Museum of Marco Polo

Celebrating Museums And Imagination 2020

Museum Daydreaming

16th October 2013

16th October 2013:  You know what the web is like – a vast, meandering conversation, often incoherent but sometimes spot-on. Nothing is final, everything provisional and open to be retracted and re-edited, and yet every step in this meandering and provisional conversation is captured for posterity. So I have just come across one such conversation – from 2010 (what was I doing in 2010?) – on the website Museum2.0 – on the subject of ‘third-thing-ness’ in museums (

So (with apologies to those of you who knew this all along because you were keeping up with the web) this is the concept that we use objects in museums as third-things, the things we gaze upon together – admire, discuss, dispute – as a way of confirming friendships. In this way objects are social things because they mediate between us and help us connect.

It’s a lovely idea – I wish I’d thought of it myself – and no sooner had I thought, ‘That’s lovely,’ than I thought of the parallel phenomenon, the museum as the place for the solitary daydreamer, where we use museum objects as the beginning of a day dream.

Which I mention because I do a lot of daydreaming in museums and can particularly recommend the V&A in London as a great daydreaming space. The reason for its daydreaming potential? I think because the museum is fundamentally about journeys – the unlikely and extraordinary journeys of people and objects, journeys in time and journeys in space. (I know the museum pitches itself as a museum of design but I never see it like that. Which is also interesting – and maybe an example of the illusion of ‘intentionalism’, the fact that an organisation intends us to see it as one thing, whilst we stubbornly read it as another.)

And so you can stand by the Welcome desk in this museum of journeys and think, ‘Where shall I go today? Shall I go to Egypt, to India, or to China?’ And then let all those artefacts take you on a journey to somewhere else. Sometimes going to the V&A is like going on holiday without ever leaving South Kensington. And what could be nicer than that?