Week 8

When I think about what I want from a museum’s digital presence, I think about access, depth, and engagement. In terms of access, when I go to a museum’s website, I’d like to be able to easily interact with the online exhibitions and see most, if not all, of the museum’s collections. In terms of depth, I’d like to see a variety of materials that would enhance my connection to and understanding of the pieces (digital storytelling is one method of this). In terms of engagement, the site should draw visitors in and somehow find a way to instill the wonder of seeing the actual object (V & A’s Design a Wig does this).

I go back and forth on my opinion on online classes all the time. I think they have great potential to make education more democratic and accessible, but I’m also a huge proponent of small, seminar-based classes and hands-on education. I think certain types of learners can benefit greatly from MOOCs, but others can easily get lost. Senior year of high school, I sat down and did an edX class (The Secret of Life, which is a biology course from MIT) start to finish. I would not have been able to take an MIT class otherwise, so that was really exciting. The professor was very fascinating and charismatic, the course included supplemental materials that kept me engaged, and the course had a very specific structure, which kept me on task. The class had such an impact on me, that it influenced what I wanted to do with my life (this is changing now, but at the time I found a true passion for biology). However, I can easily see others not being engaged with the course.

This video isn’t necessarily digital storytelling in the way that we learned about digital storytelling in class, but I’d argue that it is a form of digital storytelling, and it conveys a profound and complicated topic in an entertaining and easy to grasp manner.

Week 7: The Patron as a Piece of Art

The Pointillize Yourself and #NeoImpressed apps, implemented at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Phillips Collection, respectively, allow viewers to take selfies of themselves and apply filters that transform the images into pointillist paintings, within the context of Neo-Impressionism exhibitions. The article focused mainly on comparing the museums’ approaches in implementing these technologies (top-down in the case of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and bottom-up in the case of the Phillips Collection), but I found the results of the evaluations of the technology in both cases to be far more telling. Both museums received immense positive feedback from users of the apps, to the extent that the article considered the app “the most successful participatory tool [The Indianapolis Museum of Art]  has ever developed for an exhibition.”

But what made the app so popular? The article credits the popularity of the app at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in particular, with the fact that the museum learned from its previous interactive components. However, given the younger demographics of people using the app, the option to post to social media after you create the pointillist image, and the simple fact that the images are self portraits, I credit the popularity of the app in the case of both museums to my generation’s narcissism and obsession with “selfies.”

In the first act of the This American Life episode, “Status Update,” Ira Glass interviews a group of teenage girls, who discuss the importance of posting selfies to platforms like Instagram, as well as the implications and politics associated with that practice. These girls– and many of my peers– construct their senses of self based on their Instagram identities and the reactions they get to what they post. Selfie culture has permeated teenage realities. It would be interesting to see if the app would be as popular without the social media aspect, or even the self portrait aspect, but I think it wouldn’t be. Patrons’ fascination with this technology stems from the fact that they themselves become a piece of artwork, put in the online gallery space of Instagram, to be admired, in turn, by the patrons there.

Week 5: Object or Experience as Art?

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Museums have undergone a shift from displaying objects as art to experiences as art to now… the entire act of museum-going act as art?

Many museums have instituted rigorous social media campaigns, encouraging patrons to engage with artworks in the digital realm. As part of these efforts, museums have taken to inspiring patrons to post images of artworks on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, with various hashtags designed to increase the viewership of those posts and, by proxy, those works. This strategy has proved particularly successful for experience-based works that utilize an element of spectacle in their production. Searching the hastags #rainroom, #lacmalights, and #infinityroom on Instagram produced 33,507, 12,077, and 11,494 results respectively. Patrons connect with the pieces, it seems, as much by physically experiencing the works as by documenting and sharing their experiences on social media.

On one hand, this trend has the positive power of engaging patrons from around the world, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to view the pieces. Although a viewer on the other side of the world, for example, might not have the means to travel to Los Angeles and walk within the rain room, she can still gain some sense of the piece by viewing photos of it on Instagram. Some engagement with art (however removed from the intended form of interaction with the piece) is still better than no engagement with art.

Yet, in our culture, the pressure to document and share our experiences can overwhelm the experiences themselves. In my museum going, I have observed patrons focusing more on getting the perfect photo of a piece of artwork than on merely being in the presence of the work and reveling in the act of looking. I, too, have found myself guilty of this fault on many occasions. In fact, I have even used my camera as a means of distancing myself from various events or situations (the viewfinder creates a physical barrier between the scene in front of me and my perception of it, allowing myself to detach from what’s playing out).

So, should art be about the object or the experience? And, if a museum or patron involves social media, is art really about either of those things or something completely different?

Week 4: The Museum as an Apparatus of National Identity

What provides the basis for any given culture’s sense of self and nation? I wrote a paper in an anthropology class last quarter about the power of sport as an apparatus for shaping nationhood. In one example, I looked at soccer tournaments in rural, Amazonian Peru and how the structure and rules of the sport help integrate modern laws (which favor unity under the state) with indigenous cultural values (which hold the individual in high regard). In another example, I looked at ski telecasts in Slovenia and how the media acts as a vehicle for contrasting Slovenia with other nations and using visual cues and language to construct a national identity.

Bennet’s “The Exhibitionary Complex” points to the State using museums as a means of setting up rules and control in much the same way as do soccer tournaments in Peru. But as this week’s readings point out, the role of museums in shaping a nation and a culture extends much further. One quote from the Introduction to “Exhibiting Cultures” really stood out: “Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach have analyzed the architecture, decoration, and art-historical arrangement in what they call universal survey museums—the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and so on—and conclude that these elements create rituals of citizenship.” What museums choose to display and how they choose to display it has a great influence on the public’s notion of a place. Tourists often seek out museums when traveling, and citizens visit museums for education and enrichment, so curators and museum architects are instrumental in shaping these experiences and peoples’ views.

An interesting tension arises when museums display art of other cultures. Does the displaying museum get to define nationhood by means of its exhibitionary practices, or does the culture whose works are on display have a say? Which state has the right?

Week 3: Toward a Common Language

In doing this week’s readings, Mia Ridge’s point about the tension between the utilization of “easy-to-use datasets using common vocabularies” and “more sophisticated data structures and specialised vocabularies” stood out to me. I spent this past Sunday doing a “communication progression” as part of staff training on the UCLA challenge course (an on-campus space dedicated to experiential education). As part of this training, I participated in a series of activities with each building upon the last, that each had a different takeaway regarding communication methods and drawbacks. In two of the challenges, one group of people had an object (a multicolored lego structure in one, a complicated pvc pipe sculpture in the other) that they had to get another group to replicate, without being able to show the other group the object and without the ability to see the building groups’ attempts. The final results of our efforts (the comparison of the two structures at the end) provided a visual representation of the amount of information that was lost along the chain of conveyance. We recognized the need for establishing a common language, as many of the discrepancies occurred as a result of differences in explanation and understanding amongst different people (e.g. in trying to convey length of pipe, metric system versus customary system provided a discrepancy in the pipes chosen).

All this to say that once a widely-used common language has been established among those who practice data visualization, the graphs and charts themselves can act as a powerful common language for understanding museums and collections. With a properly done graphic, anyone from any walk of life or level of understanding should be able to look at it and gather what the creator was attempting to convey. I see this as the purpose of data visualization itself– it takes a trained eye to make sense of raw data, but visualizations transform that data into a universally accessible format. Such methods aide in transparency and public engagement, enforcing the openness of “open cultural data,” and the purpose of integrating technology into the museum sphere.

Week 2: Technology as Translation

A une Damoyselle Malade

Ma Mignonne

Je vous donne

Le bon jour.

Le sejour

C’est prison :

Guerison

Recouvrez,

Puis ouvrez

Vostre porte,

Et qu’on sorte

Vistement :

Car Clement

Le vous mande.

Va friande

De ta bouche,

Qui se couche

En danger

Pour manger

Confitures :

Si tu dures

Trop malade,

Couleur fade

Tu prendras,

Et perdras

L’embonpoint.

Dieu te doint

Santé bonne

Ma Mignonne

 

-Clement Marot

 

The poem itself, a silly get well card of sorts, has little relevance to museums, technology, or the digital humanities. What matters is that it’s featured as the topic of the first story on season 13, episode 1 of Radiolab. The episode is called “Translation,” and this particular story details Douglas Hofstadter’s obsession with translating the poem into English. After many years, dozens of translators, and hundreds of versions, no one poem managed to maintain Marot’s strict form, lighthearted tone, and original content all at once. Hofstadter makes the point that just as one cannot understand the essence of a person based on a single photograph, one must read a collection of translations to truly understand a poem. In a world where technology has the potential to either enhance or detract from the museum experience, where “museums will have to find new ways to tell stories and engage their audiences,” this holistic approach to translation might act as a crucial tenet of the marriage of museums and technology (Museums in the Digital Age, 2013).

The ARUP article cites collaboration and diversification as two themes that museums must seek to incorporate in our increasingly global and desensitized society. Hofstadter’s approach speaks to both of these issues: by inviting and sharing translations of the poem done by people of all walks of life, he engages disparate people in an obscure, arguably irrelevant 16th century poem, to the point that they undergo a shift from apathy (I am projecting and generalizing here, but I know that if I had come upon this poem, I would’ve glanced at it, recognized a few words I knew, and never given it a second thought), to connection on a very personal level. In fact, in the comments section on the Radiolab website, members of the general public offered their own translations and insights, proving a deeper engagement with the piece. Further, the vehicle of Radiolab, as a popular podcast, allows for the expansion of the audience of the poem in a way that an anthology of 16th Century French poetry, for example, would not. In fact, “Translation” has the most downloads of any Radiolab episode ever. Scholars of Marot can only dream of his poems, on their own, reaching even a fraction of that audience.

The integration of technology in museums can serve a purpose similar to the effects detailed above. If one applies Hofstadter’s approach to the considerations detailed in the ARUP article, technology can have the ability to contextualize objects, further their storytelling, expose diverse audiences to them, and facilitate engagement with them on a deeper level, in a way that the traditional museum setting cannot.