Category Archives: trends

Bilbao’s Epitaph

Frank Gehry's Performance Pavillion at Millenium Park

Frank Gehry's Performing Arts Pavillion at Millenium Park

We knew it was coming. Today New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff officially declared the end to an epoch of iconic cultural architecture in America. I suppose this is also the end of the Bilbao Effect. His article surveys history of American cultural identity as expressed through architecture beginning with the City Beautiful Movement in the late 19th Century. I found this statement rather interesting: “The problem with freedom, after all, is that it allows for horrifying imaginative failures as well as works of stunning genius.” This reminded me of a quote from Goethe ” There is nothing worst than an active imagination, a lot of money and no taste”. It makes you wonder how many bad ideas we may have been saved from. What will all of this mean for the next generation of museum building? What forms will museums of the new epoch take in response to this new found modesty? Perhaps what is happening inside the museum will finally become as important than what is happening on the outside.

Tim Ventimiglia

Eyebeam Afternoon

A Multi-Channel Animation by Marina Zurkow

A Multi-Channel Animation by Marina Zurkow

I was wandering around Chelsea this weekend and discovered that EyeBeam has open studios where you can talk to residents and research fellows about their work. I saw two projects that really struck me as potentially relevant to a discussion of  new uses of media and technology in museums.

The first works, a series of animations by artist Marina Zurkow is based on the Ecosystem Engine –  an open source development platform that she created for multi-channel animated scenes. The works are basically ‘living’ digital worlds in which large casts of animated characters, static elements and landscapes interact dynamically to create never ending sequences, relationships and possible meanings. For several years I have been searching for a new medium/ technique that could approximate the power of the diorama’s ability to describe complex ecosystems. I see some of that potential here. The projections are quite large and some of here work is quite architectural in scale. I talked to her for a while and asked if she had ever worked with a museum. She said that she preferred to keep her work lyrical and not subservient to any particular messaging. This makes sense. Any overt messaging would definitely detract from the work. The illustrations are beautiful and well rendered. Much like a diorama, you want to project yourself into these worlds as another character in the scene.

The second project, Immaculate Telegraphy, by artist Jamie O’Shea was a kind of reality show/ documentary video and blog following his attempt to construct a working telegraph using only materials he finds naturally in the wilderness. He creates the simple tools he needs to make other more complex tools, sources and refines materials, even to the point of building a smelter for making the copper he needs for the conductive wire. Eventually we presume that he will assemble a rudimentary telecommunications network. I really liked the image of a man the woods taking on the internet by starting from nothing but knowledge and more than a little patience. Here is the statement from the artist: “Could humans at any point in history, given the right information, construct an electronic communication network?” What would Ted Kaczysnki think of this project? It just so happens that the wilderness that he is working in is in Montana.

Both artists occupy an interesting territory with their work that spans the realms of both art and science. Their use of media (in totally different ways) brings a level of accessibility to rather complex scientific ideas. I suspect we will see a generation of artists like these two working within scientific museums as well as art museums, retaining status as artists but providing an inquiring and interpretive entry into the world of science.

Tim Ventimiglia

The Self

Many of our conversations in class today concerned the museum visitor historically, a changing sense of “the self”, how this contributes to identity and the ways in which museums engage their audience. Our conversation widened to explore the role of social networking technologies and the issues associated with self-selection and collaborative filtering and how that relates to a museum’s function, its authority and the role of the curator.

It is interesting to imagine that today people generally interact with a greater number of other people than at any other time in history. However these people are also far less likely to encounter someone who does not already share similar interests. One obvious conclusion is that we are in danger of losing the ability to be critical thinkers, to debate issues, and engage in rational conversations with consenting adults who disagree with each other.

You can see evidence of this in our political news media. There is a great deal of emotion, no shared language, and next to nothing that opposing parties can agree upon. As CFM’s “Museums & Society: 2034” study discusses, self-selection has led to a polarized society where constituencies gather in safe clusters of like-minded peers, institutions and their content. Technology plays a role in this but it may be more of a symptom of something deeper than technology as an instigator. It is always easiest to blame the tool. This does not mean that social networking technologies are inherently bad. But they do reveal a tendency that is growing stronger and should be better understood in the context of museums.

The idea of self-selection and the shaping of identity has a long history that predates Facebook and other applications by decades. In fact the shaping of identity in our political and commercial world  is largely informed by psychoanalysis and its contributions to commercial marketing and public relations beginning in the late 1930s. At this time analysts began seeking a practical means of applying their science to the public at large. I recently saw a recent BBC production titled “The Century of the Self “which explores this history in four chapters.  Its one of the most powerful and timely documentaries that I have seen. It is a must for anyone thinking about these issues. It is available as streaming media on Archive.org.

Tim Ventimiglia

The Future Museum

Following a rough history of the museum in the posts above, what shall we say about the future of the museum? Hopefully the rest of this semester will cast some light on this and put forth some informed speculations. When imagining the future one can really only talk about current trends and, if they show signs of continuing, to project how they might shape our world. Throughout history museums have followed changes in society and evolved to suit its needs. It is safe to guess that the increasingly rapid changes in society (technology, energy, education, economy, etc) will precipitate a need for museums to adapt sooner than later. In fact the existing museum models do seem a bit tired and are hard-pressed to keep up with and address a range of social and technological issues that are already in play. Thanks to a wide variety of thinkers in the museum community, some initial ideas are emerging.

Museum Stages.xlsx

We know that the museum of the future will have to recognize a world that is connected by a complex and constantly shifting network of influences, a disappearance of temporality and a sense of self that is shaped more by the social networks we inhabit moment to moment than by any singular defining experiences. Through collaborative filtering, users of Web 2.0 applications talk to more people than any generation before them but are less and less likely to meet someone who does not already share similar interests. We are by default all members of special interest groups. In fact each of us likely has multiple identities that inform our sense of self. Some of these may even conflict with one another. Museums already find themselves no longer serving categorizable audiences but micro-constituencies which take form and disappear with a speed that is impossible to respond to in traditional mediums. We are all simultaneously curators and consumers.  Content is generated by the user on-demand and the proliferation of free content via the internet has changed they way a younger audience perceives cultural value in a museum. Thinking about a new model for the future of the museum does not suggest we abandon the object or “the real” and supplant these critical assets with technology. But it does suggest that the new mediums and experiences of a generation who know the world through social networks and new tools must come into play. However to understand these new “Networked Publics” [ed. Varnelis] we should not look at the technologies but look more carefully at the desires of the society that gave shape to and created these technologies to serve its needs.

Some major influences on my thinking here include the recent work of historian and cultural theorist Kazys Varnelis, who is the director of Columbia University’s Netlab, Nina Simon who perhaps coined the term “Museum 2.0” with her notable weblog dedicated to the subject, and Dr Angelina Russo who presides over a weblog titled Museum 3.0 (perhaps trumping Nina, or maybe just because Museum 2.0 was taken). All three are amazing thinkers and far more qualified scholars than I am. I have also been reading AAM’s Center For the Future of  Museums’ recently commissioned study “Museums & Society: 2034” and The New Media Consortium’s “2009 Horizon Report” which forecasts the adoption of emergent technologies in public space. I will summarize those in a future post.

Tim Ventimiglia

The Post-Modern Museum

At some point in the mid 20th Century the modern museum began to take on a new form. Consumer culture gained a hightened level of self-consciousness, and the very notion of “the self” as shaped by individual experiences rather than a societal imperatives, took root and fostered a new way of thinking about museums. What emerged was a focus on the customer, a deeper understanding of the audience and meeting that audience’s needs. The post-modern museum emphasizes the user, education, relevancy and accessibility. In fact it is often described as a place of lifelong learning, supplementary to a more formal education compulsory learning in schools. Unlike the modern museum which might be characterized by didactic pedagogy, learning in a post-modern museum is experiential and accounts for different learning styles. Here the constituent chooses his or her own interests and the museum tailors its programs and exhibitions to those interests. Instead of prioritizing the curator’s voice as an overarching authority, these museums rely more on the meanings produced by their visitors and constituents through interactive engagement. As Eilean Hooper-Greenhill puts it “Meaning is produced by museum visitor from their own point of view, using whatever knowledge and skills they bring with them, according to the contingent demands of the moment”. Here, modern social psychology and constructivist educational theory prevails.

Museum Stages.xlsx

Exhibitions in these museums are largely developed with the aid of professional designers, creative practitioners who borrow the tools of advertising, a carefully crafted language, the focus group, formative evaluation and the survey. They are generally multi-modal, mixing a large variety of tools and techniques – combining exhibit script, objects, photography, graphics, media, interactivity, immersive sensory experiences, dramatic and directed lighting  – all of which serves to stimulate the exploratory desires of the visitor. The may have a proscriptive route but often have ways to wander and impulsively dig deeper into subjects you might be interested in. The ultimate challenge of this kind of museum which seeks cultural relevancy is that culture is a moving target.

Tim Ventimiglia

Reading Response: Museum and Map; the Interpretation of Visual Culture

If Museums back in the 19th century were regarded as educational institutions with a great social role, then today they are considered as more of tourist attraction or money generating tool for the local government. Fast forward to today and take a look at a museum and its audience’s relationship. The museum’s “role of being educational had always been well established as a concept” (Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. p.1) and because this relationship is changing in times of advanced technology and with changing culture, museum will also need to change its way of doing things.

The concept of education had been changing throughout the centuries, “they’re not limited to formal institutions but taken place throughout life” (Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. p.2 ).  The old concept of education are limited to specific times and places and with museum, it is limited to a certain location at the interior space. Yet, the museum should have the potential as a lifelong learning tool.

Most people would define visual display as the experience of a museum. Since each individual object in a museum cannot speak a story by itself, “An exhibition is a group of objects combined with words and images – are more complex still” (Hooper Greenhill, Eilean. p.3)  and from Victoria Newhouse’s book  “ placement can change the meaning of the artwork” (Newhouse, Victora. p.10)  All objects have to be placed together in a museum, and depending on the visual arrangement, viewers have a 50/50 chance of perceiving the intended meaning, even after they perceived them, they might not agree with them. With different cultures, come different values, so interpretation does not come with a singular meaning but multiple when viewed by many different audiences.

“Museum have changed radically in style” Hooper Greenhill, Eilean. (p.6) – where formal museum galleries have changed and replaced by informal style where it communicates with visitors in a more lively and more physical interaction. That is because “learners need to interact in meaningful ways with new information before it can become part of their repertoire of knowledge,”( Hooper Greenhill, Eilean. p.7)

Museum are trying to incorporate audience and visitor’s info and research into their process of exhibition, and by looking at the internet like Wikipedia which incorporate user’s knowledge into their database and website. Wikipedia has become more successful in that respect. That is not to say that museums cannot do better. Museums have the advantage of showcasing an actual object, “Although paintings might have to fight for their life, they look better in a home than in a museum because they’re alive, you feel them…” (Newhouse, Victora. p.13) because of this factor, many museums had considered showing certain artwork without any separation between viewers and the object itself these days.

Philip Kwok

Learning from the Libraries

Bibliotheca Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt designed by Snøhetta

Bibliotheca Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt designed by Snøhetta

When recently pressed for their vision of the future of the museum, two totally unrelated people (albeit museum people) began talking in excitedly about libraries they had recently visited. One person noted that if you shuttered a local museum, people might hardly notice. And if you shuttered the local library there would be clamor and outrage. It is true that if given a choice both governments and foundations tend to favor the library. Perhaps there is something far more essential about a library than a museum.

The library is at least as old as the museum and likely precedes it by some degree. In fact many of our greatest museums began as new wings of college libraries that had expanded to include objects. These were the great ‘teaching museums’. Libraries are fundamentally akin to museums in that their missions include collecting and preserving knowledge and making that knowledge accessible to a defined end-user. Both provide access to knowledge through collections and use the exhibition as a means to make their holdings more visible. Similar to museums, the earliest libraries were created by and for privileged classes of society. But nowadays libraries are assumed to be integral to any society’s public educational infrastructure, freely accessible spaces of learning and study for everyone. In the developed world access to a good library is considered as fundamental a right as an education, a fair justice system or access to basic utilities such as water and electricity.

In the last decade we have seen great innovations in libraries around the world. The old form of the library as a vast repository of books is currently undergoing a renaissance with the rapid development of customizable digital catalogs, new media storage capabilities, the scanner, the web and other interfaces that supplement the physical book. While many prophesied that the Internet would kill the book (fatality still pending), the Net has with some irony made the library more essential as a socializing space where communities share the experience of accessing knowledge content across new mediums. No longer called Libraries, these spaces are now called Media Centers and Information Literacy Centers. The former emphasis on the book is replaced with a more all-encompassing media representing a spectrum of technologies that includes the books and other objects. These are multilingual, multi-modal, inclusive spaces of community engagement, storytelling, and even story-gathering as libraries add recording, broadcasting and distance learning capabilities that enable them not only to preserve content but also to produce and distribute it.

A few notable examples include:

Toyo Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque (opened 2001) was an inspiring model for what was to come in the next decade. Not a vision of a library based on the book, Ito’s library placed more emphasis on infrastructure, access and transparency. Also notable is that he decided to essentially build an open structural shell that could be transformed over time by generations of new media, new uses and forms of occupation. He even relinquished control of the interiors assigning each level to a different architect.

Snøhetta’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt (opened 2002) is a resurrection of Alexander the Great’s iconic library of the same name and perhaps at least mythically, is the most famous library in the world.

Salt Lake City Library (opened 2004) designed by architect Moshe Safdie has become a major downtown destination  with is coffee and sandwich shops, open fire pits to warm your feet at while you browse half a million titles in their catalog.

Soon to follow was Rem Koolhaas’ Seattle Central Library (opened 2004) which has drawn record attendance and use by citizens of Seattle and design tourists. In the true spirit of a library as free source of information, Rem was kind enough to post his concept design brief online for us to review now ten years after he presented it to his visionary client.

The Aarhus Library in Jutland, Denmark by SHL Architects (to open 2009) definitely promises to break the out of the moldy, old, quiet, box full of books. “[This library] features an ‘info column,’ where people share digital news stories; an ‘info galleria’ where patrons explore digital maps layered with factoids; a digital floor that lets people immerse themselves in information; and RFID-tagged book phones that kids point at specific books to hear a story.” Sulter The Aarhus Library even created a design lab to research new approaches to library use and design. They made a video to explain their process.

Perhaps these library projects can shed some light on where museums need to go to be more effective in the future. Most museums are burdened with the preservation of vast collections of unique and rare items. Their charters often stipulate that if they cannot preserve their collections, then they have no business doing anything else. This includes engaging with the public with exhibitions, educational programs and new media experiences. It is likely that libraries  – whose collections typically only contain a small portion of un-reproducible, rare objects, books and documents – have had an easier time transforming themselves from the inside out.

(timventi)