As of August 1st, I started in a new position as assistant professor at Roskilde University, working on a new research and co-development project with RAGNAROCK – the museum for pop, rock and youth culture (pictured below (pretty neat, huh?), and part of the museum group ROMU).

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The short form project description runs like this:

Digital technologies not only contribute to changes in museums’ physical and virtual communication, they also inspire new types of exchanges between museums and their public, for example when users are invited to participate as co-collectors. In this process, practices of collection and mediation become merged, while conventional museum practices and professional divides are renegotiated.

The project focuses on this development by examining the interplay between collection and communication, experience and education, and user participation and professional practice in a digital museum context. Furthermore, the project will consider how digital collection practices affect professional museum roles and also reflect on the possibilities and potential dilemmas in practice-based museum research.

Empirically, the project will analyse, co-develop and evaluate the co-collection platform Rockspor ([Rock traces] Ragnarock Museum/ROMU) on the basis of observations, interviews and interventions with adult online users. The iterative co-development process will focus on the creation of both user experiences and relevant content.

Really, this is a very cool gig. (And probably I should play it cooler too, assuming a more professional tone (which I will in time, promise), but I’m just genuinely very excited about this project, the focus, the framework and the whole setup, so please bear with the vernacular).

The project is affiliated to the national research and development programme Our MuseumComprising 13 individual research project as well as 4 associated projects, and bringing together 26 PhD-to-professor level researchers from five universities with eight partnering museums, the programme is unique in its ambition and scale in a Danish (and, I believe, international) museum research context. It has been made possible thanks to generous support from the Velux Foundation and the Nordea Foundation (and some pretty impressive project leadership. If only more research in the humanities dared to be this bold in visions and demands.)

As a collective, the programme will examine, from various perspectives, the juxtaposition or reciprocity of educational and experiential dimensions in the museum, historically and through a series of future-oriented co-development projects. Being part of this network is for me a welcome change from the often solitary condition of academic labour, and I look forward to our tri-annual seminars and ongoing knowledge exchange.

At the university, I am anchored in the research group Visual Culture and Performance Design, and also here I’ll be surrounded by colleagues working on interesting projects, many of which involve design approaches and considerations of design research methodology. There’s even creative workshops, maker spaces and innovation labs! Whereas in my former department I would sometimes feel like the odd one out for using creative methods in my research, here I feel right at home, and I look forward to being part of this vibrant research community. Similarly, I look forward to supervising design-based student projects and running workshops as part of my lecturing role.

Most of all, however, I am excited that this research project means working in the museum, rather than merely having museums as my object of study. Hence, I will be working a couple of days a week at RAGNAROCK (and sometimes at ROMU), as part of the development team for the project Rockspor. Anchoring my research in practice, and getting involved in the creativity and pragmatism of museum mediation and development  is an ideal next step for me and a perfect fit for my profile. Even though having this many stakeholders in the project – hence having to juggle multiple activities and manage diverse expectations – will potentially prove a challenge at times, quite frankly, at this point, I’m happy as a pig in shit.

Rockspor is a website, planned for launch this autumn, and a co-collection/curatorial/communication project focusing on ‘music’s meeting places’. Collating expert knowledge and digitised collection material with user stories, concert reviews and content aggregated from social media, the website will offer a kaleidoscopic view of concert venues, youth clubs and other arenas around the country where young people have met to experience popular music from the 50’s to the present. Allowing you to follow multiple trajectories, or to trace and share your own experiences of particular bands, venues, cultures and eras, the website’s aim is to both offer engaging experiences and also inspire users to add their own contributions to the site.

The objective for the Rockspor project team is therefore to make this happen. Because we don’t believe in a ‘build in a they will come‘ philosophy of digital participation (having seen too many well-intended projects grind to a halt instead of taking off), the launch of the website marks the beginning of a new work process, an important milestone rather than the finishing line. Similarly, the project and the website – originally going by the title Rockens Danmarkskort – has been developed in a research-led participatory design process involving a group of users representing various target/interest groups and the museum team of curators, communicators and developers, as described in Line V. Knudsens dissertation ROCKENS DANMARKSKORT: Deltagelse praktiseret som forskellighed [THE MAP OF DANISH ROCK HISTORY: Participation enacted as difference]’ as well as the article ‘Participation at work in the museum’ (Knudsen 2016, in Museum Management and Curatorship 31(2):193-211). Continuing from this, the current version of the project will focus on getting users involved as contributors rather than co-designers, aiming to develop a sustainable practice through an iterative process of experimentation and interventions.

This process is the empirical focus of my research project, which is designed to explore three interrelated areas of interest. The first, as stated above, will analyse the users and their engagement with and experience of the platform, contribute to its continued development, and evaluate the results, with an aim to draw out some best practice guidelines as well as contributing to the programme’s overall examination of the balance between education and experience. Secondly, and using observations from my engagement as co-developer as my source material, I will look at how both the internal professional collaboration and exchanges with users in a digital co-collection project relates to and potentially affects traditional museum roles and competences. And finally, employing design game methodology to explore a meta-museological perspective, I wish to reflect on potentials in and implications of post-critical museum research-in-practice.

Hey ho, let’s go!

 

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.