What do I expect from a museum’s digital presence? For me, personally, I expect a sense of coherence and unity between the digital space and the physical objects on display. Incorporating new and exciting technologies sounds creative and fun, but sometimes it fails to connect the viewers with the objects. I think that technologies should always come after the objects unless the point trying to be made is that the technology is art. It is a difficult task to bring together modern and antiquated themes together without causing disorientation and confusion. But I don’t think museums should sacrifice their intents by trying to keep up the image of being a new modern place. Museum’s digital presence should be engaging and informative but also act as a supplement to the patron’s experience without being overpowering.
I love online courses and have taken several during my time here at UCLA. I appreciate the idea of learning at my own pace and studying in the comfort of my own bed, even though this seems counterintuitive. I’m really interested in Java courses on edX and Python courses on coursera. As a Statistics major, I have done a lot of data analysis and coding in R, but I would like to expand my coding skills into something more widely used like Python.
Last year in summer, I took a course in Gender Studies that focused on the impact of media and the representations of race, gender, sexual orientation, and class in media. One of our final assignments was playing a game called Gone Home. It is an interactive game where the player navigates through the house through the perspective of a female protagonist to find clues and hints about where her family is and what happened while she was away on a trip in Europe. This is by far one of the best digital storytelling piece I have come across. It engages the viewers and the players by putting them into the protagonist’s shoes. The player has to pick up clues and hints around the house to put together a story of what might have happened, and the story is very captivating augmented by the music and sounds. I couldn’t help but feel scared, worried, relieved, and curious constantly while playing the game. It still has me mesmerized by the sheer quality and contextual depth of this interactive game. I think this piece tells a story that is relevant and important to our generation.
There is no denying of the continuing prevalence of technology installed in museums worldwide, even if the degree and types of technological utilization vary greatly from one museum to another. The problem, however, lies with the success of these museums in achieving their mission statements. With increasing availability of resources and innovations, museums can start conjuring up new ways and methods to attract more patrons, enrich their experience, collaborate with communities, and steady their position as a cultural institution. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they should all the time. I have seen museums incorporate technology in a favorable way, but I have also seen museums dump technology into exhibitions that distracts the viewers instead of supplementing the intended experience. Museums should really consider the ways technology can be appropriately implemented and carefully study the impact it has on the patron’s experience.
In the article “Data-driven enriched exhibits using augmented reality” by Warren et al., the authors discuss the ways museums can add “context or content, via audio/visual means, to the current physical space of a visitor to a museum or outdoor site,” which they define it as augmented reality. By drawing information from the data about the location of the artifacts, related events, and visitor behavior, there is a possibility of incorporating technology in a better and more useful way reducing what they call “visitor fatigue”.
The goal is to create links between the visitor’s immediate surroundings, as affected by his or her actions, and information held by the museum.
An example would be creating conversational noises in the background for specific exhibits to create resonance around the objects and place the visitors in a surrounding that reflects the historical context of the objects and the era of interest. Another example would be the sound of Morse codes when a sensor detects a visitor engaging with an object from wartime. According to the authors, all of this would be possible by, first, identifying the interaction points; second, detecting visitor action with the interaction points and the objects; third, mapping the interaction point to the object, which allows for personal and customizable experience for each visitor. An interesting case study would be the Anne Frank House, where it utilizes environmental noises and other audio/visual means to link the visitors to Anne Frank’s experience. If museums can create such a data-driven augmented reality in order to enhance the museum visitor’s experience, technology wouldn’t feel so out of place in an exhibit. Through smart implementation coupled with museum’s data, technology can evoke the intended emotions and guide the patrons toward a more cohesive understanding of the object.
In “The Museum Interface,” Hromrack and Giampietro talk about facilitating “meaningful interactions with art that might occur in the gallery, via Web-based applications or in new hybrid spaces that merge the real and the virtual.” But how can curators control for these interactions to be meaningful, educational, and appropriate when technology has allowed for more freedom in digital engagement? Museums have utilized Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and online blogging platforms among many other digital tools to further expand and connect with both the local and global audience. And while the number of likes, followers, comments, and retweets can be quantified and measured, it does not necessarily translate to meaningful interactions as Orit Gat points out in his article.
A case in point is the way museum visitors use Snapchat to interact with the art. Due to the short lifespan of the captured photo, people behave and interact differently as opposed to careful posing, filters, and comments in Instagram. To catch the Snapchat users’ attention, funny, witty, or even inappropriate comments are added to the photo, which not only affects the way the art is encountered and experienced by those viewers but also leads to blatant disregard of the artist’s work and the curator’s intended experience. Buzzfeed has a couple articles dedicated to some of the saved Snapchats out there in the virtual world showcasing the ways users have interacted with art. In a way, these snapshots have become a form of art in itself since they are forms of expressions and interpretations of the users. But it poses a challenge for museums to balance their role as the caretaker of the collections while also enabling scholarship and digital engagement with the public. Giampietro says, “The new hyper-visibility is difficult because it can transform a unique installation into commodified image; the work’s lasting political power could easily be mistaken for a fleeting trend.” And these Snapchats of art pieces, although very funny, have completely removed the objects from their resonance, ignoring any means of meaningful interaction. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why museums have prohibited pictures in the gallery.
Digitized images and objects along with electronic kiosks are nothing new nowadays in museums. Many have adopted the practice of incorporating technology into their exhibitions. However, based on this week’s readings and my own experience, I am a little doubtful about the effectiveness of technology in museums, especially when it involves minority cultures. Gwyneira Isaac argues in her essay that media technology has become a ‘museum object’ rather than a platform that provides for better exploration and cultural understanding of the artifacts in the exhibitions. Its presence has distracted the viewers’ attention from what’s really important. When I visited the Getty Center for my museum field report, kiosks were usually occupied by younger kids. Adults just stood back and watched as their kids became immersed into the technology. These kids did not look up from the screen to examine the real object in front of them, and instead treated the kiosk as if it was a part of the exhibition. I wonder if they have attained any cultural knowledge or understanding of the object or if they were simply drawn in by what the device can do. If it is the latter, wouldn’t technology pose a threat to the objects it’s supposed to support?
There have been arguments regarding the lack of diversity or underrepresentation of minority cultures in exhibitions. And as cultural institutions, museums have the social responsibility of educating the visitors, broadening their perspectives, and encouraging conversations among the community members. However, Lavine and Karp point out that exhibitions reflect the views and attitudes of the people who created it. They wield a form of authority where “decisions are made to emphasize one element and to downplay others, to assert some truths and to ignore others.” With this in mind, exhibiting cultures that were historically undervalued, misrepresented, or silenced can be a great challenge for these exhibition makers. With an already sensitive issue at hand, a misguided use of technology within these exhibitions can lead to further marginalization of cultures and trivialization of their issues.
Isaac also points out how media technology is used for the wrong reason, such as to “present the image of modernity.” Museums need visitors to function, and with places like Apple, they might have felt the need to amp up their image among the younger generations. However, incorporating some kind of technology into the exhibit does not necessarily mean that it will enhance the visitors’ experiences. It can actually deflect the purpose of the exhibition. Therefore, museum curators really need to weigh the pros and cons of incorporating technology into exhibitions and decide if it is appropriate and carefully examine the effects on the museum visitors.
Open cultural data, according to Mia Ridge, is “data from cultural institutions that is made available for use in a machine-readable format under an open license,” and museums have only recently begun to participate in this data trend. And with so many of them now available for open use, data enthusiasts everywhere have been producing amazing results, such as the MoMA study by Helen Wall. Although data analyses and visualizations, no matter how great, will never replace the experience of physically being present in a museum, they can add to the viewers’ experiences by providing educational details and fun facts and by invoking a richer interaction with the art pieces instead of a cursory or disinterested glance by the viewers.
For example, the Color History of the Cooper-Hewitt Collections is a nice data visualization, but it is essentially useless, especially for those who have never seen the collection or been to the museum. However, museum curators can use this visualization or the information extracted from the visualization to make viewers’ experiences more meaningful without distracting their interests away from the actual art pieces.
Furthermore, I agree with Ridge’s argument regarding the usability of open cultural data. I have had first-hand experience in wrestling with ambiguous categories, inconsistent quality of the records, and just the sheer messiness of the dataset when I had the pleasure of working on the University of Pennsylvania’s Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts just last quarter. It was very daunting and overwhelming at the very least. In order to produce higher quality work, museums and other cultural institutions should work on creating better and more usable open cultural data.
Also, I would have to warn against misusing and misrepresenting data. Anyone with the time and skills can conjure up beautiful visualizations. However, with careless data management, analyses can mislead readers into false assumptions which will be detrimental to the museums and the communities. We should take care to let the art piece speak for itself first and allowing the data visualizations to supplement the objects, the artists, and the viewers’ experience.
In his essay “Resonance and Wonder”, Stephen Greenblatt states that there are two distinct qualities that define the museum’s method of exhibition, and these are resonance and wonder. He defines resonance as “the power of the displayed object to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to evoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged and for which it may be taken by a viewer to stand”. And wonder is “the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention”. He goes on to say that most museum exhibitions that are worth viewing has both elements of resonance and wonder. However, he does argue that the viewer’s experience of an exhibition can be further enhanced if the object has a “strong initial appeal to wonder”, which then can lead to a “desire for resonance”. In other words, the object should be able to draw in the viewers with awe and wonder, and in doing so, it should invite them to delve deeper into the object’s resonance in order to learn, experience, and understand the cultural associations and its significance as a social and historical object. Viewers, then, can better appreciate and experience the exhibition.
Greenblatt’s idea of resonance and wonder can also be applied to other objects. For example, everyone has one or more favorite movies. A recent movie that I fell in love with was Pixar’s Inside Out. I watched it several times already last year, and the reason is because it played with both elements of resonance and wonder. The idea of tiny, imaginary, and colorful creatures living inside our heads was a strange, but intriguing, concept. Not only that but I was able to associate the many emotions Riley displayed with my memories from when I was a teenager. The film was able to draw me in with wonder and keep me hooked through its resonance. And Greenblatt’s idea is not limited to museums and movies. It can be widely applied to architecture, music, books, and other objects. An object that has the power to evoke a sense of wonder and a feeling of resonance can make the viewer’s experience and interaction with the object that much more enriching and rewarding.