmap through the material, the installation questioned both materiality itself and the ways in which the dynamic of museums work.