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Inspiration

I’ve just come back from experiencing ‘Sleep no more’; an immersive dance/ theatre rendition of Macbeth. But there’s no way I can really explain what the hell it was, hence the immersive. You simple have to experience it, and yet one of the most intriguing things is that there so much more that you miss out on than what you actually see. Overhearing other peoples conversations as we left, and searching for images online for this post, I realize I’ve missed out on orgies, killings (as in other killings than the ones I did encounter), a sugar covered goat (!) and other rarities. I don’t know if seeing any of this would have made me any wiser on the Macbeth narrative, but that wasn’t really the point anyway. I had my own experience, stumbling upon my own theatrical highlights and hiddden gems.

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‘McKittrick Hotel’ is a dark eerie labyrinth of tableaux set in a Chelsea warehouse, which you explore as you wish, rummaging through papers and knickknacks, bumping into taxidermy or wet washing or finding yourself in a forrest, a graveyard, a hotel lobby or a childrens bedroom. And suddenly you walk into a scene performed by the Punchdrunk troupe, or you can choose to follow the characteres, trailing their storyline. All visitors wear masks and are instructed to keep silent throughout.

‘Gothic’, ‘noir’ and ‘unheimlich’ were the phrases that kept springing to mind, and because the whole experience was so disorientating and surreal, it felt like walking around in a dreamscape, observing things that you don’t quite get, but which clearly have their own logic.Which was super cool, but surely not a place you would want to revisit in dreams.

As a theatrical experience it was very interesting. Even though it probably isn’t the best Macbeth I’ll ever see, it was definitely and inspiring and memorable adventure. But even though I did get slightly envious at all the wonderful drama and make-belive theatre folk get to indulge in, I didn’t quite see why this performance has so inspired the museum crowd that the closing plenary at the upcoming Museums and the Web conference focuses on what museums might learn from immersive theatre in general and Sleep No More in particular. Although I must admit that Seb Chan makes a pretty good case for it, arguing that all storytelling is about perfomance and suggesting we make ‘Wonderment’ a key performance indicator.

If not relevant in every context, I do agree that wonder can work wonders for exhibitions too, as was the case in the Everything You Can Think Of Is True exhibition designed by Robert Wilson at Diamanten a few years back.

Recalling 1993
Another really clever bit of cultural mediation to be experienced in New York at the moment is the New Museum’s ‘Recalling 1993‘. To accompany their current exhibition about the art scene and urban culture in NYC twenty years ago, pre-Giuliani, they’ve asked artists and others to record their memories of the time, and made them available via public payphones. So, on every street you can pick up the phone a dial a number for free, and hear a story from that particular neighbourhood. How cool is that? I especially think that harnessing a technology that was ‘the mobile phone’ of that time, and which may soon become obsolete, is a stroke of genius.

Over the last few weeks, I have attended a handful of interesting events which deserve summing up for future reference, and because they presented insights worth sharing. Also they serve as a lesson in getting it down while it’s still fresh in your mind, as I realize that some of the (surely brilliant) thoughts I had after some of the earlier events I now can’t recall, like how inspired I was by Else Skjold’s research or the details of working with Cecilia’s probe. Which explains why the entries get shorter and shorter…

Loic Tallon open lecture at CIID: Adapting to mobile: a museum perspective (26/2)

Last week, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design hosted an open lecture by Loic Tallon. Tallon is director of Pocket-Proof, a digital consultancy specialized in helping museums develop strategies for mobile media with some pretty cool projects under their belt; chair of the Museums and Mobile online conference; and producer of the annual Museums and Mobile Survey. He also co-edited Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience: Handheld Guides and Other Media with Kevin Walker and co-wrote the paper ‘Going Mobile?‘ with Isabel Froes for MW2011, amongst other things. So, in short, he’s cool, and has a solid knowledge of and experience with this field, and I’m thrilled that he agreed to do an interview when I get to New York. So more on that later.

Aimed primarily at designers, the presentation centered on six tips how to think about designing mobile projects for museums, reminding newcomers to the museum field that while smart phones may be the latest craze, mobile interpretation tools in museums go back a long way. Listed in the photo below, I’ve added my own notes on the six tips beneath.

Loic Tallon's top tips for museum mobile design

Loic Tallon’s top tips for museum mobile design

Be specific about what mobile is (and is not)
– Smart phones, tablets, audioguides etc. are not one and the same – explore the specific affordances
– Why do it on mobile (e.g. smart phone)?
– Central characteristics of smart phones: digital, personal, portable, connected

Forget about the technology
Get past default ‘we need an app’ thinking or simply replacing audioguide # with QR codes
– Think about what experience you want to create, what content or what stories you want to share
– Mobile technology can now do far more than museums ask for (there was a really nice graph for this, but I didn’t get my camera out in time, and I haven’t been able to find the slides online) – but what is it we need it to do?

Mobile projects are not new for museums
As demonstrated in videos and audioclips from past museum tours, with some lovely examples like Stedelijks groundbreaking 1952 broadcast technology and a dramatic Tuttenkhamun tour narrated by Orson Welles.

Define who it’s for and what it does
– with reference to Falks situated identities: visitors motivations are key
– clearly defined objectives (the experience) for a clearly defined audience.

Support the museum’s challenge
#1 challenge: getting people to use them ( see museums & mobile surveys) (now, I think this is the wrong way to think about this issue, as it suggests that the goal is to boost uptake stats; rather, this kind of knowledge should not only make you wonder how to get people to use them more, but should also make you think about whether they are actually valuable for the visitor or if they are quite fine without them, thank you)
– so think about the experience from the visitor’ perspective – what do they need, what is the added value: forget about distribution of your products, think instead of supporting visitor needs, what kind of experience they want (which is kind of the point I was making above, except the assumed sollution in this context may be better experience design, whereas non-use, the non-scaffolded, unequipped skinnydip museum visit is at least not addressed as an option. Further to this rant here and here).

Bring capacity building, not just a product (or pilot)
-Work with museums, let their needs, ideas, perspectives decide the development

This advice should go out to museums as much as to designers. Sadly, I think one big problem is that because most museums do not have in-house development, they don’t build up much experience or understanding, and so are quite easily manipulated by flashy suggestions from design bureaus who, at the end of the day, are trying to flog a product.

Further on that note, I couldn’t help noting how many people were there; the small venue was totally crowded. This field is scarily popular. Were these people all museum-mobile-designer wannabes? And if so: are mobile museum experiences more a designer’s wet dream than a visitor need? Or a result of the museum folks’ desire to rub shoulders with the creatives? I’m not pointing any fingers here; this was exactly how I got to be interested in this field. Just speculating.

Either way, Tallon’s sound advice should come in handy.

MMCN network seminar: Methodologies of mobile communication and media research (22/2)

The Mobile Media and Communications Network is a newly founded network of Scandinavian researchers sharing findings, work-in-progress conundrums, publication possibilities and more around their research into mobile communication and media. Starting from last year’s ‘Researching Mobile and Locative Media’ workshop and PhD course at Århus University, the group met once in the autumn to establish the network and this time for a seminar focusing on methodology. The plan is to continue with biannual meetings as well as instigating mobile media sessions at relevant conferences. There’s also a website in the making, and an open invitation for other reserachers in this field to take part.

Even if I can feel like an outsider, even a bit of a leech, given that I probably will not be contributing to this field but only learning from it, it is still very interesting for me to take part in this network and learn from some of the leading researchers and shooting stars in this field. A mix of presentations and discussion, the atmosphere is nicely informal, meaning that rather than showing off people share uncertainties, allowing for a constructive dialogue. As we discussed that this could also be a forum for PhD students to get feedback on their work (rather than pushing for another PhD course this year), I should seize that opportunity at some point.

Both Bechmann, Ess & Waade ‘s project about Tripadvisor and the communicative functions of travel apps (as yet unpublished, but the abstract presents some very interesting points about key functions and significant tendencies in locative mobile apps, such as their visuality and connectedness), and Gunnar Liestøl’s presentation about establishing a methodology for design development of ‘Situated Simulations’, a kind of indirect augmented reality, were very interesting and relevant for my project. I was particularly intruiged by Liestøl’s notions on the value of negativity, of negation, pointing to what is not there, as essential to the design process, which counters the insistance of possitivity in design thinking ass advocated by Ided, Aalto a.o. Also here, a paper is under way, which I will look forward to reading.

I also picked up on the fact that Liestøl also used the term ‘mediation’ – but when asked, also confessed to some uncertainty as to the appropriacy of this translation. It seems that all Scandinavians share the frustration that there is no truly appropriate English translation for such a central term in museology as ‘formidling’ (German Vermittlung), only a host of related terms that convey some aspects, but not the complexity of meanings in the original term. And while mediation may be the correct term etymologically, and in accordance with ICOMs key concepts of museology, it is still not used by the anglophone museum community, as the common usage of the word has very different connotations. So, I too will have to keep circling around this issue, before tackling it head on in my thesis.

#SMWSMK: Social Media Week at Statens Museum for Kunst (21/2)

Social Media Week in Copenhagen inlcuded a string of events at Statens Museum for Kunst:
The art museum on social media – presentation by three different museums on Livestream

Allegra Burnette, creative director for Digital Media at MOMA, presented their social media strategy and a catalogue of initiatives across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and traditional blogs, all used in differerent ways to document, distribute or engage the public in ongoing exhibitions.

Jesse Righam, Digital Communications manager at TATE similarly laid out their social media strategies, which seemed to have a strong focus on the marketing potential of social media. An interesting aspect for me here was how fashion culture, via bloggers (e.g. Stylebubble), designers (e.g. Westwood) and collaboration with the industry (e.g. Topshop), was used to gain access to a wider public, quote RIngham: ‘it taps into that audience that we need, the visitors of tomorrow’. Perhaps this has been the inspiration for the newly founded Louisiana Channel‘s decision to feature Danish designers Henrik Vibskov, Peter Jensen and Anne Sofie Madsen as commentators on art (in relation to fashion, but still).

Finally, Sarah Grøn from SMK generously shared the ups and downs in the process towards ‘becoming social’, making the point that staff’s personal experience with and command of social media platforms is a prerequisite for using them succesfully as an institution.

After a panel discussion, which mainly revolved around sure-fire communication on Facebook (apparently, updates about artist’s birthdays and the weather never fail – the key is to give something the puiblic can personally relate to), the day concluded with presentations by Merete Sanderhoff and Unges Laboratorier for Kunst on ongoing projects at SMK. Not entirely convinced by ULK’s Tales App (perhaps I’m just not getting it, or perhaps it is one of interesting, but somewhat artyfarty concepts that work best as concepts only)  but I would recommend trying Hintme, the scanner/twitterbased concept which I have written about earlier, which is now open to the public in a beta version. So go check out the website, make sure your QR scanner is up to date and go try it out in on of the participating museums! Better still, let me know how you liked it.

Modesalon: Fashion, music & identity at Designmuseum Danmark (30/1)

During fashion week, and in conjunction with the current exhibition of vinyl album covers, Designmuseum Denmark hosted two fashion salons about the relationship between fashion and music. Sadly, I missed out on the second one, a conversation between designers Mads Nørgaard and Henrik Vibskov, but found the first, featuring music scholar Morten Michelsen and fashion researcher Else Skjold, very inspiring.

Following themes such as emancipation, experimental expressions of gender and marginalisation, they spoke of fashion and music as bodily media for cultural expressions, and of the problematics of the ‘subculture’ discourse, which has now gone out of fashion, to be replaced with concepts of scenes, tribes and genre as social phenomenon.

Skjold is currently finishing up her PhD research on men’s fashion, a very interesting project exploring the potential and developing the methodology of wardrobe studies for cultural studies into fashion as well for market oriented developments in the fashion industry. I had a brief chat with her after the session about our shared interest in how fashion is not just products on a catwalk, but a complex mix of utility, identity, style and culture when used in real life. I expect that her thesis will provide some useful insights into these aspects as well as into considerations on design methodology in cultural studies, and might try to hook up with her at a later stage.

Responding to someone else’s probe

Thanks to Cecilia, a master student from the IT University of Copenhagen, I have been getting a chance to ‘taste my own medicine’. For her master thesis just finished, she explored how to design for sensory experiences in digital media, focusing on the potential for the fashion industry; a very interesting project and field, and highly relevant to my own research. During her process we’ve had some inspiring conversations and I am curious to learn of her findings. What’s more, she used cultural probes in her empirical research, and I had to fortune to one of her informants.

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Her beautiful probe package consisted of seven activities exploring various sensory expressions – I was asked to produce sensual forms in clay; to create a colourscheme, to articulate my thoughts on sensual expereinces on a series of postcards etc.

Apart from inspiring my own thinking around the importance – and complexity – of sensory and aesthetic experiences, and how to translate that into digital designs, it was interesting to be an informant and experience the very subjective interaction between designer and informant when performing her probe activities. Like the blurred boundary between what was her research interest and what was mine, and between my personal and academic understanding of the sensory, brought on in part by an overlap in project foci, and in part by engaging myself in her probe. Or the time issue, as in how much you can ask of your informants. For my part, I enjoyed working with the probe and also had a sense of obligation, meaning that I completed all tasks, but even so I can see how the demand on the informant’s time must be taken into consideration in the probe design, and may also account for some of the lacking responses in my own research.

‘Sharing is Caring 12 – Let’s get real!’(1), held in December 2012, was the second in a series of international seminars about engaging the public with museums’ (digital) assets (2). Touching upon some of the hottest topics in museums, the event drew quite a crowd, and was a fine opportunity for networking and catching up, as well as for getting an update on current projects and ideas. Still, I had my reservations (3), this time exacerbated by the snappy, happy-clapping rhetorics of a title like ‘Sharing is Caring’, explicated in a rather evangelical blogpost on Formidlingsnet by last year’s keynote speaker Michael Edson; ‘A year of Sharing and Caring‘. He explains the notions thus:

sharing, as a deeply moral impulse to take the knowledge, beauty, and secrets that we know are there, locked within our organizations, and make them available to every person on earth and caring, as a manifestation of our collective duty to ensure that everyone in society has access to the full spectrum of ideas, experiences, and resources that they need to live happy and successful lives (4)

outlining “the next frontier of work: building equity and civic value through openness, transparency, generosity, and community” and stating that “What matters is millions and millions of citizens wrestling with big ideas, engaging in personal discovery, making new things, and sharing with one another.”(ibid.) It is hard to argue against these ideals, although they hardly answer to the second call of the seminar title: Let’s get real! There is an awful lot of buzzwords and hot air in this field. Also, zealous idealism can be pretty scary, and good intentions is not the same as indisputable truth. I therefore second Sarah Giersing’s concerns in a reply to Edson’s post:

I cannot help but feel a little scepticism. Something about the rhetoric, the title “Sharing is Caring” especially, simply rubs me the wrong way. To me “Sharing is Caring” has a certain ring of something selfrighteous to it, something patronizing even. To me it sounds a little like the optimistic name of some religious endeavour – or a humanitarian aid relief project – to save the world. Nothing wrong with philanthropism, but we might be wary of the missionary aspect. (ibid.)

For Giersing, the answer lies in also sharing the authority in defining what constitutes our cultural heritage. As project leader for Copenhagen Museum’s Væggen (5) she has been working to put this idea into practice for years, and gave a very inspiring presentation about the potential, but also the great challenges, in inviting users to contribute content and knowledge to museum collections (6). Her chief advice for others wanting to pursue a similar track was a) to not only ask for users to contribute content but also provide metadata, to ensure that institutions had information on the context and provenance of the collection item; b) to ask for uploads in a durable data format, with considerations not only for access speed, but also for technical quality and preservation; and c) to ensure appropriate data rights, i.e., that the contributor has the right to upload the content, and that the institution has the right to use it when part of the collection.

Museum ideals
Now I’m not sure just how far Giersing believes institutions should go in sharing authority, but for me, I think the relationship can never be completely equal, as I believe in the value and necessity of curatorial expertise. To use a perhaps dubious analogy, although millions of passionate football fans will be shouting instructions at their screens and have strong opinions about the game, the tactics and the players, I don’t really think that their beloved game would benefit from crowdsourced management. SImilarly, I think that high quality curation requires professionalism. I understand that there is also a postcolonial problematic in this stance; who has the right to assume authority over a shared heritage. Still, I  don’t see how it can be otherwise. Letting go completely, not letting interpretations be guided by the knowledge inherent in the institutions but starting from scratch sounds like futile chaos, and any staging of democratic dialogue will always involve some level of authority, someone deciding to invite that dialogue and how to use the output.

This is not to say that I believe museums should reign supreme, and I fully agree that museums could learn a lot from the public. Nevertheless, assuming authority – and praticing it wisely – is part of the custodial responsiblity. Although we have moved, or are moving away from the role of museums as shrines to the nation, modern-day museum ideals – post-, transparent, participartory, inclusive etc. (7) – are thus not all that different from the Bildung ideals of the museums of the enlightenment (8). Asking the public to participate, museums are still taking an educational role, still trying to build a certain kind of citizen, even if nowadays we are asking of that citizen to express their individual mind.

Which begs the question: Is expression neccessarily better than impression? Why is visiting an exhibition, having whatever experience we may have, understanding whatever we do, and making our own associations, deductions etc. no longer enough? When libraries are still happy to lend us books – old books, difficult books even – without an accompanying guide, how come museums feel that the experience of art or cultural artefacts must always be scaffolded?

India Art Now/ India Fashion Now: Challenge
Let me digress for a moment, to a brilliant exhibition I visited earlier this week; namely India: Art Now and India: Fashion Now at Arken Museum of Modern Art i Ishøj, DK (9). Both the artworks and the fashion exhibited were beautiful, humorous and thought provoking.

India:Fashion Now

Couture by Amit Aggarwal & Manish Arora, display view from India:Fashion Now

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Rina Banerjee. “She was now…” 2011. Installation view at ARKEN

So I didn’t really need the to be told what to feel or what to think about, and therefore found the wall labels, meant to elicit afterthought and debate with questions like ‘Go exploring among the clusters of woven hair and hanging bumpers. What is the atmosphere of the room? What bodily sensations do the materials and the way they are used in the installation evoke in you?’ or ‘Imagine the human destinies interwoven in the painting. Do they live in hope, pain or joy? Is their world also yours?’, to be heavily didactic, patronizing and superfluous. Rather than aiding my understanding, they disturbed my perception, and evoked irritation more than anything else. So much so, that my companion and I ended up discussing whether this kind of mediation, which I would sooner expect as part of an educational material for school classes, is even right for that target group?

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Wall text from the India:Art Now exhibition, relating to the India:Game Now app

Proctor (10) is right in stating that it’s not about the technology, it’s what we do with it, what we ask our visitors to do. Any technology can be used for any kind of mediation. But personally, I would prefer an openly authoritative introduction to contemporary Indian art to this kind of touchy-feely claptrap. Even if I miss a point or two.

The exhibition app, India: Game Now (11), was also a disappoinment. Content was limited, the challenges and questions were pretty daft, navigation was unclear, and the app did nothing to help us find the featured artworks in the exhibition. But worst of all, interaction with the app did not improve our understanding or appreciation of the exhibited works, the context or each other’s perceptions, which was also an aim of the game. If anything, the medium detracted from the experience, shifting the focus from artefacts to technology. Unsurprisingly, I regret to say – I have yet to have a mobile museum experience where this is not the case.

Participation with a purpose
Which is why I loved Shelley Bernstein‘s opening keynote at Sharing is Caring (12). Chief of Technology at Brooklyn Museum, Bernstein has developed and executed some of the most innovative – and succesful! – participatory museum projects of later years, such as the crowd-curated Click! exhibition (13) in 2008 and this year’s GO  – a community-curated open studio project (14). On the back of this, her words carry some weight. Interestingly, then, she describes herself as an anti-tech technologist, and, whilst employing social media as tools for participation, she emphasizes that it is a success when people abstain from using these tools when actually encountering art, in or outside the museum, as this takes away from the engagement.

Shelly Bernstein presenting at Sharing is Caring 12; photo from Twitter by @ninahviid

Shelly Bernstein presenting at Sharing is Caring 12; photo from Twitter by @ninahviid

Also, instead of catering to a ‘don’t make me think philosophy of usability, she insists on raising rather than lowering the barrier for participation, designing interfaces that require people to learn the tools, the sometimes lengthy process and their purpose before being able to take part. It is a deliberate move away from the Like-button model for easy interaction, as this requires and inspires no real engagement anyway:

The like button is easy, and while we don’t think participation in GO should be difficult, we do think we need to move away from the gold standard Facebook has forced upon us to something that’s more powerful and serves the needs of participants specifically taking part in this project.  Will everyone get beyond the like button during GO?  We sure hope so; participants may never register and might not pick up a mobile device, but if they find themselves in an artist’s studio on September 8-9, it’s likely they are already way beyond that ubiquitous little button, and in our minds, that is a success. (15)

At the end of the day, it’s not about social media, and focusing on those, as many museums (and businesses) do, hoping to get a cheap, quick and chic fix-it-all, too often muddles the vision which should be about content and true engagement.

Academic critique
Thus, while Jasper Visser, museum consultant and second key note speaker at Sharing is Caring (16), repeatedly stated that museums had no need for PhD’s and should rather employ selftaught innovators, this only confirmed my belief in the need for academic reflection on the development now taking place in museums, and for the discourse (and hot air) surrounding this evolution. Caring for museums, and thereby for the societies and communities that they serve, can also be sharing your insights regarding and concerns for what may be misguided beliefs in the power of people 2.0.

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Note added on February 4th, 2013: In an editorial note in the latest issue of Museological Review, the peer reviewed journal from the Leicester University School of Museum Studies, Dr. Bernadette Lynch succinctly expresses the misgivings I was trying to pin down above: 

The utopian rhetoric of mutuality and shared authority in today’s museums, in reality, places a community member […] in the role of ‘supplicant’ or ‘beneficiary’. Museums and galleries continue to subtly maintain inequitable social relations by exercising invisible power, setting parameters that offer what Cornwall calls ‘empowerment-lite’ [*] Thus the image of the 21st century, democratic, dialogical museum simply does not match the rhetoric. Furthermore, by placing people in the position of beneficiaries, the museum continues to rob people of their active agency and the necessary possibility of resistance.[*] This would explain the anger of many participants who express frustration with these well-meaning institutions. (17)

References
(1) http://www.dkmuseer.dk/content/sharing; http://www.formidlingsnet.dk/category/sharing-is-caring. Videos of the presentations can be found on http://vimeo.com/channels/sharingiscaring, and comments, posts and conversations can be found on Twitter under the hastag #sharecare12.
(2) See also the anthology Sharing is Caring, edited by Merete Sanderhof, Copenhagen: Statens Museum for Kunst 2014. Available to order or download from http://www.smk.dk/en/explore-the-art/free-download-of-artworks/sharing-is-caring/
(3) https://blatryk.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/museum-as-a-research-field/
(4) quotes in the following taken from http://www.formidlingsnet.dk/a-year-of-sharing-and-caring
(5) http://vaeggen.copenhagen.dk
(6) http://vimeo.com/channels/sharingiscaring/55927145
(7) cf. Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2000): Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, London and New York: Routledge;
Marstine, J. (2011), ‘The contingent nature of the new museum ethics’ introduction to Marstine, J. (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics: Redefining ethics for the twenty-first-century museum, London & New York: Routledge;
Simon, N. (2010). The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0;
The Inclusive Museum annual conference and book series http://onmuseums.com
(8) Kahr-Højland, A. & Quistgaard, N. (2009): ‘From ”scientists for a day” to ”critical citizens”: The emergence of a new paradigm within science centres and museums involving narratives, interactivity and mobile phones’, manuscript submitted for review in Museum Management and Curatorship. Article IV in Kahr-Højland’s PhD Thesis Læring er da ingen leg?: en undersøgelse af unges oplevelser i og erfaringer med en mobilfaciliteret fortælling i en naturfaglig kontekst. University of Southern Denmark.
(9) http://www.arken.dk/udstilling/tidligere-udstillinger-2/
(10) Proctor, N. (2011). Mobile guides in the rhizomic museum. In Katz, J. et al. (Eds.), Creativity and Technology: Social Media, Mobiles and Museums, Edinburgh: MuseumsEtc.
(11) https://itunes.apple.com/app/arken-india-game-now/id551000132?mt=8
(12) Bernstein, S. (2014), ‘GO: Curating with the Brooklyn Community’ in Sanderhoff, M. (ed.) (2014), Sharing is Caring. Openness and sharing in the cultural heritage sector, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst
(13) http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/click/
(14) http://gobrooklynart.org
(15) Blogpost by Shelley Bernstein: ‘Getting Beyond the Like Button’ http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/community/blogosphere/2012/08/23/getting-beyond-the-like-button/
(16) http://vimeo.com/channels/sharingiscaring/55927142; cf Visser, J. (2014), ‘The future of museums is about attitude, not technology’ in Sanderhoff, M. (ed.) (2014), Sharing is CaringOpenness and sharing in the cultural heritage sector, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst
(17) Lynch, B. (2013) ‘Generally dissatisfied with the utopian museum’   Museological Review no. 17 – Museum Utopias Conference Issue ©  p iv
[*] Please find references in the original http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/museumstudies/documents/museologicalreview/mr-17/3_Lynch_FINAL21January2013.pdf

Today, I lost my way in a dark and gloomy forest and suddenly found myself in a gingerbread house… This was the experience staged in a theatrical production of ‘Hansel & Gretchen’; a performance in which you make your way – alone – through an installation of scenarios, equipped with a torch and an audioguide, guided along by a narrative voice and an evocative soundscape. Rather than simply telling you a story, it required you to move through the story, allowed you to feel unsettled, not knowing what came next, what might be waiting for you in the dark, how to get out.

A play without actors, where you perform every action. Is it theatre, performance, installation? Does it matter? Does cultural mediation need to follow conventions? Does museal mediation need things, or a museum space?

Take for instance the current exhibition of Tutankhamon’s grave in Malmö, a complete remake of the burial chambers as they were discovered in 1922 – not an authentic object in sight but perhaps offering a more authentic experience of their splendor than a traditional display would? According to this review, at least, despite the heavy use of dramatic effects, the overall experience is one of enlightenment, not just light entertainment.

I’m pondering these things now as I am trying to get back into my project and enter design mode, in order to sketch concepts for mobile mediation of fashion. One concept (which I came across researching for a short paper for a doctoral consortium on design research which I also need to write) that intrigues me is ‘The Dark Room Fashion Show’ (no, not what you think, and to be honest I’m not sure if the sexual connotations are not somewhat misleading in this case); a fashion show focusing on the sounds of garments conceptualised by researchers in fashion and interaction design at Textilhögskolan in Borås:

Visual expressions are dominant in fashion aesthetics. The fashion show is visual, we show fashion in magazines, we show our new garment, we see the beautiful clothes of others etc. The basic design aesthetics we learn within the regular fashion design curriculum is all about spatial form and visual expression. It seems somehow natural to train our perception of forgotten aesthetical issues by bracketing these dominant perspectives. Garment sounds in use, this is not a focal issue but nevertheless basic to the way in which garment present themselves in use. The Dark Room Fashion Shows is a program for fashion shows presenting fashion with a total focus on the sounds of garment in use; expose the sound of fashion in use, show nothing, let a cat-speaker, in some way or another, substitute the catwalk. (from the research website)

I reminds me of an idea I had back when I was a fashion student, of devising a collection of words, of poetry – all the rich and vivid words we associate with fashion and textiles, textures, cuts and colours. Now, it would take a greater poet than me to get it right, but I might explore the idea of developing a concept for a fashion soundscape, perhaps something along the line of a Thirdear-style montage or Scenatet’s Kære Fisk (for sounds of fashion, also check out the drama of clicking heels in Fish & Fowl).

Tuesday was the day for the workshop with my four informants and new-found favourite ladies: Cecilie (budding designer and fashion blogger), Stine (digital strategist for Burson-Marsteller), Judi (stylist and former art educator at SMK) and Nanna (media researcher at DR with a past in the fashion industry), not to forget Line, a fellow PhD-student (Dream/Rockens Danmarkskort) who generously offered to observe and document the session. It was perfect. I’ll elaborate in a minute, but first of all I really want to express my excitement about and gratitude for their engagement and contribution, for the insights, ideas and opinions they shared and for the discussions we had. I left feeling high as a kite, truly inspired and completely spent.

My objective for the workshop was not so much data collection as generation of inspiration for my upcoming design process, and I expected to come away with a stack of post it-notes full of random ideas and a bundle of notes, viewing the video- and voice recordings merely as a backup. However, as the session progressed, and evolved more strongly as a discussive focus group than as an ideation workshop (I had prepared a guideline schedule, of course, but played it by ear, to allow for the session to flow and for the most fruitful discussions to flourish), it became clear to me that the discussions we had were so rich, that it would be a shame not to include them as data.

Of course, I am well aware that I will not be able to generalize anything from the views expressed by such a small selection of people, who furthermore cannot be seen to be representative of a wider user group. Indeed, as I discussed with Line afterwards, they were more like experts, having either professional insights into and experience with social media, fashion and museum work or educational backgrounds that informed their perspectives. On top of that, they were also all passionate about the topic as well as demonstrating high levels of reflection. So no, they weren’t your average user, but then their expertise allowed for the conversations to reach a different level, leading to exchanges that may not serve as proof, but which perfectly illustrates some of the challenges in this field. And then again, they were also ‘just’ prospective users with personal – and sometimes self-contradictory – views, preferences, habits and experiences.

So now I have a task of transcribing the entire 3 hours! Still, with the help of Line’s excellent and elaborate notes, I can sum up the session for now:

Evaluation of probes and digital participation
First up, the informants were asked to evaluate their experience with the probes. They all agreed that the presentation of the probe package was appealing and that the tasks were fun. And that what they really enjoyed was the analogue-ness and tactile quality of the tasks (the use of the term ‘analogue’ is an example of how this group had not only personal experience with, but also a detached perspective on and vocabulary for discussing new media). As so many other things in their professional and personal activities involved the use of a computer, the probe represented a nice change from that. Also the analogue tasks were easier to dip into, whereas the digital tasks – that most participants had avoided – felt cumbersome, timeconsuming and somewhat forced. Asked if they saw this as a general /potential barrier for participation in museum set tasks on social media platforms (e.g. collective Pinterest boards) they concurred. As Nanna pointed out, rather than trying to design for interaction on their own platforms or even their own domains within existing social media platforms, museums should try to engage in the conversations and streams already in flow.

As for the museum visit, only Stine had gone (Cecile had already been before the interview took place), whilst Nanna and Judi explained that they had not been able to fit it into their schedules, as a museum visit is a considerable activity. As Stine had downloaded and brought along the Designmuseum mobile app, this lead to a discussion about the need for any mediation tool to truly add value to the visit, and the often misguided predeliction for developing apps, when a mobile optimated website would have been a better option.

Following on from this evaluation, the informants were asked to spend five minutes noting down their immediate thoughts on and ideas for the the topic individually. After this, I did a brief presentation of my project (field, questions and research design), and an introduction to some of the perspectives that could inform one’s thinking about the field accompanied by visuals.

The participants asked good questions into my research interests and hypothesis, however, as the concepts introduced in the presentation were not taken up later in the discussion (one of the reasons for presenting my project was to establish a shared understanding and some communal references, as well as clarifying what project they were part of and how) perhaps this presentation was too long.

Museum types
Next came a discussion of the potential users and their context dependent motivations for visiting museums or pursuing their interest through other means, exemplified by the five museum types suggested by John Falk (in Drotner et al 2011: Det Interaktive Museum): The enthusiast, driven by a specialist and perhaps professional knowledge and interest; the experience hunter, seeking out the ‘big game’ cultural hotspots; the explorer, searching for delightful discoveries; the facilitator, focusing on making the visit a succesful social event; and the escapist, using the museum to recharge or find spiritual meaning. My intention with this excercise was to inform my future development of personas to design for, but the discussion led to little tangible information about the specific types. I even tried provoking the issue a little by asking what these types would be like as superheroes, but that didn’t turn out super useful. Instead, the participants’ sentiment echoed the point made by Falk; that these are more like roles than types, ones you dip into and out of or find yourself in, depending on your life situation and the context, company and topic exhibited. Overall, however, they would rather design for the enthusiast and the explorer than for the other types of motivation (as would probably most museum educators).

What do we want to be social about?
When I interviewed Stine before the summer, she told me that one of her key points when advising about the development of social business models was to ask yourself the question ‘What do we want to be social about’? (unfortunately I can only come up with this poor translation, that is a lot clunkier than the Danish ‘Hvad vil vi være sociale omkring?’. ‘What is our social object?‘ sounds better, but I’m not sure if that is quite right either. Thoughts, Stine?). This question has lingered with me since, and inspired the next exercise on the potential for and value of social interaction between Designmuseum Denmark and its users.

Again, the consensus was that the museum should try to socialize where the social interaction is already happening. Aggregation of content, via algorithms trawling for #tags for instance, was deemed a viable approach, if only you could get people to agree on which tags to use [this idea is reminiscent of the Twitter concept being developed by SMK, see presentation by Merete Sanderhoff at MuseumNext ] Another suggestion was some sort of personalization, turning yourself into an exhibtion (like the FB timeline precursor ‘Exhibition of me’), and playing to the narcissist in us all by displaying the feed of ‘#todays outfit’ etc in the museum. The concept of ‘second screen’ (and how the  second screen sometimes became the first, as the online conversations around a given program were what pulled you in, rather than the program content itself) was discussed (again a professional terminology). Other inspiration sources included GetGlue, iPhotoCap and #fredagsbog.

Asked what the museum could contribute to the conversations, both Judith and Cecilie agreed that they could show another side to the fashion story than what is usually presented in fashion media. Judith brought up a great example in the subversive photographs by artist Jens Haaning, with captions describing the outfits mirroring those of fashion shots.

Another wish was to be able to access and play with a digitized version of the museum collection, mixing new looks etc. This idea somewhat contradicted the agreement earlier on that the museum should join the conversation rather than try to set new tasks. A suggested solution for merging the two, i.e. to attract users to a new ‘service’ was to learn from the way Spotify entered the Danish market by way of Facebook.

Social platforms
I took this as a cue to introduce an excercise I had been a little uncertain about, knowing that focusing on the platforms can detract from the question of content and motivation. However, as it turned out, the conversations prompted by the social media symbol cards were very interesting.

The key, of course, is deciding what you want to achieve, understanding – asking? – your users and then choose the appropriate platform. The participants did however gravitate towards Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, again arguing that this is where the users already are. Whilst some enjoyed using Path, it was still a small community of private parties, and Flickr is loosing ground with the growing popularity of Instagram. As for YouTube, the group seemed to agree that perhaps a private channel would be preferable.

As I was keen not to forget the non-sociable aspects of mobile media, and tried asking if perhaps a podwalk or similar would be an interesting way to go. The idea was quickly rejected however, as Judi pointed out that musical soundtracks for exhibitions were rarely adapted. Perhaps all the talk about social interactionn also made it hard to forget that focus during this workshop. Gamification, as examplified by Foursquare, was also debated, yet, as fashion has no geolocation, it was hard to see how this concept would apply to this field.

Ideation
After a short break, in which the conversations continued, we moved on to the ideas-generation part of the workshop. The initial thoughts, written down in the beginning of the workshop included questions on how to bring the ephemeral into the museum, how the museum can share its treasures without needing you to come to the museum, and how everyday fashion and not least the personal relationship with fashion can be brought into or exposed through the museum.

Cecilie came up with an idea for displaying honour plaques around town to commemorate significant fashion events (think ‘Here, in 1964, a Mary Quant costumer first wore the mini-skirt’), which was well received and elaborated on by the group, and also suggested a public photo booth where people could have their outfit photographed for the museum collection (if people were willing to have their photos taken in ‘Kussomaten‘, it is likely that you could get them to contribute street style shots for a historical collection as Stine commented). However, as Judi pointed out, such contributions would also require a lot of editing on the part of the museum, to ensure quality, which again would raise the question of who has the authority to select, and what happens to the multiplicity of voices when they are censored. Still, the museum should have an expertise that is different from that of the magazines or the bloggers.

Another important contribution from the museum, as defined by the group, is the great narrative – tying information together to form a story, an argument, a unison – something that you won’t necessarily be able to piece together yourself out there on the internet. And overall, they were more interested in the material culture in the museum, the chance to experience e.g. a variety of fabrics or building materrials, than in a digital overlay.

DAC and the Danish Designcenter where brought forward as examples of this type of exhibtion, whereas Designmuseum Danmark (which holds a substantial textile collection, that was originally collected with that kind of use in mind) was perceived as being a bit old fashioned. Even the prospect of the development of a museum for fashion within DMD was regarded with some scepticism. Louisiana, on the other hand, seemed to be everyone’s favourite museum, and was mentioned on numerous occasions.

And so, after three hours of passionate banter, the workshop came to a close, and with the help of these great characters, I had collected a rich material to inform my continued investigations. 

Feedback
As Stine pointed out, it would have been interesting to have been able to see what the other participants had contributed via the probes (and so we ended the evening with a visit to my office to marvel at the wall). I had not fascilitated this knowledgesharing, and not even invited by participants to respond to the blogpost I made about the returns. Good point, and I do apologize! And please, Stine, Judi, Cecilie, Nanna and Line – if you can spare a moment and have a comment on how you experienced the workshop or have had other thoughts on the topic since then, do drop me a comment here. It would be great to hear from you! And be warned that I will probably contact you again when I’ve come up with concepts that need scrutinizing by you expert minds (but don’t worry, I won’t hold you to your declaration of interest, feel free to turn me down if it’s no longer relevant for you).

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 designmuseum.dk : (See also article on the project on berlingske.dk )

”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.

Rock on \\m// (> . <) \\m// ! Listening to Metallica’s Enter Sandman – one of the tracks on the fashion exhibition mixtapes I asked my informants to make as part of the cultural probes, which I’ve now turned into one long playlist on YouTube. Sure woke me up. And this music business really is a great way to get transported into the mood or mindset set by my informants. Yay! There’s quite a lot of dark and moody stuff on the playlist (and a few off-beat ones, like Metallica, Verdi and Doris Day. Plus the quirky, dancy, electronica numbers, but still often with a sombre twist). Interesting that this is the sort of connotation fashion has, or the mood that my informants would like to set for a fashion exhibition – very similar to the kind of soundtrack you would find in a lot of fashion shows. It would seem that in a fashion context, dark and moody translates as cool and sexy.

I’m using the playlist as background music as I’m sorting through the images I’ve been sent and trawling instagram for additional imagery (pictures uploaded by my informants).With all the weird and wonderful photos, links, cards, maps and comments that have been trickling in over summer, I now have a whole wall full of material. I mean, get a load of this:

The amount and quality of the returns is pretty much as I hoped and expected – including a nice selection of surprises. As described in an earlier post, I will not attempt to analyze this material, but use it for inspiration. Still, there are a couple of things that call for a comment.

Like the woman who sent a picture of her son in response to the #Copenhagen Style-theme. Bang on the money; kids surely are the must-have accessory around these parts, and the whole toddler-hipster (tipster? toddster?) things is huge too. Fashion is many things. Or the one budding designer, who sent a picture of a drawing she made in response to #My media. (Her list of bookmarks for where she finds her inspiration online, which she also sent, is a mile long, and she runs a blog and uses her phone to share images on Instagram; still it’s the pen and paper that is closest to her heart). The media-category also included pictures of newspapers, magazines and a website, but no mobiles, tablets or laptops (is this because the mobile was used for taking the photo, or because the informants didn’t consider it a medium?). And then there’s the nail varnish collection inpspired by baroque with names like Johan Sebastian Bach, Peter Paul Rubens and Ludvig XIV (an all male cast, as was the order of the day) – again, i didn’t see that one coming, but it’s a great reminder that inspiration has no limits, and fashion goes all over the shop when it comes to finding it.

Interestingly, I have had only one response to my call for Polyvore sets (+ one in paper form, i.e. a response to the restyling of New Look, but shying away from using the social media platform). Similarly, I have had only one Pinterest board, even though most repondents have a profile (but seem to use it irregularly). So even though these social media platforms may hold an interesting potential seen from a museum mediation point of view, getting people to use them to participate – or at all – could prove a challenge. Which is pretty much the experience in the museum community anyway. And only one person opted to visit the Rokoko-mania exhibition, even though all had been issued with two free tickets. She also tried the (in beta) accompanying app, but found that it didn’t really add much to the experience, although she thought it useful that she could use the app to read the texts in preparation for the visit.

The workshop is scheduled in a couple of weeks. Only four of the original eight informants will participate (one withdrew from the whole project; another has sent in a good lot of photos but couldn’t make the date; one contributed a map and other paper-tasks, but has now moved elsewhere, and one I just never heard back from (all the more puzzling as she was the one who posted on her own blog how interesting and relevant the project was for her). But then they are all really creative and engaged in each their particular way, so I’m sure some interesting things will come out of the workshop. Now it’s up to me to plan it well!