I sort of do, at least, and now I’ve even got a badge to prove it, sent by analogue mail all the way from NY, thanks to @MarkBSchlemmer, who started the #ITweetMuseums initiative. (BTW, this post will feature excessive use of @handles and #hashtags). Ironically, it’s the analogue part that really wins me over, even though I’m not entirely sure what to make of this whole museums on twitter business. But after mainly lurking on Twitter for five years, since attending Museums and the Web back in 2009 (watch out for tweets from #MW2014 next week), I suddenly find myself tweeting loads.

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My motivation for getting stuck in was that I arranged for the museology class to participate in a user test of #hintme.dk (see also the Europeana Case study). Given how much I learned myself from joining a previous test I figured this would be a great way for the students to experience and engage critically with mobile museum mediation from a user perspective, and also get an insight into the museum’s perspective. Merete Sanderhoff/ @MSanderhoff, project manager at Statens Museum for Kunst, presented the intentions behind the project and also, as always, generously shared the challenges experienced and the insights gained in the process, as technology and users threw spanners in the works of the original ideas. With the functionality now more or less in place, the user test was set up as a tweetup, asking us to reflect on the social interactions and also get some content on the platform. Curator @k_monrad also took part in the test and provided some useful answers to our questions – as well as pointing out the brilliance of Twitter forcing you to be brief and succinct –  and @PSoemers, an hintme-enthusiast from the Netherlands, joined online. It was was good fun, and although the screen and the technology still takes up a lot of attention, it was also clear from the hints shared and questions asked that the format inspired closer looks at the artwork.

So anyway, to get ready for the tweetup, the students all had to get a twitter profile, and were urged to acquaint themselves with the platform by sharing tweets and links under the #ivamus tag. They only did so very sparringly, I must admit, whereas I got on a slightly maniacal roll, sharing articles and hashtags and RTs for inspiration (and, to be honest, to let them see how the online museum sphere has no ending and thus can be rather overwhelming). Which is how I stumbled upon the #ITweetMuseums thing, was allerted to the brilliant Touch Van Gogh iPad app and @danamuses’ useful #museumhashtag glossary , connected with @PSoemers, @Skagensmuseum and others, followed the #whyexhibitions conference on the sideline and much more.

And now it’s #MuseumWeek, meaning that institutions around the world share their stories and get users involved in quizzes and other calls for participation. It’s rather distracting, but it’s actually also a really nice way to engage with institutions around museum objects and stories. But there is a but – namely that a lot of the interaction seems to be between museum professionals. Which is not a bad thing in itself, that museologist use twitter for mutual inspiration and knowledge sharing. But it does show that despite inventiveness and the very best intentions, it is still hard to get the public properly engaged, and that even though the uptake of Twitter in Denmark is growing rapidly, it is still not possible to simply transpose a general media usage pattern to a museum specific context.

This term’s teaching is giving me a real buzz. It’s so great to have been able to offer a museology course, and get a bunch of dedicated students involved in tackling museum questions and making up their own minds about what museums are and could be. Reading through their blogposts and following their thought processes is so interesting, and I’m actually really proud of the response I’ve been getting so far (and also note that I must become a little more structured and lecturer-like, as I do have a tendency to get over-enthusiastic and ramble a bit). Even though it is only a short course, I’ve prioritised museum visits and talks with external researchers and practitioners, and although both I and the students are a little frustrated that we have too little time to engage in discussions and dive deep into the literature, it’s been a real treat to hear and experience all these practice perspectives.

A couple of weeks ago we visited The Exhibition Lab at Designmuseum Danmark, and had an enlightening presentation about the exhibition principles and research results from PhD researcher and curator Laura Liv Weikop. The exhibition was set up as an experiment, displaying the same selection of everyday design objects according to three different exhibitionary principles, i.e. offering an aesthetic, didactic or affective experience of the objects, and then measuring the audience’s response and preferences. It was a great little exhibition, and a perfect case for this course.

The Exhibition Lab - Affective display 'You are what you own'

The Exhibition Lab – Affective display ‘You are what you own’

Laura’s preliminary results pointed to a preference for the affective and the didactic displays – a lot of visitors wished for a combination of the two – whereas interestingly, if not really surprisingly, the traditional glass case display was perceived by many – but not all! – as stale and old fashioned. As the cases are design classics in their own right in this case, purpose built by the Danish master Kaare Klint, they are hardly on their way out. Still, it will be really interesting to read Laura’s dissertation in time, and not least to see how the Designmuseum will follow up on these insights. 

Following on from this, we visited yet another meta-exhibition; Heim Steinbach’s The Window at Statens Museum for Kunst. The display – Steinbach’s chosen term – comprising artworks from the collection, new works by the artist-curator and everyday objects collected amongst the museum staff, and playing with exhibitionary conventions like white cube aestetics, was an interesting hybrid of artwork and exhibition. Furthermore, the accompanying folder gave a thorough introduction to the principles and elements of the display, and thus provided not only a fine guide for understanding and discussing the exhibition, but also served as an great example of the role of museum communication for the experience and discourse of the exhibition (cf. Gade 2006, Ferguson 1995, as per curriculum).

And last week, one of the students, who also works as a wildlife conservator, had arranged an absolutely wonderful visit to the Zoological Museum. First up, Birgitte Rubæk, as member of the Museum Minds innovation group, gave us an introduction to the process, plans and visions for the new Natural History Museum. If everything goes right (read: if all funding is found, so that budgetary restraints and other practicalities will not completely hollow out the original ideas), it’s going to be a truly spectacular place. And not only because of the remarkable architecture, but because of the strong curatorial ideas guiding the development of exhibitions. The group has devised a set of dogmas (in Denmark we’re rather fond of the dogma idea following the success of the film indstry in the 90′s) which center around the unique experiences of authentic artefacts that museums can offer.

Building bridges between natural science and humanities, and insisting on establishing an experience that also appeals to ‘unaccompanied majors’, and not only to families and children, the museum is not afraid to go against the current in it’s vision of what makes a great museum. A notable example is the rule stating that ‘if other media can do it better than us, we won’t do it’, which is in stark contrast to for instance branding consultant Damien Whitmore’s assertion that “In 20 years, the V&A will have more TV producers than curators.” (in Sten 2010). Rubæk’s easy going presentation thus served up a lot of food for thought, and it was hard to break off the conversation.

However, we were also privileged to a peak view of the collections, so had to move on for this fascinating experience. Five storeys worth of mammal hides and bones, stuffed birds and pickled snakes, toads and lizards; including a full blue whale skeleton, and no less than 600 polar bear craniums.

From the collection at Zoologisk Museum. Photo by Niels Toft Larsen.

From the collection at Zoologisk Museum. Photo by Niels Toft Larsen.

The latter really brought home the point about museums, in this case a university museum but also generally, as a hub for research. And Mogens Andersen, our guide and collection keeper was an amazing presenter, both knowledgable and infectiously passionate about his work. As such, he also illustrated the amazing qualities of museum guides, which may well be supplemented but cannot be replaced by any other medium.

Museology class & Mogens Andersen. Photo by Niels Toft Larsen

Museology class & Mogens Andersen. Photo by Niels Toft Larsen

Finally, we found time for a tour of the current and temporary exhibitions, where I learned that the dioramas are indeed going to go. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have a bit of a nostalgic soft spot for dioramas, and the marsh biotope in Zoologisk Museum in particular, so it was kind of sad news. But then again, I had to admit that the 40-ish year old exhibit was so tired by now that it’s representational value was stronger as an artefact of museum history than as an illustration of wetland wildlife. And interestingly, the much more recent dioramas depicting urban fauna seemed the most outmoded. I still believe that dioramas could be in vogue again some day, and I would argue for the preservation of at least some of the displays, if only as examplars of yesterday’s exhibition technology and ideals. But until such a time, I guess their outdatedness risks getting in the way of their communicative power, and not least the power of the museum to project a strong vision for the future.

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This week, I’ll start teaching a master level course in museum mediation and museology. And although I’m also looking forward to being able to focus fully on writing my dissertation, I’m actually really excited about this course. Deciding on the format (kind of the crammer course I wish I could have had when I was a master student wanting to specialise in museums) and setting the curriculum has been interesting, and I really hope to get some good debates going with a bunch of dedicated and curious students. Also, in stead of writing an exam paper at the end, the students will need to run a blog of their ongoing reflections (which is why I felt I ought to update my own bog, too). It’s going to be interesting to see how that works as a didactic tool. We’ll be starting out by discussing functions and definitions of museums, addressing the framework set out by the Danish museum act and ICOM’s ethical guidelines for museums, but also the more philosophical discussions about the nature and purpose of museums outlined in articles by a.o. Francois Mairesse  and Élise Dubuc. Ideally, this will also give me a chance to reflect on and discuss some of the issues that I am writing about. For instance, preparing my lecture, and reading about ‘musealisation’ in ICOM’s Key concepts of museology (some of which I have included in the course reading), I realised that this is the concept I need in order to reflect on cultural/fashion objects outside the museum, and how they may or may not be made to ‘function’ as museum objects.

Six weeks research visit at the CoDesign cluster is coming to an end, and I’m wrapping up and taking leave of the rather wonderful Holmen HQ. Fortunately, it’s not really goodbye, as I have joined the cluster’s mini study-circle on mapping, and will thus be coming back in January to discuss interactions, map-making, (counter) cartography and more in connection with Paya Hauch Fenger’s PhD research into co-design of geo parks.

Of course, this is a little out on a tangent in relation to my own research. But if there’s one thing that’s been very clear from working in this environment, it’s the value of collaborative learning in research. I’ve surely benefited from this when presenting my own project, and from enlisting the group in an Interaction Analysis session around my video material. But I have also learned a lot from engaging in other people’s projects, from discussions over lunch and from simply listening in on the ongoing meetings and weekly round table catch ups. Of course, I have experienced such benefits before, but the way that it’s such an integral part of the work processes here is new to me. The group’s dedication to sharing knowledge, insights and uncertainties, not only in the projects they are collaborating on, but also when in comes to engaging in individual research conundrums, was something that struck me when I first came, and still something that seems to me a unique quality of this cluster. Which is sad, really, that it should be a unique quality and not a more widespread approach to research. I for one would love to see this kind of academic interaction spreading, and will definitely see if I can plant a seed back at my own institution.

CoDesign weekly meeting - clockwise from left: Paya Hauch Fenger, Tuuli Makkelmäti, Mette Agger Eriksen, Eva Brandt, Kelton Minor & Joachim Halse

CoDesign weekly meeting – clockwise from left: Paya Hauch Fenger, Tuuli Mattelmäki, Mette Agger, Eva Brandt, Kelton Minor & Joachim Halse

A couple of weeks ago, for example, the weekly meeting was followed by a group discussion about an early paper draft by Mette Agger, Tuuli Mattelmäki, Kirsikka Vaajakallio and Eva Brandt for next year’s PDC conference. Opening up the process at a stage where the outcome still wasn’t fixed, led to some very interesting discussions about methodology, academic writing, audiences and the many very different forms that this paper could still take; or rather multitude of papers that could be written from this material to share either empirical results, theoretical assertions, how-to applicabilities etc. I believe that the authors were given some useful input to inform their continued writing, and I will be looking forward to reading the finished article. But also for us as participants, considering the value of various contributions to the field, the craft of making an argument and of course the ideas put forth in the paper, was very inspiring.

So it’s this discussive and collaborative approach, along with the new insights into my own project,  that I will be taking with me, and for which I wish to send a great thank you to the whole CoDesign team and their affiliates!

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Looking through the video documentation from my workshops with Designmuseum Denmark, in preparation for today’s collective Interaction Analysis session, has given me a fresh view on the material. And whereas the observations and comments made by the other participants were very useful, as they either inspired me to reconsider or served to back my own interpretations, the real revelation in verbalising what could be seen in the footage, was that showing, and then telling, is obviously the key to explaining how this method worked.

Watching the interaction without sound, accelerated to 4X normal speed, gave a good feel of the flow and of how the cards served as reference points in the discussion. As was my impression when doing the workshop, I could see that they served their purpose well, but I could also observe the downsides – me having perhaps too many cards to keep track of; the set-up not allowing the participants to take control of the cards and introducing new combinations; all the cups and sweets and whatnot getting in the way. Perhaps also that this type of interaction spoke to some participants more than others.

Of course, actually finding the right form for presenting this in my dissertation is still a challenge, and writing through this analysis still quite a task. But at least I’ve got a way in now, with a visual anchor for my readings.

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Post-it comment left on my concept cards during poster session.

This week, I attended the 10th Nodem conference, this year held in Stockholm. And although I must admit that I was a little puzzled by a couple of presentations, I also took away some wonderful talks and some great conversations as well as new contacts and plenty of food for thought.

I myself presented a poster (and had a paper included in the proceedings, which is also available from the digital repository), and although I had not been pinning too high hopes on the outcome of that, it actually turned out to be a great format for generating conversations. As expected, most people just offered a quick glance, if that, but some were intrigued enough to ask for an explanation/demonstration of the probes, journal and concept cards that I had brought along. And some even stuck around for good long chat about design research, museological methodologies, cultural policies or digital mediation, to name a few topics. I had a great long conversation with Richard Sandell, professor of museum studies at Leicester University, following up on the conference there last month, and sharing thoughts about museum trends as well as methods and interests in museum studies. And artist/researcher at Aalto University Maarit Mäkelä also got really engaged with my material, posing some very good questions and suggesting I explore the notion of situated knowledge in order to reflect on my approach. This really struck a chord with me, and I will definitely follow that lead.

As of last week and until the end of the year, I have moved quarters and am now a visiting researcher at the CoDesign research cluster at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, 
Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, 
School of Design (aka KADK).

Last week was mainly spent acclimatising, but also on attending visiting researcher Tuuli Mattelmäki’s presentation on probes and other research methods for a group of new CoDesign students, and parttaking in the cluster’s weekly meetings, which last week included a visit from TV producer Ane Skak, sharing her experience with user involvement in cross media/ cross institutional projects. The presentations, the meetings and the projects presented or referenced were really inspiring – there’s some interesting things happening in this field and some interesting approaches taken. And one thing that is also clearly emerging is a very collaborative, engaged and openly conversational research environment. People take the time to talk with each other and savour the opportunity to share their questions and knowledge. So on top of drinking in the creative ambience of the design school environment (where all the work-in-progress mess, inspirational material and prototypes cluttering up the studios bring back sweet memories of being a fashion student, now a decade ago), I also enjoy this friendly and curious academic atmosphere and find this attitude to research and professional collaboration very appealing (even though I inevitably still feel like an outsider).

And Wednesday it was my turn to present my project to the group. As it turned out, however, the other PhD students in the group were all working from home (being in the final stages of writing), whilst another researcher was doing an all-day workshop elsewhere, meaning that I ended up presenting to a small group of senior researchers: Eva Brandt and Thomas Binder from the CoDesign group and Tuuli Mattelmäki from Aalto University. Of course it would have been great to get responses also from the other group members, but I also felt very privileged to get this kind of triple ‘master class’ attention on my project. And kick myself for not having recorded their insightful comments, but here’s trying to draw out the essence.

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Although I deliberately went for a flexibly handheld rather than a slick ppt-ey presentation, reasoning that my objective was not to sell my project but to lay out my uncertainties, I had actually really tried to think through my process and problems related to my research-through-design methodology, and to work out what I needed to tell and get feedback on. Honestly, I had. Running through my notes and material, writing up a chronology, pinpointing central ideas and uncertainties. But my presentation was still all over the place. Because now that I finally had the chance to discuss my approach and concerns with someone who could give me critique from within the design research field, I wanted to share everything. And since it’s all interconnected – what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and what I make of it; what I think I know and know I don’t (and think I ought to find out about); inspirations and outcomes – it’s hard to stick to a single narrative. Even when I have actually been following a relatively well-planned process. The mindmap shown above, which I made the day before to try to get an overview and piece together which references and questions belong to which aspect of the research, I guess illustrates my state of mind fairly well (mind you, this is only a representation of the methodological aspects of the project; museology, media and fashion hardly enter into the equation here. So in total it’s even messier. Which I sort of think it should be and sort of think it shouldn’t be at this stage (two years in, one to go), but either way it’s a bit scary).

I’ve come to CoDesign to try to make meaning out of this mess, to find out where to situate my design oriented research within the field, find the right language to describe what I have done and what it means. Because I have been getting a bit lost in considerations about methodology, and how it reflects my own preconceptions and preoccupations, since failing to make a clear case for my approach at the Nordes doctoral consortium  this summer and taking to heart J. Lee’s notions about the necessity of reflexive method making. And I still believe this is both relevant and interesting, and that I must necessarily be able to account for my methodology in my dissertation. But the supposedly-good-but-still-a-little-hard-to-get-my-head-around news coming out of today’s meeting, is that I should stop trying so hard to pin it down, at least for now. Stop trying to work out what my method is – the relevant question is not whether my concept dominos could be described as a form of game, or not, but what this particular approach has shown me. ‘Make the beast talk’ as Thomas BInder put it, and beware that my project does not fall into fragments.

(And yes, I guess that at the end of the day these reflections on a personal process of ‘enlightenment’ are mainly of interest to myself, and should be largely purged from the dissertation. However, as I find it useful to write them out of my system, the blog will still have to stand for a whole heap of confused confessions of this type.)

Referencing Donald Schön’s assertion that ‘one thing is what you do, another is what others make of it’, Thomas addressed the (common?) pitfall in justifying one’s position, and urged me to avoid longwinded meta-level deliberations on method. Rather than speculating about what I’ve done, I should trust it – this notion was seconded by Eva, who acknowledged the designerly takes and sensitivities in my material, and pointed to the richness of the journey taken – and focus instead on understanding how the generated material talks back to me and show what it can say about the world.

It’s still a delicate balance, as my project and process is hermeneutical rather than empirical – again, Thomas emphasised that I should stay true to this outset and consider my material as text rather than data, to look at the readings and writings, and rereadings, a spiralling movement of interactions with the material and the partipants around the designerly material I have written in the process.

(I promptly took out Gadamer’s Truth and Method from the library. Perhaps being in my bag will give it a competitive edge over Foucault’s The Order of Things and Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, not to mention Baumann, Giddens, Latour and all the other seminal works currently sat on my shelf that sadly all to often end up simply collecting dust. So many things I want to read, and so hard, sometimes, to decide what is relevant for the project and what is just an inspiring detour, which I don’t have the time to indulge in. For which aspects will a superficial understanding suffice, and for which is deep knowledge essential?).

So what can I say about the world? I guess I have been hesitant to claim that I can really say anything, given my narrow samples/studies and being conscious of my subjective approach. And perhaps this hesitancy has led me to become too guided by ‘agenda’; my gripe with mobile museum mediation. As Tuuli suggested, I need to consider to what extent I have actually sought to draw out the participants’ viewpoints, and how much I have simply been exploring my own ideas, or mainly been receptive to reflections of my own views. So while it is relevant to reflect on which assumptions about fashion, mobile media and museums I have been working from when designing these tools, I should also be aware of how they have narrowed or skewed my participants’ interpretive space.

Tuuli also commented that while at first she did not see the critical inspiration in the material – which admittedly was not very noir - my description of a process where I retained a strong sense of authorship, rather than staging a truly co-creative process, was indeed indicative of a designer-led approach akin to that taken by critical designers, also working to an agenda as much as exploring the field.

My probes, for instance, combined tasks for self documentation (e.g. mobile photography) with activities that were more akin to prototyping of early designerly guesses (e.g. the Pinterest and Polyvore assignments). Similarly, the dominos were designed to explore later stage guesses. Then again, these tools also served to disprove my guesses – heuristics, hypothesis, if you like – as when the online activities were rejected by the participants. The realisation that even this very digitally literate group were not inclined to engage with museum-related activities via social media sites was thus not so much a confirmation of my scepticism as a source of it. And while my studies are too small to make any results indicative of general patterns, the outcome has definitely informed my thinking. (As well as the other way round, and round, and back into the hermeneutical spiral we go).

One very concrete suggestion coming out of the workshop, from Thomas, was to initiate a collective Interaction Analysis session, and enlist the other researchers here to help me analyse interactions in and outcomes of my workshops from the video material. Until now, I had only kept the videos as documentary backup, whilst transcribing the procedures from the audio recordings. So actually just looking at the videos again feels like a fresh view into my process. And even though the footage is not great (in workshop II the camera shows what goes on on the table, but not the faces, in workshop III the camera is set to show the group, but not the table, and two people have their back to the camera (a result of experimenting with methods I’m not trained in, but at least I’ve got footage, so there)) it will be interesting to see what can be learned from it. Whereas the transcripts have been useful for drawing our central themes and problems regarding (the museum professionals’ perceptions of) mobile mediation, perhaps collective analysis of the visible interactions can uncover perspectives that I have hitherto been blind to.

Jordan & Henderson, in the 1995 article ‘Interaction Analysis: Foundations and Practice’ (in The Journal of the Learning Sciences 4(1), pp. 39-103), imply as much, stating that ‘Collaborative viewing is particularly powerful for neutralizing preconceived notions on the part of researchers and discourages the tendency to see in the interaction what one is conditioned to see or even wants to see’. (44)

I really hope that the researchers here will be able to find a couple of hours to engage in this work, as I am sure I would learn an awful lot from partaking in such a collective session. And even though I intend to turn my attention to the outcome, to what this material tells me about the world, another look at the videos could perhaps also provide some answers as to how to understand my method, and how to describe it, as ‘accounts of methods cannot be separated from accounts of findings and that the best way to talk about method is to show instances of the actual work.’ (ibid. 42).

So it all comes together, getting what I came for, but in a different manner than I could worked out myself.

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