Now in the final week of my research visit, I am starting to wrap up, mentally and practically. Even if six weeks is a short time, it feels like I’ve been here a good deal longer, as the experience has been so intense and eventful. In other words, I’m full now (and pining for my family), and although I partly regret not being able to stay for longer, I also feel that now is a good time to return and digest all that I have learned.
In terms of my project, the work I’ve been doing to round off is actually more a case of unpacking the insights and ideas that have resulted from my research, both at the BGC and around town. Last week, I had a eureka moment, suddenly seeing a new perspective in my project. Although I am generally happy to share in-process ideas on the blog, with this one I feel I need to mull it over for bit longer, exploring its potential and working out how to unfold it. So far I’m trying to join the dots by doing a draft for a draft for a paper or thesis chapter, or at least something to discuss with my supervisors when I return.
So I’ve mainly spent this last couple of weeks in my office, reading and writing and jotting down notes and ideas (and starring blankly at my screen, if I’m honest, but I’ve decided that’s par for the course). Still, there have also been a few events worth noting.
Last week, Rebecca Zorach of University of Chicago gave a incisive lecture entitled “Friedman’s Pencil and Kant’s Tattoo: Graphic Arts, Global Utopias, and the Acheiropoetic Social”, in which she discussed – amongst other things – Kant’s notion of ‘purposiveness without a purpose’ as a prerequisite for the appreciation of beauty. For me, this would potentially be an interesting track to follow in a discussion of contextualisation/decontextualisation of museum objects and of how we appreciate aesthetic objects.
And this week, Glenn Adamson, head of research at the V&A, gave an intriguing lecture on ‘The Future. A history’, sharing his curatorial considerations on an exhibition of ‘futurology’, planned for 2016. The history of projections of the future is in itself a fascinating one, and his points about the role of design and designers in this context of course struck a cord with me. But what was also very interesting was his (at this stage still sketchy) concept for a radical use of technology as a form of display. For this exhibition in particular, this strategy made a lot of sense: on the one hand, minimizing the amount of physical displays would allow visitors to admire the architecture in its purity (the exhibition will be the first in a new underground gallery that is part of the Exhibition Road building project), on the other, augmented reality, as a present day technology of the future, would be a perfect medium for reflecting the exhibition theme in the visitor experience.
It is going to be very interesting to see how this concept will be realized in three years time, which is quite a long way into the future in terms of technological advancements. Even more interesting, perhaps, is the fact that Adamson saw this as a way of offering the audience a glimpse of the future of exhibitions. He also suggested another possibility, namely that in the future, exhibitions will be built as filmsets, as their transmission to a world wide audience would be the end goal. If he is right – and the V&A has some muscle when it comes to making this a self-fulfilling profecy, which is furthermore in keeping with their new brand vision – then that is a pretty fundamental shift in how we understand museums.
Finally, visiting my sister in Chicago this weekend, I also got the chance to see the exhibition Inspiring Beauty at Chicago History Museum, which celebrated 50 years of Ebony Fashion Fair and laid out the story and impact of Ebony Magazine in the history of black empowerment. It was a very straight forward kind of exhibition, using a combination of gorgeous couture (which as much as showing a bit of fashion history gave you a sense of the level of glam that editor and producer Eunice Johnson leveraged to boost black pride) and well edited video to tell its story, but this no-nonsense form of display with a clear narrative still did a great job.
Summing up & closing credits
As expected, things have not panned out quite as planned. I never heard back from Loïc Tallon and decided not to pursue it as there were plenty of other ways to explore my project in this city. I didn’t get it together to try and drum up a #drinkingaboutmuseums session with the NY museum tech crowd, and now they’re all in Portland for MW2013 (sort of wish I was too, and sort of think that it would only result in a bad case of information and experience overload if I had made that the end of my trip). I didn’t get a chinese take away in one of those boxes you always see in films (or a bagel, or a cupcake, or a cocktail. My bad, and anyway I had enough of a Sex and the City flashback obsessing about shoes.) And I didn’t meet Tom Waits by chance in a bar at two a.m. (which was a favourite New York fantasy of mine twenty years ago).
Instead, I did do so many other things. There really is a lot to love about New York, and as hoped it has been the perfect place for me to explore my project in a new way. First and foremost, the BGC even exceeded my (high) expectations. Having ready access to such a wealth of ressources has been great, and I only wish I had had the time to devour even more books. To compensate, I’ve built up quite a larder of articles to read back in Copenhagen. Whats more, being able to present my project and discuss my questions and research interests with the faculty here has been wonderful, and I am deeply grateful for the response I have been getting. Especially, debating the role of new technologies in (and outside) the museum with Kimon Keramidas and getting insights into fashion curation from Michele Majer has been very useful. Also, the wealth and level of the lectures and events that I have been able to attend here has been absolutely astounding. Even though a lot of the subject matter has only had a tenuous connection with my own research, these lectures have given me a lot of food for thought, pointing to aspects of museum practice that I would otherwise not be considering, opening new perspectives or alerting me to theories that could perhaps be of use in my project too.
Secondly, being able to visit all these amazing institutions here in New York has been a real buzz. World class museums as well as smallscale, dedicated inititiatives, its all here in abundance, and I’ve been fortunate to have had enough time to explore and indulge. I’ve seen a great variety of exhibitions, tried a whole heap of apps (bear with me on that slightly dubious image), immersed myself in cultural experiences and engaged in public debates. The After the Museum talks at MAD have been a great source of inspiration, I only wish there had been even more time for discussion, as so many interesting perspectives were brought up by some really cool people. So I’m looking forward to read the resulting publication, and also hope that at some point, somewhere, we might get the chance to pick up that conversation again.
And of course, simply feeling the vibrancy of this city, watching people on the street and sensing the pace and spirit of the academic culture; being free to put in the hours and not least finding myself in a new context and therefore even more open to impressions. All of this has been a great learning experience, and has really pushed my project forwards. So I am deeply thankful for Bard Graduate Center for inviting me and for being so welcoming. And also very grateful to my sponsors, who made this visit possible: Augustinusfonden, Farumgaard-Fonden, Oticon-Fonden og Dansk Manufakturhandlerforening.