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Despite my worries in an earlier post about adopting an all-inclusive approach, at this point in the process at least it seems to make sense. Because the aim of the concept development part of my thesis is not to end up with a final product, i.e. a ready-for-production web exhibition on a given topic, but rather to develop some more generally applicable guidelines or ideas, narrowing the field too much would seem like loosing out of an opportunity to explore the possibilities.

So, the plan now is to work with a modular structure, in which the various themes of the exhibition – both the content that mirrors the onsite exhibition, and some of the related topics that could add to the insight and experience – are explored and communicated through a variety of appropriate media formats. If the online exhibition was to be actually produced, this would allow for a pick’n’mix selection of modules, or perhaps an incremental process where modules were added gradually to the core exhibition. For a small institution like Diamanten, with only temporary exhibits on a wide variety of cultural topics, this continuous development may seem to be overdoing it slightly. On the other hand, since the online iteration of the exhibitions are permanent, it might be worth the effort (and money, I know) developing them as more than just a hyperlinked catalogue.

Although the themes and content of each exhibition will determine how it should be presented and what media formats would best suit the story you wish to tell, I hope to find a format for the core exhibition that would be transferable from one exhibition to the next. A template or CMS system would not only easy the workload when producing a new exhibition, but also provide some user-friendly consistency in the museum website. Also, if this core needed only tweaking, not reinventing every time, it would free up more energy for innovative and experimental approaches to future add-ons to the exhibition.

For the upcoming cartography exhibition (and perhaps as a rule of thumb?) I suggest this core be based on the content of the physical exhibition, i.e. Danmark Ekspeditionen, HJ Rink & Jakobshavn, Lauge Koch, Pearyland & the geological maps. The research done, the images selected and the text produced could be transfered into or altered to fit the online format, and extra layers of information could be added. The result would be something in between a digital catalogue and an online ressource. Seeing these maps on the screen would ofcourse not compare to seeing them in full size and splendour onsite, but putting the stories behind the maps online would allow for visitors a different opportunity to explore them in their own time.

Still, this would be not much different from the information one could find in a book, and what a waste of media potential it would be to stop there – not for media’s sake, but for the sake of allowing visitors alternative ways of engaging with the stories and problems posed by the exhibition theme.

First step could be to include multimedia from DR (Danish public service broadcasting). Already, both DR and KB are part of a trans-institutional network focused on sharing and distributing national cultural heritage, so it would seem obvious to make use of DRs archives and expertise in media production. For this exhibition, an online resource based on a TV series retracing the steps of Danmark Ekspeditionen already exists.

Another way of engaging the audience in the drama of the expeditions that produced the maps we now take for granted could be trough publishing the journals from the participants as part of the online exhibtion. I am currently looking into the potential for publishing the most famous of these diarys, that of Jørgen Brøndlund as a time&space distributed narrative, as I have an idea that the drama and cliffhanger qualities of this real life narrative would work well presented in this format across various media platforms.

Using gameplay quests and conventions to simulate the challenge of mapping a ‘terra incognita’ like North East Greenland could be interesting. However, I am not a digital gameplayer, so that whole field of design and discourse is terra incognita to me, and I fear that there be dragons.

The cartographic problem of map projections could perhaps be explained in text and images online (slong with other cartographic issues), but an interesting addition could be to let visitors get some ‘hands on’ experience with 3D/2D ‘elastic maps’ on an interactive platform, perhaps trying to manipulate a Mercator projection into a Peters projection to get a feel of the implications of the various projections. Some mashup with Google Earth might also be an option. Haven’t quite worked out exactly what or how yet, hence the wooliness of the description (still I managed to namedrop stuff I am trying to get my head around in a superficial way, thanks to great inspiration from Denis Wood’s excellent book The Power of Maps).

Finally, the question of what a map is and what it shows, and why, could be explored through a social media application online inviting visitors to participate in the making of a user generated map of Copenhagen. A handdrawn map made from the wikiprinciple could be good fun, but probably technically tricky to develop, and perhaps a bit daunting for the participants to get into. Instead, a neutral (let’s pretend such a thing exists) map, showing only the the city’s road grid, could be provided, and visitors would be encouraged to start filling in the blanks. Copenhagen already has a usergenerated cityguide, but what of all the other things one could wish to map? Users could start new categories like ‘recycling bins’, ‘beware of dog-poo’ or ‘great places for snogging’, and start tagging away.

Now, all of the above ideas are only at a first sketch stage, and will need screening and developing. I hope to be able to draw together a focusgroup/workshop team to help me with this when I’m ready.
Comments are welcome!

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Today I attented a meeting between the researchers and the designer of the upcoming cartography exhibition, where the overall plans for the exhibition content and layout were finalised. The three main focuses of the exhibition will be the mapping of North and East Greenland in the early 20th century Danmark-Ekspeditionen in the Dronningesal montres; the science and beauty of especially geological maps at Udlånsbroen; and the oeuvre of Danish pioneer H J Rink. In addition to this, photograps and unique historical maps will be on display in the older parts of the royal library.

Following on from this, I spoke to one of the researchers to get his perspective on the underlying story and relevance of the exhibition. And it was great to witness his enthusiasm for cartography, to hear about the fascinating mix of science, art and perception that makes up the discipline. So for him, clearly, that was the story that needed telling.

In this perspective, the maps and stories from North East Greenland are little more than instructive illustrations of this point. And yet, because of the full blown drama of the expeditions, the extremities of the landscape and the beauty of the hand coloured maps that represent them, this content is a valid story to tell as well. In fact, my immediate guess – based only on my limited knowledge of the plans for the exhibition so far – is that this story line will have the more immediate appeal to the public, or at least be more visible at a glance, because of it’s great narrative and helped along by the arctic animals on display and the national interest in the region’s history.

So there’s two tracks that could be explored in the online iteration of the exhibition. One which focuses on North East Greenland and the cartographic expeditions, and one that seeks to engage the visitors in the history of cartogaphy and the complex nature of maps. Perhaps it is possible to merge or combine the two online as is the intention onsite, or perhaps it would be more fruitful to tone down one aspect, to allow for the other to be unfolded in more detail and in other ways than are possible in the physical exhibition.

At this point, I am most drawn to the cartographical focus. Partly because I have already been persuaded by the fascinating implications of the seemingly simple question ‘ What is a map?’, and partly because I think it holds more potential for this project. Whereas the stories from Greenland could be represented in a fairly straightforward (but beautifully crafted) ‘1.0’ website (this is, of course, not the only option, but the most obvious) and so be more an exercise in graphic design and information architecture, the other calls for more innovation in terms of how to engage the audience and how to express a more conceptual content.
Or, perhaps the thing to do would be to work on both in parallel. Not necessarily with the aim of combining them in one (fictitious) site, but in order to explore and illustrate two very different approaches to online exhibitions. Hmmm…. But then, would I end up spreading myself too thinly? Perhaps ‘develop’ one only to a sketch or principles stage, and then explore the other more fully? Ah, decisions, decisions, decisions. Enter iterative processes!

So this is it, the topic of my webexhibition, to be developed in relation to the upcoming exhibition at Diamanten. The opening of the exhibition coincides with the ICHC2009 conference on the history of cartography in July.
Actually, the blogpost title is the title of the conference; the title of the exhibition is as yet unknown, but the themes of the conference and the exhibtion are closely connected. The exhibition will concentrate on the mapping of North East Greenland. It tells a story of challenges and drama, but also of the blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction and the interplay between cartography and the written word. Handcarved and handdrawn maps and directives will be on display, as well as wonderfully colourful geological maps, taxidermised (?) arctic animals and more maps and artifacts from the cartographical expeditions. Some of the story has already been told in a previous exhibition at Det Kongelige Bibliotek on the mapping of Denmark, now only available as a webexhibition, see Kortlægningen af Nordgrønland og Peary Kanalen under Temaudstillinger.
As of yet, I only have a limited set of information on the actual stories and content of the exhibtion. I have had a tour on the layout of the exhibition on site and have been sent some notes and visuals; I am now waiting for to meet up with the researchers on the project and should also be invited to upcoming meetings concerning the exhibition.
Still, I have enough to get on with, and will get started on the development of a concept for how to represent the exhibition online, and how to make the connection between the virtual and the physical exhibition.
I am actually quite excited about this exhibition, and think it’s a perfect fit for my project: the stories and the visuals are genuinely spectacular and appealing, yet the whole thing is not so damn sexy; it’s still a challenge to find the right way of capturing the audience. Here’s hoping I’ll be up to the task!