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3 months in, it’s time for taking stock of the activities that have marked the beginning of our collective explorations of ‘the explorative exhibition’.

Workshop 1: User perspectives and design thinking

In late May, the 7 person project team – i.e. the people managing exhibitions, collections, research and education at Enigma Museum + me – went on tour to my old project-partner museum, Ragnarock.

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Curator (and previous collaboration partner) Rasmus Rosenørn presents Ragnarock to the Enigma team: educator Mads Danker Danielsen, curator Eva Wistoft Andersen, curating assistant Arne Noack, exhibition lead Martin Johansen, exhibition editor Tine Stevnhoved and lead researcher Andreas Marklund

The idea behind the excursion was to give the user perspective a central role in our project by making that our starting point: being users and potential contributors in another institution. Hence, despite the obvious differences between the two museums, Ragnarock is also an interesting parallel to Enigma in that both relate to contemporary, everyday culture, and both seek to engage the public in collating their history as a polyphonic narrative. Moreover, Ragnarock’s take on interactive exhibition design could serve as a common reference in future discussions, whilst the problematics of the ‘rockspor’ site would remind us of the challenges of designing for participation.

Rethinking ways in which to engage with our own musical history was therefore the challenge in the afternoon workshop. In preparation, I had asked to team to respond to a ‘proto’ probe on this theme – originally designed for the Ragnarock project – as a means to tune in and reminisce, but also as an introduction to this particular method as a potential tool in our continued process.

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Rockspor proto probe

The workshop itself, however, was structured around the Stanford d.school crash course in design thinking. This format takes you through the stages of a design thinking process in just a couple of hours: building empathy through interviews, defining a problem statement, ideating and iterating solutions and finally building and testing prototypes. The point of the exercise is thus not to come up with solid solutions, but rather to get acquainted with the basic ideas of design thinking (as formulated by the d.school; there is a wider spectrum of methodologies related to design thinking, which again relates to human centred design, and to the Scandinavian traditions of CoDesign and Participatory Design, as argued by Björgvinsson et al. . For an extended presentation of how design thinking may be applied to a museum context, see Dana Mitroff Silver’s MW2013 paper).

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Team members ‘testing’ ideas in the design thinking crash course

The purpose of the workshop was mainly to work as a warm-up exercise for the design work ahead, and therefore, more than the team’s innovative idea sketches, the most interesting thing for me to observe was the power of prototyping, as I sensed a palpable rise of energy and buzz of productive playfulness when we shifted from pen and paper to making mode, even if the prototyping materials were pretty basic.

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Prototyping in progress

So even though the ensuing discussion (along with bringing up points about the craft of interviewing; the pros and cons of time pressure; and an interesting observation about memory as a social construct) also stressed the need for building more knowledge and clarifying our design intentions before launching into production mode and engaging users, to me the workshop also illustrated how ideas and understandings are also constructed in the making process. In my thesis, I built on Hastrup’s idea about research as a process of ‘ontological dumping’, in which relational understandings of the world are transformed into objects of knowledge, to describe how the design process similarly lets understandings of the problem field become substantialised in the form of suggested solutions (Hastrup 2006:3; Baggesen 2015:55). This notion could be a heuristic for the continued process in this project, which also aims to explore how design methodology affects museum development processes.

Musings on methodology

Following on from this, workshop 2 focused on clarifying the museum’s intentions. But, to stick with the methodology angle, let me first make a note about the workshop space. As noted earlier, Enigma Museum is still in-the-making, raising money and making plans for future exhibitions while experimenting with other ways of being a museum, e.g. through events, external collaborations, pop-up exhibitions and media presence. From a museological point of view, this process and these experiments are fascinating to follow. But another upshot of this limbo state is that the museum still has space to spare, meaning that I could clear a corner of the provisional storage floor to set up a workspace for the project.

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(Pristine) project workspace at Enigma Museum

Being able to furnish it with an old mahogany table set once used by the museum board was a scoop, adding a symbolic meaning of having a mandate to make decisions, whilst also lending some definition or solidity to the makeshift space. In practical terms, the space also gives us walls to mount our work-in-progress ideas and inspirations on, and, most importantly, gives the project a (temporary) permanence and physical presence, a place to go to go into project mode and pick up from where we left off, rather than having to re-establish the project arena, conceptually and materially, every time.

In a sense, therefore, establishing this workspace is a very literal, spatial response to the argument made by Björgvinsson et al., that “a fundamental challenge for designers and the design community is to move from designing ‘things’ (objects) to designing Things (socio-material assemblies)” (2012:102; insert brackets in the original). This Latourian idea (playing on the shared etymology of the word ‘thing’ and the old Nordic democratic institution the Ting/Thing) of the design (research) process as an assembly of people, artefacts and ideas gathered to address pertinent matters of concern, is one I also pursued in my PhD project, and a fundament for my continued research.

The current project is thus also a gathering together of people and interests with the dual objective of creating both museum development – designing a new format for collection and mediation – and museological research – exploring matters of concern. However, what the project also illustrates is that it is not really a question of moving from one thing (pardon the pun) to another, but of designing for both: using design to construct a Thing that may develop a thing (i.c. a participatory museum platform, actually a pretty Thingy thing, to stick with the lingo).

In a proposal for the upcoming Research Through Design Conference RTD2019 in Holland next spring, moreover, I argue for the relevance of also paying attention to the agency of material design things, such as process tools and prototypes, within the socio-material design Thing. So, looking at the material things designed to help the social Thing explore matters of concern and develop new things (and Things). Specifically, for this particular call relating to method and critique, I wish to reflect on the construction and agency of the design/dialogue tools, such as cultural probes and concept cards that I have made/will make for this particular process, and the process products, such as design sketches and prototypes. That is, if my proposal is accepted.

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Concept cards for ‘the explorative exhibition’ (see Baggesen 2015:81ff for method description)

Which is a bit of a ‘damned if you don’t and damned if you do’ situation, or at least an example of the dilemma in this research situation: with so many potential outputs, where should I focus my energy to make the most of the project within a limited timespan? Because, of course, as a researcher I am expected to produce and publish knowledge that is relevant to a wider field of peers. And in this particular project, I am also obliged to answer to the shared research objectives of the ‘Our Museum’ research programme. At the same time, I want to provide a real, useful contribution to the museum’s ongoing development process. In sum, it is a balancing act between academic expectations, design ambitions, museum realities and pragmatic project constraints. So do I really have the time to go out on a theoretical/methodological limb about design things/Things? Is it relevant enough, in this context? And in a wider sense: Should the continued project process focus on efficient design of realisable prototypes ready for testing in the foreseeable future, allowing me to complete an empirical study of user responses, as suggested by one senior researcher in the programme? Should the process focus on staging discussions in the project team, allowing me to elicit and explore more nuances in the museological matters of concern, or even testing and challenging the convictions and rhetorics of the museum, as suggested by another? Is my main contribution to the museum the development of a ready-for-production mediation concept, or an experiment in methodology to fuel future work processes? Am I a catalyst, a facilitator, an evaluator, a critic or a team member; an insider or an outsider? All of the above, perhaps? So, it’s a balancing act, pursuing academic objectives and development objectives at once, and considering these various concerns as I plan for the next stages of the project.

Workshop 2: Design intentions

Negotiating different or even conflicting objectives, ambitions, constraints and concerns was also a theme in our second workshop, focusing on our design intentions. To begin my research, I had earlier conducted a series of short, individual interviews with the project team members in order to establish some kind of baseline of the project before setting off on our joint expedition. As expected, their ideas and concerns were overlapping but also quite diverse in terms of what they saw as the primary aims of the project and of the exhibition ‘mechanism’ projected as the intended result. It was therefore necessary to stage a discussion of these different perspectives to get a joint idea of the scope and discuss conflicts and commonalities, and to see if we could reach an agreement on our design intentions.

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The discussion was both constructive and inspiring, and provided relevant material for analysis in relation to the Our Museum dimensions, even though we didn’t succeed in arriving at a singular objective. Still, from a rough analysis of the video documentation and post-it notes from the session, I could distill a provisional ‘wishlist’ of intentions, including the wish to co-create a polyphonic history of communication with our users; to create identification and foster ownership and empowerment; to engage users in our research; and to create inspiring, iconic, and innovative exhibition experiences.

Of course, this still reads more like an idealistic mission statement than a concrete design brief, but these grand objectives are also relevant as guidelines in our continued process. And of course, the discussion also pointed to many aspects that were still unresolved: whether user contributions should feed into research, or exhibitions, or both; whether participation should function as a means for collecting or as a didactic strategy, or both; how to handle incoming data and materials; how many ressources this kind of strategy would require, and how many the museum is able or willing to spare; and, of course, whether and how our users would want to participate.

Museological study group

In the continued process, we will try to find answers to these questions through exhibition experiments and user engagement. In parallel, however, we will also try to understand these issues through discussions of museological theory. So far, we’ve had two study group sessions; one focusing on participation, with texts by Nina Simon, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt & Pille Runnel, and Bernadette Lynch; and another on museum missions with readings of Duncan Cameron and David Anderson, along with the (re-published) Musetrain Manifesto, Orhan Pamuks Modest Museum Manifesto and ICOM’s Cultural Diversity Charter.

Now, I’ve had to realise that I have been a bit over ambitious with the quantity of reading, but apart from that, this experiment in bringing museological theory into museum practice has proven to be very inspiring. Realising (with initial disbelief and then som disappointment) in the first year of my postdoc how little academic museum research is used in museum practice (I know, practitioners are very busy, and academia can be a bit too cerebral, still it seems such a waste of effort and potential), I am quite excited to have met such a positive attitude to the idea in Enigma, and to see that it does seem to make sense to infuse practice with theory, to provoke discussion and build up a shared set of references and ideas.

 

Next steps

On the basis of these initial explorations, and after finally getting clarification on the continued framework for the project (i.e. that museum did not get funding for a large scale project that this project could have fed into), we have now been able to adjust the project scope to focus more on exhibitions and less on research, and have also deviced a new project design comprising three joint experiments in how to collect and exhibit userdriven narratives. I’m looking forward to tucking into the project proper, but first up, it’s time for a summer break. Starting…now! [press publish]

 

 


References:

Baggesen, R. (2015). Mobile Museology: An exploration of fashionable museums, mobilisation, and trans-museal mediation. PhD thesis, University of Copenhagen

Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P. & Hillgren, P. (2012). ‘Design things and design thinking: contemporary participatory design challenges’. Design Issues, Vol.28(3), pp.101-116

Hastrup, K. (2006). ‘Designforskning: mellem materialitet og socialitet’ [’Design research: between materiality and sociality’]. Copenhagen Working Papers on Design. Copenhagen: Danmarks Designskole.

Silvers, D.M. et al (2013). ‘Design Thinking for Visitor Engagement: Tackling One Museum’s Big Challenge through Human-centered Design’. Museums and the Web 2013, online proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics.

[Cross post from Enigma.dk, hence in Danish, for once!] 

IMG_2483.JPGI forbindelse med Enigma Museums nye udstilling ‘Telefonbokshistorier’ bliver de besøgende opfordret til at bidrage med egne erindringer om de telefonbokse, som nu er forsvundet fra gadebilledet. Og jo, jeg husker dem tydeligt; i flere år var de min eneste telefon. Men er det en telefonbokshistorie? Har jeg en historie som er værd at fortælle, en historie som kan være med til at fortælle en større historie, eller måske sætte nye erindringer i gang hos den næste besøgende? Hvornår og hvordan bliver det almindelige levede liv til fortælling, til historie? Og hvad betyder det når museerne skubber til erindringen?

Indsamlingen af borgernes genstande og historier er en tilgang som gennem de senere år har dannet grundlag for flere nye udstillingsoplevelser både herhjemme og i udlandet. Allerede for ti år siden begyndte Struer Museum således sin indsamling af lokale erindringer gennem det digitale projekt Byskriveren’, som stadig kan opleves på museet. Københavns Museum har ligeledes gennem flere projekter arbejdet med brugerindsamling, både i den omrejsende fotoinstallation VÆGGEN og i udstillingen ‘Søren Kierkegaard – kærlighedens genstande og gerninger’, som kombinerede genstande fra samlingen med genstande og kærlighedshistorier doneret til udstillingen af museets brugere. Kærligheden var ligeledes temaet for ‘The museum of broken relationships’ som i 2016 gæstede Rundetårn, hvor danske historier om forliste forhold blev føjet til det internationale kunstprojekt. Den Gamle By i Århus har eksperimenteret med Instagram som indsamlingsredskab både i forbindelse med udstillingen ‘Aarhus Rocks!’ og som forberedelse til en kommende bydel om 2014 under hashtagget #deldit2014. Og Nationalmuseet åbnede i november sidste år udstillingen ‘Din ting – vores historie’ med lige dele genstande udvalgt fra samlingen som repræsentationer af nyere samfundsbegivenheder, og hverdagsgenstande foreslået af befolkningen gennem en kampagne på Facebook.

Selvom det ikke er alle donationer som er egnet til samlingerne, har brugernes bidrag stor værdi for forståelsen af vores samtid, som de kulturhistoriske museer jo også både formidler i dag og skal bevare for fremtiden. Inspektørerne fra Den gamle By beskriver således i en artikel om erfaringerne fra de ovennævnte projekter, at

det brugerskabte materiale er meget velegnet til samtidsdokumentation af såvel materiel som immateriel kulturarv, materielt ved at vise et konkret motiv, og immaterielt som udtryk for brugerens kommunikative udsagn om sig selv og det valgte motiv. (Martin Djupdræt m.fl. (2015:88))

Kun med borgernes hjælp kan museerne altså forstå og forske i nutidens hverdagskultur. Og i udstillingerne kan mødet med vores egen hverdag gennem brugerindsamlede genstande og fortællinger måske også gøre historien mere nærværende for os som besøgende.

Når museerne udstiller dagligdags genstande og hverdagshistorier fra vores egen samtid, kan de på den måde få os til at reflektere over hvordan vi selv er del af historien, og hjælpe os til at få øje på det betydningsfulde i det almindelige. Kunsthistorikeren Svetlana Alpers taler ligefrem om museet som ‘a way of seeing’, et særligt opmærksomt blik som vi lærer når vi får lov til at granske udvalgte genstande i udstillingerne. Det blik kan vi tage med os ud i verden og hjem i hverdagen, som beskrevet af kulturteoretikeren Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett:

Once the seal of the quotidian is pierced, life is experienced as if represented: the metaphors of life as a book, stage, and museum capture this effect with nuances particular to each metaphor. Like the picturesque, in which paintings set the standard for experience, museum exhibitions transform how people look at their own immediate environs. The museum effect works both ways. Not only do ordinary things become special when placed in museum settings, but also the museum experience becomes a model for experiencing life outside its walls. (Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1991:410))

I forlængelse af dette er invitationen til at bidrage et formidlingsmæssigt greb, som søger at inspirere deltagerne til yderligere at reflektere over deres egen historie i et historisk perspektiv. Ifølge museologen David Anderson handler samskabelse af kulturarven således ikke bare om flerstemmighed og kulturelt demokrati, men også om at vi derigennem udvikler vores historiske bevidsthed.

Hvis min egen erfaring er repræsentativ, er der måske noget om snakken. Når jeg selv har deltaget i museernes indsamlingsprojekter, har jeg måske nok været farvet og tildels drevet af faglig nysgerrighed. Men også på et personligt plan har jeg oplevet det som berigende at byde ind på historien.

Da jeg i sin tid tog billeder af mit eget hjem, mine indkøb og mit lokale supermarked til #deldit2014, fik jeg øje på hvordan det på en gang var personligt og særegent, og samtidig et tidstypisk udtryk for mit sociale og geografiske tilhørsforhold. Det kan godt være at indretningen var udtryk for min smag, men der var også noget umiskendeligt københavnerlejlighed anno 2014 over kombinationen af hvidmalede gulve, at-bo reoler og genbrugsmøbler.
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Og da jeg deltog i Nationalmuseets dagbogsindsamling ‘Del din dag’ gav morgenens udfordringer med at købe en mobilbillet til toget mig anledning til at tænke over hvor meget digitale tjenester nu fylder i hverdagen, og hvor forskelligt mit liv i 2017 derfor var fra det liv jeg levede i 1992, hvor Nationalmuseet sidst samlede dagbogsfortællinger ind.

Måske de tanker var inspirationen til mit bidrag til ‘Din ting – vores historie’, hvor mit Nem-ID kort faktisk blev udvalgt og nu er udstillet på Nationalmuseet! Men selvom det selvfølgelig er en sjov krølle på dén historie, var det ligeså meget overvejelserne over hvad der kendetegner dagens Danmark som gjorde det interessant at deltage. Og selv de gange hvor jeg ender med ikke at bidrage, har opfordringen sat tankerne i gang.

Men hvordan inspirerer vi folk til at dele tankerne med museet? Hvordan bliver en erindring en historie som kan fortælles? Hvilke historier har I lyst til at fortælle os?

Det er spørgsmål vi tumler med i forhold til projektet ‘den eksplorative udstilling’, hvor vi også vil indsamle og formidle kommunikationshistorien som de mange stemmers historie. Måske vi kommer tættere på et svar gennem de bidrag som snart finder vej til ‘Telefonbokshistorier’. I hvert fald glæder vi os til høre jeres historier om telefonfis og tokroner  – og til at inspirere jer til at genbesøge telefonboksen i erindringen.


Referencer:

Alpers, S. (1991). ‘The Museum as a Way of Seeing’. In Karp, I & Lavine, S. (eds.) Exhibiting Cultures. The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Anderson, D. (1997). ’Time, dreams and museology: We are all museologists now’. Nordisk museologi, 2.

Djupdræt, M. m.fl. (2015): Instagram som dokumentations- og indsamlingsmetode’. Nordisk Museologi 2015,1, s. 73-90

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. (1991). ‘Objects of ethnography’. In Karp, I & Lavine, S. (eds.), Exhibiting Cultures. The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

 

 

 

So, to cut a long story short, I’ve switched to a new project, however still within the framework of the Our Museum research programme.

(I should do a post on the long story of the project that failed at a later date –  even though it’s a tale of woe (one of the reasons why there’s been no updates on the project, although I have a few lengthy, but unfinished posts tucked away) I believe there could also be some useful points to be drawn from the experience, even if that’s a frustratingly meagre outcome from one and a half years of project time.  But this post is about the new project, which fortunately is looking a lot healthier than the last one.)

For the remainder of my postdoc, I will now be collaborating with Enigma Museum of Communication, a museum currently undergoing a major process of transformation. Previously known as the Museum of Post and Telecommunications and renowned as a popular destination for families, the museum was uprooted from it’s location in central Copenhagen in 2015, while simultaneously facing a reduction in funds from the founding institutions, Post Danmark and Tele Denmark Communications. As a result, a new director was called in to rethink the entire museum and lead the metamorphosis. In 2017, the museum reopened in a former post office in Østerbro, changed it’s name to Enigma (in reference to the unique encryption machine that is a jewel of its collection) and widened its scope to include a broader concept and context of communications. And the process is still ongoing. In fact, the museum is currently a museum without exhibitions; a status that challenges our concept of what makes a museum. Hence, while the exhibition plans are in place and funding being sought, the museum is using the current situation as an opportunity to experiment with other ways of ‘being a museum’: opening daily as a café and post office, thus cultivating a presence in the local community; hosting an extensive series of events including debates, conversation dinners, hackathons, letter writing evenings etc. as well as being active participants in external events; arranging pop-up exhibitions around town; and finding alternative channels for communicating the museum’s knowledge in the media, political debates, museum fora and more. Thus, while their webpage may cheekily claim that ‘We are not a museum’, it could also be argued that it’s more than a museum; a true Hooper-Greenhill’ian ‘post museum’ (2000), if you’ll pardon the pun.

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Needless to say, it’s a pretty exciting process to be part of, and a truly dynamic and welcoming environment to work in, too.

The project that I will be working on focuses on the design development of what the museum has so far conceptualised as ‘The explorative exhibition’. The concept refers to an intended future practice or ‘mechanism’ that creates a synergy between participatory collection practices, research processes and museum communication.

As a museum of communication, Enigma is not only interested in presenting the historical progress of communication technologies, but also wants to show how these technologies play into and shape our everyday lives. Apparently, however, this everyday perspective on the uses and experiences of interpersonal communication media – how we used to use our landline phones, what we made of our first modem, how we now (mis)manage mobile communication and battles over screen time – is underrepresented in the existing research field. Therefore, the desire to involve the public in the co-creation of this immaterial cultural heritage narrative, by inspiring reflection and eliciting visitors’ stories through exhibits and events, is not only a strategic device for creating an interactive museum experience. It is also an important means for building knowledge in the museum and in the wider communication research community.

The ambition – and the challenge – is therefore to create a system/ an instrument/ a coordinated practice, that supports these joint objectives and creates value for the user participants, for non-participating visitors, and for museum researchers, curators and communicators.

But one thing is concepts and ambitions – another is how to turn them into a concrete museum design. This process is the focus of my project, in which I as researcher/designer will work as a catalyst for the collaborative ideation, design development, and evaluation of principles and prototypes for ‘the explorative exhibition’. I will thus be working closely together with the museum team to define our own design intentions, but also, as importantly, to build an understanding of how co-creation of heritage becomes relevant and interesting from a citizen/user perspective, and from this, begin to explore the design possibilities in this field.

At this point, I cannot say whether we’ll end up with a service design, an interactive installation, a digital interface, a workshop format, a work process or something else entirely, only that my hope is that we will experiment with some very different options along the way, and use the design process as a lab for examining ideas and incentives and reflecting on outcomes. And then, in time, narrow it down enough to develop a functioning prototype which we can test, redesign and refine in order to suggest a final design that could feed into the future museum practice.

This objective, and the anchoring in the museum institution, means of course that the project has a strong orientation towards practice. While the process may be experimental and allow for exploration of wild ideas and alternative methods, the aim is to produce a result that has real value for the museum. But of course, the project also serves a research purpose, and similarly aims to contribute to the fields of design research and museum studies with new knowledge about how design methods and research collaborations may help to advance museum development.

 

As of August 1st, I started in a new position as assistant professor at Roskilde University, working on a new research and co-development project with RAGNAROCK – the museum for pop, rock and youth culture (pictured below (pretty neat, huh?), and part of the museum group ROMU).

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The short form project description runs like this:

Digital technologies not only contribute to changes in museums’ physical and virtual communication, they also inspire new types of exchanges between museums and their public, for example when users are invited to participate as co-collectors. In this process, practices of collection and mediation become merged, while conventional museum practices and professional divides are renegotiated.

The project focuses on this development by examining the interplay between collection and communication, experience and education, and user participation and professional practice in a digital museum context. Furthermore, the project will consider how digital collection practices affect professional museum roles and also reflect on the possibilities and potential dilemmas in practice-based museum research.

Empirically, the project will analyse, co-develop and evaluate the co-collection platform Rockspor ([Rock traces] Ragnarock Museum/ROMU) on the basis of observations, interviews and interventions with adult online users. The iterative co-development process will focus on the creation of both user experiences and relevant content.

Really, this is a very cool gig. (And probably I should play it cooler too, assuming a more professional tone (which I will in time, promise), but I’m just genuinely very excited about this project, the focus, the framework and the whole setup, so please bear with the vernacular).

The project is affiliated to the national research and development programme Our MuseumComprising 13 individual research project as well as 4 associated projects, and bringing together 26 PhD-to-professor level researchers from five universities with eight partnering museums, the programme is unique in its ambition and scale in a Danish (and, I believe, international) museum research context. It has been made possible thanks to generous support from the Velux Foundation and the Nordea Foundation (and some pretty impressive project leadership. If only more research in the humanities dared to be this bold in visions and demands.)

As a collective, the programme will examine, from various perspectives, the juxtaposition or reciprocity of educational and experiential dimensions in the museum, historically and through a series of future-oriented co-development projects. Being part of this network is for me a welcome change from the often solitary condition of academic labour, and I look forward to our tri-annual seminars and ongoing knowledge exchange.

At the university, I am anchored in the research group Visual Culture and Performance Design, and also here I’ll be surrounded by colleagues working on interesting projects, many of which involve design approaches and considerations of design research methodology. There’s even creative workshops, maker spaces and innovation labs! Whereas in my former department I would sometimes feel like the odd one out for using creative methods in my research, here I feel right at home, and I look forward to being part of this vibrant research community. Similarly, I look forward to supervising design-based student projects and running workshops as part of my lecturing role.

Most of all, however, I am excited that this research project means working in the museum, rather than merely having museums as my object of study. Hence, I will be working a couple of days a week at RAGNAROCK (and sometimes at ROMU), as part of the development team for the project Rockspor. Anchoring my research in practice, and getting involved in the creativity and pragmatism of museum mediation and development  is an ideal next step for me and a perfect fit for my profile. Even though having this many stakeholders in the project – hence having to juggle multiple activities and manage diverse expectations – will potentially prove a challenge at times, quite frankly, at this point, I’m happy as a pig in shit.

Rockspor is a website, planned for launch this autumn, and a co-collection/curatorial/communication project focusing on ‘music’s meeting places’. Collating expert knowledge and digitised collection material with user stories, concert reviews and content aggregated from social media, the website will offer a kaleidoscopic view of concert venues, youth clubs and other arenas around the country where young people have met to experience popular music from the 50’s to the present. Allowing you to follow multiple trajectories, or to trace and share your own experiences of particular bands, venues, cultures and eras, the website’s aim is to both offer engaging experiences and also inspire users to add their own contributions to the site.

The objective for the Rockspor project team is therefore to make this happen. Because we don’t believe in a ‘build in a they will come‘ philosophy of digital participation (having seen too many well-intended projects grind to a halt instead of taking off), the launch of the website marks the beginning of a new work process, an important milestone rather than the finishing line. Similarly, the project and the website – originally going by the title Rockens Danmarkskort – has been developed in a research-led participatory design process involving a group of users representing various target/interest groups and the museum team of curators, communicators and developers, as described in Line V. Knudsens dissertation ROCKENS DANMARKSKORT: Deltagelse praktiseret som forskellighed [THE MAP OF DANISH ROCK HISTORY: Participation enacted as difference]’ as well as the article ‘Participation at work in the museum’ (Knudsen 2016, in Museum Management and Curatorship 31(2):193-211). Continuing from this, the current version of the project will focus on getting users involved as contributors rather than co-designers, aiming to develop a sustainable practice through an iterative process of experimentation and interventions.

This process is the empirical focus of my research project, which is designed to explore three interrelated areas of interest. The first, as stated above, will analyse the users and their engagement with and experience of the platform, contribute to its continued development, and evaluate the results, with an aim to draw out some best practice guidelines as well as contributing to the programme’s overall examination of the balance between education and experience. Secondly, and using observations from my engagement as co-developer as my source material, I will look at how both the internal professional collaboration and exchanges with users in a digital co-collection project relates to and potentially affects traditional museum roles and competences. And finally, employing design game methodology to explore a meta-museological perspective, I wish to reflect on potentials in and implications of post-critical museum research-in-practice.

Hey ho, let’s go!

 

Summary of my dissertation Mobile museology: An exploration of fashionable museums, mobilisation and trans-museal mediation

Drawing together perspectives from museology, digital culture studies and fashion theory, this thesis considers changes in and challenges for current-day museums as related to ‘mobile museology’. This concept is developed for and elucidated in the thesis to describe an orientation towards the fashionable, the ephemeral, and towards an (ideal) state of change and changeability. This orientation is characterised with the triplet concepts of mobile, mobility, and mobilisation, as related to mobile media and movability; to ‘trans-museal’ mediation; and to the mobilisation of collections, audiences and institutional mindsets.

The research project’s transdisciplinary and exploratory approach takes inspiration from critical design, minding Latour’s (2004a) call for rethinking critical approaches in the humanities. Through a creative process, focused on designs for framing fashion in everyday contexts and involving prospective users and professionals from Designmuseum Danmark, the project reflects on and seeks to articulate matters of concern in digital heritage and museum practice.

With this elaborated departure of theorisation and methodological considerations, the dissertation compiles three research articles with a selection of blog posts from the research project blog, included with an aim to illustrate the reflective and processual project methodology, and to present ideas-in-the-making relating to trans-museal mediation, some of which are elaborated in the ensuing articles.

Article one, ‘Museum metamorphosis à la mode’, proposes a fashion perspective on ongoing museum developments. Based on a reading of Foucault’s ((1967)1986) concept of heterotopia, it is argued that museums today seek to represent the ephemeral present, by offering fashionable exhibitions and events. Outlining the history and key positions of fashion museology, the article suggests the current trend for fashion exhibitions as an illustration of this point. Presenting the case of the exhibition Shoe Obsession, the article considers the perspective of transcending the museum space to capture contemporary dress in everyday life situations.

Article two, ‘Augmenting the agora: media and civic engagement in museums’, questions the idea of social media holding a vital potential for the democratic development of the museum. Describing a confluence of new media affordances with new museological ideals and political demands, and drawing on Flichy’s (2007) analysis of the Internet imaginaire, the article traces the ideological underpinnings of this discourse. Presenting select examples of participatory museum projects, the article points to potential problematics of such interactions, which, it is suggested, may pay lip service to genuine civic engagement.

The third and final article, ‘Heteroscopia: a musealising gaze at the everyday’, traces a current interest in musealising the everyday, by transcending the museum space or framing the extra-ordinary in the ordinary. The article introduces the concept heteroscopia, inspired by Foucault ((1967)1986), but also by Gumbrecht’s (2004, 2006) ideas about aesthetic experiences in the everyday, to denote a musealising gaze, observing the duality of aesthetic materiality and cultural meaning in objects in or outside the museum.

The project’s key perspectives – the conception of mobile museology; the fashion perspective; the notion of heteroscopia; and also the project’s methodological considerations – are considered in the conclusion as theoretical contributions to museological discourse.

IMG_6728So that’s it, for now. I just handed in my dissertation. Feels pretty good. And not just because I’m done, or because I’m proud that I did it, but because I actually feel pretty good about the result. Sure, there’s lots to question and criticise, but all in all, I believe it’s a decent read and that it makes some interesting points. But lets wait and see what the assessment committee has to say about that. If they accept it, the thesis will be made publicly available around August, and I expect my viva to be some time in September.

When I started this job, my sons each made a lego sculpture for my desk. Throughout this roller coaster ride of a process, I’ve been struck by how well these two figures have captured the essence of this job:

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On the one hand, it takes a bit of gung-ho adventure spirit, a creative curiousity and a willingness to set sails and venture into the unknown (with a gargoyle! must have gargoyle for this kind of job. And some guardians; my supervisors, perhaps, or Latour and Foucault. Or my sons). That’s the fun part, even though, a lot of the time, I have felt a bit lost at sea on that raft, fearing that my construction was not solid enough, that my map was way off. But then the raft has taken me to some interesting places.

On the other hand, it takes the resolution and ability to sit down and write, and keep at it, and stay put until its done, like some kind of academic potty-training. That’s the hard part, accounting for the the journey taken, the construction and constituents of the raft, and the significance of the gargoyle. For me, at least, this part was the hardest – embracing uncertainty in an epistemological sense does not mean that it is not a bugger to deal with, personally and academically. But it many ways, this is also the most interesting part, because of the process of understanding [erkendelse – can’t think of a proper translation] taking place as you write. Like this blog has served as a sketch pad for that process.

This won’t be the final word, however. For starters’ there’s the viva, then I have an abstract to write, and I’m mulling over ideas for a post doc etc. I’ve also just joined University of Leicester’s museum studies MOOC, and am very curious to experience e-learning and maybe get some new perspectives. But for now, I’m done. Awesome!

New Walk Museum, Leicester

Last week I attended a conference on ’museum metamorphosis’ at Leicester University. The conference was organised by PhD students at the Museums Studies programme and was focused on PhD and early career research, however, as the programme is so well respected, it still drew an international attendance and included some very interesting presentations and workshops. Jenny Walklate did an impressive job at liveblogging her way through two intense days of presentations, so anyone interested in a conference recap can visit http://msphdconf.blogspot.co.uk – her summary of my presentation is to be found here.

For me, the conference theme was an inspiration to explore a fashion perspective on museum change, which I had the idea for whilst at the Bard Graduate Center this spring. Although it may not be much of a claim, suggesting that museums, like any other field, are not only developing according to rational ideas, but are also susceptible to the mechanisms of fashion, I have not come across that perspective before. And in light of the latent tendency to elevate the changes that are taking place – strongly implied in the concept of metamorphosis, with its evolutionary or mythological connotations, but also apparent in the general rhetorics around museum change – I believe it is relevant to point to the more frivolous processes that are also at play. I therefore aim to submit a revised version of the paper for the upcoming issue of Museological Review, the programme’s peer reviewed journal, so that at least the review can inform the final version I intend to include in my dissertation.

Overall, I think the presentation went well, and I had a fine response to my paper presentation, so some people seemed to take it on board. Especially my story about Shoe Obsession seemed to go down well, but I also think I heard notions of fashion and trends being dropped into conversation a few times in later Q&A sessions. But there was very little time for questions, so the critical discussion that would have been really interesting to have didn’t happen. It was only on twitter (#mmeta2013) that I found a couple of critical comments, one from keynote presenter Sharon Heal (@sharonheal), saying “institutional ideals like fashion come and go. I don’t agree. There are fundamentals if you look for them.” and from @lfcrossley, asking “Do we always search for ‘the new’ in museums? I wish we did. The profession isn’t always great at transforming itself”. I agree with both, in certain aspects, but also believe that my argument is valid, in others (and thought I made it clear in my introduction that I did not claim for this perspective to be all encompassing). I therefore very much welcome these comments, and feel I ought to respond here.

Yes, there are fundamental values and ideals in museums, that are consistent over time – the educational purpose, for instance. But the understandings about how and whom to educate has changed over time, and the current day strategies for inclusion and participation is different from the authoritative education that was formerly the order of the day. Therefore the current ideal will also not necessarily prevail, and is no more inherently right than what came before or what we might see in the future. Likewise with the nationalistic origins of many museums, which today have given way to pluralistic, globalised and post-colonial perspectives. I believe Mario Schulze’s presentation on historical shifts in exhibition design centered around the material turn, and Joel Palhegyi’s presentation on the changing narratives in Croat museums during the socialist and post-socialist periods, respectively, could both be said to illustrate such tendencies, even though the changing ideals that they recounted were anything but frivolous. As for the question about the profession’s ability for transformation, I agree that there is a lot of resistance. But I also see the wish that @lfcrossley expresses as an equally strong force in the field. So even though it is sometimes a battle, change is happening. And moving with the times can be used as a very persuasive argument when it comes to winning people over.

The conference thus provided a good focus and forum to share my research, but the chance to learn from the research of others and engage in debates about museum change was of course as important. For me, some of the most inspiring take aways included:

Arienne Karp’s Electric Elephants workshop, exploring (and questioning) the narrative potential of exhibitions, by use of toy animals. Good fun, and some very good points made by Karp too.

Nick Winterbotham’s workshop on Leadership, resilience and learning, which taking inspiration in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, asked us to consider which changes we wanted to make as well as considering the impact and prioritisation of different kinds of interventions.

Emily Pinkowitz’ presentation on the Kitchen Conversations programme at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, in which she talked about the false binary of authoritative and questioning spaces (implicated in Duncan Cameron’s 1971 ‘The Museum. A Temple or the Forum’), suggesting instead that as per Bauman’s notion of liquid identities, we are easily able to toggle or shift between these positions

Jane K Nielsen’s introduction of the concept of the transformative museum, a (post) postmodern institution characterised by flexibility, participation, inlfluence and a world wide (web) perspective, as inspired by futurist Richard Salughter’s theory on the transformative cycle

David Francis’ use of Bakhtin’s heteroglossia concept to describe dialogic discourse in museums (as well as his sharp questions)

Stephanie Bowry’s wonderful examples of metamorphic objects from pre-modern cabinets of curiousities, and her point about how these objects may have been transposed to the modern museum, but their system of representation and taxonomies have not. Also her point about the revival such cabinets have en current culture reminded me of my own experience seeing Mark Dion’s installation and Dan Vo’s IMUUR2 in New York, picking up on this trend but not knowing what to make of it.

Erin Bailey’s inspiring talk about her in progress Queering the Museum project, exhibiting LGBTQ history in Seattle, and making a very strong case for the social impact and responsibility of museums and of public involvement.

Judith Dehail’s insightful presentation on the role and challenge of musical instruments in museums, based in part on visitor interviews and in part in theory. Of special interest to me was her point about how objects in museums must loose their practical function to obtain instead a symbolic function, a notion stemming from Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, which sounds like a good source for my own investigations into the relationship between commercial and museal objects.

Mario Schulze’s presentation, mentioned above, also had some interesting points about the role of or ideas invested in museum objects, as well as showing how exhibition practices have come full circle in the last few decades.

Judith & Mario’s presentations also reminded me again of the differences in the continental vs. anglo american traditions, with the former being more grounded in theory and philosophy, whilst the latter is more concerned with visitor studies, impact, economics and the social responsibilities of museums. As my own research interest is leaning more towards the continental approach, I had a talk with both of them afterwards, and got some good references. Now I hope that I will actually be able to read them…

Finally, it was great to hear Laura Liv Weikop presenting her Exhibition Lab project, currently on show at Designmuseum Danmark, and get more insight into this great project and its reception in the museum. Also it was a real pleasure spending a few days together and be able to share perspectives. Good to know that we can carry on the conversation in Copenhagen.

A most inspiring couple of days, then, and a really great arrangement by the organisers. Cheers all!