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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).

Ragnarock dag.png

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!

 

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:

IMG_3047

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!

New Walk Museum, Leicester

Last week I attended a conference on ’museum metamorphosis’ at Leicester University. The conference was organised by PhD students at the Museums Studies programme and was focused on PhD and early career research, however, as the programme is so well respected, it still drew an international attendance and included some very interesting presentations and workshops. Jenny Walklate did an impressive job at liveblogging her way through two intense days of presentations, so anyone interested in a conference recap can visit http://msphdconf.blogspot.co.uk – her summary of my presentation is to be found here.

For me, the conference theme was an inspiration to explore a fashion perspective on museum change, which I had the idea for whilst at the Bard Graduate Center this spring. Although it may not be much of a claim, suggesting that museums, like any other field, are not only developing according to rational ideas, but are also susceptible to the mechanisms of fashion, I have not come across that perspective before. And in light of the latent tendency to elevate the changes that are taking place – strongly implied in the concept of metamorphosis, with its evolutionary or mythological connotations, but also apparent in the general rhetorics around museum change – I believe it is relevant to point to the more frivolous processes that are also at play. I therefore aim to submit a revised version of the paper for the upcoming issue of Museological Review, the programme’s peer reviewed journal, so that at least the review can inform the final version I intend to include in my dissertation.

Overall, I think the presentation went well, and I had a fine response to my paper presentation, so some people seemed to take it on board. Especially my story about Shoe Obsession seemed to go down well, but I also think I heard notions of fashion and trends being dropped into conversation a few times in later Q&A sessions. But there was very little time for questions, so the critical discussion that would have been really interesting to have didn’t happen. It was only on twitter (#mmeta2013) that I found a couple of critical comments, one from keynote presenter Sharon Heal (@sharonheal), saying “institutional ideals like fashion come and go. I don’t agree. There are fundamentals if you look for them.” and from @lfcrossley, asking “Do we always search for ‘the new’ in museums? I wish we did. The profession isn’t always great at transforming itself”. I agree with both, in certain aspects, but also believe that my argument is valid, in others (and thought I made it clear in my introduction that I did not claim for this perspective to be all encompassing). I therefore very much welcome these comments, and feel I ought to respond here.

Yes, there are fundamental values and ideals in museums, that are consistent over time – the educational purpose, for instance. But the understandings about how and whom to educate has changed over time, and the current day strategies for inclusion and participation is different from the authoritative education that was formerly the order of the day. Therefore the current ideal will also not necessarily prevail, and is no more inherently right than what came before or what we might see in the future. Likewise with the nationalistic origins of many museums, which today have given way to pluralistic, globalised and post-colonial perspectives. I believe Mario Schulze’s presentation on historical shifts in exhibition design centered around the material turn, and Joel Palhegyi’s presentation on the changing narratives in Croat museums during the socialist and post-socialist periods, respectively, could both be said to illustrate such tendencies, even though the changing ideals that they recounted were anything but frivolous. As for the question about the profession’s ability for transformation, I agree that there is a lot of resistance. But I also see the wish that @lfcrossley expresses as an equally strong force in the field. So even though it is sometimes a battle, change is happening. And moving with the times can be used as a very persuasive argument when it comes to winning people over.

The conference thus provided a good focus and forum to share my research, but the chance to learn from the research of others and engage in debates about museum change was of course as important. For me, some of the most inspiring take aways included:

Arienne Karp’s Electric Elephants workshop, exploring (and questioning) the narrative potential of exhibitions, by use of toy animals. Good fun, and some very good points made by Karp too.

Nick Winterbotham’s workshop on Leadership, resilience and learning, which taking inspiration in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, asked us to consider which changes we wanted to make as well as considering the impact and prioritisation of different kinds of interventions.

Emily Pinkowitz’ presentation on the Kitchen Conversations programme at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, in which she talked about the false binary of authoritative and questioning spaces (implicated in Duncan Cameron’s 1971 ‘The Museum. A Temple or the Forum’), suggesting instead that as per Bauman’s notion of liquid identities, we are easily able to toggle or shift between these positions

Jane K Nielsen’s introduction of the concept of the transformative museum, a (post) postmodern institution characterised by flexibility, participation, inlfluence and a world wide (web) perspective, as inspired by futurist Richard Salughter’s theory on the transformative cycle

David Francis’ use of Bakhtin’s heteroglossia concept to describe dialogic discourse in museums (as well as his sharp questions)

Stephanie Bowry’s wonderful examples of metamorphic objects from pre-modern cabinets of curiousities, and her point about how these objects may have been transposed to the modern museum, but their system of representation and taxonomies have not. Also her point about the revival such cabinets have en current culture reminded me of my own experience seeing Mark Dion’s installation and Dan Vo’s IMUUR2 in New York, picking up on this trend but not knowing what to make of it.

Erin Bailey’s inspiring talk about her in progress Queering the Museum project, exhibiting LGBTQ history in Seattle, and making a very strong case for the social impact and responsibility of museums and of public involvement.

Judith Dehail’s insightful presentation on the role and challenge of musical instruments in museums, based in part on visitor interviews and in part in theory. Of special interest to me was her point about how objects in museums must loose their practical function to obtain instead a symbolic function, a notion stemming from Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, which sounds like a good source for my own investigations into the relationship between commercial and museal objects.

Mario Schulze’s presentation, mentioned above, also had some interesting points about the role of or ideas invested in museum objects, as well as showing how exhibition practices have come full circle in the last few decades.

Judith & Mario’s presentations also reminded me again of the differences in the continental vs. anglo american traditions, with the former being more grounded in theory and philosophy, whilst the latter is more concerned with visitor studies, impact, economics and the social responsibilities of museums. As my own research interest is leaning more towards the continental approach, I had a talk with both of them afterwards, and got some good references. Now I hope that I will actually be able to read them…

Finally, it was great to hear Laura Liv Weikop presenting her Exhibition Lab project, currently on show at Designmuseum Danmark, and get more insight into this great project and its reception in the museum. Also it was a real pleasure spending a few days together and be able to share perspectives. Good to know that we can carry on the conversation in Copenhagen.

A most inspiring couple of days, then, and a really great arrangement by the organisers. Cheers all!

No, sadly I haven’t been to Istanbul to see Orhan Pamuk’s ’Museum of Innocence’. I’ve read the book, though (it took me over two months to get through it, and frankly I found it a mostly boring and frustrating read, and yet it has stuck with me somehow).  Also I’m intrigued by the Gesamtkunstwerk that they form in combination, and by the concept of a museum of personal debris and knicknacks, so I hope to get to see it some day.

I’ve now come across Pamuks ’A Modest Manifesto for Museums’ (via an interesting post and discussion thread on empathy in museums on museumgeek’s excellent blog). In the 11 points of the manifesto, Pamuk proposes that

3/ We don’t need more museums that try to construct the historical narratives of a society, community, team, nation, state, tribe, company, or species. We all know that the ordinary, everyday stories of individuals are richer, more humane, and much more joyful.

and that

8/ The resources that are channeled into monumental, symbolic museums should be diverted into smaller museums that tell the stories of individuals. These resources should also be used to encourage and support people in turning their own small homes and stories into “exhibition” spaces. 9/ If objects are not uprooted from their environs and their streets, but are situated with care and ingenuity in their natural homes, they will already portray their own stories.

It is an interesting idea, but more as a polemic position than as a recipe for the future of museology.

On the on hand, it’s a very postcolonial, new-museology-in-the-extreme take on what museums should be, of not only telling the story of the peoples but letting people do it themselves. On the other the idea that objects tell their own stories, that the context is all the mediation they need, is really quite modernist, and does not consider the very different cultural capital we bring to the table when interpreting cultural objects. (In real terms, the objects in the museum are everything but unmediated, as they are accompanyed not only be a catalogue but also by a novel to explain their significance). But the manifesto is also flawed.

For starters, the proposition that the stories of individuals are, as a rule, superior to social narratives is not as self-evident as the rhetorics will have it. What’s more, whilst reflecting on our own stories, and ’thinking with’ the things that we have and hold dear, as suggested by Turkle (Evocative Objects), may be rewarding, studies of visitor’s response to user generated content (e.g. Rudloff 2013, Sanderhof 2012, my own first workshop) show that even though they may find the concept sympathetic, people are not necessarily that interested in other people’s memories.

The suggestion of home (made) museums also links into the debates about digital curation, the part about whether peoples online collections on Pinterest, Tumblr etc. can rightfully be considered curation, or whether the concept of digital DIY curation is just at misunderstanding or watering down of the concept of curatorship.

Having a collection, and being able to curate it, make it meaningful, is not one and the same. Similarly, having a story and being able to tell it does also not necessarily go hand in hand, rather, turning a life story into a narrative calls for the craft of an author. In fact, ’The Museum of Innocence’, the novel, is an example of just that, as it describes how the protagonist employs the author Pamuk to tell his story. It is a fiction, of course, a narrative, just as the objects in the museum are not personal belongings, but brought together from years of flea market scavenging (and, I suspect, an arrangement with a group of women agreeing to smoke their cigarettes wearing a particular lipstick. The display of butts pinned down like insects in a glass cage is absolutely wonderful, I must say). Again, a great concept as a Gesamtkunstwerk, but in no way indicative that anyone’s home and lifestory could function as a museum.

Also, the narrative of the book raises questions of whether we ourselves are in fact capable of understanding our own story. What stuck in my throat about this book (I still haven’t managed to find another reader to discuss it with, but would love to do so as I might have been getting it all wrong) is that is presents itself as a love story, but, for me, it reads like an extreme case of fetishisation, OCD and destructive self-deception. Rather than loving his beloved (and accepting defeat when losing her because he thought he could have it all), the protagonist (in my view) falls in love with his own infatuation, makes a martyr of himself and destroys the life of his one time mistress by taking possession of her life and her possessions. So it is his story, not hers, that is told in the book, and, by effect, in the museum, even though he would see it as a shrine to her. Not so innocent, after all.

Whilst this story is an extreme, a (long winded but) heightened reality as can only be produced by art (although I agree that sometimes real life comes up with something even more amazing), brought into the context of the museum, it is also a cautionary tale, reminding us that the ’authentic’ stories of the public are no less constructed by personal politics than the stories of the museum are constructed by national narratives.

Over the last few weeks, I have attended a handful of interesting events which deserve summing up for future reference, and because they presented insights worth sharing. Also they serve as a lesson in getting it down while it’s still fresh in your mind, as I realize that some of the (surely brilliant) thoughts I had after some of the earlier events I now can’t recall, like how inspired I was by Else Skjold’s research or the details of working with Cecilia’s probe. Which explains why the entries get shorter and shorter…

Loic Tallon open lecture at CIID: Adapting to mobile: a museum perspective (26/2)

Last week, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design hosted an open lecture by Loic Tallon. Tallon is director of Pocket-Proof, a digital consultancy specialized in helping museums develop strategies for mobile media with some pretty cool projects under their belt; chair of the Museums and Mobile online conference; and producer of the annual Museums and Mobile Survey. He also co-edited Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience: Handheld Guides and Other Media with Kevin Walker and co-wrote the paper ‘Going Mobile?‘ with Isabel Froes for MW2011, amongst other things. So, in short, he’s cool, and has a solid knowledge of and experience with this field, and I’m thrilled that he agreed to do an interview when I get to New York. So more on that later.

Aimed primarily at designers, the presentation centered on six tips how to think about designing mobile projects for museums, reminding newcomers to the museum field that while smart phones may be the latest craze, mobile interpretation tools in museums go back a long way. Listed in the photo below, I’ve added my own notes on the six tips beneath.

Loic Tallon's top tips for museum mobile design

Loic Tallon’s top tips for museum mobile design

Be specific about what mobile is (and is not)
– Smart phones, tablets, audioguides etc. are not one and the same – explore the specific affordances
– Why do it on mobile (e.g. smart phone)?
– Central characteristics of smart phones: digital, personal, portable, connected

Forget about the technology
Get past default ‘we need an app’ thinking or simply replacing audioguide # with QR codes
– Think about what experience you want to create, what content or what stories you want to share
– Mobile technology can now do far more than museums ask for (there was a really nice graph for this, but I didn’t get my camera out in time, and I haven’t been able to find the slides online) – but what is it we need it to do?

Mobile projects are not new for museums
As demonstrated in videos and audioclips from past museum tours, with some lovely examples like Stedelijks groundbreaking 1952 broadcast technology and a dramatic Tuttenkhamun tour narrated by Orson Welles.

Define who it’s for and what it does
– with reference to Falks situated identities: visitors motivations are key
– clearly defined objectives (the experience) for a clearly defined audience.

Support the museum’s challenge
#1 challenge: getting people to use them ( see museums & mobile surveys) (now, I think this is the wrong way to think about this issue, as it suggests that the goal is to boost uptake stats; rather, this kind of knowledge should not only make you wonder how to get people to use them more, but should also make you think about whether they are actually valuable for the visitor or if they are quite fine without them, thank you)
– so think about the experience from the visitor’ perspective – what do they need, what is the added value: forget about distribution of your products, think instead of supporting visitor needs, what kind of experience they want (which is kind of the point I was making above, except the assumed sollution in this context may be better experience design, whereas non-use, the non-scaffolded, unequipped skinnydip museum visit is at least not addressed as an option. Further to this rant here and here).

Bring capacity building, not just a product (or pilot)
-Work with museums, let their needs, ideas, perspectives decide the development

This advice should go out to museums as much as to designers. Sadly, I think one big problem is that because most museums do not have in-house development, they don’t build up much experience or understanding, and so are quite easily manipulated by flashy suggestions from design bureaus who, at the end of the day, are trying to flog a product.

Further on that note, I couldn’t help noting how many people were there; the small venue was totally crowded. This field is scarily popular. Were these people all museum-mobile-designer wannabes? And if so: are mobile museum experiences more a designer’s wet dream than a visitor need? Or a result of the museum folks’ desire to rub shoulders with the creatives? I’m not pointing any fingers here; this was exactly how I got to be interested in this field. Just speculating.

Either way, Tallon’s sound advice should come in handy.

MMCN network seminar: Methodologies of mobile communication and media research (22/2)

The Mobile Media and Communications Network is a newly founded network of Scandinavian researchers sharing findings, work-in-progress conundrums, publication possibilities and more around their research into mobile communication and media. Starting from last year’s ‘Researching Mobile and Locative Media’ workshop and PhD course at Århus University, the group met once in the autumn to establish the network and this time for a seminar focusing on methodology. The plan is to continue with biannual meetings as well as instigating mobile media sessions at relevant conferences. There’s also a website in the making, and an open invitation for other reserachers in this field to take part.

Even if I can feel like an outsider, even a bit of a leech, given that I probably will not be contributing to this field but only learning from it, it is still very interesting for me to take part in this network and learn from some of the leading researchers and shooting stars in this field. A mix of presentations and discussion, the atmosphere is nicely informal, meaning that rather than showing off people share uncertainties, allowing for a constructive dialogue. As we discussed that this could also be a forum for PhD students to get feedback on their work (rather than pushing for another PhD course this year), I should seize that opportunity at some point.

Both Bechmann, Ess & Waade ‘s project about Tripadvisor and the communicative functions of travel apps (as yet unpublished, but the abstract presents some very interesting points about key functions and significant tendencies in locative mobile apps, such as their visuality and connectedness), and Gunnar Liestøl’s presentation about establishing a methodology for design development of ‘Situated Simulations’, a kind of indirect augmented reality, were very interesting and relevant for my project. I was particularly intruiged by Liestøl’s notions on the value of negativity, of negation, pointing to what is not there, as essential to the design process, which counters the insistance of possitivity in design thinking ass advocated by Ided, Aalto a.o. Also here, a paper is under way, which I will look forward to reading.

I also picked up on the fact that Liestøl also used the term ‘mediation’ – but when asked, also confessed to some uncertainty as to the appropriacy of this translation. It seems that all Scandinavians share the frustration that there is no truly appropriate English translation for such a central term in museology as ‘formidling’ (German Vermittlung), only a host of related terms that convey some aspects, but not the complexity of meanings in the original term. And while mediation may be the correct term etymologically, and in accordance with ICOMs key concepts of museology, it is still not used by the anglophone museum community, as the common usage of the word has very different connotations. So, I too will have to keep circling around this issue, before tackling it head on in my thesis.

#SMWSMK: Social Media Week at Statens Museum for Kunst (21/2)

Social Media Week in Copenhagen inlcuded a string of events at Statens Museum for Kunst:
The art museum on social media – presentation by three different museums on Livestream

Allegra Burnette, creative director for Digital Media at MOMA, presented their social media strategy and a catalogue of initiatives across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and traditional blogs, all used in differerent ways to document, distribute or engage the public in ongoing exhibitions.

Jesse Righam, Digital Communications manager at TATE similarly laid out their social media strategies, which seemed to have a strong focus on the marketing potential of social media. An interesting aspect for me here was how fashion culture, via bloggers (e.g. Stylebubble), designers (e.g. Westwood) and collaboration with the industry (e.g. Topshop), was used to gain access to a wider public, quote RIngham: ‘it taps into that audience that we need, the visitors of tomorrow’. Perhaps this has been the inspiration for the newly founded Louisiana Channel‘s decision to feature Danish designers Henrik Vibskov, Peter Jensen and Anne Sofie Madsen as commentators on art (in relation to fashion, but still).

Finally, Sarah Grøn from SMK generously shared the ups and downs in the process towards ‘becoming social’, making the point that staff’s personal experience with and command of social media platforms is a prerequisite for using them succesfully as an institution.

After a panel discussion, which mainly revolved around sure-fire communication on Facebook (apparently, updates about artist’s birthdays and the weather never fail – the key is to give something the puiblic can personally relate to), the day concluded with presentations by Merete Sanderhoff and Unges Laboratorier for Kunst on ongoing projects at SMK. Not entirely convinced by ULK’s Tales App (perhaps I’m just not getting it, or perhaps it is one of interesting, but somewhat artyfarty concepts that work best as concepts only)  but I would recommend trying Hintme, the scanner/twitterbased concept which I have written about earlier, which is now open to the public in a beta version. So go check out the website, make sure your QR scanner is up to date and go try it out in on of the participating museums! Better still, let me know how you liked it.

Modesalon: Fashion, music & identity at Designmuseum Danmark (30/1)

During fashion week, and in conjunction with the current exhibition of vinyl album covers, Designmuseum Denmark hosted two fashion salons about the relationship between fashion and music. Sadly, I missed out on the second one, a conversation between designers Mads Nørgaard and Henrik Vibskov, but found the first, featuring music scholar Morten Michelsen and fashion researcher Else Skjold, very inspiring.

Following themes such as emancipation, experimental expressions of gender and marginalisation, they spoke of fashion and music as bodily media for cultural expressions, and of the problematics of the ‘subculture’ discourse, which has now gone out of fashion, to be replaced with concepts of scenes, tribes and genre as social phenomenon.

Skjold is currently finishing up her PhD research on men’s fashion, a very interesting project exploring the potential and developing the methodology of wardrobe studies for cultural studies into fashion as well for market oriented developments in the fashion industry. I had a brief chat with her after the session about our shared interest in how fashion is not just products on a catwalk, but a complex mix of utility, identity, style and culture when used in real life. I expect that her thesis will provide some useful insights into these aspects as well as into considerations on design methodology in cultural studies, and might try to hook up with her at a later stage.

Responding to someone else’s probe

Thanks to Cecilia, a master student from the IT University of Copenhagen, I have been getting a chance to ‘taste my own medicine’. For her master thesis just finished, she explored how to design for sensory experiences in digital media, focusing on the potential for the fashion industry; a very interesting project and field, and highly relevant to my own research. During her process we’ve had some inspiring conversations and I am curious to learn of her findings. What’s more, she used cultural probes in her empirical research, and I had to fortune to one of her informants.

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Her beautiful probe package consisted of seven activities exploring various sensory expressions – I was asked to produce sensual forms in clay; to create a colourscheme, to articulate my thoughts on sensual expereinces on a series of postcards etc.

Apart from inspiring my own thinking around the importance – and complexity – of sensory and aesthetic experiences, and how to translate that into digital designs, it was interesting to be an informant and experience the very subjective interaction between designer and informant when performing her probe activities. Like the blurred boundary between what was her research interest and what was mine, and between my personal and academic understanding of the sensory, brought on in part by an overlap in project foci, and in part by engaging myself in her probe. Or the time issue, as in how much you can ask of your informants. For my part, I enjoyed working with the probe and also had a sense of obligation, meaning that I completed all tasks, but even so I can see how the demand on the informant’s time must be taken into consideration in the probe design, and may also account for some of the lacking responses in my own research.

Last week, I received an invitation from Bard Graduate Center in New York to become a short-term research fellow for a six week period next spring.

Having waited anxiously for their decision since applying in August, I was (am!) exhilarated to receive this news, and feel truly privileged to be given to opportunity to take part in the strong research community at the BGC.

The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, is a graduate research institute of Bard College. As implied by the title, the institution studies cultural history through its material manifestations, or, in the words of Dean Peter N. Miller:

At the Bard Graduate Center our focus is on Cultura. This ancient Latin word referred to the class of activities in which human beings acted on, and so transformed, their natural surroundings. Studying the traces of this effort is, of course, cultural history, but of a specific sort. It directs our attention to the substances intervened upon, the processes used to make these interventions, and the consequences of these interventions.

Museum theory, fashion history and media/materiality matters are all represented in the course offerings, making it a perfect institution for research into my project field. The library and Digital Media Lab look simply brilliant, and the symposia and seminar series – open to the public – very inspiring – hopefully the program for the course of my stay will be as interesting. The institution publishes the book series Cultural Histories of the Material World and the journal West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture as well as publications related to their exhibitions. Yes, there is a gallery too! opening up the field to the general public and making the insititution a vibrant part of NY cultural life as well as hub for intellectual discussion.

So this really is a remarkable institution. What excites me the most is the prospect of taking part in the academic community, and really immerse myself in its approach and discourses as well as in my own project. I find BGC’s emphasis on object-centered, question-driven work [which] unites the best approaches of the museum curator and the university professor’ (as put by founder and director Susan Weber) most inspiring, and look forward to take that lead. I will also be doing a presentation to staff and students, hoping to receive some critical feedback and just get stuck into some brilliant eyeopening conversations along the way.

It goes without saying that I am also exited by the prospect of spending six weeks in New York. I look forward to explore the world class museums, pick out a couple of good plays, find a favourite second hand haunt, and just wander through the city like modern day flâneur (or flâneuse, I guess), reserving the touristy bits for when my husband and boys come to visit. This will be my first visit to NY, and studying at the BCG and living in Bard Hall, both in Manhattan, I really get the chance be a part of it (New York, New York). Awesome news indeed.