Sunday, February 1, 2009
Silence as an Interpretive Strategy
Are there times when just silence is the best interpretive strategy? Last year when I facilitated an AAM Conference Idea Lounge session called, "Why are Historic House Tours so Boring?" one participant reminded us that sometimes silence is the best thing--just providing visitors with a chance to appreciate the space and the art. I was reminded of that comment yesterday when I went, just as a tourist, to St. Sophia's Cathedral here in Kyiv.
St. Sophia is on UNESCO's World Heritage List, the first such site listed in Ukraine. It was built in the 11th century, though its exterior dates from a later period. It has a complex and complicated history, and it operates now as a museum, not as a working place of worship.
But yesterday was a cold January day, with only a weak bit of sun--enough to get me outdoors to see some of Kyiv's sights. It proved a great time to see St. Sophia. The sanctuary of the Cathedral itself is incredibly beautiful, with both mosaics and paintings in these deep, rich, incredible colors. The labeling was minimal, but thankfully in English, Russian and German, and there were very few people there. It was an opportunity to just be in this space, with centuries of history, and surrounded by such beauty--well, for once, I didn't really need any interpretation, I just immersed myself in it.
And outside it felt the same--enclosed from the outside world on the grounds, you could just wander, with the small number of other visitors, and look closely at details--the lock on a green door, the gold on a dome, a copper downspout. It felt like everything extraneous was pared away, leaving you to appreciate the place itself.