Research project

Museum of Loss and Renewal

The Museum of Loss and Renewal investigates issues such as the value and significance of objects, life and death, and artist-led curatorial practice

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Start date

September 1997

Completion date

September 2017

Context and background

The first two manifestations of The Museum of Loss and Renewal; Loss Becomes Object and Object Becomes Subject, focus on the interrelationships between death, memory, material culture and recycling. During a prolonged period of engagement with The Highland Hospice Shops and by working with artefacts donated to them, Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen investigate issues recurrent in their work; the value and significance of objects, life and death, and artist-led curatorial practice. By looking at and re-presenting items such as clothes, music, videos, books and bric-a-brac as part of a process of re-cycling, they continue to question the value of 'things', and how these determine and reflect identities and histories. This inquiry follows on from work made in response to their own familial experiences of death, represented in work such as Life is Over! if you want it.

Aims and objectives

The Museum of Loss and Renewal is an ongoing project which investigates areas of significance to contemporary art that are central to Mackenna and Janssen’s collaborative art practice; material culture, collecting and artist-led curatorial practice, with an emphasis on their framing within a participatory approach. Objects selected from The Highland Hospice charity shops act as vehicles that enable conversation, knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange. Through their approach to artist-led curatorial practice, the modes of presentation and display of these everyday objects enable new understandings and meanings and activate embedded knowledge and subjectivities positioned alongside the expert views of designers, anthropologists, cultural and social historians. As the artists, they take on the roles of collectors, keepers and curators.


The Museum of Loss and Renewal The Museum of Loss and Renewal is a multifaceted project, leading to two distinct exhibition projects to date, with embedded live public studios, interdisciplinary public seminars and a publication. Loss becomes Object consisted of two cardboard display cases, Life is Short, Art Long and Forces of Attraction and Repulsion, that contained artefacts juxtaposed with associative material, resulting in a series of still-life groupings that provoked reflections on issues of loss, death, recycling and appropriation. A slide projection, No Neutral Representations, is a series of written notebook pages with associated printed postcard images. A poster, Loss becomes Object, if you want it! continues ongoing work The John and Yoko Drawings, the slogan setting the framework for the exhibition. Loss becomes Object was launched at The Highland Institute for Contemporary Art (HICA) with a series of talks (2011). HICA’s annual publication, Highland Institute for Contemporary Art: Exhibitions 2011 (2012) captures the first stages of the project, contains a commissioned essay by writer Duncan McLaren, and visual documentation.

Object becomes Subject featured the two cardboard display cases in a public studio, which enabled the making of a new case, a text blanket and the development of the slide projection No Neutral Representations; this was updated regularly in a live situation through direct participation by a range of publics, arising out of conversation, and participation in discursive events. Object becomes Subject took place at the University’s Visual Research Centre at Dundee Contemporary Arts, and included an interdisciplinary seminar series exploring notions of duration and context specificity, and focused on the relationship between art practice, creative change and human healing. The Museum of Loss and Renewal (2012) designed in collaboration with Stout/Kramer captures the first two parts of The Museum of Loss and Renewal. It documents the project visually and analyses key aspects of the project through writing by the artists and others.


Project team

Professor Tracy Mackenna


Edwin Janssen

External team members

Paula McCormack, The Highland Hospice, Inverness (Director of Clinical and Education Services)
Susan Cooper, The Highland Hospice, Inverness (Manager, The Highland Hospice charity shops)
Emma Nicolson, ATLAS, Isle of Skye (Director)
Duncan McLaren, Perthshire (Writer)
Prof Arnd Schneider, University of Oslo (Social Anthropologist)
Dr Paul O’Neill, University of the West of England (Curator, Artist and Writer)
Dr David Reilly, Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital (Doctor, Educator and Researcher)
Highland Institute for Contemporary Art
Visual Research Centre, Dundee Contemporary Arts