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Looking through the video documentation from my workshops with Designmuseum Denmark, in preparation for today’s collective Interaction Analysis session, has given me a fresh view on the material. And whereas the observations and comments made by the other participants were very useful, as they either inspired me to reconsider or served to back my own interpretations, the real revelation in verbalising what could be seen in the footage, was that showing, and then telling, is obviously the key to explaining how this method worked.

Watching the interaction without sound, accelerated to 4X normal speed, gave a good feel of the flow and of how the cards served as reference points in the discussion. As was my impression when doing the workshop, I could see that they served their purpose well, but I could also observe the downsides – me having perhaps too many cards to keep track of; the set-up not allowing the participants to take control of the cards and introducing new combinations; all the cups and sweets and whatnot getting in the way. Perhaps also that this type of interaction spoke to some participants more than others.

Of course, actually finding the right form for presenting this in my dissertation is still a challenge, and writing through this analysis still quite a task. But at least I’ve got a way in now, with a visual anchor for my readings.

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Post-it comment left on my concept cards during poster session.

This week, I attended the 10th Nodem conference, this year held in Stockholm. And although I must admit that I was a little puzzled by a couple of presentations, I also took away some wonderful talks and some great conversations as well as new contacts and plenty of food for thought.

I myself presented a poster (and had a paper included in the proceedings, which is also available from the digital repository), and although I had not been pinning too high hopes on the outcome of that, it actually turned out to be a great format for generating conversations. As expected, most people just offered a quick glance, if that, but some were intrigued enough to ask for an explanation/demonstration of the probes, journal and concept cards that I had brought along. And some even stuck around for good long chat about design research, museological methodologies, cultural policies or digital mediation, to name a few topics. I had a great long conversation with Richard Sandell, professor of museum studies at Leicester University, following up on the conference there last month, and sharing thoughts about museum trends as well as methods and interests in museum studies. And artist/researcher at Aalto University Maarit Mäkelä also got really engaged with my material, posing some very good questions and suggesting I explore the notion of situated knowledge in order to reflect on my approach. This really struck a chord with me, and I will definitely follow that lead.

As of last week and until the end of the year, I have moved quarters and am now a visiting researcher at the CoDesign research cluster at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, 
Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, 
School of Design (aka KADK).

Last week was mainly spent acclimatising, but also on attending visiting researcher Tuuli Mattelmäki’s presentation on probes and other research methods for a group of new CoDesign students, and parttaking in the cluster’s weekly meetings, which last week included a visit from TV producer Ane Skak, sharing her experience with user involvement in cross media/ cross institutional projects. The presentations, the meetings and the projects presented or referenced were really inspiring – there’s some interesting things happening in this field and some interesting approaches taken. And one thing that is also clearly emerging is a very collaborative, engaged and openly conversational research environment. People take the time to talk with each other and savour the opportunity to share their questions and knowledge. So on top of drinking in the creative ambience of the design school environment (where all the work-in-progress mess, inspirational material and prototypes cluttering up the studios bring back sweet memories of being a fashion student, now a decade ago), I also enjoy this friendly and curious academic atmosphere and find this attitude to research and professional collaboration very appealing (even though I inevitably still feel like an outsider).

And Wednesday it was my turn to present my project to the group. As it turned out, however, the other PhD students in the group were all working from home (being in the final stages of writing), whilst another researcher was doing an all-day workshop elsewhere, meaning that I ended up presenting to a small group of senior researchers: Eva Brandt and Thomas Binder from the CoDesign group and Tuuli Mattelmäki from Aalto University. Of course it would have been great to get responses also from the other group members, but I also felt very privileged to get this kind of triple ‘master class’ attention on my project. And kick myself for not having recorded their insightful comments, but here’s trying to draw out the essence.

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Although I deliberately went for a flexibly handheld rather than a slick ppt-ey presentation, reasoning that my objective was not to sell my project but to lay out my uncertainties, I had actually really tried to think through my process and problems related to my research-through-design methodology, and to work out what I needed to tell and get feedback on. Honestly, I had. Running through my notes and material, writing up a chronology, pinpointing central ideas and uncertainties. But my presentation was still all over the place. Because now that I finally had the chance to discuss my approach and concerns with someone who could give me critique from within the design research field, I wanted to share everything. And since it’s all interconnected – what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and what I make of it; what I think I know and know I don’t (and think I ought to find out about); inspirations and outcomes – it’s hard to stick to a single narrative. Even when I have actually been following a relatively well-planned process. The mindmap shown above, which I made the day before to try to get an overview and piece together which references and questions belong to which aspect of the research, I guess illustrates my state of mind fairly well (mind you, this is only a representation of the methodological aspects of the project; museology, media and fashion hardly enter into the equation here. So in total it’s even messier. Which I sort of think it should be and sort of think it shouldn’t be at this stage (two years in, one to go), but either way it’s a bit scary).

I’ve come to CoDesign to try to make meaning out of this mess, to find out where to situate my design oriented research within the field, find the right language to describe what I have done and what it means. Because I have been getting a bit lost in considerations about methodology, and how it reflects my own preconceptions and preoccupations, since failing to make a clear case for my approach at the Nordes doctoral consortium  this summer and taking to heart J. Lee’s notions about the necessity of reflexive method making. And I still believe this is both relevant and interesting, and that I must necessarily be able to account for my methodology in my dissertation. But the supposedly-good-but-still-a-little-hard-to-get-my-head-around news coming out of today’s meeting, is that I should stop trying so hard to pin it down, at least for now. Stop trying to work out what my method is – the relevant question is not whether my concept dominos could be described as a form of game, or not, but what this particular approach has shown me. ‘Make the beast talk’ as Thomas BInder put it, and beware that my project does not fall into fragments.

(And yes, I guess that at the end of the day these reflections on a personal process of ‘enlightenment’ are mainly of interest to myself, and should be largely purged from the dissertation. However, as I find it useful to write them out of my system, the blog will still have to stand for a whole heap of confused confessions of this type.)

Referencing Donald Schön’s assertion that ‘one thing is what you do, another is what others make of it’, Thomas addressed the (common?) pitfall in justifying one’s position, and urged me to avoid longwinded meta-level deliberations on method. Rather than speculating about what I’ve done, I should trust it – this notion was seconded by Eva, who acknowledged the designerly takes and sensitivities in my material, and pointed to the richness of the journey taken – and focus instead on understanding how the generated material talks back to me and show what it can say about the world.

It’s still a delicate balance, as my project and process is hermeneutical rather than empirical – again, Thomas emphasised that I should stay true to this outset and consider my material as text rather than data, to look at the readings and writings, and rereadings, a spiralling movement of interactions with the material and the partipants around the designerly material I have written in the process.

(I promptly took out Gadamer’s Truth and Method from the library. Perhaps being in my bag will give it a competitive edge over Foucault’s The Order of Things and Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, not to mention Baumann, Giddens, Latour and all the other seminal works currently sat on my shelf that sadly all to often end up simply collecting dust. So many things I want to read, and so hard, sometimes, to decide what is relevant for the project and what is just an inspiring detour, which I don’t have the time to indulge in. For which aspects will a superficial understanding suffice, and for which is deep knowledge essential?).

So what can I say about the world? I guess I have been hesitant to claim that I can really say anything, given my narrow samples/studies and being conscious of my subjective approach. And perhaps this hesitancy has led me to become too guided by ‘agenda’; my gripe with mobile museum mediation. As Tuuli suggested, I need to consider to what extent I have actually sought to draw out the participants’ viewpoints, and how much I have simply been exploring my own ideas, or mainly been receptive to reflections of my own views. So while it is relevant to reflect on which assumptions about fashion, mobile media and museums I have been working from when designing these tools, I should also be aware of how they have narrowed or skewed my participants’ interpretive space.

Tuuli also commented that while at first she did not see the critical inspiration in the material – which admittedly was not very noir – my description of a process where I retained a strong sense of authorship, rather than staging a truly co-creative process, was indeed indicative of a designer-led approach akin to that taken by critical designers, also working to an agenda as much as exploring the field.

My probes, for instance, combined tasks for self documentation (e.g. mobile photography) with activities that were more akin to prototyping of early designerly guesses (e.g. the Pinterest and Polyvore assignments). Similarly, the dominos were designed to explore later stage guesses. Then again, these tools also served to disprove my guesses – heuristics, hypothesis, if you like – as when the online activities were rejected by the participants. The realisation that even this very digitally literate group were not inclined to engage with museum-related activities via social media sites was thus not so much a confirmation of my scepticism as a source of it. And while my studies are too small to make any results indicative of general patterns, the outcome has definitely informed my thinking. (As well as the other way round, and round, and back into the hermeneutical spiral we go).

One very concrete suggestion coming out of the workshop, from Thomas, was to initiate a collective Interaction Analysis session, and enlist the other researchers here to help me analyse interactions in and outcomes of my workshops from the video material. Until now, I had only kept the videos as documentary backup, whilst transcribing the procedures from the audio recordings. So actually just looking at the videos again feels like a fresh view into my process. And even though the footage is not great (in workshop II the camera shows what goes on on the table, but not the faces, in workshop III the camera is set to show the group, but not the table, and two people have their back to the camera (a result of experimenting with methods I’m not trained in, but at least I’ve got footage, so there)) it will be interesting to see what can be learned from it. Whereas the transcripts have been useful for drawing our central themes and problems regarding (the museum professionals’ perceptions of) mobile mediation, perhaps collective analysis of the visible interactions can uncover perspectives that I have hitherto been blind to.

Jordan & Henderson, in the 1995 article ‘Interaction Analysis: Foundations and Practice’ (in The Journal of the Learning Sciences 4(1), pp. 39-103), imply as much, stating that ‘Collaborative viewing is particularly powerful for neutralizing preconceived notions on the part of researchers and discourages the tendency to see in the interaction what one is conditioned to see or even wants to see’. (44)

I really hope that the researchers here will be able to find a couple of hours to engage in this work, as I am sure I would learn an awful lot from partaking in such a collective session. And even though I intend to turn my attention to the outcome, to what this material tells me about the world, another look at the videos could perhaps also provide some answers as to how to understand my method, and how to describe it, as ‘accounts of methods cannot be separated from accounts of findings and that the best way to talk about method is to show instances of the actual work.’ (ibid. 42).

So it all comes together, getting what I came for, but in a different manner than I could worked out myself.

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!

Yesterday I attended a one day national conference on ‘The Hybrid Museum’, arranged by the Danish consortium for museum research, to address these issues:

In recent years, the boundaries between institutions of informal learning have become increasingly diffuse. Hybrid forms have appeared through the dissociation and recombination of exhibit genres, audience perspectives, curatorial practices, sponsorship opportunities, managerial competencies, organisational structures, and societal relations, leading ultimately to the genesis of the Hybrid Museum. What are the consequences of this for present-day museums, experience centres, and science centres? How can research be adapted to account for this tendency? How will museums further public engagement in the years to come?

The morning session included some very interesting presentations by prof. Gayle McPherson (University of West Scotland) on the digital visitor experience, and associate prof. Katja Lindqvist (Lund University) on taking a service management perspective on the museum. The hybrid addressed here was thus mainly the one of public service cultural institutions with/as commercial enterprises.

Based on her extensive research into changing museums policies in the UK over the last three decades, McPherson argued that ‘education and entertainment are no longer the uneasy bedfellows they used to be’, and that by embracing digital engagement and working cleverly with commercial strategies, museums could offer better experiences for ‘museum consumers’, thereby also meeting policy goals. She’s right, of course, but I couldn’t help asking if, by the logic of commercial entrepreneurship, museums might not risk losing their USP (unique selling point) if they come to resemble commercial enterprises too much?

This blurring of identities also surfaced in my first workshop with Designmuseum Denmark, in which one of the curators rhetorically asked ‘What is the church of the day, and who is the preacher of the day? Where is today’s museum and where is today’s shopping experience?‘ (Hvad er dagens kirke, og hvem er dagens præst? Hvor er dagens museum og hvor er dagens shoppingoplevelse?). Similarly, I found a strong resemblance between the Shoe Obsession exhibition at the Museum at FIT and the shoe department of the (exhibition sponsor) Saks Fifth Avenue, where the commercial shoe display emulated a museum style, while the museum unabashedly showcased commercial products currently on sale. Shopping may be a favorite past-time in the 21st century, but will this development just continue ad infinitum, or might we see a backlash against commercial culture where museums could become the ‘new black’ havens of material rather than materialistic culture? (Aren’t we already seeing the dawn of this political shift, or am I just a dreamer?)

Katja Lindqvist, who came to museum studies from an MBA background, had some interesting things to say about the mixed economy model of modern day museum, where public funding and sales profit together form the basis of museum management. While museums can – and have to – learn a lot from commercial enterprises, she also cautioned awareness of some of the assumptions behind popular business models which may not be applicable in a museum context, such as economies of scale or strict for-profit thinking. She also pointed out some of the effects of recent public sector reforms on museums, such as growing ‘projectification’ and a looming tendency to manage for audit resulting from more formal control and the need to constantly assert the institution’s relevance for society. Both scholars have published some interesting articles in Museum management and curatorship, which I will be sure to look up.

To my regret, I’d missed out on an affiliated PhD course the previous day, having overlooked this option on the website. Not that I’m short on ECTS points, but it would have been an interesting forum for presenting and discussing some of the issues I wish to address. Instead, I plunged into the debate in yesterday’s workshop on the impact of the concept of the hybrid museum on museums’ organisation and self-image, but left feeling unsure if I’d missed the mark a bit, raising the wrong kind of questions for this context or just explaining the points I was trying to make badly. However, the way that my suggestions were dismissed by McPherson (it’s not that I don’t get that publicly funded institutions have public obligations, it’s just that I’m sometimes a bit sceptic when it comes to getting with the program. In my book, questioning universal assumptions is one of the finer tasks of academia) gave me some food for thought about challenges in international discussions about museum issues.

For instance, my remark about how the strong focus on initiatives for engaging children might cause museums to overlook the commercial potential of and inadequately service the older audience they already have (by example, the national museum of art last year curated a fine exhibition theme about death aimed at children, but wouldn’t it also be interesting and relevant to curate the same topic for, or in collaboration with, the elderly?!) somehow morphed into a discussion about special events for museum friends and patrons. But the needs and interest of the stereotypical Danish museum-goer, a fifty-something female teacher, is not necessarily compatible to those of the equally stereotypical lady-who-lunches who supports the upkeep of an institution like the Met. Likewise, the circumstances in the US, the UK and in Scandinavia or continental Europe are not identical. We may be heading more and more towards a neo-liberal model of the welfare state, but we also still have other strands to our cultural DNA, and, I believe, still have the political right to question whether we want to model ourselves on the institutional changes brought on by post-Thatcher/ New Labour ideals or American trust fund sponsorships. (The omission of Asia, Africa and South America here is deliberate, as it is a different point I’m getting to, however, the general overlooking of non-western perspectives in this debate is indeed significant).

And yet we are constantly looking west when trying to understand the state and future of museums, to the great institutions and prominent museologists in America, Canada, England and Australia (not west, I know, but you get my drift). Myself very much included, because I, like most of my peers, have come to rely almost solely on the English language publications that I can confidently read. I used to read German and struggle through French (as this is part of standard education in Denmark, not because I was some whizz kid), but must admit that I very rarely bother these days. Even articles in the other Scandinavian languages I tend to pass over, heck, I’m not even up with the writings of my fellow Danes. Unless they have published in English. A brief conversation with senior museologist Ane Hejlskov Larsen, who could tell me that the flourishing tradition for museology in former Eastern Europe used to have a greater influence on the Nordic museum thinking, confirmed that I am alone in leaning heavily on the Anglo-american sources for inspiration and insights; this is a general trend. So what good points might we be missing out on, what ‘truths’ remain unquestioned when we’re all reading from the same script, listening to the same gospel?

My concern for academia here of course goes well beyond the field of museum studies, and ties in with a general shift towards an English-centric and Anglo-Saxon tradition of scientific publication (which again is linked to the publish-or-perish culture of new public management, I presume, but I’m admittedly a little out my depth here. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the downfalls of trying to be an academic in a second language, not only with regards to my own work, but what it will mean for the cognitive processes and academic prospects of future generations of scholars).

I know better than to try to tackle these meta level conundrums in my current project. But my concerns about how this narrow view affects the academic field of museum studies and, more importantly, the evolution of museums, is perhaps an issue to pursue in a post-doc project? In fact, it would make a lot of sense to carry out such a project at my current institution, the Royal School of Library and Information Studies, and team up with bibliometricians and cultural policy researchers. Perhaps I’m turning into an information scholar after all?

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In reply to tweet from Prof. McPherson

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I’m not trying to pick a fight, so please read this as a respectful clarification. I just feel badly misquoted – perhaps due to the exceedingly poor audio conditions at yesterday’s event – and given that I responded to professor McPherson’s tweet, I feel I now owe an elaboration, even though she luckily doesn’t seem further affronted. (added note: perhaps she just never saw my reply, or simply hasn’t been interested in hearing my response.)

As explained in the above post, my initial point was about not forgetting the value and needs of the existing museum audience. I was here referring to the typical museum goer, who, in the Danish demography-oriented research is described as a 50+ year old female teacher, i.e. educated middle class, but often somewhat dismissively referred to as a ‘hattedame’ (lit. ‘hat lady’). As the female educated middle class is also overrepresented in the museum professions, it is often seen as problematic that museums are only catering to their own kind. I strongly agree that museums need to be inclusive rather than elitist, but I don’t think that gives reason to disregard the visitors who enjoy the institutions.

When the term ‘hattedamer’ was subsequently translated for the benefit of the international participants in yesterday’s discussion, it was described as ‘ladies who lunch’ (i.e. upper class), which led into a discussion about the special events for friends and patrons at major American museums. I therefore found it necessary to differentiate between the stereotype of the retired teacher and the stereotype of the lady who lunches, whom I blunty described as a woman who had married into money. I apologised then, and apologise again for this crass and politically incorrect stereotype, but it wasn’t really the time or place to go into details – the point was to make an on the fly comprehensible distinction between the two groups. 

As for children in museums, I remember making the point that the current middle aged museum goers – including both of the above groups – had come to be interested in museums even if perhaps the museums of their childhood were not making special arrangements for children. The argument about needing to grow the next generation of museum goers does in other words not necessarily imply making special interactives for children, even though that is how it is often translated. Another point I made later about how activities tailored for one group could potentially collide with interests of other visitors – where I quoted one of my students for saying that sometimes, the presence of ‘someone glueing in the corner’ could be a distraction. This utterance came from a young person, and was addressing participatory activities in general, not activities for children in particular. 

I know I can get carried off in a debate. I know I still have a lot to learn about museums and academia and, well, life, and that too often I stick out my neck in unfortunate ways. We may disagree on certain aspects of museum strategies, but I did not mean to be brash and offensive. And to the best of my memory (then of course, I could simply be blind to my own misconceptions), I wasn’t, as it was another point entirely I was trying to make, but which apparently didn’t come across clearly and was therefore condensed into a very different argument. Hence this correction.

With the very best regards,
Rikke

… and then:

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: )

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Finally got round to actually working with the empirical material from my two workshops at Designmuseum Danmark. What’s more, I think I’ve found my handle on it too, after battling through uncertainties about how, and not least why I should do it.

There’s a back story to that uncertainty. Initially, I set out to explore how mobile museum experiences would tie in with more general pursuits of cultural/fashion interest via mobile and social media; a media ecology kind of thinking. But as I was also very keen on carrying on the design research approach I had developed in my master thesis, I came to realise that there was a mismatch between the questions I wanted to ask and what my methodology would let me answer. Methodology won out, sending me on a route that is more museology and less media oriented, i.e. asking about the implications of mobile museum experiences for the museum. And yet I felt that I still had to do some kind of empirical study, that I had to produce some data I could analyse and learn from and base my assertions on. Being an academic rookie, I lacked the confidence to stick to humanistic analysis with a design twist, thinking that it would not count as real science. So now I’m trying to make it count.

The concept of coding still feels a bit alien, like there’s some part of it I’m not getting because I never trained in social science. I’m a humanist, studied literature before moving on to design and digital culture studies. I have only a vague notion of grounded theory; ‘coding’ is not really my lingo. But it’s an aspect of analysis, right, it’s marking up your data (data is another word that feels wrong, cold somehow) to work out what’s in there, what the themes and discourses are, exposing contradictions and finding patterns, deciding what issues to pursue and how they relate to the material overall. At least that’s how I understand the process I’m going through.

After giving some consideration to coding software for qualitative data, reading about and checking out demo videos for Atlas.ti and Nvivo, I decided that a) spending time learning how to use the software would be a detour, given that my material is not that extensive, and b) the digital format somehow distanced me from the content, whereas an analogue approach gave me a better sense of what was there and what I wanted to do with it, as an iterative process rather than working to a preset design. Fairly grounded theory-esque, I guess. Keeping it handheld was also more consistent with my process so far – designing my probes and the design game for the workshops had been a very touchy-feely affair, and being able to paste the whole thing on my wall gives me a better sense of overview, something I’ve used in various stages of the project.

Concept/inspiration collage for development of workshop and design game

Concept/inspiration wall collage for design development

Coded transcripts from workshop II+III

Coded transcripts from workshop II+III

So through painstakingly adding hundreds of multi-coloured post-its (annotating and marking different strands and marvelling at how pretty it is) I have uncovered some interesting themes that I can unfold in my continued analysis and discuss in relation to other sources and observations and to theoretical positions in museology. These themes include commercial constraints and considerations (and how much the participating curators take these into account in their work); the importance of brand and branding; notions of institutional authority and curatorial ambitions; museological positions and practices; professional positionings; audience/user perspectives including UCG; pros, cons and contradictions re. cross-media communication; fashion as field and fashion as perspective; and more. Despite my recurring uncertainties about what this empirical study was really for, given that it is so limited that I cannot make many claims on this basis alone, it has actually served the purpose of illuminating some of the possibilities and conflicts in my field of study, as per my research design:

Diagram of research design

Diagram of research design

So it’s coming together. But will I also be able to make sense of it, as in valid scientific sense? Still grabbling with (and increasingly fascinated by) what science is, what makes it scientific, especially when pushing the traditional boundaries of science. I expect some would argue that what I do isn’t real science, and I know that making a solid argument for the validity of design research in general and of my study specifically will be one of the prime tasks in my dissertation. Which is why I ramble about it here, even if it also makes me feel exposed, to try to come to grips with what I’ve done and why. Thinking out loud, in print (and keeping my supervisors updated too). In this way, these slap-dash pontifications on the blog serve as rough sketches for the arguments I wish to make in my thesis, or sometimes just to off-load all the preamble, so that in my thesis, I can cut to the chase.

Martin Ludvigsen, in chapter seven: ‘Reflections on Interaction Design Research’ of his 2006 PhD dissertation Designing for Social Interaction does an excellent job of explaining the groundings of interaction design research in HCI and makes a strong argument for its scientific validity, which I will surely build on in my own thesis. (Actually, it’s the kind of writing that I wish I could do.) Conceding that ‘[f]undamentally it is difficult to accept design thinking as valid because of the intrinsic lack of logics and, when we delve deeper into it, the lack of scientific rigor with regards to reproducibility, falsification, objectivity etc.’ (2006:93) he moves on to expound the virtues of aesthetic reasoning as an alternative to logic. Rather than narrowly focusing on functionality and measurable results, ‘thinking aesthetically about an interactive artifact is to be conscious about its entire composition over time and the effect it has on the context and users’ (ibid.), Ludvigsen argues. Building on the German philosopher Baumgarten, as explicated by Kjørup (1999), he thus establishes aesthetics as an analytical discipline, and alternative route to enlightenment, as ‘conceptual discovery or epistemological evolution is a continual shedding light on new concepts’ (Ludvigsen 2006:94). Using our cognitive capacity for creative thinking and innovation as a way to understand ‘wicked problems’ (Buchanan 1995, in Ludvigsen 2006:90, 92), i.e. problems that can only be described in full through attempted solutions, and for aesthetic judgement as conducive for hollistic understandings of problems in context and for (un)covering conceptual grounds, should therefore be regarded as an invaluable supplement to logics-led scientific experimentation. As argued by Ludvigsen ‘The aestetic ‘track’ in the human mind is active. This should be read as a proposal for a foundation to talk about design thinking as equal – not subordinate to – logic and traditional scientific thinking’ (2006:97).

He then goes on to cite Latour’s normative definitions of science, which break with the traditional paradigm of Popperian falsification to build instead on the principles proposed by the Belgian philosophers Stenger and Despret. Without selling short the importance of rigor, the emphasis here is on scientific relevance, suggesting that sticking to tried and tested scientific activities does not in itself secure that a study is scientific, as, according to Stenger and Despret, scientific means interesting and risky (Ludvigsen 2006:100) – breaking new ground and making yourself vulnerable to seeing your hypothesis crumble. The aim of science then, rather than making absolute statements, is  ‘rendering talkative what was until then mute‘ (ibid.:101); to articulate propositions about the world, thus adding to what Latour calls the multiverse. This, obviously, ties in neatly with what I touched upon in my paper for the Nordes doctoral consortiumalso with reference to Latour, about the ability of design to articulate (museological) matters of concern, thus posing a constructive critique which allows for discussion of the current state and possible futures of the museum.

This sort of stuff is right up my alley. I’m really not much of an empiricist, finding theory and creative explorations much more inspiring and hence more productive for my cognitive process. My home brewed, half baked heuristic is that just like learning theory talks about different learning styles, different kinds of science speaks to different kinds of minds. So even though I can appreciate the significance of, say, quantitative data on patterns of mobile use in museums, it doesn’t necessarily push my buttons or satiate my curiosity about why these use patterns are as they are, why people were in the museums in the first place, the existential and social role of museums in society, what it all means and if it could be otherwise? So it’s truly great that other scientist will do the crucial studies that I don’t have the knack for, and that I instead get the chance to apply different methodologies to different types of questions (i.e. watered down versions of the questions above). Which I hold are worth pursuing, and which might speak to others with an interest similar to mine.

David Bowie Is

One of the highlights of the holiday was to be ‘David Bowie Is’ at the V&A; a much hyped sound and vision extravaganza showcasing the style and influence/influences of one of music’s greatest. ‘Honky Dory’ was the first album I ever bought (taking inspiration from my older sister, who by then sported a Ziggy Stardust hairdo) and Bowie’s whole 70’s catalogue provided much of the soundtrack to my adolescence in the 80’s. It was thus both as an admirer of Bowie and as a museological explorer that I had been looking forward to seeing this exhibition, ensuring tickets online months ago and making a detour to London on our way to Iceland to be able to visit. In this age of experience economy, this was a pilgrimage, no less.

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It should have been awesome. Instead, I was disappointed. Overwhelmed by too much stuff, too many stories and displays, too many disjointed soundbites, far too many people and as a result underwhelmed by the total experience. I didn’t gain a deeper insight, I didn’t get a Bowie moment, and if I did glimpse the future of museums I’m not sure if I like it.

Explaining the cultural references and impact of an eclectic icon such as Bowie is a huge and complex task, and although it was great to be able too see some of the fantastic costumes up close and to revel in stylish music videos and cheeky interviews, I came away unsure if the exhibition format really was the best medium for the task. I sort of wished that I could have been served that narrative as a two hour documentary instead, as that might have equipped me for reading the artifacts afterwards (I was never enough of a fan to delve into these details on my own, and so I was a visitor with a keen interest in, but limited prior understanding of the exhibition’s subject matter).

The state of the art audio system, which should have enhanced the experience also turned out to be a frustrating affair. The idea was good; supplying all visitors with a location sensitive headset which picked up the audio for the exhibit you were looking at. In this way, a video became audible as you came closer, and other exhibits were augmented with music tracks or commentary. Probably the experience would have been great for the invite only press shows, where one was able to move around freely. But even though the flow of ordinary visitors was somewhat controlled by the strict timings of entry on pre-booked tickets (the exhibition sold out almost before opening), there were simply too many people crammed into the space. As a result, you were lucky to get close to the exhibits you wanted to see, and the audio seemed to get intercepted so that you weren’t quite sure if what you heard and what you saw were intended to go together. Several exhibits you had to pass over to get to less crowded space, meaning that you ended up trying to navigate the collective flow rather than following the flow of your own interest and understanding.

Speaking to my fellow visitors afterwards, they had experienced similar frustrations (although my sister did get her Bowie moment). Still she complained that the exhibition was too heavily front loaded, packing too much information and too many objects into the first part. My husband suggested that an exhibtion of this scale should have been allocated a larger space, which perhaps could have solved some of the audio problems.

Exit was of course through the giftshop, packed with bowieographies and special made trinkets – V&A Enterprise has taken ‘the museum shop’ to a whole new level. And yes, I too brought back relished relics, as well as some memory morsels from the exhibition itself, I will say. But overall, ‘David Bowie Is’ did not live up to expectations.

Ebbs and flows
On entry to the ‘Club to Catwalk’ exhibition on 80’s fashion, also at V&A this summer, I noticed this sign, forbidding not only photography but also sketching in the special exhibtion. This struck me as odd, given that sketching is considered a valuable tool for learning, not least for London’s many budding designers who surely will be a key audience for such an exhibition. Asking the custodian, I was informed that sketching was prohibited to ensure a better flow of visitors in the exhibition (when we visited, we had the exhibition more or less to ourselves, so flow was no problem here). An example of how experiences of the entertainment variety + economy is becoming museums’ primary concern, over and above learning and contemplation, it would seem.

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The Danish National Museum has also introduced online booking for timed entries to their current special exhibition ‘Viking‘, produced in collaboration with the British Museum and Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin. The result of this collaboration is a beautiful spectacle, cleverly designed using dark wood and scenographic lighting to evoke a sense of drama and featuring an abundance of glorious artifacts. It’s well worth a visit. Opting for a 50 minute guided tour, we learned a lot of interesting things about the vikings as seafaring warriors and traders, and about the idea of a ‘viking age’ as a construct of the nationalistic romantics of the 19th century. However, the decision by the museum to amplify the tour with headsets, thus allowing for up to 30 participants on each tour was problematic. Half the time you were not able to see the treasures that were being talked about, as other members of the group were crowding around the exhibit, and with only 10 minutes left of our allocated hour after the tour, there wasn’t really the time to go back and explore the whole thing once again. As a result, again the connection between the narrative and the artifacts were lost; and thus the museum’s ability to tell stories with authentic things as put by Bruno Ingemann (2000:47) diminished.

Replacing traditional object labels with touch screens next to each case in the Vking exhibition allowed for easier reading in the dimly lit space, but also meant that only one person could control the reading at any point. For our young boys, the familiar and interactive screen also easily stole the attention away from the ancient treasures on display. Similarly, whilst they were enthusiastically enganging in the interactive computer game The first raid (we’d also booked tickets for readmission to the exhibition in order to be able to do this – a little awkward that you have to prepare so well in advance these days), the focus on testing their viking potential meant that they raced through the exhibition to get to the next game station, again the artefacts were upstaged by the technology (ofcourse, this was our second time round the exhibition). The game itself was good fun (although I, alas, ended my days in a fatal attempted raid on Byzantium), but the game mechanics were obscure and the learning potential very limited.

Chrome Web Lab
By contrast, the interaction of the Chrome Web Lab at the Science Museum in London was much more interesting. Experiment 1, the Universal Orchestra, especially, was a mesmerising experience. Using a digital interface you could play a group of analogue percussion instruments, whose sounds blended with music made by other visitors and online participants to create a soothing soundscape that gave the whole exhibit a tranquil, slightly otherworldly ambience. Using your Google login in a Chrome browser, you can launch the experiments and take part in the orchestra at home.

This was a great example of successful scaffolding. Controlling the rhythm digitally meant that you could experiment creatively and be sure to generate pleasant music with no prior skills. The limitations in the tactile experience of the instruments were weighed up by the auditive clarity, allowing you to single out and learn the sound of the individual instruments and play around with rhythmical sequences. The digital interactives were easily as engaging as the physical interactives of the museum’s Launchpad lab (actually, the online counterpart of that exhibit, the Launchball game is also both fun and educational).

Place and presence
Having a presence in the public sphere is one of the ways that museums work to gain relevance in the public mind, for example by way of landmark architecture, augmented reality apps or city walks.

IMG_1802The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavik 871±2 in central Reykjavik did this beautifully and effectively.The whole museum is built underground around the archeological excavation of one of the earliest settlements in Iceland. Although augmented with a variety of well chosen digital tools, it is the remnants of the longhouse and the experience of being in situ that remain in focus and make the exhibition so special. A final brilliant touch was this lightbox, allowing bypassers a peak into the museum and linking the past and present of this very spot.

Much less spectacular was Post & Tele Museum in Copenhagen’s pop-up pavillion, where tourist and city shoppers were invited to sit down and write a free postcard or design a stamp. Still this simple idea worked brilliantly, creating public interest in the museum and its subject matter, as well as providing a service and a welcome distraction.

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Pamuk revisited
Visiting the V&A Museum of Childhood I was again reminded of Pamuk’s museum manifesto when looking at a series of displays of mundane knick knacks from three presentday families.

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Individually, and contrary to Pamuk’s claim, these personal objects and stories were not of much interest to me, although perhaps this could be due to my fading attention at this point. However, in the juxtaposition of various family constellations and what objects make of the everyday of different ethnic groups, the overarching narrative became interesting, and allowed you to project your own family and your own stories and objects into this exhibit. As my own kids were still absorbed in cracking morse code and hunting for insignia in the excellent War Games exhibition, I did not test the family exhibit’s qualities as a conversation starter.

Also, contrasting an exhibit such as this to ‘David Bowie Is’ or the experience of seeing the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, which to me looked like this

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I get Pamuk’s point about the value of the intimate museum as an antidote to the grand national institutions. On the one hand it is wonderful that museums are more popular than ever and make up a substantial part of the tourism industry. But on the other, these institutions are also drowning in their own success, turning what might have been a profound experience of culture into a somewhat tacky hustle and bustle affair.

Still not quite ready to write my own manifesto, though, not sure what to make of it all. But also still not convinced that mobile media can do much more than add to the noise.

No, sadly I haven’t been to Istanbul to see Orhan Pamuk’s ’Museum of Innocence’. I’ve read the book, though (it took me over two months to get through it, and frankly I found it a mostly boring and frustrating read, and yet it has stuck with me somehow).  Also I’m intrigued by the Gesamtkunstwerk that they form in combination, and by the concept of a museum of personal debris and knicknacks, so I hope to get to see it some day.

I’ve now come across Pamuks ’A Modest Manifesto for Museums’ (via an interesting post and discussion thread on empathy in museums on museumgeek’s excellent blog). In the 11 points of the manifesto, Pamuk proposes that

3/ We don’t need more museums that try to construct the historical narratives of a society, community, team, nation, state, tribe, company, or species. We all know that the ordinary, everyday stories of individuals are richer, more humane, and much more joyful.

and that

8/ The resources that are channeled into monumental, symbolic museums should be diverted into smaller museums that tell the stories of individuals. These resources should also be used to encourage and support people in turning their own small homes and stories into “exhibition” spaces. 9/ If objects are not uprooted from their environs and their streets, but are situated with care and ingenuity in their natural homes, they will already portray their own stories.

It is an interesting idea, but more as a polemic position than as a recipe for the future of museology.

On the on hand, it’s a very postcolonial, new-museology-in-the-extreme take on what museums should be, of not only telling the story of the peoples but letting people do it themselves. On the other the idea that objects tell their own stories, that the context is all the mediation they need, is really quite modernist, and does not consider the very different cultural capital we bring to the table when interpreting cultural objects. (In real terms, the objects in the museum are everything but unmediated, as they are accompanyed not only be a catalogue but also by a novel to explain their significance). But the manifesto is also flawed.

For starters, the proposition that the stories of individuals are, as a rule, superior to social narratives is not as self-evident as the rhetorics will have it. What’s more, whilst reflecting on our own stories, and ’thinking with’ the things that we have and hold dear, as suggested by Turkle (Evocative Objects), may be rewarding, studies of visitor’s response to user generated content (e.g. Rudloff 2013, Sanderhof 2012, my own first workshop) show that even though they may find the concept sympathetic, people are not necessarily that interested in other people’s memories.

The suggestion of home (made) museums also links into the debates about digital curation, the part about whether peoples online collections on Pinterest, Tumblr etc. can rightfully be considered curation, or whether the concept of digital DIY curation is just at misunderstanding or watering down of the concept of curatorship.

Having a collection, and being able to curate it, make it meaningful, is not one and the same. Similarly, having a story and being able to tell it does also not necessarily go hand in hand, rather, turning a life story into a narrative calls for the craft of an author. In fact, ’The Museum of Innocence’, the novel, is an example of just that, as it describes how the protagonist employs the author Pamuk to tell his story. It is a fiction, of course, a narrative, just as the objects in the museum are not personal belongings, but brought together from years of flea market scavenging (and, I suspect, an arrangement with a group of women agreeing to smoke their cigarettes wearing a particular lipstick. The display of butts pinned down like insects in a glass cage is absolutely wonderful, I must say). Again, a great concept as a Gesamtkunstwerk, but in no way indicative that anyone’s home and lifestory could function as a museum.

Also, the narrative of the book raises questions of whether we ourselves are in fact capable of understanding our own story. What stuck in my throat about this book (I still haven’t managed to find another reader to discuss it with, but would love to do so as I might have been getting it all wrong) is that is presents itself as a love story, but, for me, it reads like an extreme case of fetishisation, OCD and destructive self-deception. Rather than loving his beloved (and accepting defeat when losing her because he thought he could have it all), the protagonist (in my view) falls in love with his own infatuation, makes a martyr of himself and destroys the life of his one time mistress by taking possession of her life and her possessions. So it is his story, not hers, that is told in the book, and, by effect, in the museum, even though he would see it as a shrine to her. Not so innocent, after all.

Whilst this story is an extreme, a (long winded but) heightened reality as can only be produced by art (although I agree that sometimes real life comes up with something even more amazing), brought into the context of the museum, it is also a cautionary tale, reminding us that the ’authentic’ stories of the public are no less constructed by personal politics than the stories of the museum are constructed by national narratives.

Louisiana
Note #1
Yoko Ono’s Half a Wind show, currently at Louisiana Museum of Art north of Copenhagen is a real treat. Knowing little about her art prior to my visit, I was smitten by her combination of hippie ethics, humour and poetic sensitivity, and explored her instructions, interactives and installations with a smile on my face. But one thing bugged me – the exhibition of the renowned Ceiling Painting (Yes painting) piece, the one with the ladder which you would climb to use a looking glass to read the tinniest ’yes’ hung on the ceiling, which, legend has it, brought her and Lennon together (or something like that). The thing was, it was the original ladder, and therefore you were not allowed to climb it. So was it the original art piece? Or some representation of the the original, even if the objects were authentic, auratic? And is this what happens to objects when they enter into the museum? At least for me, this experience was emblematic of that process.

Note #2
Also on display at Louisiana, from the permanent collection, was an Yves Klein triptych: magenta, gold and International Klein Blue. It’s the most amazing blue, and in order to be able to savour it for longer, or as an act of appreciation or of taking ownership or something, I tried to take a photo. What is this urge, this reflex to capture our experiences, the things we encounter, in a photo, that is the million dollar question here. But I will go for a slightly cheaper point this time, namely the observation of how the colour was completely transformed by the camera.

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I remember reading an astute blogpost or article about how the colour qualities, the tones, the contrast etc. of digital reproductions ultimately affects our reception and thus understanding of the artwork (unfortunately I cannot remember the source, but the point was beautifully illustrated by a google image search of a piece of gothic americana, which in some renditions took a sentimental, romantic hue, thus rewriting the unsettling ambience and story in the original). Then again, our perception of colour in a work of art is also affected by the colours on the gallery walls.

Anyway, with a nod to Benjamin, in this case it is not only the aura that is lost in the reproduction, but sort of the whole point of that blue. And isn’t that often the case, when looking through the snapshots intended to capture a moment, an experience, a piece of art? That the joy or wonder that prompted us to take that photo is not really there in the image. But perhaps it can still be triggered in our minds.

Note #3
Finally, still at Louisiana, I got the chance to try the mobile guide to the sculpture garden. Or to try to try it at least. When logging on to the free wifi, you’re can opt for guide, which gives you a menu of tracks for the individual sculptures. You then select a track, which starts to download. And continues to download for minutes on end until I lost patience, tried another track instead, same storry. I then decided perhaps the whole application or site needed to refresh, so went to my main screen and… couldn’t find the guide again. At all. Not as a bookmark, not in the browser history, not going via the wifi settings – when it recognised that I had already been logged in once I wasn’t offered the guide again.

I’m sure there’s a way, but the point is I got so annoyed that I gave up. Really, I shouldn’t need to ask for assistance, I shouldn’t need to waste my time and get confused and feel stupid. This wasn’t a cutting edge format, it was a bog standard mediatour, on my mobile, via wifi. How long can we stay in the pilot stage for this?

Perhaps the server was having a bad day, perhaps reception was poor (but this was a tour for the grounds), perhaps I didn’t have enough storagespace (but I wasn’t informed of such a problem). A pamphlet wouldn’t have given me this kind of trouble. So there I was, right next to world class sculpture, overlooking the Sound on a beautiful summer day, and staring at my screen. And that is just another example of many where technological glibs gets in the way of the experience the technology was supposed to serve. Damn IT.

Den Moderne By
Note #4
Visiting ’The Modern Town’, the newly opened 1974 section of open air museum ’Den Gamle By’ (The Old Town) and thus seeing a past I can actually (partly) recall in a museum was an interesting experience, and an ideal outing for three generations together. Little details, like the fag buts in the ashtray of the gynocologist’s waiting room, the list of phone numbers next to the dial phones which you could actually operate, the books and the record collections in the commune, the food in the new clear family’s larder etc. all made for good memory triggers and conversation pieces. Many things you were allowed to touch, and on top of that the exhibitions included video footage old and new, clever projections of live action and a number of digital interactives.

The magic mirror in the commune, allowing you to dress in seventies socialist garb, was perhaps a bit gimmicky, but good fun, and again, clothes speak volumes about the ideals and changing gender roles of the age. As these clothes are still in plenty supply from any second hand shop, however, perhaps a hands on dress up box could have done the trick.

The interactive polls, however, were more hit and miss. In the flat of the head mistress, her father, a former politician,’s desk had been turned into a touch table, and invited you to ponder tricky questions like whether a small country should always take up arms to defend itself from alien aggressors. In the gynocologist’s office, however, the poll seemed to have inspired digital dissent rather than contemplation. Asked if you were pro or against free abortion, apparently 66% of participants had voted against. Surely that cannot be a reflection of the visitors’ honest opinion if they even remotely ressemble the general public, I mean, this is Denmark, we’ve had free abortion for 40 years, and it’s not even really up for debate. Even considering a number of international and devout Danish visitors, these figures must be misleading, and although there is a clear markation that this is user generated content, it still makes for a strange message in a cultural museum.

Aros
Note #5
At Aros Museum of Art, apart from enjoying Elliasson’s glorious Rainbow, we had a great time with Jeppe Hein’s Distance installation. Although it wasn’t really an interactive (albeit triggered by people entering the room (and children working out where the sensors were)) the artwork itself inspired people to interact, running around the follow ’their’ balls, positioning themselves so that they would be ’playing’ with the balls whilst respecting that they could not touch, discussing and explaining to their children the physics of weight and speed etc. Completely unmediated, prompted only by the installation mechanics itself, and making for a wonderful art/science center/social museum experience.

Last week, I ran the final workshop with paticipants from Designmuseum Danmark, thus completing my empirical research. Once again, I used my ’concept dominos’ to illustrate the themes in the discussion, but this time the session worked more like a focus group or group interview than an ideation workshop. Still, the workshop produced some interesting ideas as well as some great discussions, answering most, but not all of my questions, as the debate followed other paths worth pursuing instead.

I had transcribed the recordings of the last workshop almost verbatim (however only noting intonations, pregnant pauses, background affirmations etc where significant); a lengthy process but a very informative one, as it forced me to listen closely. I noted, for instance, how digital media was at times discussed in specific terms referencing technologies and services, but also often referenced with vague notions such as ’the digital’, or with the ubiquitous ’app’ standing in for any kind of mobile service. Hardly a revelation, but still it was interesting to capture how open ended our wordings and how fuzzy our concepts of media and technology often are. This is not to imply that the museum communicators did not know what they were talking about, they surely did, but only that it is hard for anyone to navigate this wide, multi-facetted, ever-changing jungle of new media, let alone to ask that museums can leverage its potential for mediation meaningfully and succesfully.

Having reproduced the whole workshop in written form also allowed me to do a first rough ’coding’, identifying some of the themes and ideas, in preparation for the final workshop. While the questions opened were manifold, still I only made minor changes to my original plans, as I mainly wanted to stick to the issues that we had not had the time to address in our first meeting.

Some of the points made inspired me however to extend my deck of dominos with new perpectives such as ’the curator’s glasses’ and the notion of fashion as the ’little sister’ within the fields of design and cultural studies. However, only a few of these came into use in the final workshop, and I actually found that as the deck had grown, I sometimes struggled to find the appropriate cards to support the discussion. Therefore, during the workshop, the tool sometimes became a distraction for me as a facilitator, and perhaps also for the participants at times when the presented images where not quite right for the questions I raised. In this way, I would say that the dominos still served their function, but functioned less well in this second iteration, perhaps surprisingly, as I had already tried them out once before. Still, as I am experimenting with methodology in this project, falibility is part of that package.

And in terms of outcome, the workshop was a success. Even though there were more topics I would ideally have liked to address, still I got what I came for and more. And although at the end of the workshop I could sense that my participants’ engagement was starting to wane, my clear impression was that they too have found our conversations useful and inspiring. Yet as was also a topic in the discussion, turning ideas and ambitions into practice is not easily done, when the day to day workload is already stretching ressources.

Half way status

With the completion of my empirical research process, I am halfway through my project. 19 months in, to be exact. I can say that now, almost without twitching, although it took me a while to embrace the fact that I am no longer ’in the beginning’ or ’a little over one year into’ my project. Half way. And the good news is that I am realising that it is not only in terms of time spent, but also that even if my research so far has been very divergent, and although I still haven’t started writing my thesis proper, I have in fact done and thought and learned a lot.

To get started on the thesis, I have gathered my writing to date into a very raw script, structured around my draft disposition. Actually I started by simply collating all my blogposts and papers into a document, and although it may sound silly, it was really encouraging to realise that in fact it added up to a whooping 70.000+ words. (And that’s not counting all my notes, 50-odd pages of transcription, abtracts submitted to PhD courses and conferences, lecture notes and slideshows, status reports and supervision updates, applications for funding, admin blah blah and all the other stuff I’ve been writing over the past 18 month). I’m making a note of it here to remind myself that I have in fact been productive, something I have a tendency to forget when in bouts of panick induced procrastination.

Of course, only a fragment of all this text might actually be usable in the final thesis, the rest is really just an extended note system, and quantity is no measure for quality of content. But still I have that, rather than 200 blank pages. What’s more, there are actually some interesting thoughts in there, which I look forward to exploring further when transforming sketch ideas into academic arguments. Which of course is where the real hard work lies.

Reading through a recently defended (but not as yet publicised, hence the omitted reference) PhD thesis within my field has also been very informative. Even though I plan to write a monographic thesis rather than an anthology, as this was, it has given me a clearer idea of the scope and level of the genre, and to my great comfort, it seems within reach, provided said hard work.

The theoretical framework used and the insights presented in the thesis and comprised articles were all familiar to me; in fact I found myself worrying whilst reading that the points I was hoping to make were all being made here, making my own contribution obsolete. Most notably, the call for a greater level of technology criticism, or questioning of the default association of digital technology with democratic museological advancements, is also a driving force in my own research. Then again, my project is also so very different in so many ways, that it shouldn’t be a problem; I trust that I can add ye another perspective to this  debate.

And actually, the fact that this thesis so clearly demonstrates the effects of (Danish) cultural policies on (national) digital museology, perhaps means that I can skip lightly over making this connection in my own thesis, referring to this research (and its sources) instead, and moving on to the problem areas that are of special interest to me.