Today, Designmuseum Danmark opened a new exhibition of fashion photography, entitled Northern Women in Chanel. In true Fashion Week style, the exhibition was launched with an opening party for selected invitees, complete with celebrities and goodie bags. Sadly, I am not part of the in crowd; but thanks to images and blogposts shared by the museum on Facebook you and I can get a peek at the festivities.

Judging by these descriptions, the event seems to be have been as much about airkissing as it was about art. Which is fine by me, this is how the fashion industry works. But the whole event, as well as the guest list – including fashion bloggers, note – indicates that this exhibition belongs to Chanel more than it does to Designmuseum Danmark. Obviously it does so literaly, this being a travelling exhibition and a artbook project created by the photographers in collaboration with the fashion house, as confimed by the English press release being signed by two people form Chanel’s nordic press office as well as by the museum’s head of communication.

What I’m getting at is not really the mingling of business interests with cultural institution objectives, although this is one of the controversies that often follow high fashion exhibitions, as it calls into question the curatorial integrity.

What worries me more is that this exhibition could have been staged anywere, say at someplace quintessentially and trendily ‘Nordic’, as the rooting in the museum as cultural heritage institution seems to have been underplayed. And so, despite playing host to the fashionistas and earning some praise in the blogosphere, has the museum really raised its profile in the fashion world as a museum, or mainly as a trendy venue?

Sleeping on yesterday’s posting above, I realise that maybe I’m the one who’s getting it wrong. Maybe my notion of the Designmuseum as cultural heritage institution is caught up in an arcaic idea about the museum as preserver and presenter of a heritage frozen in time, not living breathing culture. Even though I myself have been arguing the opposite in so many other contexts, I fell victim to precisely this sort of thinking when stating that hosting a fashion event fell outside the museum’s objectives. But fashion has it’s own norms and workings as a cultural phenomenon, and should be understood and represented on it’s own terms.

So really, isn’t an event like this (or Bruuns Bazaar’s AW12 show that was also held at the museum last night) akin to an art museum presenting an art performance? In this case the cult and culture of fashion performed and observed by fashion’s insiders; a cultural phenomenon and experience taking place in the museum, how very fitting.

This weekend’s family trip went to Geologisk Museum, where we could make our own fossil plaster casts (succes!) and marvel at flourescent rocks, giant shark teeth and other wonders of the world. Also, a remake of Ole Worms rennaisance cabinet of curiousities was an absolute joy.

As geology is not really our area of expertise (ahem), we decided to follow the guided tour. Which was really great! Having the collection opened up and learning some interesting facts from an enthusiatic expert gave me a deeper appreciation and understanding even though we were still only scraping the surface (albeit deep underground).

Mindboggling stuff, geology: carbon concentrations in 3.8 billion year old rocks proving that life on earth began earlier than previously assumed (carbon 12 & 13, that is, as carbon 14 only lasts 30.000 years and hence is only usefull in archeological dating #bonusinfo); special structures in a slice of meteorite tells the story of a cooling proces that took 1000 years per centigrade. Even if this is the sort of knowledge that may only become directly useful to me in a game of Trivial Pursuit, and even if I still don’t get how they work this stuff out, the information made an impression and sticks in my mind.

The point here, of course, is that mediation and information make a difference (so perhaps my comments in a previous post about the virtues of undisturbed contemplation were misguided?). And that the good old guided tour is a great format for not just transferral of knowledge, but also for sharing an enthusiasm for a given topic that can be rather contagious, as well as allowing for questions and dialogue.

Another strength of the guided tour is that is a social event, for the group as a whole and for your personal group within it, as you expereince the same thing simultaneously. Whereas my desire to try out my new Pinterest app, pinning a snapshot of a particularly captivating fossil, meant that sharing online had me lagging behind my family and hence not sharing in their/our joint experience at that point. Which is why I only did it the once, and felt rather torn. On the other hand, feeling inspired to share this paticular image also ‘pinned’ that fossile in my mind in a more conscious manner than simply taking a photo would.

As this is the kind of pros-and-cons conondrums and getting to grips with the nature of ‘the museum experience’ I’m dealing with in my project, I find these personal experiences to be very useful, even if they may only confirm my theories and not add new knowledge as such.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, I took my family to visit the brand new Europe meets the World exhibition at the National Museum. Actually, we’d hoped to join the childrens workshop, and was all set for a virtual trip to Italy, Germany or another exciting destination, when we realised that this was only possible on Sundays, so we’ll have to come back for that. Finding that the exhibition, although beautifully excecuted with a combination of objects and video projections, was a bit too abstract for our 4 and 7 year old’s, we ended up opting for the excellent children’s section of the museum instead (a family favourite and perfect weekend hangout in the winter months, inspiring hours of play and perfect in combination with visits to the museum collections).

As a consequence, I couldn’t give the exhibition the time and attention that it deserved, and will also have to come back for a proper visit to that (sans kids). Still, the use of QR codes was too much of a temptation for my geeky curiosity, and I couldn’t resist getting my scanner out. Unfortunately, this turned out to be an illustration of the challenges of utilizing this type of technology in an exhibition.

Now, motivations and obstacles for using your mobile in the museum for streaming/downloading museum content or sharing your opinions, and how this fits into and affects the museum experience overall is a (million dollar) question in its own right, which I won’t go into at this point (but which I will definitely explore in my project). Suffice to say that as many museum visits are social in nature, one person’s desire to explore in depth may not be compatible with the shared objective of the visit, as in our case.

Lights, camera…
But let’s just focus on technology for now. A lot has happened since I first wrote a post on QR codes back in 2009. I believe that a large part of today’s audience will now recognise and understand the use of the 2D barcodes as well as having the smartphone complete with scanner app ready for using the codes when desired, and still the novelty hasn’t quite worn off yet. In other words, time is ripe for putting this technology to good use in the museums – it’s cheap and simple to add a sticker to the exhibition display and doesn’t take a lot of technical savvy to set up the backend mobile friendly websites, allowing the museums to focus in stead on producing top quality content to augment the experience, supplementing the objects with audio, video or text, inviting participation in polls etc.

Still, in the case of this exhibition, the decision to offer content via QR codes clashes with the general design and ambience of the displays, created with subdued lighting and animated projections. As Seb Chan of the Australian Powerhouse Museum points out (or is ‘pointed’ more correct, given that the post I’m referencing (again) is also from 2009) in a brilliant post on the problems with, and solutions to, using QR codes in an exhibition, the shadows you cast when leaning in to use your scanner can steal the light needed for your camera to work.

This was the case at the National Museum, and it took dedication and some interesting body shapes to get some of the codes to work. Similarly, other visitors who noticed my attempts commented that they had found reflections problematic in other parts of the exhibition. And whereas I managed to succesfully connect to some of the educational material, I had no luck trying to take part in the polls asking my opinion on democracy or religion in Europe. Even if I managed to capture these images with my phone camera, the images where too dark for the scanner (Scanlife on an iPhone 3GS):

Early days
Visiting on the first day of the exhibition, one of course has to allow for adjustments to come, especially when the display includes new technologies that still take a bit of getting used to. Indeed, the reception staff welcomed my comments on the light and lack of open wifi (the wifi was meant to be open access in this part of the museum, but I was continously asked for a guest login, which you can get at reception on request, I later found out). Also, as I was clearly rushing along as well as being distracted by trying to keep track of my family, my exploration of the exhibition was in no way exhaustive, I may well have missed helpful pointers or even missed the point – my objective here is not to critizise or review the exhibition as such but only to discuss the challenges of using new technologies for mediation purposes, and if this comes across as some sour remark, I deeply apologize! I only hope that next time I visit, the museum has come up with a solution for securing sufficient lighting for the codes without spoiling the ambience of the exhibition. Looking forward to exploring the themes undisturbed!

It will be interesting to learn about the uptake of these QR codes once the exhibition is evaluated.

A couple of additional notes:
All QR labels offered a short explanation of what material you could find when scanning the code, including information on the format, i.e. video or audio. Written content, howeveer, was labeled ‘Undervisning’. In English, you would call this ‘Education’, hence previous discussions on the term mediation, but the Danish term ‘Undervisning’ has a strong classroom connotation. So much so that I was unsure if this was indeed part of some educational programme aimed at visiting school classes and not really targeted at visitors like me. If I was meant to be included in the target group, I’m not sure if the term appealed to me. I may want to learn, but am I interested in being taught?

Back home, and trying to find an explanation for why these labels offered content in Danish only, I’ve come to the conclusion, that this was probably part of an educational programme. But that doesn’t change that whilst at the exhibition I believed and wished the labels to be aimed at me too. Why has ‘my target group’ not been considered as potentially attracted to these labels, and subsequently baffled or left with a feeling of being excluded?

Finally, checking out the teaser video for the exhibition hosted on YouTube, it turned out to be an example of the challenges of entering into social media, as the only comment on the video was a stupid racist blurb. Wisely, the museum has simply chosen to ignore it, rather than enter into an impossible dialogue. Despite all the effort going into making the users engage and amplifying the vox pop, sometimes you wish they’d just shut up!

Just a quickie: Coming down with a sore throat, I just bought these liquorice pastils with packaging designed by a Danish fashion brand:

An obvious excercise in co-branding (think Lagerfeld for H&M, Nike + iPod sports kit etc.) this made me ponder if museums could also think along these lines when trying to attract the attention of their audience. Without jeopardising their neutrality and cultural credentials, of course.

If so, who would be attractive collaboration partners for the museums? What would make a good vehicle for a specific museum like, say, Designmuseum Danmark? And what would the museum have to offer in return? When would it be cool to do a product with a museum add-on?

Or is this simply what’s already happening in the museum gift shops with items such as special edition Liberty print totebags at the V&A (which I imagine is not a wild guess)?

A new article from The Independent states it simply: Fashion at the museum brings in the crowds. And again, Valerie Steele provides an explanation, namely accessibility: “People believe they are able to understand and appreciate fashion, whereas they are often unsure about contemporary or even historical art.” In other words, they probably follow the sentiment of Zandra Rhodes, fashion designer and founder of the Fashion and Textiles Museum: “To me, a dress that has been marvellously made has more value than an unmade bed with a lot of garbage round it.”.

So the good news is that there are more great fashion exhibitions on the horizon. What the article also made me realise, however, is that in order to secure a true blockbuster exhibition with maximum pazzaz, most museums seem to favour top couturists and luxury brands. Of course, I too would love to marvel at the work – or works, even – of Yves Saint Laurent, Schiaparelli, Gaultier and Hartnell. But by focusing on the story of the designer as creative genius, as artist, and by seeking to align fashion exhibitions with the fine art galleries, curators are also missing the opportunity to showcase the fascinating history and aesthetics of everyday dress and popular fashion, leaving this to the less highbrow cultural history museums.

Is this a ‘natural’ division? Or perhaps a sign that even though fashion may bring in the crowds, the shift towards a greater acceptance of fashion as an area of culture to be reckoned with and treated seriously, is still only partial?

Either way, by putting dreams on display rather than showcasing a recognisable reality of what the general public will wear and can afford, museums may find it harder to engage the audience in outreach projects or social interactions and knowledge sharing. After all, how many people can share their story of a favourite McQueen ballgown or a Stephen Jones headpiece? On the other hand, I’m not sure if Trapholt’s call for contributions to a recent exhibition on Margit Brandt really payed off either. And perhaps the flights of fancy provided by the creative elite may serve as a greater inspiration for DIY museum projects, such as V&A’s My Beautiful Paper Hat for the same Stephen Jones exhibition.

So really, one shouldn’t exclude the other. Indeed, why not combine the best of both, as in the upcoming Pop! exhibition at The Fashion and Textile Museum, where show pieces, high fashion and subculture styles will share the exhibition space.

Here’s hoping I’ll get to see some of it.

Where were we? Ah yes, trying to explain why I have chosen mediation as my translation for formidling. And finding, after several failed attempts at closing the deal and pinning down, in one neat follow-up blogpost, everything that needed saying about mediation at this point, that in my quest for clarity I had overcomplicated matters. So here’s trying to put it simply.

I realise that I was getting lost in the possible translations of a term that is in itself unstable. Indeed, as Gudiksen (2005) points out, the ambiguity and versatility of the term formidling is what makes it so useful: “Begrebet er brugbart, fordi det formår at favne en række komplekse problemstillinger vedrørende fx viden, læring, dannelse, kommunikation […] Begrebsanalytisk betragtet er formidlingsbegrebet således også særdeles komplekst og kan rummes og formuleres i relation til flere forskellige vidensformer og udspringe af og repræsentere mange forskellige interesser.”

So rather than looking for the right translation or arguing why I preferred one over another, the point in choosing ‘mediation’ is that it is also a focus on the aspect of ‘formidling’ that I want to explore, i.e. the aspect that Gudiksen (ibid.) describes as exchange and interpretation (“formidling som udveksling og tolkning af betydning“).

ICOM states, in Key Concepts of Museology, that “it is through the mediation of its culture that individuals perceive and understand the world and their own identity“, and later on explains how mediation may “favour the sharing of experiences and social interactions between visitors“, perhaps by means of diverse technologies, as an educational communication strategy to facilitate such understandings in the audience.

And this is what I wish to explore – not distribution or dissemination of pre-existing knowledge, but how mediated interactions, two-way dialogues, between museums and users may serve to bring about new knowledge and enhance the experience and understanding of cultural heritage for both parties.

So mediation it is. And as I’m closing the subject for now on the blog, I can also see an opening for an interesting discussion on the topic in my actual thesis. Maybe this is where I’ll start writing for real…

Unsurprisingly, I have always had a bit of a penchant for visiting fashion exhibitions, from Erik Mortensen’s couture at Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum in ’89 to Peter Jensen’s muses in Designmuseum Denmark this autumn.

During my years in London, the fashion gallery at the V&A was a favourite hangout, where I could spend hours in the dimly lit and softly carpeted rooms, devouring 18th century panier dresses, richly embellished flapper styles and those Vivienne Westwood platforms. The Mode 2001 Landed-Geland exhibition in Antwerp was a remarkable spectacle, showcasing cutting edge fashion from the Belgian avantgarde alongside historical exhibits and art installations taking over the entire city. The current Walter von Beirendonck retrospective was another great show at MoMu, one which I intend to get back to in another posting. Not to mention all the great exhibitions in Øksnehallen, Dansk Designcenter and Kunstindustrimuseet over the years.

As a fashion student such shows have been an obvious source of inspiration, but there’s more to it than that. Enjoying the beauty and craftsmanship of historic costume, haute couture and straight-up, damn fine fashion is a feast for the senses. I mean, the fabrics! The colours! The luxury, sexiness, attitude and creativity. What’s not to like?

So to me it seems pretty self explanatory that museums are increasingly realising the potential in exhibiting fashion. Still it’s nice to hear it from the horses’ mouth, in this article from NYT which I just came across. Here Geraldine Fabrikant has spoken to the likes of Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Met Costume Institute, who speaks of “a generational shift,” adding: “Until about 10 years ago, there was an uneasy relationship between museums and fashion. But today there are more museum directors who are engaging in contemporary fashion.”

One obvious explanation, which nevertheless needs pointing out comes from Valerie Steele, fashion scholar and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology: “Most museum administrators are not particularly keen on fashion because it is not generally considered art, and these shows do take place at art museums, but they recognize that they are popular with the public,” Ms. Steele said. “Of course we realize that art is commercial, but it has a reputation for transcending that, whereas clothing does not.” But, she added: “Women make up the majority of the museum-going audience. Museum directors are aware of that.”

Now, I’m sure that I’m not alone in believing that despite the obvious appeal and undeniable frivolity, fashion can indeed transcend its commercial bindings. The cultural aspects as well as the artistry and artistic quality should earn fashion a place in museum halls (and don’t even get me started on the structural downgrading of female interests!), so for me, the blockbuster potential is just an added bonus. Indeed, such exhibitions might even draw in a younger crowd, too.

Therefore, I’m looking forward to learning more about the motivations of the audience(to-be) and about the plans for the future of fashion exhibitions at Designmuseum Danmark, whom I will be collaborating with, and not least to learn about the findings of Marie Riegels Melchior in her research project on fashion in museums.

After a two year hiatus, a new project is finally on the horizon. As of December 1st I will be a Ph.D. fellow at Det Informationsvidenskabelige Akademi/ Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I will be doing research into the interplay of museums, mobile media and everyday culture online.

Once again, I intend to use this blog as a sketchbook for the process, and so, to get started, here is an introduction to my field of research, as stated in my project proposal:

As our daily lives and social interactions are increasingly permeated by our use of social and mobile media (Ling 2004, 2008; Castells 2007; Katz 2003) so our interactions with cultural products, -events and -institutions are also increasingly filtered through the same media. Accordingly, museums must learn to inspire and engage with a networked audience through these channels, and adapt their communication strategies to include social media and mobile applications (Tallon & Froes 2011; Petrie 2010). Still, to move beyond the current status, where social media is used as little more than marketing channels, and mobile applications catering to an adult audience are practically non-existing, a better understanding is needed of existing user patterns and of how to design for interaction with cultural heritage through new media.

For cultural history museums, particularly institutions dealing with design and applied arts, social media also represent a rich source of knowledge as the public chronicles online everyday life and their reception and use of cultural products. Within the field of fashion (Bourdieu 1993; Rocamora 2002), for instance, amateur bloggers have become key players, and uploads to social media networks convey the transitory nature of cultural artefacts, as collection pieces are mixed with vintage and high street items into personal looks. By tapping into existing social media platforms such as fashion blogs, forums or groups on Facebook and Flickr, or by inviting their audiences to contribute personal content to the digital archives , museums may gain a deeper understanding of the context and significance of their collections, as well as an opportunity to enrich the presentation of the artefacts with user generated storytelling. Furthermore, such calls for participation may help connect the audience with the objectives of the institution (Simon 2010).

This type of interaction is a perfect fit for the modern day museum, striving to replace the former unassailable voice of authority with unique, personalized and engaging experiences (Skot-Hansen 2008; Weil 2002; Kulturministeriet 2006; Baggesen 2009). Inspired by changes in demands and expectations posed by the experience economy (Pine & Gilmore 1998), by influences from new media and not least by a new understanding, refered to as a ‘New Museology’ (Vergo 1989) the current philosophy of museum mediation follows the essentially phenomenological view that the essence and purpose of the museum lies in the personal experience, i.e. in the visitor’s interaction with and perception of the institution’s subject matter (Teather 1998; Pallud 2009; Ingemann 2000).

Yet the cultural interest that motivates an adult audience to visit museums, is not confined to the museum context. Consequently, we need to understand engagement outside the formal institutional framework. A key question of this project is therefore: what sparks the motivation for engagement with cultural heritage, i.e. fashion design and –history? And how does the audience pursue this interest through new media? Similarly, museum mediation need not be limited to enhancing an exhibition, but could also enrich the audience’s interaction with cultural heritage in general by unlocking the provenance and significance of the cultural artefacts they encounter and consume in everyday life – a potential for fulfillment of that museological eutopia; Malraux’s ‘museum without walls’ (Arvanitis 2010; Schweibenz 2004).

In this context, the priviledged position as personal media along with the unique affordances of smart phones, makes the mobile an attractive platform for museum content. The challenge is how to leverage these affordances to create relevant and attractive cultural experiences. This research project will investigate how museums may harness the potential of mobile media to connect audience interactions with cultural artefacts in the museum, online and elsewhere in everyday life. The objective of the project is to understand what makes users engage with everyday objects that also form part of our cultural heritage (such as clothing and fashion) through social and mobile media, and to use this knowledge to improve and design the use of mobile media formats in cultural institution contexts.

Another interesting conference coming up (just passing on information here, I myself probably won’t be able to attend, alas): the Virtual Systems and Multimedia Society / VVMS 2009 in Vienna this September. Lots of great – and museum relevant – topics, including Virtual Heritage: Cultural heritage interpretation and entertainment, Virtual Heritage and Museum Environments, Digital Storytelling, Collaborative Environments, Virtual Reality technology and experiences, Application of Serious Gaming technologies etc.