Museum on the Couch

by Bernard Müller

The ethnographic museum today: burned-out star or future in the making?

Museum on the Couch consists of a series of activities – of teaching, experimenting and networking – that will open up a unique experimental space in the heart of the ethnographic museum, an interactive place where we discuss the problems this institution is currently facing; a place where practical solutions are proposed, and presented to the museum public. This space is meant to foster a constructive confrontation of theory and practice, the principle being that of a spatial agency of anthropological/ethnographic discourse. It will focus on the difficulties encountered in trying to combine practical and theoretical questions.

We will kick start the series of activities with a workshop called "Putting on Stage" during the Winter Term 2015/16 Organised as a collaboration between the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Leipzig and the Staatliche Ethnographische Sammlungen Sachsen, the seminar-workshop will have a working room, a proper exhibit space located in the permanent exhibition of the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde in Leipzig and the means necessary for the implementation of the proposed devices.

This and the following seminar-workshops are open to all. It is intended for both students in of anthropology, fine arts, art history or museum studies, etc. They will lead to a cycle of exhibitions, the first opening in spring 2016.

Resting upon objects of Ethnographic Collections of Saxony (SES), on past projects or related topics, the participants of this and the following seminar-workshops will implement genuine museum projects that will be presented in a public area of the permanent exhibition. In order to move away from disciplinary compartmentalisation, this workspace is envisioned as a collaborative platform, a place that aims to gather ethnologists, philosophers, art historians, curators, mediators, designers / architects, artists and various professions linked in any way to the museum: lighting or sound engineer, videographer, graphic designer, etc. around a common issue, in collaboration with several departments.

The notion of crisis affecting the ethnographic institutions, not only in their theoretical foundations but also in their practices, including that affecting the Ethnographic Museum, will be at the heart of our concerns. We will try to highlight the scenic symptoms in its failures, successes as well as its creative side-tracks, as manifested in general in ethnographic museums today around the world in general, and at the ethnographic museum in Leipzig in particular.

By way of introduction, considering exhibitions - whether permanent or temporary - as a theatre of objects (the latter not necessarily being material, as in "intangible culture" or "oral history"), we propose to approach the biography of the object by the multiplicity of appropriations and variety of uses/usages to which it is subject/object, as expression of the variety of temporalities it relates to.


Bernard Müller


Capture decran 2014-09-19 a 10.21.31

Bernard Müller is a researcher/lecturer in social anthropology (PhD 2000) and a scientific/cultural program designer.

He studies staging processes such as scenic arrangements (theater, ritual, performance, etc.), museographic scenographies, or any type of situation that explicitly notes a form of "spectacle". Specialised in the cultural history of West Africa (Nigeria, Bénin Republic, Togo, Ghana), his comparative research also extends to other areas (Europe, Brazil) ; and focuses on the relationship between art and science today.

For the last 12 years, in collaboration with Thierry Bonnot, he has directed the seminar « Putting on stage and into narration : objects, texts and performances » at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris). He is a member of the Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les enjeux sociaux, a laboratory for interdisciplinary research in social sciences.

Since October 2015 he has been coordinating « The Museum on the Couch » Seminar-Workshop at the Institut für Ethnologie at the University of Leipzig (Germany), in collaboration with the Sächsische Ethnographische Sammlungen (SES) and the IRIS-EHESS, a theoretical and practical space to reboot the worldmuseum concept.

As a cultural program designer, he conceived, counselled and implemented various cultural and scientific programs: exhibitions, lecture series, multimedia programs and coordinates the activities of CURIO (, a nonprofit association.

As a scientific adviser, he has collaborated with various cultural institutions such as the Musée du quai Branly (2007-2009), Centre George Pompidou, Cité Nationale de l'Histoire de l'Immigration-CNHI, la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (Paris&Saint-Denis), Prins Claus Foundation, Fondation Dapper, l'Institut National de Recherches en Archéologie Préventive-INRAP, Musée en Herbe, Musée Vodou-Strasbourg, InExtenso-Paris (« Centre des cultures caribéennes », an ongoing project), etc. As an artistic collaborator, he accompanied personalities such as the writer Wole Soyinka (Nobel Prize for Literature 1986), the artists Yinka Shonibare and Daniel Spoerri.

He has published several books, free essays and articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Born in 1966, Franco-German, he spent his childhood in Togo and lived in France between 1983 and 2015. He lives now in Dresden, Germany.


Annette Veit
 Tel + 49 341 97 37 220
Fax + 49 341 97 37 229
Office Hours:
10 am - 11 am
1 pm - 2 pm


Ursula Rao
 +49 341 97 37 221
Institut für Ethnologie
Schillerstraße 6
04109 Leipzig