Since reopening in 2007, the Museum of Rouen has defined itself as a Sustainable and Responsible Museum.
Being a Sustainable and Responsible Museum means employing everything that makes up the institution’s heritage, including its history, its very extensive international collections and the place’s spirit, as a force to constantly question the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.
- Every project is anchored in time, as nineteenth-century collections are examined in line with the issues of today.
- Every project is based on the principles of sustainable development, from a social, environmental, economic and cultural perspective.
That is what a sustainable Museum does.
- Within each project, the Museum should play a responsible role by questioning societies at the local, national or international level.
- Each project is part of a scientific logic, an insight into the evolution of thoughts through the conservation, research and educational work centred on the collection.
That is what a responsible Museum does.
Construction of the Māori canoe - Armada 2008
To symbolise the growing ties with New Zealand, the Museum of Rouen constructed a Māori canoe for the Armada 2008. This project is the fruit of the hard work of the Museum’s team members, and started with a section of the trunk of a Douglas fir felled in the forest of Eu that was donated by the National Forestry Office.
Returning the Museum’s Māori head
By launching the process of returning the Māori head back in October 2007, we wanted to show that the ramifications of museums’ actions on society go way beyond the confines of the museum world. This step, which is entirely consistent with the museum’s sustainable and responsible approach, is pertinent on various levels.
In terms of the museum world, this step had various aims:
- to establish that the laws governing museums and heritage did not address the status of human remains.
- to highlight the fact that museums hold a huge number of human remains. In this respect, as we created an inventory we rediscovered a huge number of human remains that were spread out, some of which came from nineteenth-century medicine and many of which, we imagine, from archaeology. These also include a viable six-month human foetus, which was donated to the Museum in 1989 without any information about the donor or the conditions under which it was donated. This may suggest that in 1989, any citizen could dispose of a foetus terminated at home without providing explanations by donating it to a museum as a piece of heritage property.
- to argue that human remains are not a collectible item like other objects and
- their exhibition should be subject to certain ethical rules, as should their preservation and restoration.
This approach enables us to address the issue of the status of human remains within a wider social context:
- For example, whether human remains could be considered differently with regard to ethics, human dignity and heritage, as well as from a scientific, medical, archaeological and ethnographic perspective.
- This step highlights the fact that in 2007 no legal text was able to define what constituted human remains. This legal gap brings our own society back to all issues related to death (euthanasia, early life, late life, violation…).
This process of restoration clearly reflects the Museum’s sustainable and responsible approach. It is paving the way in terms of innovation and is a model for what a museum can represent in the present day. UNESCO paid tribute to the Museum’s decision in 2011 during the final vote at the National Assembly. Seven years after it was implemented, the step continues to make an impression and is regularly cited as a textbook case by national and international legal experts. It shows that a museum can be a place where laws are brought in.
As is often the case when there is a debate, this step received much national and international publicity. It has given rise to several documentaries, a lot of research, and extensive participation in various national and international conferences.
Finally, as everything is linked, the beginnings of the research programme on chemical products have naturally been tested as the Māori head was returned to New Zealand in order to prevent the potentially polluted head from contaminating the soil upon its future burial.
Museum Research - INSA - C2RMF - Air Normand
The sustainable and responsible Museum in relation to the preservation of collections
The toxicity of chemical preservatives has not been widely studied in museums as this is still a taboo subject, since the generations who used them may still be present within our institutions. Our aim, within the context of the sustainable and responsible approach, is to see whether these very toxic and often carcinogenic products are still present in the Museum and, if so, in what quantities, in order to improve the air quality in the Museum where possible.
As such, since 2010 the Museum of Rouen has been managing a research programme on “The analysis, detection and clean-up of chemical products used in the past as part of the preparation and preservation of natural history collections.” This innovative project is led in conjunction with the Rouen National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) and its Industrial and Environmental Risk Management Department (MRIE), the Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF) and Air Normand, a body commissioned by the Ministry of Ecology to analyse air pollution related to road traffic and industries within the Haute-Normandie region.
In line with their own areas of expertise and objectives, each partner has an undeniable interest in this project and brings to it their expertise and significant technical resources: research and training of engineering students from INSA, research in the preservation and restoration of specific collections from the C2RMF, and studies and analyses of the impact of these little-studied pollutants on the environment from Air Normand.
This programme provides a better understanding of the practices inherited from the past, improving both working conditions and the consideration of the health of officials.
The Museum of Rouen and its partners regularly publish articles on the subject in national and international scientific journals and speak at international conferences in the areas of chemistry, biochemistry and engineering sciences.
The Gallery of Continents
The Gallery of Continents: the sustainable and responsible Museum in relation to ethnographic collections
The notion of a sustainable and responsible Museum is dependent on a simple principal: it means employing everything that makes up the institution’s heritage, including its history, its very extensive international collections and the place’s spirit, as a force to constantly question the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. For example, by launching the process of returning the Māori head back in October 2007 we wanted to show that the ramifications of museums’ actions on society go way beyond the confines of the museum world.
The Museum of Rouen has significant ethnographic collections that were acquired in the nineteenth century. During the inventory, we noticed that we only have the life and work of the donor from Rouen or France, and in no way do we have the original meaning of these objects in terms of the culture that produced them. We also decided to work directly with the communities from which our collections originated, and to give them carte blanche in their promotion to enable them to be ambassadors of their cultures.
Within our collections, each community chooses the objects that they consider to be important with regard to their own culture. The communities set the themes, edit the texts and artistically enhance this cooperative work within the Gallery of Continents.
The sustainable and responsible Museum in relation to documentation and inventories
The results produced by this research programme will certainly have an impact today in terms of understanding the actions of the past and the evolution of chemical products formerly used; however, these results should also be available for the future generations that will work within the Museum. We are therefore integrating all the results of the research programme into the inventories and documentation, as a sort of “19th virtual column”, where the pollutants that are detected and analysed are listed, in terms of specimens as well as display cases and buildings.
The sustainable and responsible Museum questions the inventory process and the introduction of objects and specimens into the collections, for example by establishing a clear course of action with regards to the future of objects, in particular those defined by the ICOM as “sensitive objects”. Since 2007, the Museum of Rouen has therefore been questioning society about the place and status of human remains, both in terms of heritage and ethics, as well as about the consideration of indigenous peoples and their claims, whether demands for items to be returned or simply for access to collections. We have also been giving thought to the conditions under which these items are exhibited and preserved.
Bottled Ocean 2115
Giving indigenous peoples the opportunity to speak about climate change
The Museum of Rouen invited Māori artist George Nuku to provide his interpretation of climate change, rising water levels, plastic pollution and the Museum’s future collections. The strong link between George Nuku and the Museum of Rouen is not new, as George produced the ethnographic collections of the Oceania Continent in 2011 within the Gallery of Continents.
Intimate Memory Project - St Julien Assisted Living Residence - University Hospital Centre - Museum
Under the Culture-Hospital agreement made between the town of Rouen and the University Hospital Centre, you can discover the extremely human project led by the Museum, the University Hospital Centre and the St Julien Assisted Living Residence, with the support of comic book scriptwriter Fred Duval.
With the support of health workers from the establishment and the cultural teams from both the Rouen University Hospital Centre and the Museum, 7 residents from the St Julien Assisted Living Residence have worked together for 6 weeks to create displays with one shared objective in mind: to use memory, in terms of both short-term memory and memory that calls on our recollections.
During these sessions, Pierrette, Céline, Alain, Daffé, Christian, Jacques and Henri disclosed their personal story, giving rise to the displays’ themes.
Through museum visits, presentation advice given by Fred Duval, colouring, writing workshops, choosing objects and producing plaques, each person became the director of their own display case.
As with any exhibition, this project led to a small and deeply emotive private viewing on Monday 22 June. With a combination of modesty, nerves and great pride, each of the residents was able to rely on their memory and tell the story of their display to thirty people from the various institutions participating in the project.
The Museum and COP21
Thanks to its Sustainable and Responsible project, the Museum of Rouen was noticed by the organisers of the COP21 in Paris.
- The “Bottled Ocean 2115” exhibition, which addressed the theme of climate change through the artistic interpretation of George Nuku, has been awarded the COP21 label COP21 Website
- George Nuku presented the “Bottled Ocean 2115” exhibition at the “Indigenous Peoples in the Face of Climate Change” conference at the Musée de l’Homme on 25 November Conference Programme
- George Nuku presented the “Bottled Ocean 2115” exhibition at the “Let’s change all climates” event “How to learn from the Other” at the Earth University at UNESCO on 5 December UNESCO Earth University Programme
- George Nuku presented the “Bottled Ocean 2115” exhibition at the Amazonian Fortnight, the Embassy of Indigenous Peoples at the La Bellevilloise centre in the 20th arrondissement of Paris between 9 and 12 December Amazonian Fortnight Programme