Thursday, 8 May 2008

Notes from 'Who has the responsibility for saying what we see?' in the 'Theoretical Frameworks' session, MW2008

These are my notes from the second paper, 'Who has the responsibility for saying what we see? mashing up Museum and Visitor voices, on-site and online' by Peter Samis in the Theoretical Frameworks session chaired by Darren Peacock at Museums and the Web 2008.

The other session papers were Object-centred democracies: contradictions, challenges and opportunities by Fiona Cameron and The API as Curator by Aaron Straup Cope; all the conference papers and notes I've blogged have been tagged with 'MW2008'.

It's taken me a while to catch up on some of my notes - real life has a way of demanding attention sometimes. Any mistakes are mine, any comments corrections are welcome, and the comments in [square brackets] below are mine.

Peter Samis spoke about the work of SFMOMA with Olafur Eliasson. His slides are here.

How our perception changes how we see the world...

"Objecthood doesn’t have a place in the world if there’s not an individual person making use of that object… I of course don’t think my work is about my work. I think my work is about you." (Olafur Eliasson, 2007)

Samis gave an overview of the exhibitions "Take your time: Olafur Eliasson" and "Your tempo" presented at SFMOMA.

The "your" in the titles demands a proactive and subjective approach; stepping into installations rather than looking at paintings. The viewer is integral to the fulfilment of a works potential.

Do these rules apply to all [museum] objects? These are the questions...

They aimed to encourage visitors in contemplation of their own experience.

Visitors who came to blog viewed 75% of pages. Comments were left by 2% of blog visitors.

There was a greater in interest in seeing how others responded than in contributing to the conversation. Comments were a 'mixed bag'.

The comments helped with understanding visitor motivations in narratives... there's a visual 'Velcro effect' - some artworks stay with people - the more visceral the experience of various artworks, the greater the corresponding number of comments.

[Though I wondered if it's an unproblematic and direct relationship? People might have a relationship with the art work that doesn't drive them to comment; that requires more reflection to formulate a response; or that might occur at an emotional rather than intellectual level.]

Visitors also take opportunity to critique the exhibition/objects and curatorial choices when asked to comment.

What are the criteria of values for comments? By whose standards? And who within the institution reads the blog?

How do you know if you've succeeded? Depends on goals.

"We opened the door to let visitors in... then we left the room. They were the only ones left in the room." - the museum opens up to the public then steps out of the dialogue. [Slide 20]

[I have quoted this in conversation so many times since the conference. I think it's an astute and powerful summary of the unintended effect of participatory websites that aren't integrated into the museum's working practices. We say we want to know what our visitors think, and then we walk away while they're still talking. This image is great because it's so visceral - everyone realises how rude that is.]

Typology/examples of museum blogs over time... based on whether they open to comments, and whether they act like docents/visitors assistants and have conversations with the public in front of the artworks.

If we really engage with our visitors, will we release the "pent up comments"?
A NY Times migraine blog post had 294 reflective, articulate, considered, impassioned comments on the first day.

[What are your audiences' pent up questions? How do you find the right questions? Is it as simple as just asking our audiences, and even if it isn't, isn't that the easiest place to start? If we can crack the art of asking the right questions to elicit responses, we're in a better position.]

Nina Simon's hierarchy of social participation. Museums need to participate to get to higher levels of co-creative, collaborative process. "Community producer" - enlist others, get
cross fertilisation.

Even staff should want to return to your blogs and learn from them.

[Who are the comments that people leave addressed to? Do we tell them or do we just expect them to comment into empty space? Is that part of the reason for low participation rates? What's the relationship between participation and engagement? But also because people aren't participating in the forum you provide, doesn't mean they're not participating somewhere else... or engaging with it in other forums, conversations in the pubs, etc not everything is captured online even if the seed is online and in your institution. ]

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