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Today, Designmuseum Danmark opened a new exhibition of fashion photography, entitled Northern Women in Chanel. In true Fashion Week style, the exhibition was launched with an opening party for selected invitees, complete with celebrities and goodie bags. Sadly, I am not part of the in crowd; but thanks to images and blogposts shared by the museum on Facebook you and I can get a peek at the festivities.

Judging by these descriptions, the event seems to be have been as much about airkissing as it was about art. Which is fine by me, this is how the fashion industry works. But the whole event, as well as the guest list – including fashion bloggers, note – indicates that this exhibition belongs to Chanel more than it does to Designmuseum Danmark. Obviously it does so literaly, this being a travelling exhibition and a artbook project created by the photographers in collaboration with the fashion house, as confimed by the English press release being signed by two people form Chanel’s nordic press office as well as by the museum’s head of communication.

What I’m getting at is not really the mingling of business interests with cultural institution objectives, although this is one of the controversies that often follow high fashion exhibitions, as it calls into question the curatorial integrity.

What worries me more is that this exhibition could have been staged anywere, say at someplace quintessentially and trendily ‘Nordic’, as the rooting in the museum as cultural heritage institution seems to have been underplayed. And so, despite playing host to the fashionistas and earning some praise in the blogosphere, has the museum really raised its profile in the fashion world as a museum, or mainly as a trendy venue?

Sleeping on yesterday’s posting above, I realise that maybe I’m the one who’s getting it wrong. Maybe my notion of the Designmuseum as cultural heritage institution is caught up in an arcaic idea about the museum as preserver and presenter of a heritage frozen in time, not living breathing culture. Even though I myself have been arguing the opposite in so many other contexts, I fell victim to precisely this sort of thinking when stating that hosting a fashion event fell outside the museum’s objectives. But fashion has it’s own norms and workings as a cultural phenomenon, and should be understood and represented on it’s own terms.

So really, isn’t an event like this (or Bruuns Bazaar’s AW12 show that was also held at the museum last night) akin to an art museum presenting an art performance? In this case the cult and culture of fashion performed and observed by fashion’s insiders; a cultural phenomenon and experience taking place in the museum, how very fitting.

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Yesterday, I took my family to visit the brand new Europe meets the World exhibition at the National Museum. Actually, we’d hoped to join the childrens workshop, and was all set for a virtual trip to Italy, Germany or another exciting destination, when we realised that this was only possible on Sundays, so we’ll have to come back for that. Finding that the exhibition, although beautifully excecuted with a combination of objects and video projections, was a bit too abstract for our 4 and 7 year old’s, we ended up opting for the excellent children’s section of the museum instead (a family favourite and perfect weekend hangout in the winter months, inspiring hours of play and perfect in combination with visits to the museum collections).

As a consequence, I couldn’t give the exhibition the time and attention that it deserved, and will also have to come back for a proper visit to that (sans kids). Still, the use of QR codes was too much of a temptation for my geeky curiosity, and I couldn’t resist getting my scanner out. Unfortunately, this turned out to be an illustration of the challenges of utilizing this type of technology in an exhibition.

Now, motivations and obstacles for using your mobile in the museum for streaming/downloading museum content or sharing your opinions, and how this fits into and affects the museum experience overall is a (million dollar) question in its own right, which I won’t go into at this point (but which I will definitely explore in my project). Suffice to say that as many museum visits are social in nature, one person’s desire to explore in depth may not be compatible with the shared objective of the visit, as in our case.

Lights, camera…
But let’s just focus on technology for now. A lot has happened since I first wrote a post on QR codes back in 2009. I believe that a large part of today’s audience will now recognise and understand the use of the 2D barcodes as well as having the smartphone complete with scanner app ready for using the codes when desired, and still the novelty hasn’t quite worn off yet. In other words, time is ripe for putting this technology to good use in the museums – it’s cheap and simple to add a sticker to the exhibition display and doesn’t take a lot of technical savvy to set up the backend mobile friendly websites, allowing the museums to focus in stead on producing top quality content to augment the experience, supplementing the objects with audio, video or text, inviting participation in polls etc.

Still, in the case of this exhibition, the decision to offer content via QR codes clashes with the general design and ambience of the displays, created with subdued lighting and animated projections. As Seb Chan of the Australian Powerhouse Museum points out (or is ‘pointed’ more correct, given that the post I’m referencing (again) is also from 2009) in a brilliant post on the problems with, and solutions to, using QR codes in an exhibition, the shadows you cast when leaning in to use your scanner can steal the light needed for your camera to work.

This was the case at the National Museum, and it took dedication and some interesting body shapes to get some of the codes to work. Similarly, other visitors who noticed my attempts commented that they had found reflections problematic in other parts of the exhibition. And whereas I managed to succesfully connect to some of the educational material, I had no luck trying to take part in the polls asking my opinion on democracy or religion in Europe. Even if I managed to capture these images with my phone camera, the images where too dark for the scanner (Scanlife on an iPhone 3GS):

Early days
Visiting on the first day of the exhibition, one of course has to allow for adjustments to come, especially when the display includes new technologies that still take a bit of getting used to. Indeed, the reception staff welcomed my comments on the light and lack of open wifi (the wifi was meant to be open access in this part of the museum, but I was continously asked for a guest login, which you can get at reception on request, I later found out). Also, as I was clearly rushing along as well as being distracted by trying to keep track of my family, my exploration of the exhibition was in no way exhaustive, I may well have missed helpful pointers or even missed the point – my objective here is not to critizise or review the exhibition as such but only to discuss the challenges of using new technologies for mediation purposes, and if this comes across as some sour remark, I deeply apologize! I only hope that next time I visit, the museum has come up with a solution for securing sufficient lighting for the codes without spoiling the ambience of the exhibition. Looking forward to exploring the themes undisturbed!

It will be interesting to learn about the uptake of these QR codes once the exhibition is evaluated.

A couple of additional notes:
All QR labels offered a short explanation of what material you could find when scanning the code, including information on the format, i.e. video or audio. Written content, howeveer, was labeled ‘Undervisning’. In English, you would call this ‘Education’, hence previous discussions on the term mediation, but the Danish term ‘Undervisning’ has a strong classroom connotation. So much so that I was unsure if this was indeed part of some educational programme aimed at visiting school classes and not really targeted at visitors like me. If I was meant to be included in the target group, I’m not sure if the term appealed to me. I may want to learn, but am I interested in being taught?

Back home, and trying to find an explanation for why these labels offered content in Danish only, I’ve come to the conclusion, that this was probably part of an educational programme. But that doesn’t change that whilst at the exhibition I believed and wished the labels to be aimed at me too. Why has ‘my target group’ not been considered as potentially attracted to these labels, and subsequently baffled or left with a feeling of being excluded?

Finally, checking out the teaser video for the exhibition hosted on YouTube, it turned out to be an example of the challenges of entering into social media, as the only comment on the video was a stupid racist blurb. Wisely, the museum has simply chosen to ignore it, rather than enter into an impossible dialogue. Despite all the effort going into making the users engage and amplifying the vox pop, sometimes you wish they’d just shut up!

I’m planning to join the PhD seminar Studies in the Curatorial at University of Copenhagen next term, hoping to find inspiration and challenges for the museological aspects of my project.

Although my focus is on the mediation and not the curation of an exhibition, I believe that the two aspects should be considered in conjunction. Rather than seeing the mediation of an exhibition as a necessary add-on, one that is solved by either a default combination of catalogue, object labels and the optional audioguide, or by a state of the art mediatization complete with touchtables, mobile apps and platforms for interaction, the choice of mediation, and mediation media, should be an integral part of the objectives and discourse of the exhibition; a means to a curatorial end.

Therefore I look forward to getting a proper grasp of the concepts and challenges of curatorial practice, taking part in discussions on questions such as How can we perceive the role of exhibitions and expanded cultural practices of curating? and How are museums transformed and what sort of conservative, or maybe, critical potentials can be traced in exhibitions cultures? and not least to presenting and placing my own project within this discourse.

http://phd.hum.ku.dk/Cultlitart/courses/studies_in_the_curatorial/

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!

What makes an online exhibition an exhibition? Is a digital catalogue an exhibition? A multimedia catalogue? What constitutes an exhibition?
Although my research to date has not been very exhaustive, I have come across quite a few web exhibitions so far. All present a combination of images, text and sometimes multimedia files or interactive games and the like, revolving around a given topic or collection of objects or artworks. So far so good. Too often, the graphic design and/ or the site navigation has been annoyingly clumsy, but enough webexhibition sites are both aesthetically pleasing and boast state of the art (animated) graphics and navigation. Which is great.
Still, I never quite get the feeling that I am experiencing an exhibition as such. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it still seems more like a digital, hyperlinked and multimedial version of an exhibition catalogue, rather than a digital version of the exhibition itself.
So what makes an exhibition? What makes an exhibition experience? What makes a good exhibition experience? And is it at all possible to transfer this to the world wide web? Or is it the outing, the sociability, the architecture of the physical museum or perhaps the unique objects, complete with aura, that makes a visit to a physical exhibition a cultural experience?
Is it the fact that when visiting a physical exhibition, I make a concious decision to see this particular exhibition, allocate time for the visit, make my way to the museum, and once there I therefore actually go through the whole exhibition (if not the whole museum). I may not study every object in detail, I won’t be reading all the information available, but I will have made enough of an effort to create a lasting memory of my visit.
By contrast, the exhibitions that I find online, I stumble upon. I may be searching out webexhibitions, I may find one that interests or fascinates me, and yet, because of the habitual fast-scanning nature of webbrowsing, I rarely stick with the exhibitions long enough to properly engage. Whereas spending hours in a museums feels like a great pastime, I do not have the same patience with the online medium.
Is this just me, or is it a general problem? And if it is, is it the problem of the users, who must learn to slow down and engage with all the wonderful content avaiable online? Or is it the problem of the exhibition designers, who must find better ways to exhibit this content and help the audience engage?