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Last week, I came across this discussion thread on Twitter. To me it’s interesting because it pins down some of the problematic aspects of integrating digital practices (whatever they may be, hence the opening question) into museum communication.

Discussion thread on Twitter, June 16th 2014

Discussion thread on Twitter, June 16th 2014

I cannot help notice the ‘us-and-them’ rhetorics – in this case ‘us’ being the museum technologists (Koven J Smith being a museum consultant and Mia Ridge being a PhD researcher, both coming from a tech background and both key actors in the Twitter and conference based #musetech community) and ‘them’ being the ‘traditional’ museum professionals; i.e. curators, conservators, educators etc. But still I think the hesitance described, the notion that digital interactions are somehow disconnected, colder, and not as valuable as onsite visits, is very right.

The question was posed by Koven Smith presumably in preparation for his MuseumNext 2014 keynote – at least he references the question in this excerpt from that note in the blogpost Defining “digital”Here, he also describes another, seemingly contradictory, tendency:

We love the word “digital” in museums now–we’re happy to say that our latest blog is totally DDD, despite the fact that it only has four readers and took us six years to produce. In the same way that DDD used to mean “automatic awesome” for audiophiles, “digital” for museums means sweet motherlodes of engagement and young people. We’re finally getting digital. Let’s roll out that blog, and wait for carloads of teenagers to arrive on our doorsteps. That’s the way this works, right? But […] digital is a label we’ve used to paper over the fact that we still don’t really understand how this world works. (Koven J. Smith, ‘Defining “digital”‘, blogpost 20.6.2014 http://kovenjsmith.com/archives/1446)

This tendency is one that I have also critically addressed in a soon-to-be-published article. But perhaps they are not so contradictory after all. Perhaps the enthusiasm for finding digital solutions for almost every museum project – whether this enthusiasm is driven by in-house technologists who have seen the light, by external web development companies who have a vested interest in selling a need for digital to the museums, or from museum boards following political directives and funding streams – backfires because it is overwhelming. Another strand of the discussion illustrated this:

twitter_digital1

Bruce Wyman’s comment reflects well the discussions that took place in the two workshops I held with professionals from Designmuseum Danmark, in which ‘app’ became shorthand for any kind of mobile tool, ‘semantic web’ was mentioned as the way forward, but nobody (myself included) could quite pin down what it meant, QR codes became ‘QRL’s (in a mash-up with URLs) etc. Here was a group of highly accomplished professionals, masters of their respective fields, but relative newcomers to the digital domain, vast and rapidly evolving as it is. Little wonder that they did not have full command of concepts and lingo. And the feeling of uncertainty, of not quite understanding what the possibilities are and how to select a strategy and move forward, is surely not helped by this constant demand for ‘getting with the program’ while simultaneously being told – or talked about as if – you’re not getting it or not getting it right. Rather, it might breed scepticism or resentment. And anyway, when the tech in-crowd struggles to define digital, its not so strange that everybody else are also a little confused.

Sharing is Caring 14

Which reminds me of a really interesting debate that took place at this year’s Sharing is Caring seminar, one that still sticks with me as it kind of touches on a central conundrum in my research. (For the record, I’ve been off with stress for a few weeks, which is why I didn’t get round to blogging about the seminar back in April. Back now, and better although still slightly dizzy, so blogging is a strategy for getting back in the game). After both presenting keynotes, Nick Poole – having spoken about the love of museums as a key driving force for staff and visitors alike – and Simon Tanner – giving a presentation on impact assessment – launched into a discussion about whether institutional development should essentially be guided by evidence or confidence. Obviously, success can be a bit hit and miss. Simon Tanner therefore argued, that in order to ensure that our strategies and efforts really have the intended impact, and adjust accordingly if they don’t, we must gather and analyse data that shows what actually happens, how they are experienced by the public, rather than following gut feelings and hype. While this is a valid and rational point, the problem remains that it takes a lot of time to produce evidence (and still your evidence only answers the questions you set out to explore, but not all the other aspects that may have given you a different result). Nick Poole therefore took the position that as culture and society evolves too quickly for science to keep up, development should not be stalled by the idealistic call for evidence. Furthermore, as evidence can only tell us about the past, but not foresee the future, we have to rely on our beliefs when deciding on how to move forward. To support this view, he cited that the greatest leap of institutional development – in the 19th century – was precisely guided by belief, not evidence (thus ironically using evidence to back his claim, but still a good point, not least as museums are currently attempting to make an equally significant leap into a digitalised, networked and democratic future).

The outcome of the discussion was of course a compromise, an agreement that we have to combine the two, and let investments follow the projects that we believe will have the greatest impact rather than simply stick to what we feel most comfortable with, and subsequently evaluate and learn from our mistakes.

I attended the seminar together with my museology class, which worked as great learning experience. Interestingly, in our follow-up discussion, they picked up on the tendency for presentations to have a touch of the motivational speech: little criticism was raised, and rhetorics were at times a bit to idealistic and flowery (e.g. Nick Poole’s talk about love; it’s all well and good but how do you put that into practice?!) – which had also bugged me when I first attended Sharing is Caring in 2012. This time I was less bothered. Was that because the evangelism had been turned down a notch, because I had adjusted my expectations, or had become wiser or simply lost my critical mojo?

Either way, a lot of interesting issues have been raised in this seminar series, and now the contributions from the 2011 and 2012 editions have been collated in an anthology edited by Merete Sanderhoff. The anthology, which addresses ‘the changes and opportunities brought about by digitisation, digital media, and the internet for the cultural heritage world and – not least – our users’ comprises 18 articles by Danish and international museum professionals, scholars, public sector administrators and others. It presents a wide range of cases and viewpoints, and is not only well worth a read, but also freely available for download from SMK’s website. Now that’s sharing the love.

sharecare

 

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A belated note on the press coverage of Copenhagen Fashion Week and some good points from Eva Kruse, director of Danish Fashion.

 
As per ususal, and in keeping with the intentions of the CFW to be not just an industry event but a public festival, fashion week brought an influx in fashion-focused articles in the general press. Judging by the standard of the articles, however, it would seem that the extra attention is a bit of a mixed blessing, as they reinforce the stereotypical take on fashion as a rather foolish affair; lazy journalism for the silly season. Granted, I have not been doing any kind of proper survey on the coverage, and so these pickings are just the bits and bobs I stumbled across.

Take this summary from Politiken.dk (DK equivalent to the Guardian), linking to picture galleries from this seasons catwalk shows -nothing wrong with that – but with a header reading Inspiration: Your look for next summer (implying that fashion followers are a mindless herd) and with the image caption Moonspoon Saloon recommends that we wear turbans and clown-ish jackets next summer (a really daft idea, we understand by this condescending phrasing, which completely ignores the performance art and queer groundings of the brand, and hence the context of the collection and show).

Even more toe-curling was a summary double interview on DR.dk (the public broadcast company), with quotes like:

– Den her uge for mig har været 60er modernisme og regnbueis. Man kan kalde det soft porn – der er noget erotisk gemt. Man har lyst til at spise det. Man har lyst til at spise hinanden, siger [Chris Petersen, editor of Cover magazine]
-This week for me has been about 60’s modernism and tri-colour ice-cream. You could call it soft porn – there’s something erotic hiding. You feel like eating it. You feel like eating eachother, says [Chris Petersen, editor of Cover Magazine].

Sådan en skatteforvaltningsdame skal da også sidde og se sexet ud. Så vil man også hellere betale sin skat, siger [Lotte Freddie, modejournalist]
The taxlady should also look decorative and sexy. Then you’d be happier to pay you tax, too, says [Lotte Freddie, fashion journalist]

And the spot-on ‘fashion is so gay’-cliche:

– Du var lige ved at få en fashionorgasme af alle de farver, griner Chris Pedersen.
-You almost had a fashion-orgasm from all those colours, laughs Chris Pedersen.

(A response to a previous, non-informative and rather embarrasing video/article in which the same ‘fashion expert’ Lotte Freddie has a rant about the Danes’ predilection for subdued colour, whereas Lotte herself favours pink, we learn. After all these years covering fashion, is this really the best she can do? Is this an expert perspective on fashion? Or just cheap TV?)

To be fair, and fortunately, the coverage also included slightly meatier (albeit still in this low-carb-high-protein fashionable diety way, we’re not talking real brain food here) articles like a newsy item explaining how front row seats formerly given to fashion bloggers are now reserved for buyers, thanks to the recession, and a breakdown of the nature of trends in an interview with fashion researcher Maria McKinney Valentin. And Berlingske added a few articles on the business aspects to their runway reports.

Fashion is also culture
Overall, I can only second the points made by director of the Danish Fashion, Eva Kruse, in an opinion article from 2010; Mode er også kultur (Fashion is also culture).

In the article, she argues that fashion deserves a more serious coverage – in the press, and in museums! and as a research field –  one that considers the cultural aspects of fashion. This approach would not only better reflect the real impact of fashion, but also strengthen the fashion industry.

Hear hear!

Generelt i det kulturelle Danmark har diskursen omkring mode et lidt gammeldags islæt, og noget tyder lidt groft sagt på, at man helst kun udstiller tøj, hvis enten en dronning eller en viking har haft det på. Og det er egentlig ærgerligt, for en mere kulturorienteret tilgang kunne være til gavn for både forbrugerne og statskassen. Tøj er jo ikke blot ensbetydende med penge i kassen hos forhandlere og eksportører, eller at vi kan holde varmen de koldeste trefjerdedele af året. Nej – tøj er også i høj grad med til at definere vores identitet over for vores omgivelser. Præcis som dine præferencer inden for musik, indretning og lekture gør det, bidrager også det tøj, du iklæder dig, til at forme, hvem du er – eller hvem du gerne vil være. Derfor kan mode også sagtens gribes an som et seriøst stofområde i medierne og kan fx anmeldes på præcis samme vilkår som musik, kunst og film.

At formulere mode som kultur gør altså ikke blot modebranchen stærkere, men kan i bedste fald skabe en enorm merværdi, fordi Danmark i fremtiden blandt andet skal tjene penge på at sælge kultur og kulturelle oplevelser. Så hvorfor ikke føje moden ind under »kulturhatten« med en seriøs behandling af stoffet i medierne samt en opgradering af udannelsernes forskningsfelt på moden?

Eva Kruse, August 2010, http://www.b.dk/kronikker/mode-er-ogsaa-kultur
(As the quote is long I won’t translate it; it’s not that she says anything revloutionary, but more the fact that she makes this statement that I find interesting)

As described above, this change hasn’t quite happened yet. But it’s good to know that Danish Fashion is on the ball. And it will be interesting to see if the report on fashion, media and culture mentioned in the article will provide some good points as to how museums may play their part in the process. (Unfortunately I can’t find a link to the report, but managed to get a pdf copy from Lead Agency).