Author Archives: kadiey

Identity, Self, Networks

A recent essay by author Zadie Smith brought to mind the topic of ‘self’ as we’ve discussed the BBC documentary, The Century of the Self, and the museum’s shifting focus on the complexity and identity of its audience. Smith’s essay, titled “Generation Why?” is largely a critique of The Social Network, a film released earlier this fall about the founding of the online social network, Facebook. Smith’s critique leaps beyond the content of the film to comment on our current society and the increasing importance we place on defining ourselves, as a seemingly increasing portion of this definition comes in the form of the people and things we collect and give preference to in virtual space.

As a class, we have discussed the role of Facebook in our society and our roles as virtual participants, like those discussed by Nina Simon in The Participatory Museum. Simon describes “The network effect,” the underlying concept of social networks, and our various levels of participation, “whether as creators, critics, collectors, joiners or spectators.”

By participating in social networks, in some ways, we are individually creating prescribed-format museums of self. We curate, update, and maintain them. We may create micro-communities with other individuals who share interests and ideas to which we relate, but we increasingly isolate the ‘self’ because we interface with software to a greater extent than the people to whom we are connected in social space.

Connection may be the goal of social networks, but decreased privacy, perhaps an evolved social norm, also affects how the self is virtually portrayed. And one’s expressed likes and dislikes allow for for marketing to be streamlined to his or her self-proclaimed preferences. In this way, we are viewed as individual consumers. Likewise, The Century of the Self reveals the shift from ‘need’ to a ‘desire’ based society.

In her essay, Smith also briefly discusses Jaron Lanier’s book, You Are Not A Gadget. She writes that, “Lanier is interested in the ways in which people, ‘reduce themselves’ in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate.” We are aware that we self-edit for online portrayal and that our number of virtual friends is not an accurate reflection of our actual friends, but it is important to question our awareness of how the software affects us. Software is not neutral, and it is possible to consider that for most of us the lines begin to blur between our reduced, edited selves and our reality.

It is possible to consider that our selves which display our collections of friends and things we like are devoid of the richness of our actual lives and interpersonal connections.

In his publication, Do Museums Still Need Objects, author Stephen Conn wrote about how museums have generally adjusted to changing cultural atmospheres and he concluded that although they may no longer require physical objects to tell their stories, objects endure and offer a rich and unparalleled visual experience all their own.

Likewise, I think that virtual social space cannot offer the same quality of personal connection and reflection found in shared cultural space.

Jayme Elterman

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Small Town Identity

My hometown of Chico in California is a little agricultural town which is known for two things: the Sierra Nevada Brewery, and for being on Playboy’s top party colleges back in the 90’s. However, the locals and Chico State school board would like to leverage the lesser known facts –Chico produces most of the Western world’s rice, almonds and walnuts– to make our town a tourist destination.

The existing museums in Chico are relatively unknown outside of Chico but are regular destinations for local school field trips. The Bidwell Mansion the oldest home in Chico, which was owned by the founders of the city, seems to be nothing more than just a strange pink house near the college that can be seen from the busiest street in town. Our 5th graders probably know more about it than our adults.

Bidwell Mansion

The Sierra Nevada Brewery has received so much attention in recent years that their brew-house restaurant was updated less than a decade ago to include a glass wall in the waiting area which allows patrons to view the beer as it is being made.

This became such a popular feature and tour times have been in high demand, prompting the renovation of the brewery. It now includes a beautifully done two story wing made entirely of glass and wood in the Art Nouveu style where brew techniques can be viewed through glass walls and explanatory plaques are placed intermittently to allow the guest to embark on a self-guided tour. Most people use them to further their knowledge as they wait for the guided tour to begin, which is referred to with drunken wonderment as the equivalent of going on a “big kid’s tour” of the Willy Wanka Chocolate Factory, complete with platforms that extend out over the vats, allowing you to be completely immersed in the room.

Sierra Nevada Interior Tour

 

Although a museum addition wasn’t originally intended by the brewery, they stepped up to the demand of their patrons, and the Sierra Nevada Brewery is now known as the main destination for tourists and families coming to town to check out the college. What were the small agriculture and city oriented museums to do?

In a bold step, the city of Chico built a brand-new, state of the art natural history museum, called the Gateway Science Museum, in an abandoned lot next to the Bidwell Mansion to serve as an extension of Chico State. The juxtaposition of the old Victorian house sharing a parking lot with the brightly colored Modernistic Gateway Science Museum is a bit striking, making both stand out from the street, rejuvenating the centralized area only a few blocks from the oldest church in town, the Bidwell Presbyterian Church, and the entrance to the closed off Chico State campus. Still focused on school aged children, the Gateway Science Museum opened last Spring in time for summer camp to begin, and two of the kids I worked with last year as a youth leader claimed it was “Very cool.” (Which is actually a pretty big compliment if you’ve ever spent any time with bored 6th graders.)

Gateway Science Museum

Although this new museum is very well known now in the community, a bigger effort by the city is still somewhat under-wraps. Previously, I hadn’t known that other than the Bidwell Mansion, Gateway Science Museum and Chico Museum (whose existence is usually only noted by those stumbling down the street at early hours after the bars have closed because of it’s lack of advertisement or even signage in front of the building) there are 3 other museums in the city: an outdoor animal refuge, old rice factory and another piece of historic architecture. In an effort to demonstrate the history of Chico as more than just the partying college and home of good beer, the Gateway Science Museum was created to complete the museum circuit and renovations on the 5 existing facilities are underway. Instead of acting as 6 independent museums competing for attention, the City of Chico is hoping that visitors will appreciate a much broader, multi-locational museum experience with combined efforts, events and a single fee.

However, this was all made known to me through someone who is apart of the planning committee, and therefore, it’ll be interesting to see if they are actually able to advertise in the way needed to make sure this idea is successful. The Sierra Nevada Brewery museum is a hard act to follow, but hopefully this new focus on Chico’s history will lead to an grouping of sites which will be interesting to more than just school children needing time out of the classroom.

Kadie Yale

The Met’s Digital Conversion

Midterms have been upon us for the last few weeks, and sometimes you just realize that your head is on backwards during those times. Two days before my 5 page comparison paper between two objects at the Metropolitan Museum, I realized that not only had none of my pictures turned out well enough to find them reliable, but my notes had mysterious vanished into the abyss of my desk.

I freaked out, much to the amusement of my roommate who decided to watch with a grin for a few minutes before asking why I didn’t just look up the objects on the Met website.

As a way of turning their collection “inside out,” the Metropolitan Museum has been working on putting objects on display virtually. Although in this way, you aren’t able to actually pick up the object and view it from all angles, it gives the general public the ability to zoom up as close as they want on the object in dramatic detail.

Although I’m not the biggest advocate of putting technology absolutely everywhere possible, and think that museums need to think long and hard about their collections and audiences before making drastic changes, I think the Met’s digital conversion is an amazing step in the right direction of intertwining the past, present and future museum experiences. Now viewers from around the world are able to connect with art in a way that they were not able to previously, all from the comforts of their own home. The objects do not risk being damaged through being viewed digitally by thousands of people. And honestly, it’s just plain fun. I can just imagine the hours that could be spent by our tech-savvy youth zooming in reallyreallyreally close and then back out again, seeing every detail in the photo.

On top of the photo aspect, each of the objects’ information, provenance and descriptions are available. That way, the viewer is able to get a full museum experience and gain deeper knowledge about the object which may not be made as available in person.

Kadie Yale

Why Design Now? Asks Cooper Hewitt of the Web-World

The National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan has been exhibiting “Why Design Now?,” a look at the most contemporary designs of contemporary culture. With designs ranging from social design to architecture to pop culture to health services, the expanse of objects is staggering.

Supplementing the exhibition was their Why Design Now? conference on October 1st, put on by Cooper Hewitt and GE. During the day-long event, speakers from the vast array of design fields took the stage to present their innovations and interact with the audience in a live forum which encouraged discussion. Although the conference was bounced around through a series of subjects, one aspect was always in focus: the technical applications used to bring the conference to a world-wide audience.

A support team of camera men dashed around the lecture hall, streaming live across the internet to an audience that was boasted at three times the live attendance. Through the simple concept of airing the conference live on the world wide web, Cooper Hewitt’s exhibit passed the realm of only being able to cater to the small community who show up at its doorstep every day to create an international interest, allowing those who would not otherwise be able to make the trip to it’s 5th Avenue location to take a peek at what they have to offer.

This was not without some difficulties, though. As Adam Bly, Founder and CEO of SEED Media Group was at the platform explaining his company’s new online design forum, the server suddenly stalled, attempted to reload, and crashed, prematurely ending his speech for the day and leaving the audience unable to view his work. The reason?-many in the online community watching the feed had, in that moment, opened a new tab to view the page for themselves, causing the webpage to be too overloaded. It was joked that this is what the power of instant information can do, but in the end, I couldn’t help but feel that Mr. Bly had his moment in the sun at the forum taken away too soon.

Another technological detractor from the conference, which was installed for the purpose of better spreading the Why Design Now? message, was the live Twitter wall across the left side of the room. Artistic bouncing speech bubbles flipped and spun around each other, displaying the online public’s reactions to the conference. It was an interesting, yet distracting, forum of public opinion and discussion, ranging from complex questions towards the speakers to simple quotes. A particularly well-spoken thought would, within minutes of being said live, fill the Twitter wall, showing the audience which comments had the most impact on those watching from their own desks.

Although technology has its downsides, in the end, I appreciated the steps that GE and Cooper Hewitt took to create a more open, universal network for their exhibit. It made me feel as if I were a part of something bigger, and that the lines of communication to the outside world had been opened to create the discussion around the globe: “WHY design now??”

Kadie Yale