Category Archives: media

Flickr Museums

Over the course of the Fall 2010 semester Museum Lab students worked in four teams of three to invent and develop fictional museums using Flickr. This experimental format supplanted the Lab’s more traditional design assignment as the majority of students were non-design grads from Media Studies, History of Decorative Arts and Fine Arts. The aim was to see if we could practice the internal functions of the museum – including collection, conservation, interpretation, education and exhibition – using Flickr’s editorial and content management features.

While Flickr did seem at times to be a bit of an antiquated program, and lacking in participatory features of more popular social networking sites it did provide an environment for discussing a wide range of very general museum issues in an an abstract and easy to manipulate surrogate to a real museum. Questions explored included: What is a mission statement? How does mission relate to a collecting policy? How do you create and manage metadata to sort and access information? What editorial decisions are involved in creating a thematic exhibition? How can we effectively use the tools of social networking including collaborative and participatory modes of interaction, user generated tags and comments? How does the from and functions of a networked media environment influence the reading of the content?

Salon de Refuse: A Trash Museum
A museum of re-purposed objects and materials for the creation of new works of art. The Salon de Refuse derives its name from late 19th Century Parisian Salon Refusés that was founded by artists who were refused by jury of the officially sanctioned Paris Salon.
Students: Michelle Jackson, Ryan Massey, Logan Sibrel.

Gotham City Street Art Museum
This Street Art Museum creates an online site for exploring graffitti, painted murals, paste-ups and other ephemeral urban artistic practices in public space.
Students: Tori Jones, Jayme Elterman, Kadie Yale

The Play and Learn Collection: Toys that Influence
This museum explores the effects of designed objects on early childhood development including gender roles, race, occupation and identity.
Students: Meagan Elevado, Racini Andres, Ruby Hoette.

New Yorker’s Tribute Museum
The Tribute Museum explores the space of memory archives the many often unoticed memorials and monuments in New York, including spontaneous acts of memorialization, tribute tattoos, and municipally sponsored memorial installations.
Students: Sinnead Lawler, Livia Di Mario, Jessica Peterson.

Critics invited to the final review included Shannon Mattern, Professor at the New School Department of Media Studies; Ilona Parkansky, Educational Media and Technology Planner at Ralph Appelbaum Associates and Susan Sellers, Founder and Principal of 2×4 Design.

Tim Ventimiglia

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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

The Met’s Luce Center for the Study of American Art

On Monday the MuseumLab visited the Henry R. Luce Study Center for American Art at the Met. Curator Amelia Peck and Technologist Leela Outcalt gave us a tour of the existing facility, talked about its history and showed us a prototype of the new user interfaces that they are implementing.

The Luce Center was the first of many Luce Foundation funded study centers including the New York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum, and most recently the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in DC. The Met’s Luce Center was created in the late 1980’s when American became an official department  after consolidating collections that were previously scattered across multiple departments. The Luce  Center was revolutionary for its high-density open storage approach and use of digital object records that could be accessed by visitors. There are now over 18,000 objects of decorative arts, art and design in the American Department and these are distributed in a variety of gallery types including art galleries, period rooms, the study center, a recently renovated courtyard and some back of house storage. Adding loaned objects they are currently holding over 21,000 objects. The basic idea behind the study center was to democratize access to the collection, not just for scholars, but for the visiting public. There is a great article in Museum News (July 1991) by Carrie Rebora chronicles the early years of the project and how it came about so I wont dwell on the history here (I will digress with one footnote–the entire collections database and user interface ran on two 330 MB drives with 4 MB of RAM!).

Amelia and Leela gave us their assessment of what works and what doesn’t and a peek at some new interfaces the are developing with Small Design Firm. Their plans include a much larger number of interactive study stations each with a large touch screen monitor at a table to support longer object browsing and study. The prototype of the new interface was quite sophisticated and allowed you to search using any field, and organize the collection chronologically, by accession date, and by material.

They are also adding small monitors to the ends of each case, allowing users to browse the contents of the case in closer physical proximity. These compact screens  are visually very simple and easy to navigate. Objects are represented as thumbnail photographs in a grid. Touching and object icon opens a page containing its metadata. The systems seems easy to navigate, is visually unobtrusive and is automatically updated with new data every week to keep pace with new acquisitions, loans and new curatorial information for each object.

The Luce Center’s collections interfaces and the period room interactive programs are a smart technological retrofit of an existing facility and provide a strong contemporary complement to older (but still effective) exhibition techniques. To me the most interesting aspect of this interface is that it enables the Met to graphically represent the entirety of the collection in a number of ways that reveal larger trends like the proportion of objects in the collection across decades, or the proportion of silver, to glass, to ceramic, etc. These visualizations reminded me of some of the great Victorian collections displays where the entirety of the museum’s collection were visible in a kind of panoptic spectacle that was meant to convey the collection’s taxonomic structure at a glance.

Tim Ventimiglia

Not So Fast

I read this article  – ‘Not So Fast’ by John Freeman a few weeks ago and considering our ongoing discussions about the use of new media and specifically the internet by museums I think it is very relevant. Though it doesn’t discuss the museum context as such it looks at the increasing speed of communication and impersonal nature of social interactions. These two elements, communication and social interaction are vital for any museum so I found it interesting to apply the thought process presented in this article to the discussion around internet use in and beyond the walls of the museum. There is one statement that I found particularly profound: “Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources.” This is surely true if we consider the amount of time and money various businesses and institutions spend on fighting for it! And yes, it does seem to be in short supply as we waste it continually on unimportant information. The little attention we have left is then spread thinly over too many things leading to shallow understanding and a lack of reflection. I believe that museums (and other cultural institutions) are the places where this resource can be cultivated and replenished. Far from needing to keep up with the speed with which we function these days, museums should be places where we can slow down and think.  This is not to say that the internet should not be used at all. I think it has the potential to be used in ways that can encourage reflection and ultimately restore our ability to focus and learn rather than deplete it.

RH

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

Simplicity is Key

After Monday’s lecture on technology within the museum, I saw this on a walk and it made me stop and think about the simplicity I seek within museum walls.  Everyday I walk (as I know everyone else in the class does too) past the light store- Filaments.  The store, located near Parson’s on 13th Street, is filled to capacity with light bulbs, stands, and shades. I know this is a stretch, but every time I walk past the store, I always think of the Hall of Biodiversity located in the American Museum of Natural History.  The Hall of Biodiversity is laid out in a similar manner, it is crowded, colorful, and completely attention-grabbing.  There is a very small presence of technology, making the visitor rely almost solely on the presentation of the plants and animals.

If I said I adored this area of the museum, it would be an understatement.  Every visit I am pleasantly overwhelmed by the information and models presented, and I always learn something new.  I really appreciate the simplicity of this Hall, and I find it refreshing that I find myself thinking of the museum when I see things as simple as a store front.

This is something museums must strive for-  a seamless transition between spaces.  Museum learning cannot stop once a visitor leaves the confines of the institution.  I applaud the Hall for it’s simplicity.  If it was only technological displays, instead of the appropriate combination that it does have, I doubt it would make as strong as impact on its viewers.

Ryan Massey

Participation & Technology

I made a comment on Monday about how I’m concerned about the overuse of technology in today’s museums, so I decided to try some further research to get a better idea of positive aspects of participatory technology.  I came up with this interesting article about a study of the Sotto Voce audio guide done in 2002.  The guide attempts to solve the problem of disconnected visitors who use headphone tours in art museums. The program acts as a connector between visitors and as a personalized tour guide.  For the full article: Revisiting the Visit

Michelle Jackson