Definitions of Museums and Museums Through History
Looking at the history and origins of museums was really amazing. A lot of the far off history being speculative because so little information exists leaves this air of mysticism surrounding the spaces. I’ve always found museums to feel so majestic, no matter the size, there’s something inherently profound about preserving and displaying human or natural history. It seems fitting that the word museum comes from the greek mouseion, seat of the muses, as they inspire and encourage discussion and learning.
In looking at various ways to define a museum, it seems that it will constantly evolve, especially as technology comes more to the forefront. The categories defined in Dillenberg’s article What, If Anything Is a Museum? make the most sense (non-profit, permanent, open to the public, public service, collections, exhibits), but I could technically define my living room as a museum. Even he proves that some of those categories are not absolute, not all museums are non-profit, example.
It will be interesting to see how those “boundaries” are pushed in the future, and how that applies to the museums we learn about this semester.
I want to talk about museums and soft power because I feel so excited about the discussion, but I’m not quite sure how to fit it in with everything else so I’m dropping it right here.
I have always believed that museums have the ability to make change. I think it’s something that has proven itself in the past whether museums are aware of their affect or not. I think it’s imperative that museums use this power to influence society, but I agree with Professor Devine that the adverse affects of negative influence are something to fear. Museums are a universal platform for education, and with that comes the power to inform and manipulate people’s perceptions (for better or worse). I am interested to see how this idea plays out as we discuss other aspects of museums studies, and begin to uncover whether certain ways of influencing patrons are intentional or subconscious.
In going back to museum structure, I connected to the point that Bob Mondello makes in A History Of Museums, ‘The Memory Of Mankind’ (2008) that the tensions between creating a space of learning and that of interest and oddity still exist in museums today.
I grew up going to the Mutter Museum, in Philadelphia, which walks right on that line. It was first created as an institution for student doctors and now exists more as a space to see things you’ve only ever heard about in scary stories. (I didn’t know shrunken heads were a real thing until I saw two examples there)
I’d like to think that museums are learning to walk that line in an educational fashion. Mondello states “museums use curiosity exhibits as an opportunity to talk about the science of genetic abnormalities and defects.” I think that this shift is what has drawn more attention back towards museums in the time since that article was written. Even in thinking about performances as an oddity or attraction Marina Abromovic’s The Artist is Present created a huge upsurge in attendance at MOMA in 2010, and according to some views would appear to be more of a spectacle than an educational event. (something I disagree with and could argue backwards and forwards until Marina Abromovic actually shows up to stare at me)
It would be interesting to discuss more on the trend of the museum as a party or gathering space. Mondello points to wine tastings and fancy events as a way to draw patrons. I want to discuss as which point these events seem to overshadow the true work that a museum is attempting to do, or at what point the commercial or corporate involvement in these events no longer serves a valued purpose.
I’ve seen galleries tread these waters. Where their spaces become places to be seen, and interaction with the work barely happens. Friends would joke about the height of someone’s heals or the sharp slickness of their hair inversely affecting how much they actually look at the work on the walls, but that they make up for it in the amount of selfies they post. Is it possible to quell that? Are we doomed as unassuming cyborgs?
Technology and the Museum
Technology in the museum setting seems necessary. People are so intertwined with technology that it is expected to be made available, especially in large museum settings. I think the real question comes down to the twinkie vs. brussels sprout idea that was discussed by Matt Richtel and Terry Gross in Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets (2010). What are the things that provide unnecessary glitter and detract from what’s actually important, and what are the pieces of technology that will nourish your experience.
What I would give for a google maps style program to get me around the Met and remind me which gallery numbers I want to visit instead of a reminder to use the correct hashtag.
This statement “Sometimes it is possible to take this a step further and involve the end-user in the process as part of an interactive artwork, e.g., enabling remote communication via the Internet (Edmonds & Franco 2013).” from Digitalism: The New Realism (Bowen & Giannini 2014) got me thinking about unintended user interactions with technology as artwork.
My friend, Kevin Clancy, is a current artist in residence at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA. Part of his installation includes a mechanized hand that continually scrolls on an iPad designed to imitate a pastel social media nothingness. The installation is secure, the screen and program are completely locked, but somehow patrons have been able to manipulate the iPad and mechanized hand to take selfies. (we are still trying to figure out how) One might think “sure some tech geek thought it would be funny to mess with the art,” but this wasn’t a one time occurrence. This has happened multiple times, on different days. Are they now collaborators? This project designed to illustrate the mindlessness of social media is being hacked and further proving the point.
How can we anticipate how visitors will interact with a space?
(image used with permission of the artist, Kevin Clancy)
We discussed a bit in class about the idea of “unplugging” from technology. It was surprising to me how few of my classmates have attempted to unplug, or were unaware or afraid of the idea of doing so.
What are we without our natural instincts? I refuse to feel trapped or controlled by something that fits in my pocket or backpack, but maybe I’ve seen too many episodes of Black Mirror.
I really liked the point that Calvin Newport makes on the Note To Self podcast What We Learned When 25,000 People Tried to Fight Information Overload (2016), about how much we really don’t care about seeing our old roommate playing with their kids on social media, but fail to consider how much of our time and energy is wasted viewing the garbage anyway (or something more eloquent than that).
Addiction to technology is something that I feel very aware of. Perhaps having lived, for the last seven years, in an area of the country where cell phone service is not always readily available (far Northern Michigan, but not the Upper Peninsula where you still connect to the internet using dial up) I became accustomed to unplugging more often. I look forward to it, honestly.
I have definitely experienced the effects of being more creative and productive as were discussed by Matt Richtel and Terry Gross in Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets (2010), and I think it’s spot on that when we live our lives day in, day out attempting to remain connected and available through all of our digital selves we don’t give ourselves the space to grow and become who we are. Nothing sticks. We aren’t doing the deeper work, we’re just glossing over it with a fresh instagram picture, or a new tweet. (OOooh, I wonder if I hit my 10K!)
When I moved to Grand Rapids four years ago (the BIG CITY!) I noticed so many of my friends plugging into their phones while trying to hold conversations with me. One friend in particular becoming so absorbed in her Instagram account that I actually got up and left without her noticing. After that point I chose to be more aware of my phone and internet use. I turn my phone off completely when I’m at artist residencies, classes, or on vacation, checking it only at night for calls from my family. I keep it in my pocket if I’m having a conversation with someone. I sleep with my phone in the other room, I don’t check it until after I’ve had a glass of water in the morning. I only have notifications activated for texts and phone calls. I only just got a twitter account, and still don’t fully understand how to use it.
Still, I find myself mindlessly scrolling while waiting for the bus. I try, but I am not immune. While doing this assignment I have continuously switched between multiple tabs, built a desk while listening to the podcasts and ted talks, made coffee (twice), and hung up some art in my apartment.
I still wonder if my aversions will affect my ability to succeed or connect in a world and industry that seems to be so plugged in. Is there a way to have balance and still get where I want to go?