Tag Archives: museology

For a while I’ve been pondering change and trends in museums. In my article, ‘Museum metamorphosis à la mode’, I suggest that certain museum developments may correspond to a fashion logic, as evident in trends of interest running across the museum sector, and in how keeping up with current culture has become as important, and cooler, than serving as custodians of the past.

The V&A’s Rapid Response Collection is a very interesting example of this, where ‘[o]bjects are collected in response to major moments in history that touch the world of design and manufacturing. This new strategy helps the V&A to engage in a timely way with important events that shape, or are shaped by design, architecture and technology.’ (

Louboutin’s 2013 Nudes collection, for example (the collection is not fashion specific, by the way, but I choose this example because it relates to my domain in particular), was thus recognised as representing a significant sociocultural shift, as ‘[t]his was the first time that a major fashion house had adjusted its definition of nude to include skin colours other than white’. (Rather shocking, really, that it has taken so long). Furthermore, the collection’s curators leverage Twitter and Instagram to ask for the public’s suggestions for new accessions; another museology-of the-current trend.

‘Fifi’ pump in five nude shades, designed by Christian Louboutin Ltd, 2013. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘Fifi’ pump in five nude shades, designed by Christian Louboutin Ltd, 2013. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

But aside from this movement towards matching and musealising the Zeitgeist, I also detect a trend for nostalgia on the rise. I’ve written about the death and the resurrection of the diorama elsewhere, one of my favourite examples of an altmodish museum technology which nevertheless has a unique didactic and experiential quality, and which furthermore appeals to our yearning for the past.

Another surprisingly strong example of this came up yesterday on Facebook, where the National Museum of Denmark latched on to the ‘Throwback Thursday’ trend on social media, and posted a vintage photo from the museum galleries. Interestingly, the majority of responses expressed a nostalgia for this kind of museum display, with remarks such as ‘It’s actually really beautiful. When I was a child, the National Museum was more magical, lots of objects and hardly any explanations – that was cool’ and ‘would prefer exhibitions as they looked back then, showing the quantity and variety of objects’.

It is interesting, I think, that the public responds in this way (disclaimer: I have not been checking out who ‘the public’ is in this case – some of the other comments seem to come from museum people, and the quoted commentators may also represent a bias, it’s only one instance and an unrepresentative sample, etc. – nevertheless), perhaps a little differently from what the museum expected.

Screenshot from Facebook, post on National Museum of Denmark's profile page

Screenshot from Facebook, post from Nov. 27th. on National Museum of Denmark’s profile page

From a museum history perspective this type of display is terribly out-dated and dull. Furthermore, museologists may see this display form as a reflection of the traditional authoritative museum from which it stems, an institutional identity which modern museums are very keen to leave behind. Glass cases become negative by association, perhaps, as much as because of their actual constraints.** But for a new generation of museum goers it’s the blinking interactives and dead computer kiosks that are old hat, aesthetically troublesome and cloyingly didactic. The unmediated collection, on the other hand, appeals not only because it is quaint or induces nostalgia, but also because it seems fresh. Rock collections simply rock.

(For me personally, Pitt Rivers Museum and Galeries d’anatomie comparée et de paléonlogie top the list of museums I’d love to see (oh, and ‘House on the rock’, which looks like every kind of museo-manic awesome rolled into one as directed by David Lynch)). In this age of ever-increasing levels of digitisation and connectedness, I believe that materiality and mental space is sometimes experienced as a scarcity, and could therefore become a mega trend* in the future. If they want to make that their unique selling point, museums have both in buckets.

*(see also Charlotte SH Jensen’s inspiring post about the significance of mega trends for the GLAM sector)


** Note added Feburary 24th, 2015:

As stated by Britta Brenna (2014:47f), “In a long tradition of museum critique the glass case has been a metaphor for what museums do to objects. Museums, it is claimed, decontextualizes objects, severe their bonds to any original context, and taps them for monetary and use-value. However, these critiques have a tendency to treat the glass cases as ‘black boxes’; self-evident museum features that do not need further investigation.”

Brenna, B. (2014), ‘Nature and texts in glass cases: The vitrine as a tool for textualizing nature, Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies, Vol 2, No 1

A revised version of the paper I presented at the Museum Metamorphosis conference in Leicester last year, has now been published in the latest issue of Museological Review.

Museums are steadily changing. Yet analogising this development with biological or mythological metamorphosis could imply an elevation or naturalisation of events, which is potentially problematic. This paper therefore suggests a supplementary perspective, arguing that certain changes in modern day museum practices correspond to the logic of fashion. Where Foucault once described museums as heterochronias; places representing an ’other-time’, museums now strive to be both of their time and in time with the Zeitgeist. As a consequence, they must keep up with the speedy cycles of technological advancements and cultural change, and not only deliver, but also stoke the desire for, novel experiences. The paper explores the current vogue for fashion exhibitions as a case in point, arguing that this trend serves to promote the museum as fashionably current, but can also support novel formats for cultural reflection. 

Yesterday I attended a one day national conference on ‘The Hybrid Museum’, arranged by the Danish consortium for museum research, to address these issues:

In recent years, the boundaries between institutions of informal learning have become increasingly diffuse. Hybrid forms have appeared through the dissociation and recombination of exhibit genres, audience perspectives, curatorial practices, sponsorship opportunities, managerial competencies, organisational structures, and societal relations, leading ultimately to the genesis of the Hybrid Museum. What are the consequences of this for present-day museums, experience centres, and science centres? How can research be adapted to account for this tendency? How will museums further public engagement in the years to come?

The morning session included some very interesting presentations by prof. Gayle McPherson (University of West Scotland) on the digital visitor experience, and associate prof. Katja Lindqvist (Lund University) on taking a service management perspective on the museum. The hybrid addressed here was thus mainly the one of public service cultural institutions with/as commercial enterprises.

Based on her extensive research into changing museums policies in the UK over the last three decades, McPherson argued that ‘education and entertainment are no longer the uneasy bedfellows they used to be’, and that by embracing digital engagement and working cleverly with commercial strategies, museums could offer better experiences for ‘museum consumers’, thereby also meeting policy goals. She’s right, of course, but I couldn’t help asking if, by the logic of commercial entrepreneurship, museums might not risk losing their USP (unique selling point) if they come to resemble commercial enterprises too much?

This blurring of identities also surfaced in my first workshop with Designmuseum Denmark, in which one of the curators rhetorically asked ‘What is the church of the day, and who is the preacher of the day? Where is today’s museum and where is today’s shopping experience?‘ (Hvad er dagens kirke, og hvem er dagens præst? Hvor er dagens museum og hvor er dagens shoppingoplevelse?). Similarly, I found a strong resemblance between the Shoe Obsession exhibition at the Museum at FIT and the shoe department of the (exhibition sponsor) Saks Fifth Avenue, where the commercial shoe display emulated a museum style, while the museum unabashedly showcased commercial products currently on sale. Shopping may be a favorite past-time in the 21st century, but will this development just continue ad infinitum, or might we see a backlash against commercial culture where museums could become the ‘new black’ havens of material rather than materialistic culture? (Aren’t we already seeing the dawn of this political shift, or am I just a dreamer?)

Katja Lindqvist, who came to museum studies from an MBA background, had some interesting things to say about the mixed economy model of modern day museum, where public funding and sales profit together form the basis of museum management. While museums can – and have to – learn a lot from commercial enterprises, she also cautioned awareness of some of the assumptions behind popular business models which may not be applicable in a museum context, such as economies of scale or strict for-profit thinking. She also pointed out some of the effects of recent public sector reforms on museums, such as growing ‘projectification’ and a looming tendency to manage for audit resulting from more formal control and the need to constantly assert the institution’s relevance for society. Both scholars have published some interesting articles in Museum management and curatorship, which I will be sure to look up.

To my regret, I’d missed out on an affiliated PhD course the previous day, having overlooked this option on the website. Not that I’m short on ECTS points, but it would have been an interesting forum for presenting and discussing some of the issues I wish to address. Instead, I plunged into the debate in yesterday’s workshop on the impact of the concept of the hybrid museum on museums’ organisation and self-image, but left feeling unsure if I’d missed the mark a bit, raising the wrong kind of questions for this context or just explaining the points I was trying to make badly. However, the way that my suggestions were dismissed by McPherson (it’s not that I don’t get that publicly funded institutions have public obligations, it’s just that I’m sometimes a bit sceptic when it comes to getting with the program. In my book, questioning universal assumptions is one of the finer tasks of academia) gave me some food for thought about challenges in international discussions about museum issues.

For instance, my remark about how the strong focus on initiatives for engaging children might cause museums to overlook the commercial potential of and inadequately service the older audience they already have (by example, the national museum of art last year curated a fine exhibition theme about death aimed at children, but wouldn’t it also be interesting and relevant to curate the same topic for, or in collaboration with, the elderly?!) somehow morphed into a discussion about special events for museum friends and patrons. But the needs and interest of the stereotypical Danish museum-goer, a fifty-something female teacher, is not necessarily compatible to those of the equally stereotypical lady-who-lunches who supports the upkeep of an institution like the Met. Likewise, the circumstances in the US, the UK and in Scandinavia or continental Europe are not identical. We may be heading more and more towards a neo-liberal model of the welfare state, but we also still have other strands to our cultural DNA, and, I believe, still have the political right to question whether we want to model ourselves on the institutional changes brought on by post-Thatcher/ New Labour ideals or American trust fund sponsorships. (The omission of Asia, Africa and South America here is deliberate, as it is a different point I’m getting to, however, the general overlooking of non-western perspectives in this debate is indeed significant).

And yet we are constantly looking west when trying to understand the state and future of museums, to the great institutions and prominent museologists in America, Canada, England and Australia (not west, I know, but you get my drift). Myself very much included, because I, like most of my peers, have come to rely almost solely on the English language publications that I can confidently read. I used to read German and struggle through French (as this is part of standard education in Denmark, not because I was some whizz kid), but must admit that I very rarely bother these days. Even articles in the other Scandinavian languages I tend to pass over, heck, I’m not even up with the writings of my fellow Danes. Unless they have published in English. A brief conversation with senior museologist Ane Hejlskov Larsen, who could tell me that the flourishing tradition for museology in former Eastern Europe used to have a greater influence on the Nordic museum thinking, confirmed that I am alone in leaning heavily on the Anglo-american sources for inspiration and insights; this is a general trend. So what good points might we be missing out on, what ‘truths’ remain unquestioned when we’re all reading from the same script, listening to the same gospel?

My concern for academia here of course goes well beyond the field of museum studies, and ties in with a general shift towards an English-centric and Anglo-Saxon tradition of scientific publication (which again is linked to the publish-or-perish culture of new public management, I presume, but I’m admittedly a little out my depth here. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the downfalls of trying to be an academic in a second language, not only with regards to my own work, but what it will mean for the cognitive processes and academic prospects of future generations of scholars).

I know better than to try to tackle these meta level conundrums in my current project. But my concerns about how this narrow view affects the academic field of museum studies and, more importantly, the evolution of museums, is perhaps an issue to pursue in a post-doc project? In fact, it would make a lot of sense to carry out such a project at my current institution, the Royal School of Library and Information Studies, and team up with bibliometricians and cultural policy researchers. Perhaps I’m turning into an information scholar after all?


In reply to tweet from Prof. McPherson

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 13.29.33

I’m not trying to pick a fight, so please read this as a respectful clarification. I just feel badly misquoted – perhaps due to the exceedingly poor audio conditions at yesterday’s event – and given that I responded to professor McPherson’s tweet, I feel I now owe an elaboration, even though she luckily doesn’t seem further affronted. (added note: perhaps she just never saw my reply, or simply hasn’t been interested in hearing my response.)

As explained in the above post, my initial point was about not forgetting the value and needs of the existing museum audience. I was here referring to the typical museum goer, who, in the Danish demography-oriented research is described as a 50+ year old female teacher, i.e. educated middle class, but often somewhat dismissively referred to as a ‘hattedame’ (lit. ‘hat lady’). As the female educated middle class is also overrepresented in the museum professions, it is often seen as problematic that museums are only catering to their own kind. I strongly agree that museums need to be inclusive rather than elitist, but I don’t think that gives reason to disregard the visitors who enjoy the institutions.

When the term ‘hattedamer’ was subsequently translated for the benefit of the international participants in yesterday’s discussion, it was described as ‘ladies who lunch’ (i.e. upper class), which led into a discussion about the special events for friends and patrons at major American museums. I therefore found it necessary to differentiate between the stereotype of the retired teacher and the stereotype of the lady who lunches, whom I blunty described as a woman who had married into money. I apologised then, and apologise again for this crass and politically incorrect stereotype, but it wasn’t really the time or place to go into details – the point was to make an on the fly comprehensible distinction between the two groups. 

As for children in museums, I remember making the point that the current middle aged museum goers – including both of the above groups – had come to be interested in museums even if perhaps the museums of their childhood were not making special arrangements for children. The argument about needing to grow the next generation of museum goers does in other words not necessarily imply making special interactives for children, even though that is how it is often translated. Another point I made later about how activities tailored for one group could potentially collide with interests of other visitors – where I quoted one of my students for saying that sometimes, the presence of ‘someone glueing in the corner’ could be a distraction. This utterance came from a young person, and was addressing participatory activities in general, not activities for children in particular. 

I know I can get carried off in a debate. I know I still have a lot to learn about museums and academia and, well, life, and that too often I stick out my neck in unfortunate ways. We may disagree on certain aspects of museum strategies, but I did not mean to be brash and offensive. And to the best of my memory (then of course, I could simply be blind to my own misconceptions), I wasn’t, as it was another point entirely I was trying to make, but which apparently didn’t come across clearly and was therefore condensed into a very different argument. Hence this correction.

With the very best regards,

… and then:

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 15.34.53


: )

Thursday, I attended a public lecture by Valerie Steele at 92Y in relation to the current exhibition Shoe Obsession at the Museum at FIT. As mentioned in an earlier post, I found the exhibit itself to be a little under-communicated, so it was very interesting to hear the curator and fashion historian talk about why fashion is suddenly all about the shoes. She gave insights into the linking of the stiletto heel with fetishism, a topic she has previously done extensive research into; into the concurrent rise in the height of the heels and in retail prices over the last few years; into the private collectors who had lent shoes to the exhibition, and into the impact of the TV show Sex and the City and specifically the episode ‘A woman’s right to shoes’ on the collective craze for Manolos.


Valerie Steele lecturing on shoes – it’s an awful photo, I know, but as she is a bit of an icon in this field, a personal snapshot from the session still makes for a keepsake.

Attending this lecture also gave me a chance to ask her to elaborate a little on the curatorial considerations on displaying fashion objects from the current collections on sale a few blocks from the museum, which she gladly did:

’Well I think that what we were aiming to do was focusing, as I said, on this contemporary moment of shoe obsession, ten or twenty years of it. One problem with museum exhibitions is that of course you can’t touch things, and you certainly can’t wear things, so it’s an interesting idea that you could actually go up town and try on many of the exact same shoes, that’s something that you could almost never have in an exhibit. I did go to one exhibit of contemporary fashion in Vienna, where they actually had the clothes there hanging on a rack, and you could try them on. But that was in Europe, I mean, in New York at five o’clock there would be nothing on that rack! So, I see museums as being another medium to display fashion. You see fashion in stores, you see it on the runway, if you go to runway shows, you see it on the internet and in magazines, and it provides a particular take on it. And what can be interesting is when you push that, to try to get people to look at two things side by side, and so, I really wanted to push it by having the case – because that was my idea, that wasn’t Saks, they’re our sponsor – I said, I want to have a case of things from Saks now, because I want people to understand that these are things, not every shoe here, some may be five or ten years old, but many of them are things that are on sale now, this is a current phenomenon. And I think a lot of the audience members did, from their comments, you can get a sense of that, one woman, I overheard her saying ’I’ve died and gone to shoe heaven’, and that’s kind of the thing that you say when you’re shopping for shoes, not when you’re in a museum.’

Only later did I think that it would also have been interesting to hear more about the choice not to include any of the high street rip-offs or similar styles, that are also part of the same cultural trend, and the more attainable variant for the common girl. Although these cheaper variants do not have the same quality in terms of manufacture or design, and cannot be said to hold quite the same sculptural qualities as the iconic high fashion pieces, it is still interesting how this trend, which, in its trickled down version, is even more clearly aspirational, has developed. And not least, why a museum of fashion does not see it fit to include such examples in what is also a cultural exhibition.

Walking back from the lecture, I revisited the exhibition, and yes, the displays did make a lot more sense – rather than simply being visually stunning – after learning about some of the thoughts behind the exhibition. I also bought the catalogue (I had meant to buy it at the lecture and get it signed, but was too late as I got talking to some learned ladies after the talk) and can now study the research behind the show in more detail.

More importantly, I plucked up the courage to go and try on some designer shoes at the rather splendid shoe department at Saks Fifth Avenue, the kind of shoe heaven some people would either die or kill to be in, as per the above comment. Now, I’m not personally all that obsessed about shoes (a confession which actually at this moment is almost a little bit like admitting that you’re not that into sex). I mean, what’s not to like, but I just can’t get to the obsession stage, which is probably a good thing as it would be very costly hobby to pick up. So it was actually from a fashion museological point of departure that I felt compelled to do this, and even though I had dressed up for the occasion, so as at least to look a bit like a potential costumer, I still felt like a total fraud asking for assistance, knowing that I was never going to buy anything. So this whole question of accessibility of design products in the public space is actually not all that straight forward.


Shoe display in Saks Fifth Avenue. Sadly, photography was prohibited in the exhibition at FIT, but there were similarities.

I opted for a pair of spiked ‘Pigalle’ Louboutins, given that his red soles are some of the most lusted for items in the current fashion economy, and because this ‘classic with a punk twist’ design had stood out in the exhibition (as well as in the promotional material), even if it wasn’t by far as adventurous as some of the other designs. Apparently, this particular shoe had even been voted the sexiest of 2012 (the stuff you find on Google!). And finally they had got me wondering whether you would end up scraping you own feet with those spikes when you wore them, which would make them exceedingly uncomfortable. In other words, they were the perfect example of a museum object that you wish you could experience physically, as well as having the whole cultural significance, fashion system references and semiotic readability thing going on at the same time. Oh, and they were cool.

So it was really interesting actually being able to inspect these shoes more closely, check out the inside details, the finishings, feel their weight and how they were to touch. There really is a difference between high fashion and low fashion items, albeit perhaps not as great a difference as the prices sometimes warrants. And wearing them of course, walking around in those 12 cm heels. And realising that they were actually great to wear (with some of the other styles it was more hit and miss, and the really high platform stilettos would take a lot more practice and came with a high risk of ungracious collapses, but this particular design actually sat really well on my foot), and that no, you don’t scrape yourself, and yes, they were definitely walkable. IMG_0638 In other words, they were great, they made me feel great, and just for a moment there, I thought that maybe I could actually… Which is absolutely insane, as they cost $1295! And some women have hundreds of pairs, which just brings home some of the more repulsive aspects of fashion. But it also illustrated so well the allure and the transforming power of fashion, even if only in a short lived dream. (I don’t mean to come across all Cinderella here; I’ve already got a few glass slippers of my own (and the prince to boot), so I could handle waking up and smelling the roses).

So really, the combined experience or juxtaposition of the display of design and creativity, the cult of the shoe, in the museum, with the material and economic reality in the department store, was very interesting, even if the bridging of the two was not explicitly suggested by the museum.

And yet, of course there is still the problem about mixing curatorial aims with the interests of the fashion industry. Marie Riegels Melchior, in a very insightful conference paper on ‘Fashion Museology: Identifying and contesting fashion in museums’ (2011), does not ask for museums to give up these collaborations with the industry, but calls for the development of a fashion museology that is in keeping with the new museological aim for reflexiveness towards cultural heritage:

The way that fashion is currently displayed and communicated in a museum context, as a means to strengthen visitor orientation, neither stimulates a reflexive world view nor an understanding of the complexity of fashion, the industry, celebrity and consumer culture, ethics and the environment, etc. At least the exhibitions that build on this aim are limited in numbers and do not reach the major art museums’ display of fashion. Fashion museology has therefore future potential. As fashion is a subject that engages non-standard museum-goers, it can become a lens through which our past and present can be told and explored in a much more nuanced way. However, it can also very easily risk the corporal sponsorship of museums, if a more critical interpretation of fashion discourages new museum-goers or fails to interest them in more critical matters concerning fashion production, distribution and consumption. The challenge is to find the right balance – to sustain the interest of visitors and corporate sponsors while maintaining the objectives of the new museology paradigm, strengthening critical reflection and understanding our contemporary world and cultural heritage. (Melchior 2011 p. 8)

In other words, an exhibition such as Shoe Obsession, in dealing with a current phenomenon, could have adressed the complexities surrounding this subject more clearly – the psychology, the production and consumption cycles, the mechanics of fashion, the aspirations – rather than simply celebrating the wonderful creations of the master designers and the women who are privileged enough to be their costumers.

Since my last post, I have been caught up in (or swallowed up by, more like)  teaching, assesing student papers and preparing for my research visit to the US. Starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now, luckily, and yes, it has been an interesting leaning process also, but the lack of progress in and focus on my own research has been frustrating.

Over the course of three days last week, however, I have been able to get back into my project and field in a most inspiring PhD course entitled ‘Research in the Museum Field’.

13 students in all, representing a great diverstiy of problem areas – from experience, learning and citizenship over digital mediation to art curatorship and more – have presented projects, shared insights and questions, and given critique to each other under the guidance of senior researchers in museology Vinnie Nørskov Larsen (Aarhus University), Janet Marstine (University of  Leicester) and Britta Brenna (University of Oslo).

I presented this paper on Design research into mobile museum mediation, laying out my research design and arguing for the potential of critical design to pose questions to museum discourse and practice.

Whilst before the ‘hiatus’ I was mostly preoccupied with questions of methodology and research design (and I know, I know, I need to get stuck in to the second part of my research cycle and start sketching/analysing concepts for mediation of fashion, but first I need to get through the last two weeks of teaching, and then…) I found that what inspires (or perhaps annoys) me right now is the museological problems that the design process should help me address.

Which sometimes makes me wonder if I’ve chosen a stupidly roundabout way to get to my destination, and whether I should just skip the design part and go straight for discourse analysis. Hmmm. And then again, methodological curiousity as well as a hunch that maybe my misgivings are nothing but fear because something interesting is a stake, which then becomes an even stronger incentive, means that I will persist with the design approach and see what comes of it. (Of course my concerns could also be justified and my decision to carry on seen as a form of cowardice or lack of imagination of other options, it’s all matter of interpretation).

Anyway, my ‘annoyance’ is with the (as I see it) dominant discourse of the participatory/inclusive museum; this demand for museums to convert non-users to users by means of educational initiatives, digital media, social events, bells and whistles, anything; by choice or by force. Because whilst I agree that the desire to share what you find to be essential, joyful and valuable is both noble and necessary, I also think that the discourse presents a singleminded (if well meaning) vision of the role of museums in society: one of museum as social agent. As put forth in a very interesting article by Élise Dubuc (2011): Museum and university mutations, also on the course reading list, this is only one of museum’s many functions in society.

(Naturally, being ‘annoyed’ does not count as an academic argument, and I will know to discuss the concepts and the problems I see stemming from these in a more thorough and nuanced way in my thesis. The thing is, I’m not ready to do that yet, still lacking the insights and concepts to do this, and so, for now, I describe my reservations as ‘annoyance’, partly for want of a better word, partly to confess my personal and emotional response, which, at the end of the day, will also affect my academic vision.)

In the context of this course ‘transparency’ became as central concept, as presented by Janet Marstine in a text as part of the course curriculum and in her opening keynote as well as in an evening workshop. So in this context too, the discourse of democratization of museums had the upper hand.

Again, I agree that transparency is essential to some museum work, but I will also hold that it should not necessarily be the central point of concern for all institutions. As Simon (2010) stresses with reference to Gurian, ‘the importance of ‘and’’ is a vital principle; that participation, inclusion, transparency etc. is one focus or approach out of many options, one tool for meeting user needs and museum objectives. In practice, however, resources are scarce, and as projects inclined towards these ideals are in line with governmental objectives and therefore attract more funding, the result is that other options do not get a look in. So much for ‘and’.

There’s more to this rant, and I will return to it in later posts – after all, posing questions to the impact of new media and related assumptions and discourses on museology and the museum are central to my thesis, so trying to get to grips with these dominant themes will be a large part of that. But for now, I’ll just stick to summing what I took away from the course.

First of all, discussing these issues with my peers was most rewarding, and confirmed the relevance of addressing these issues. And of course hearing about their research questions and considerations was most inspiring. Secondly, a visit to Museum Sønderjylland/Sønderborg Slot was a real delight, not least because of the impassioned presentation by museum director Inge Adriansen, who shed light on the intriguing local histor(ies) and reflected on how to be a museum in a borderland – a remarkable museum professional with great wit and an extraordinary knowledge.

But what really hit home with me was Britta Brenna’s after dinner presentation on the first evening. It centrered on the new challenge for museology and thus for budding museologists in reflecting on self-reflective museums, already practising the preachings of new museology. How, in this field, could academic museology ‘make museums jump’? What was left to critizise, and how? What tools could museology use that museums were not alredy applying, in order to produce new understandings that complement, rather than simply reproduce museum knowledge?

I heard my own intentions eccoed in this presentation, and found confirmation not only of the need for questioning the assumptions of user engagement and of digital media as instruments for this development in museums, but also a justification for trying to push the methodological approach, experimenting with new tools to produce new insights.

Refering to Latour’s ‘Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?’ (2004) (which is now on my reading list), Britta Brenna presented an understanding of critique as not necessarily being an act of deconstruction, but one of careful assemblage. Janet Marstine supplemented this notion reminding  that critique could be assume a position of generousity as well as one of antagonism. I like this notion, and will use it as a guideline, reminding me, that my critique can and should be to empower the museums; not to point fingers at the ambitions of inclusion, but as an argument for the necessity and validity of pursuing other ambitions as well.

This week, Desingmusem Danmark (DMD) announced that Realdania will fund a project exploring the potential for developing a museum for fashion and textiles within DMD. From the press release on : (See also article on the project on )

”Vi er meget begejstrede for, at Realdania har muliggjort en grundig og tilbundsgående undersøgelse af mulighederne for at åbne et mode- og tekstilmuseum. Designmuseum Danmark har med sin store tekstilsamling og med sit nyere modefokus – på forsknings- såvel som udstillingsområdet – et virkelig spændende potentiale for at udvikle en helt særlig platform, hvor udstillinger, forskning, events og brancheaktiviteter kan forenes. Et mode- og tekstilmuseum vil også vække stor interesse hos nye museumsbrugere og styrke kendskabet til mode og tekstil som en vigtig del af vores kulturarv”, siger museumsdirektør Anne-Louise Sommer.

“We are very excited that Realdania has made possible a thorough investigation into the possibilities of opening a museum for fashion and textiles. Designmuseum Denmark, with its considerable textile collection and the recent focus on fashion – in research as well as through exhibitions – has an exciting potential for developing a unique platform, where exhibitions, research, events and activities related to the fashion industry can be united. A museum for fashion and textiles would also attract the attention of a new museum audience and strengthen the appreciation of fashion and textiles as an important part of our cultural heritage” says museum director Anne-Louise Sommer.

Yesterday, I met with Marie Riegels Melchior, post doc fashion researcher at Designmuseum Denmark, to exchange updates and discuss the future of fashion at the museum. For her, the prospect of an actual museum for fashion and textiles would be the perfect fruition of the museum’s commitment to fashion as a focus area, securing public visibility and access, but also, and as importantly, making it possible to establish the museum as a hub for fashion research.

This aspect, the museum as a research institution and museum mediation as research communication, is key in Marie’s recommendations for the development of the fashion field within DMD, as based in her study on international fashion museums. (As the recommmendation part of the report is internal, I will have to ask director Anne-Louise Sommer if I can read it, and thus so far I can only refer to the knowledge I have from my meetings with Marie). Her vision is therefore that the museum would be able to attract funding and employ researchers for research projects on fashion.

She described how the rhetorics around the ‘five pillars of museum practice’ – the objective for museums to collect, register, preserve, research and mediate/communicate, as laid down in Museumsloven §2 and in accordance with ICOM’s museum definition, stating that museums acquire, conserve, research, communicate and exhibits natural and cultural heritage – has led to an understanding that this order of listing is also the ‘natural order’ of museum work, following the object from entry into the museum to public display. As she points out, however, this isn’t or shouldn’t necessarily be the way to understand and organize the work carried out by museums. Instead, the starting point should be research based, grounded in the exploration of relevant research questions. These could relate to the existing collection, or could lead to acquisition of new artefacts or data, but should first and foremost be motivated by a desire to better understand and promote the heritage that the institutions represent. (This dissection of the implications of the rhetorics, how a simple list order comes to define an understanding, really struck a note with me – must find out if this is Marie’s own interpretation or if there is another source I should quote on this).

This led to a discussion on the woes and virtues of new museology – again often described or understood (by me, too) as a shift in focus from one end of the spectrum or process, the collection, to the other, the exhibition and its audience, but missing out that crucial middle, the research, reducing exhibitions to popularist consumer events in the experience economy, at worst.

This gave me a chance to vent one of my pet rants of the moment, on a potentially problematic tendency that occured to me as I was preparing an abstract for a seminar and paper on museum research, namely the dominance of social science methodology in current (Danish) museum research (see recent report from Dansk Center for Museumsforskning). In my opinion, this demand for meassurable (also if qualitative) empirical data, and that whole research tradition and way of thinking is both a result of but also a contributor to the heavy focus on user’s experiences and motivations, that sort of becomes a self-feeding mechanism, and fails to adress the humanist questions that should still be at the core of museology. As indicated, this notion is still at rant stage, an irritant, but one I am curious to explore further in the writing of the paper for the seminar. And, of course, my own preference for and grounding in the humanities also affects my thinking on this point.

According to Marie, the tradition for not only research into museums but research in museums is particularly strong in the anglo-saxon world, where especially the large institutions like V&A and the Met are staffed to a large extent by scholars, and thus are able to present exhibitions that represent original research as well as offering sensational aesthetic experiences. Of course, they have the funding to do so, still, the dedication to spend same funding on academic research is essential.

I really like this emphasis on the museum as research institution and mediation as research communication, and I would like to build this into my project. Although in some ways my starting point in the exploration for the use-potential of mobile and social media for museum mediation, the outset in platforms and use, places me way out on the mediation and user focus end of the scale, my research interest, as described in my vlog presentation, is really more about the implications of the user focus and new media for museums and museology. As one of the senior researchers asked me to confirm yesterday after my presentation, I’m sort of aiming for a discourse analysis, albeit in a roundabout way, as I believe that adressing these issues via design will produce a new perspective.
Particularly my inspiration from critical design may help me push this aspect, as it allows me to explore concepts for mediation that are grounded in research or aim to communicate research perspectives.

As it happened, yesterdays lecture at the museum – I currently follow an open university lecture series on fashion at DMD, partly to get an insight into current fashion research, partly to see how the museum, and others, present their field to the general public – was a presentation by Maria McKinney Valentin of her research into trend theory. Using Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome theory as a basis for understanding the nature of trends, she introduced five perspectives on the mechanisms behind the visual manifestations of trends: social mechanisms (trickle up, down and across, social capital and communities of taste); neomania, as described by Barthes, and the postmodern supermarket of style; the market drive; Zeitgeist reflections, and finally seduction in its varying permutations. Choosing ‘homeless chic’ as an example case, she provoked some exasperated responses from the audience (around 20 mainly 50+ women, unsurprisingly), who were clearly basing their criticism (of the look, not the lecture) in personal experience and taste, and not willing or able to take a helicopter perspective on the overall field.

(Whilst this is probably to be expected in an open university course, these ladies are not alone in sticking to the personal perspective, as this brilliant piece by Fiona Duncan How to Write About Dressing Well: The Truth About Fashion Criticism – a call for fashion journalists and -academics to take their field seriously and produce writing on a par with that representing other cultural fields – points out. I digress, but there are some good points in the article that are worth looking into. Note to self).

Finishing up, Maria McKinney-Valentin said that her ambition for the lecture was that it might enable us to see the trends that we encounter on the street in a new light, to use the tools and perspectives she presented us with to dissect the visual manifestations of trends and understand the underlying mechanisms that drive them.

Now, I don’t know how to turn this into a mobile mediation concept. Yet. But it is exactly this kind of thing that I was/am hoping to find a way of doing – providing a lens (or prism, the image that Maria used in her presentation) for seeing fashion in a new light, or x-rayed, in context. And so the link to or outset in research is suddenly the obvious starting point.

Just presented my project to my institute. In preparation, I decided to do a video of the presentation rather than try to write about it, as it is centered around this diagram of my research field and research design, and therefore works better in visual form. Capturing how I see and present my project at this stage will also be useful later on, as I can compare the future development and findings to my preconceptions and outset.