So, time to ramp up the blog again. Following the completion of my PhD research and dissertation last year, I was all out of words, and it was a relief to let the whole musing on museums thing lie for a while. Trouble is, the longer it’s left, the harder it feels to pick it up again. Where to start and why even bother? What could I possibly add to the already flourishing online debate? What’s the benefit? As of next week, however, I will be teaching digital museum mediation and museology to two classes here at Uni. of Copenhagen (again, but this time one class will be in Danish and one in English), and given that I am asking my students to blog, I should at least give it a go myself. Also, despite my hesitation (put it down to reservation, laziness, self-consciousness or lack of inspiration) I actually do miss the outlet, and simply need to get back into the swing of it again.

As a sort of warm up exercise, then, for blogging and for teaching, and with particular address to those of my students who find their way to my blog, let me begin by musing on blogging as a tool for research and reflection instead. Hence, as stated by Mortensen & Walker,

To blog is an activity similar in many ways to the work of the researcher. A weblogger filters a mass of information, choosing the items that interest her or that are relevant to her chosen topic, commenting upon them, demonstrating connections between them and analysing them. (2002:250)

Considering blogging a part of my research method, and including a selection of blog posts in my dissertation, I wrote about the topic in my methodology chapter:

In Thoughtful Interaction Design, Löwgren & Stolterman (2004) describe the sketch as a ‘conversation partner’ for the designer […], talking back and leading to new questions and considerations. In a similar fashion, my blog has allowed me to sketch thoughts and ideas in the process, communicating them not only to the world, but especially to myself. Moreover, the blog has supported my divergent research strategy. The relative swiftness – and relatively lax self-censorship – of the blogging process has thus given me an opportunity to consider a much wider spectrum of ideas than a rigorous study would normally permit.

Compared to the conventions of scholarly argumentation, the processual nature of the blog format inspires a freer form of expression. It thereby allows for the articulation of unfinished thoughts and open questions, as well as for expressing personal opinions or concerns. However, in contrast to a visual sketch, written language demands a particular structure, stringing concepts together to formulate a linear argument or coherent question. A scribbled short hand note-to-self can thus be deceptive, letting you think that you have captured an essence of thought. By contrast, making (parts of) my thought process public online has forced me to make more sense of the makings of this ‘essence’, to engage more deeply with the questions, the matters of concern I have grabbled with. Trying to explain – to myself, as well as to an invisible audience (boyd 2007) – why certain observations warrant attention, why certain concepts inspire or provoke me, taking guesses at their implication even if not always subjecting them to thorough analysis, has helped me to discover new facets and new dilemmas pertaining to each issue. (Baggesen 2015: 77) [references below]

The benefit of blogging for me, then, is that it helps me notice what I notice or find noticable about a text, an exhibition or an idea. It helps me reflect on and remember my observations, even if the analysis may not go as deep as that of an academic paper. Hence, for me it’s more of a personal notebook and less of a public platform, and my blog has been a very useful record of issues and examples, that I did not necessarily have any particular use for at the time, but which turned out to be valuable later on. Often, I don’t come to any conclusions about these issues on the blog, so in terms of using it to enter into the ongoing debate, my blog is not very strong. It even makes me feel a little vulnerable, putting all these half-baked thoughts into the open. Perhaps I should work on that, be more clear about having a particular message for a particular audience. And yet again, that could kind of defeat the object, or at least imply a taking a different approach, as the purpose of the blog thus far has not been to have a voice, but to hear myself think. The reason for doing this in public is simply that it enforces an aspect of discipline, sticking with a topic until at least it makes sense to me rather than dropping it when it gets tricky. Still, maybe I should start experimenting a bit more with what the blog could be used for, at least keep the option open.

 

Nevertheless, what I ask of my students is not that they find a public voice or provide definite insights into current museum issues, but that they try to use their blogs as tools for reflection, and see how it works for them. It’s meant to be a tool for learning and hopefully discovering what it is about museums and museology that makes them tick.

And hey, I know it’s tricky to get started, to find something to write about, and that you may feel sheepish about the result. It’s OK. A short post will do. If nothing else springs to mind, simply start by telling about a recent or memorable museum visit and zoom in on a detail that stood out for you. Share a photo, quote the program. See where it takes you, if description leads to reflection. If not this time, maybe next. You’ll be fine.

 

References

Baggesen, R. (2015). Mobile museology. An exploration of fashionable museums, mobilisation, and trans-museal mediation. PhD thesis, University of Copenhagen.

boyd, d. (2007). ‘Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life’. In Buckinham, D. (ed.), MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Löwgren, J. & Stolterman, E. (2004). Thoughtful Interaction Design: A design perspective on information technology. London & Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Mortensen, T. & Walker, J. (2002). ‘Blogging thoughts: personal publication as an online research tool’. In Morrison, A. (ed.), Researching ICTs in Context, Oslo: InterMedia Report, 3/2002.

Summary of my dissertation Mobile museology: An exploration of fashionable museums, mobilisation and trans-museal mediation

Drawing together perspectives from museology, digital culture studies and fashion theory, this thesis considers changes in and challenges for current-day museums as related to ‘mobile museology’. This concept is developed for and elucidated in the thesis to describe an orientation towards the fashionable, the ephemeral, and towards an (ideal) state of change and changeability. This orientation is characterised with the triplet concepts of mobile, mobility, and mobilisation, as related to mobile media and movability; to ‘trans-museal’ mediation; and to the mobilisation of collections, audiences and institutional mindsets.

The research project’s transdisciplinary and exploratory approach takes inspiration from critical design, minding Latour’s (2004a) call for rethinking critical approaches in the humanities. Through a creative process, focused on designs for framing fashion in everyday contexts and involving prospective users and professionals from Designmuseum Danmark, the project reflects on and seeks to articulate matters of concern in digital heritage and museum practice.

With this elaborated departure of theorisation and methodological considerations, the dissertation compiles three research articles with a selection of blog posts from the research project blog, included with an aim to illustrate the reflective and processual project methodology, and to present ideas-in-the-making relating to trans-museal mediation, some of which are elaborated in the ensuing articles.

Article one, ‘Museum metamorphosis à la mode’, proposes a fashion perspective on ongoing museum developments. Based on a reading of Foucault’s ((1967)1986) concept of heterotopia, it is argued that museums today seek to represent the ephemeral present, by offering fashionable exhibitions and events. Outlining the history and key positions of fashion museology, the article suggests the current trend for fashion exhibitions as an illustration of this point. Presenting the case of the exhibition Shoe Obsession, the article considers the perspective of transcending the museum space to capture contemporary dress in everyday life situations.

Article two, ‘Augmenting the agora: media and civic engagement in museums’, questions the idea of social media holding a vital potential for the democratic development of the museum. Describing a confluence of new media affordances with new museological ideals and political demands, and drawing on Flichy’s (2007) analysis of the Internet imaginaire, the article traces the ideological underpinnings of this discourse. Presenting select examples of participatory museum projects, the article points to potential problematics of such interactions, which, it is suggested, may pay lip service to genuine civic engagement.

The third and final article, ‘Heteroscopia: a musealising gaze at the everyday’, traces a current interest in musealising the everyday, by transcending the museum space or framing the extra-ordinary in the ordinary. The article introduces the concept heteroscopia, inspired by Foucault ((1967)1986), but also by Gumbrecht’s (2004, 2006) ideas about aesthetic experiences in the everyday, to denote a musealising gaze, observing the duality of aesthetic materiality and cultural meaning in objects in or outside the museum.

The project’s key perspectives – the conception of mobile museology; the fashion perspective; the notion of heteroscopia; and also the project’s methodological considerations – are considered in the conclusion as theoretical contributions to museological discourse.

IMG_6728So that’s it, for now. I just handed in my dissertation. Feels pretty good. And not just because I’m done, or because I’m proud that I did it, but because I actually feel pretty good about the result. Sure, there’s lots to question and criticise, but all in all, I believe it’s a decent read and that it makes some interesting points. But lets wait and see what the assessment committee has to say about that. If they accept it, the thesis will be made publicly available around August, and I expect my viva to be some time in September.

When I started this job, my sons each made a lego sculpture for my desk. Throughout this roller coaster ride of a process, I’ve been struck by how well these two figures have captured the essence of this job:

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On the one hand, it takes a bit of gung-ho adventure spirit, a creative curiousity and a willingness to set sails and venture into the unknown (with a gargoyle! must have gargoyle for this kind of job. And some guardians; my supervisors, perhaps, or Latour and Foucault. Or my sons). That’s the fun part, even though, a lot of the time, I have felt a bit lost at sea on that raft, fearing that my construction was not solid enough, that my map was way off. But then the raft has taken me to some interesting places.

On the other hand, it takes the resolution and ability to sit down and write, and keep at it, and stay put until its done, like some kind of academic potty-training. That’s the hard part, accounting for the the journey taken, the construction and constituents of the raft, and the significance of the gargoyle. For me, at least, this part was the hardest – embracing uncertainty in an epistemological sense does not mean that it is not a bugger to deal with, personally and academically. But it many ways, this is also the most interesting part, because of the process of understanding [erkendelse – can’t think of a proper translation] taking place as you write. Like this blog has served as a sketch pad for that process.

This won’t be the final word, however. For starters’ there’s the viva, then I have an abstract to write, and I’m mulling over ideas for a post doc etc. I’ve also just joined University of Leicester’s museum studies MOOC, and am very curious to experience e-learning and maybe get some new perspectives. But for now, I’m done. Awesome!

#DancingMuseum, Tate Modern, May 16th 2015

If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse, May 16th 2015

Standing in the Turbine Hall, I gape as the wondrous, gigantic mirrorball slowly descends from the ceiling, and watch the specs of light travel slowly across the walls. It is a beautiful sight in this amazing space, like the coolest rave ever getting ready to begin. It also feels like my project has come full circle, as if reality mirrors the mirrorball metaphor in my prologue. I’m nearly done. The five columns of bright daylight spilling through the windows on the rear wall not only amplify the cathedral-like qualities of the grand hall, they too seem to me to assume metaphorical qualities, representing the ‘five pillars’ of the museum act, the museum as archetype, as abstract idea. So conditioned to museological reflection by now, I cannot not see it, even if know I’m overstretching the meaningfulness.

A part of the BMW Tate Live event: If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse?, this session is called Adrénaline: a dance floor for everyone. But even though this definitely feels like the place to be, the party does not take off; instead of an adrenaline rush there’s a shared, mixed feeling of awe and ackwardness, and more mobile phones than dance moves to be spotted in the crowd. How to dance the museum? What to make of it all? My mind oscillates between getting it and not getting it, and between minding and not minding if I do. But I like the idea.

The programme booklet speaks of mobility and memory, of ephemerality, of the museum as a mental space. Conceptualising choreographer Boris Charmatz likens the event to “trying on a new pair of glasses with lenses that opens up your perceptions to forms of found choreography happening everywhere”. A heteroscopic kind of vision, perchance? Or is it just me reading extra meanings into these words, cherry-picked from the pages to rhyme with my own? Even so, Charmantz’ manifesto (like Pamuk’s, like the Musetrain manifesto, like Malraux’s imaginaire) represents a call to think (differently) about the museum, to ask the questions what if and then what? The propositions about changing temporalities, changing views, that the terms they are a-changing, abound. Its not just me, then.

For three years I have been musing on museums on this blog, discussing all manners of ideas and questions with myself. Rather than reaching a state of clarity, of (relative) enlightenment, this process seems to keep spinning round and round, sparking off new thoughts, new uncertainties, as research is prone to do, I suppose, making you only more keenly aware of what you have yet to understand. Consequently, drawing conclusions and making statements about the state of the arts stills feels like taking stabs in the dark.

Nevertheless, I have made my illumination, my propositions. Here’s hoping they will also matter to others.

Savage Beauty
On Friday, I went on a pilgrimage, no less. To see Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A in London. The exhibition was originally shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2011, and ever since, I have been reading about, and dreaming about seeing, this perfect fashion show. A former fashion student, I have long had a thing for McQueen (how could I not?), and as a proper fan-girl, I booked my ticket as soon as they went on sale last year. This time, I was not disappointed.

Exhibition view, from V&A's Instagram profile

Exhibition view, from V&A’s Instagram profile

It was beautiful. Painfully poetic – and provocatively political – visual narratives, perfect tailoring, couture at its most sublime. And really really interesting to see the garments I had hitherto only seen in print, up close, and being able to inspect details in construction and finishings. Moreover, the exhibition design perfectly augmented the experience of the couture pieces, offering different settings and ambiences for each curatorial theme, and adding video clips as well as smoke and mirror technologies (literally – do check out the link) to the mix to give a feel of the (significance of the) original fashion shows. Even the wall texts and object labels were just right. Overall, the exhibition was both informative and evocative, exhaustive without being exhausting (i.e., for the exhibition format; of course both the aesthetics and cultural significance of McQueen bears further exploration, but such in-depth studies are better left for literature) – even my sons, aged 8 & 10, were enthralled and engaged for the full two hours we spent in the galleries. Much more than just a been-there-seen-that-got-the-tote-bag (which I did, of course) kind of experience, this was every bit as awesome as I had hoped.

Photogenic museums (Or: Observing primates at the Natural History Museum. Or: Say ‘Cheese’!)
Sadly, if understandably, photography was prohibited in the Savage Beauty exhibition. Or perhaps this was just as well. At least, when visiting the Natural History Museum, next door to the V&A, I was struck by how much the museum space inspired people to take photographs. First of all, though, I was simply awestruck by the space itself (despite having worshiped at the V&A, my temple of choice, so many times over the years, this was my first visit to the cathedral of natural science): the grandeur of the entrance hall made even the centrepiece diplodocus seem rather pedestrian. (But then the real focal point may be the Darwin-as-deity statue, elevated on the stairs at the far end.)

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Entry hall at the Natural History Museum, London (Apparently, the hall has now been renamed Hintze Hall, following a large private donation – a big phenomenon already in American museums, but hitherto not so prominent in Europe. Looks like that’s the future. Will the whale exhibition in the new national history museum in Denmark be named after Maersk? Will Lego fund the Danish Architecture Centre? And what will that mean? But that’s another story).

The exhibition galleries (the ones we visited!), however, were not that impressive. There’s this certain style of natural history exhibits (found also at e.g. the Field Museum in Chicago, and parts of the upstairs Fra pol til pol [From pole to pole] exhibition at the zoological museum in Copenhagen) which is all garish colours, busy interactives and overloads of didactic information that just leaves me really tired and perplexed instead of curious or enlightened. Rather than giving you the time and headspace to contemplate the specimens, and by extension, evolution, diversity, ecology and other wonders and critical concerns of natural history, they command your attention only to fill you with tit-bits of information. Too often, these exhibits also feel outdated – here, for instance, children were offered information about the daily milk-intake of a baby whale using the analogy of a milk float, even though these went out of service long before the kids were born. To be fair, we only saw parts of the museum (the dinosaurs (lurid) and mammals (tired)), as we were already a bit museumed-out post V&A, and I suspect that other galleries and newer exhibitions had more to offer, (by attempting to offer less, perhaps). And yes, I guess it’s also a matter of taste and of didactic principles and convictions, so I should probably not be so harsh. I just had a much more engaging, exciting and enlightening time at Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. And I suspect that even my kids prefer exhibitions that also cater to unaccompanied adults. Therefore, for me, the choice of an aesthetic, almost art museum-like style for the new(est) Precious Things exhibition at the Zoological Museum, DK, bodes well for the coming national museum of natural history.

#museumselfie
Anyway, back to the photography thing. As evident above, I also photographed the beautiful building, and often attempt to capture particular details as a keepsake, that is, when I’m not too self-concious to even get my phone out. So I get the urge to take photos in the museum (even though it also reminds me of that quote from Kafka in Barthes’ Camera Lucida: “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes” (2000:53) – Is that what we do? Take a photograph to avoid engaging our minds and memory?).

Whatever the subliminal reasonings and effects, it was quite interesting to observe how people posed or moved around to get just the right shot, and to see the selfie stick phenomenon in action. Because it just hasn’t been that big a thing in Denmark, yet. But then again, big enough for the National Museum of Denmark to greet visitors with this sign:

Sign welcoming guests at Nationalmuseet, Denmark

Sign welcoming guests at Nationalmuseet, Denmark (& a subtle #9 kind of museumselfie http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/01/19-types-of-selfies-at-museum-selfie-day.html)

Actually, I’ve been saving up links for a post on this subject for months, the-one-about-museum-selfies, and started a draft for it on ‘#MuseumSelfie day‘ in January. Because it is an interesting mobile/social/museum-media issue, one that provokes fervent reactions and counter-replies, battling over issues of the cultural meaning and value of selfies, of appropriateness, and of who gets to decide what is appropriate. Should museums encourage or ban photography? Should visitors be free to enjoy artworks and artefacts in whatever way is right for them, or does one person’s freedom to take photos hamper another visitors freedom to enjoy the same objects without being disturbed by the cameras? Is the issue as big as it’s made out to be? It really is all very interesting. But my head’s too full, too tired at this stage of my thesis to really engage with this question, so I’ve simply opted for a ‘live and let live’ attitude (which might be where I’d end up after much deliberation anyway). Besides, Ed Rodley has already written a string of really good blog posts on visitor photography, so rather than wasting more time on my 50p’s worth, go and read his considerations here, here and here.

Anti-social media?
Visitor photography and gallery etiquette aside, the #museumselfie matter, of course, also relates to social media conventions and user behaviour online, which has its own issues. Actually, mastering the jargon of social network sites is pretty tough. Take Twitter: Knowing how to banter in 140 characters, how to twist and dose your hashtags, understanding what the acronyms and formatting tricks are all about (luckily, there are helpful guides out there for those of us who are still not quite sure when to put a full stop in front of the @handle). Not to mention cadence, selection and timing (on Facebook, for instance, working out whether or not to enter into an already waning debate, or how to assess the sell-by-date on a popular link or meme). Keeping up. Curating your profile. Building your network. Sorting out your settings. Working out the different formats and protocols for different platforms. Minding your digital p’s and q’s.

Some people get it, either because they have a knack for it, because it’s their job to knuckle down and work it out, or because they make it a priority. Others don’t care whether they do or not, they just do it. Some dabble, hesitate. Come on, sing the digerati, there’s no right or wrong, just jump in and swim! No need to overthink it, doggy-paddle will do just fine. Still, it’s an element that some people feel comfortable in, and others don’t. Just like other social elements.

My point is that social media can feel pretty anti-social if you’re not quite sure how to participate. Even if the party’s open, it’s not that simple to crash into a conversation, especially if its outside of your personal nexus. You need social capital, in a digital currency. You need time and effort. You need to have something to say, which is often the hardest and most daunting part. Or you may just be introvert (which is getting kinda cool, only in a very understated way), or simply not inclined to share your thoughts and whereabouts with everyone. (Over on Facebook and Twitter, I’m one of those lurkers, mainly).

For museums, this means two things. First up, professional communication is a job, also when it takes place on social media platforms. Judging by all the slick and quirky museum profiles out there, many institutions have now caught on to this. However, these cool social media museum communicators also set the bar high. Therefore, secondly, it’s worth keeping in mind that just as some people feel excluded from the museum space, because they don’t really know how museum-going is done, so others may feel excluded from/by the smart banter online.

Just sayin’. (Or maybe, I’m just bullshitting – as argued by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, social media “confront us with epistemological problems and are hard to understand. [Meanwhile], there is a large demand for knowledge about what they mean, a powerful political economy that generates a lot of statements about social media, including substantial amounts of bullshit.” (2015: abstract) Do read the full article).


Fashion on the Ration

Display in Imperial War Museum's 'A Family in Wartime' exhibition - this time, I was really sad that I could not take photographs in the brillant 'Fashion on the Ration' exhibition

Display in Imperial War Museum’s ‘A Family in Wartime’ exhibition – sadly, I could not take photographs in the brillant ‘Fashion on the Ration’ exhibition

If Savage Beauty was our reason for going to London, and #DancingMuseum at Tate Modern the scoop event to coincide with our visit (which I will leave for another post, however, as I hope to tease out an epilogue from this), then Imperial War Museum’s Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style exhibition was the most wonderful bonus. I didn’t even know it was on when we decided to visit the museum our last day of visit, but this was actually one of the best fashion exhibitions I’ve seen. Compared to the extravagance of both content matter and exhibition design in Savage Beauty, this exhibition was pretty prosaic, as the austerity fashion on display was matched by fairly unassuming display formats, which were, however, doing just the right job. This exhibition too was beautiful, informative, and evocative, and conveyed many interesting aspects of wartime fashion, from ‘siren suits’, factory fashion and gasmask handbags, over make-do-and-mend campaigns and ration measures, to patriotic prints and Utility designs from England’s finest fashion designers. Most importantly, perhaps, the importance of fashion, even in wartime, was brought to attention. (Here, I wish I had been allowed to use my camera to aid my memory also in the future, but luckily it’s possible to find images from the exhibition itself online, to complement the museum’s well stocked online subject hub.)

But the most significant difference between the two exhibitions is of course that whereas Fashion on the Ration focused on fashion in cultural history context (or as cultural history), thereby shedding light on the aesthetics of Utility style and 1940’s street style, but also on the austerity and creativity of life during the second world war, Savage Beauty showcased couture as an art form, which is actually pretty distinct or far removed from fashion in a more general sense. Thus, they represent very different takes on what a fashion exhibition is, a difference that can perhaps be seen as analogous to the difference between metonymic representation (the cultural history artefact documenting an era, class, issue or other) and metaphor (the abstractions of art). Hmmm. Need to ponder that proposition a bit more, to see if it sticks, and leave it at this for now. After all, I still have a thesis to complete.

Screenshot from Twitter, 11th of

Screenshot from Twitter

It’s rather quiet on the blog, as I’m knuckling down to finish my thesis. But I had to share this clip, because it’s so much in tune with what I’m writing.

The link that Mia Ridge is sharing in the tweet is a CFP for a Museums Computer Group spring meeting provocatively titled ‘Innovation’:the Emperor’s new clothes?. Do follow the link, there’s some interesting questions there, asking if innovation ‘for the sake of it’ might still have a motivational and long lasting effect. That may well be the case. Still, I agree with Mia & Seb Chan that the incessant pursuit and trumpeting of’ innovative’ projects can get a bit wearisome.

It’s parallel to or part of the same problem of funding and legitimisation that I wrote about in the article Augmenting the agora: Media and civic engagement in museumsin which I conclude:

In order to secure the financial future of institutions, museums must not only adhere to state regulations and political dictates but also make their efforts visible and understandable to the powers that be and the public at large. […] Social media, thus, serve museum objectives well by creating the appearance of engaging the public with culture and the institution in the public discourse. However, the question of whether this communication also serves public interest in fact in terms of spurring on the democratisation of the museum institution is more uncertain. In fact, the feigned transition to a forum and coaxed inclusion of the vox populi may turn out to undermine genuine civic engagement and democratic exchange with the public. Far from advocating that museums refrain from using new media channels in any way, this article has pointed out the dangers of a prevalent rhetoric and blind communal consensus around the democratic impact of social media in museum communication. Unquestioned evangelism, hype and unreflected inclusion of social media could end up having the reverse effect, simply paying lip service to the social obligations of the museum.

For the record, I received strong criticism for this article from Michael Edson of the Smithsonian, in return for my critique of his rhetorics in the article, see https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MBiXS0REJmk7ur5eMdO73HDZl_u3mmFrCT0dpaTDlFk/edit

Although I was at first a bit baffled by the force of Edson’s retort, I am honestly honoured, and much obliged, that he made the effort to respond, and found his critique to be in most part useful and constructive. (The hatches have long been buried following a fine online concersation, so I do not bring up this point to get back at Edson, but rather because the critique and discussion is relevant for my research). And yet, while I agree with many of his points, I also still believe that the ongoing developments can be interpreted in different ways, and that it is relevant to point out the risk of hyperbole or hypocrisy. For my part, I find Edson’s belief in the power of the internet and his vision for the impact this may have on cultural institutions, as expressed in the essay Dark Matter, published on the highly recommendable Medium hub CODE|WORDS, very sympathetic:

Museums, libraries, and archives—heritage, culture, knowledge, and memory institutions—can play a huge role in the story of how Earth’s 7 billion citizens will lead their lives, make and participate in their culture, learn, share, invent, create, cry, laugh, and do in the future. […] The entire architecture of the World Wide Web is based upon [Tim Berners-Lee’s ] humanistic, democratic ideals, and we can do a lot of good with them if we make wise choices and concentrate our efforts where they’ll matter the most.

However, I do not agree that his examples of YouTube or Kickstarter success-stories are necessarily applicable to a museum context. Moreover, the point of my article was also to point out what Nick Poole, responding to Edson’s essay, succinctly concludes:

Technology can certainly help us rewrite the social contract with the communities we serve. It can offer us channels and tools to make good on the promise of a more egalitarian and unbounded approach. But it cannot in itself transform our organizations. That bit is up to us.

Poole also introduces the brilliant term ‘openwash’ to describe the problem of institutions “which [speak] the language of the Commons, of participation and engagement, while betraying these very principles through their actions.”

Thus, the rhetoric of [INSERT: innovation, democratisation, participation, engagement, inclusion etc.] can be deceptive, and problematic when it becomes necessary to ‘talk the talk’ when applying for funding.

However, as pointed out by philosopher Anders Fogh Jensen, actual transformation may be problematic too. In an inspiring presentation (in Danish, follow link for video (I would have liked to call it ‘thought provoking’, but for me, it was more like hearing someone else present my own arguments in a better way) ) given at the seminar Why Museums? earlier this week, Jensen described a ubiquitous projectification of our society, in which all institutions must adhere to the same logics, the same lingo. Thus, they all have to conceive innovative, inclusive, engaging (Jensen here listed a much longer list of all too familiar buzz words) projects, to attract funding,

Another tendency identified by Jensen was the strong focus on ‘activation’, i.e., engaging users/citizens/students/visitors/anyone in activities, which themselves become the objective rather than the mean. Thereby, he argued, ‘institutions disappear as institutions, to be reborn as functions’.

The danger of these conflated tendencies, according to Jensen, is that as all institutional spaces become multifunctional and interdisciplinary, they also become homogenous. The museum becomes a space like any other.

Invoking Foucault’s concept of heterotopia (also a Leitmotif in my thesis), Jensen argued for the need for the museum to be something else, to be an ‘other space’, a place for reflection and for experience of reverse or alternative logics. Quoting the closing sentences of Foucault’s essay,

The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.

Jensen concluded that the ethical obligation of museums would be to withstand the winds of change for changes sake, withstand the hypes and homogenisation, in order to remain relevant.

Edson, in the Dark Matter essay, describes how

Museums and museum websites can be disappointing to people used to the more open, participatory, and playful collaborative environments they find elsewhere on the Web, and sometimes they take action.

This may be true. However, considering Jensen’s argument, should museums really be like the web? Aren’t the humanistic and democratic ideals, which Edson attributes to Tim Berners-Lee, already at their core? Whereas Edson’s point is that museums and the web are really not that dissimilar, perhaps there could be a point in keeping them distinct?

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