Tying Up Loose Ends
An old post, Reacting to Objects: Mindfulness, Tech and Emotion, was featured over on Freshly Pressed last week, sparking conversation and a tonne of new followers. Hello to you all! You’re a great reason to come back and summarize my latest activities, woven around a prevailing theme.
Two main topics emerged from the conversation which sprung up in response to my old post. The first was the impact of technology on the process of looking in the museum and the concept of ‘meaning making.’ It turns out my ‘playing around with looking,’ which I began to explore in that post, was the start of an ongoing journey for me. My initial focus on mindfulness has since shifted to exploring the many ways we look at art with technology. Whether we’re considering the impact of close looking at digital images or experiencing art by taking a selfie with it, museums are constantly tying together people with ideas, physical objects and their digital counterparts. For this reason, museums are in a unique position, in Nathan Jurgenson’s words, to “understand how one’s behaviour on the screen is embodied and how face-to-face interaction is digitally mediated.” It seems to me that museums are a space which uniquely demonstrate the falsity of a divide between online and offline. This space illustrates that, in fact, these are inseparably entwined and entangled ways of experiencing the world.
I spent the second half of last year (during which time this site was quiet) observing the online audiences experience the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. While managing their social media channels, I saw how personal the process of making meaning is in the museum. I saw how embodied digital behaviours are and how digitally mediated the museum visit is today. Museum social media managers see this every day in the digital output of their visitors. Alexandra Korey’s study of visitor photography at the Uffizi (which is burgeoning after Italian state museums lifted a ban) points to this. You can also check out the highlights from my time at the Gallery over on Storify, including my own personal favorites from the collection.
Before heading back across the planet to Australia, I detoured via the Museum Computer Network conference in Dallas, Texas in November. Between my three presentations, it was difficult to absorb new thinking so I’m still making my way through the fantastic library of MCN videos from the conference. My Ignite talk summed up in five minutes the 12-month journey which started this blog. The talk was shaped around the concept of the entangled nature of physical and digital experience.
The second theme that emerged from last week’s conversation was a repeated call for “more interactivity in museums.” By this point, new followers may be cottoning on to the community of museum educators and technologists who are my usual audience. There is one heck of a forward-thinking, tech-savvy, creative and inspiring hoard of museum professionals blogging and tweeting away out there. This community will inspire you to appreciate the hard work that has been progressing for years to leverage the new experiences offered by digital technologies in the museum space. I hope they will inspire you to rethink your next museum experience outside of the polarizing narratives often spun in mainstream media. To use your smartphone, an audio-guide or nothing but your eyes? To take selfies and photographs to share or document your experience? To go alone and enjoy a solitary, contemplative experience? Or visit with a group and make it social? How do you visit museums? How do you look at art? Whatever your answer, it’s the right one. There’s no one way to experience museums.
Now is a good time to say thank you to this group of inspiring museum thinkers and makers. For supporting me, for being the inspiration to keep driving forward, for drawing me into ever-evolving dialogues and new ways of thinking about the institutions I love. For new readers, I end with a list of some of these museum professionals and thinkers, whom I hope inspire you to follow your own threads of exploration.
Of course, this list is just a taster. If I’ve neglected to include a museum education or technology initiative which inspires you, please add to this list by contributing in the comments.
Art Museum Teaching
Cooper Hewitt Labs
Fresh + New(er)
Thinking About Museums
On Public Humanities
Meet a Museum Blogger
Know Your Own Bone
Design Thinking for Museums
SFMOMA Labs (Twitter)
Center for the Future of Museums
The Digital Museum (videos)
I Tweet Museums (Twitter)