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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.’ (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/rapid-response-collecting/)

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)

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** 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 http://www.nordicsts.org/index.php/njsts/article/view/1201406

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New article published in Mediekultur, Journal of media and communication research, vol. 30, no 56

Abstract:
Mirroring digital culture developments in society at large, museums are increasingly incorporating social media platforms and formats into their communication practices. More than merely providing additional channels of communication, this development is invested with an understanding of social media as integral to the ongoing democra- tisation of the museum. The confluences of new media affordances with New Muse- ology objectives along with the underpinnings of the aforementioned understanding is discussed in this article. The article will argue that development in this area is not only driven by solid results and public demand but also by collective assumptions and associations as well as by a political need for institutions to justify their relevance in society. In conclusion, the article suggests that, while the integration of social media communication may serve to market the museum as inclusive, it may also simply pay lip service to genuine civic engagement and democratic exchanges with the public.

The article is available to download as PDF from http://ojs.statsbiblioteket.dk/index.php/mediekultur/article/view/8964

Getting all tangled up in the social web today. Planning a course on social media strategies led me to succumb to getting a profile on Foursquare (now the proud owner of the newbie badge, but suspecting I’ll never make it to a mayorial position); checking out Twitter had me taking part in the National Musuems twitpic quiz and retweeting the internship I wish I’d had, and so, spamming my Facebook network as I’ve allowed for crossposting. For someone who has not been in the habit of regular postings, I almost feel like telling myself to shush.

But mucking around with Pinterest was really interesting. Attempting to ‘curate’ an online exhibition to explore the potential for this kind of activity, I lost myself in sculptural knitwear, and had a great time with it! Plus, I’ve already had a couple of ‘likes’ on some cool pics of guerilla knitting – images, that is, that I can take no credit for, I just found them online and pinned them, and yet through this social sharing tool I get a head up for my troubles and a connection point to likeminded people.

Scraping the surface of what this sort of online forum, based on visuals and shared interests, can do, makes me want to dig deeper, as I believe there’s a potential in this kind of activity and interaction for museum mediation. Perhaps I should revisit my Tumblrblog too, to compare. Also, I need to find the references to properly describe what’s going on.

And really, it’s all coming together: teaching social media, using them as tools as I go, and doing theoretical research and hands-on explorations makes for great synergy.

Follow-up notes on Pinterest January 11th 2012:
This Pinterest thing could get out of hand. Already, my fingers are itching to create more boards, the possibilities are endless, and there are so many great images out there – it’s like that napkin collection you had as a child, and the erasers, and the stickers; like the decoupage I’ll never get round to and less messy and more cool. But I have constrained myself (for now), I’m in in for the research!

So that’s what I did, a bit more research, and came up with a blog post that gives you a good low-down of what Pinterest is all about, aptly named Everything You Need to Know About Pinterest, and another from the Read Write Web putting it bluntly: If You’ve Never Heard of Pinterest, You’re a Big Dork (one point made here is that perhaps the reason why Pinterest has not yet cassed a stir in tech world is that alledgedly the majority of users of women. Hmmm…)

I also found that ofcourse a few museums have already found their way to Pinterest. Like Chicago History Museum SFMOMA and IMA. Be interesting to see if Peter Samis or Rob Stein has something to say on their experience and incentives, must check on that… However, it’s not easy to find their profiles by search. Also, users have found and pinned a lot of content from museum sights, meaning that there is a strong representation of museums like Designmuseum of London and Brooklyn Museum. Perhaps this post on how Pinterest could be used strategically by libraries could be inspiring for museums who want to join in but don’t know where to start.

And, of course, users also use ‘museum’ as titles for teir personal collections of art.

Charlotte S.H. Jensen, webeditor at the National Museum, front runner in the Danish museum world when it comes to digitization of cultural heritage and exploring the potential of new media for museum mediation, and generously sharing her insights on her blog, is always a great source of inspiration (and surely deserves a trackback!). Like this post Digital kulturarv – hvad sker der i 2012, in which she points to possible upcoming trends for digital cultural mediation.

Her point about how cultural institutions should or will shift their focus from simply having a visible presence as institutions on social media platforms to engaging in interactions around themes and topics of interest where they occur resonates very well with my own outset. Perhaps my project could even nudge this development along?

Similaly, I agree that it would be great to see a ‘native’ mobile network for sharing and collaborating around cultural heritage. Which again reminded me to start using some of the tools that are already around; I’m now awaiting an invitation to the online pinboard Pinterest, which I’d been checking out before. Charlotte also shares links to Oink (couldn’t get my head around how that works), Miso (but it would seem that only makes sence if you have a telly, which I don’t)and Path (which presents itself maily as a tool forn sharing everyday life with your social network, but perhaps I’m just not seeing the potential for museums?), but I’ll focus on Pinterest at this point.

Charlotte goes on to cover objectification, cultural heritage in public spaces, crowdsourcing and Second Life (not sure about that, I have to say, but maybe it’s just because I had to leave my avatar stranded in a pool years ago when I couldn’t work out how to fly…) amongst other things – well worth a read!

crossposted på Formidlingsnettet

Museums and the web er en helt elektrisk forsamling af hele spektret af museumsfolk – teknikere, akademikere, administratorer og designere; studerende og professionelle som var med til at etablere koblingen mellem web og museum. Selvom vi hver især har vore kæpheste og særlige interesseområder kommer vi først og fremmest for at lære af hinanden, og snakken går livligt mellem sessionerne. Det er en helt utrolig ressource af praktiske erfaringer, visioner og reflektioner, som heldigvis også er åben for andre i kraft af at hele kataloget af papers ligger frit tilgængeligt på nettet. Men online findes ikke den meningsudveksling og sparring som sker på konferencen.

Amerikanerne er naturligvis i overtal, mens også Canada, Australien og New Zealand er godt repræsenteret. Fra Europa kommer især mange englændere, men i år var der også hele 29 repræsentanter fra en lang række institutioner i Holland.
Gang på gang blev jeg spurgt, hvorfor der ikke var andre danskere, og jeg vil gerne stille spørgsmålet videre. Er det (pludselige?) besparelser som gør, at de danske museer ikke har råd til, eller ikke prioriterer, at sende repæsentanter? Er det mangel på innovation der gør at vi ikke har noget at præsentere? Har tidligere års deltagelse ikke levet op til forventningerne? Eller mener vi at have nok i os selv og vore nationale og nordiske netværk?

Mens jeg sad på konferencen kunne jeg læse at Politiken – og Det Kongelige Bibliotek selv – præsenterede den nysåbnede portal ‘Kulturperler’ som intet mindre end en verdensnyhed. Jeg må indrømme, at mit hjerte sank. Her havde jeg netop hørt om det fantastiske og ambitiøse finske forskningsprojekt ‘CultureSampo’ som gør kulturarven tilgængelig gennem det semantiske web – om hollandske ‘Images for the Future’ som inviterer offentligheden til at annotere og skabe metadata i et fælles multimedialt arkiv gennem spil og leg – om ‘Digital NZ’ som ikke alene samler den digitaliserede new zealandske kulturarv men også giver råd og reskaber til hvordan man kan bruge materialet gennem widgets, remixing og skræddersyede søgemaskiner der kan embeddes i egne webapplikationer.

Jeg synes også, at det er skønt, at vi i Danmark får digitaliseret kulturarven og samler og gør den tilgængelig online. Jeg må indrømme, at jeg har svært ved at forstå hvorfor man har valgt en lineær ‘web 1.0′ model for portalen, der end ikke tilbyder et søgefelt (er det brugervenligt? er det inspirerende?) men jeg kender ikke til baggrunden og mit ærinde her er ikke at nedgøre det store arbejde, KB har gjort. Men når portalen præsenteres som enestående i verden synes jeg det lyder som om vi trænger til at få skyklapperne af og komme længere frem i skoene. Vi kan nu hiige og søge i gamle bøger – men vi er ikke ene om at dyrke kulturperler. Der er masser af inspiration at hente og erfaringer at trække på ude i verden, ikke bare på MW men på hele WWW. Så hvem skal med til Denver i 2010?

Jolly good fun with Gail Durbin of V&A’s presentation on how to get people to engage with your collections using existing social online services. Encouraging people to create aesthetic object such as wrapping paper, stickers, moo-cards or even books from photos taken in the galleries or from the online collections. Also sending postcards, submitting family photos, sharing personal stories and images and make them part of the museum collection.

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!