I recently started a new full time position, after working multiple part time contracts at different galleries, working in education, administration, fundraising and communication, it feels great to have a bit of job security, something I think is still pretty rare among my peers and the chance to focus on one major aspect of the way museums and galleries interact with the public. It is also interesting to interpret this position within the themes of this weeks seminars and the asynchronous seminar conversations.
With the Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University I have begun work on the the newly created role of Curator of Digital Engagement. The position is fully funded by the Canada Council for the Arts under its new “Artistic Catalysts” program of support for public galleries and museums.
This position means I will curate the Owens’ program of digital engagement and interactivity, towards a complete reconsideration of the use and sharing of the museum’s resources. This includes the information that is produced, collected and used, and the contributions of users themselves. The goal is to share resources and prioritize visitor experience and visitor contributions in innovative, inclusive and informed ways.
Reading Chapter 8- Discourse and Analysis II, I was able to make links to the Owen Art Gallery with every point raised, about what we do and deliberately do not do to moderate audience engagement. My most immediate reaction was that this article was clearly published in the early 2000’s, and when the internet yet was not fully integrated into everyday life the way it is today. Most of the analysis did not include the way galleries and museums function on the internet, and the way that the internet mediates how an audience experiences the work the institution presents. (see previous journal about Kasuma exhibit at AGO, Thoughts on VL4: https://wordpress.com/post/rachelthorntonjournal.wordpress.com/711).
In terms of public art gallery websites and social media, there are such exciting opportunities available in terms of data mining, open collection and education that go so far beyond promoting ‘hit’ exhibitions. Institutions like The Cooper Hewitt use their website to allow visitors to search through their entire digitized collection. Similarly, the current The Met Residency is also housed online, currently through a podcast by The Memory Palace. While the architecture of the physical museum doesn’t have much effect on this experience, the design of the website and the devices we use to access it, takes on the same importance.
When visiting the physical museums, the internet and social media, it is exciting to see the no touching, no photography rules are changing, and how that changes the way audiences have access to art.
In terms of no touching, touch tours are becoming more and more common in the aims of making galleries more accessible. However withing the role of most galleries is to conserve and protect artworks the sustainability, and authenticity is in the process of improving. To protect the works from damage through not touching, I have always taken the stance that if someone is going to touch a work that could be damaged, this is an educational opportunity. Don’t, just say ‘don’t touch’ but let them know why we don’t touch artworks (preservation, sharing, artist intent…), and then eventually it is no longer a ‘no touch rule’ but the gallery is just known as a place where works are cared for by not touching some of them. These ideas of conservation and the behind the scenes elements that goes along with conservation can be shared through social media. When it is not possible to have the public present for every aspect of the treatments it can be shared digitally (moma – matisse paper works) and thus demystifying the roles of conservators, curators and preparators and breaking down some of the preexisting power relations.
Going along with Rose’s initial argument that photographs as art and documents/surveillance are inherently different, the photographs taken in galleries of art are different too, possibly a new third category of photography. These photographs, primarily taken for social media, can be used as a tool for education and outreach. Through that outreach a broader audience is able to connect with the works in public galleries, which are for them, and feel a sense of ownership.
Through social media it is also possible to present new voices beyond that of artist and the curator of the exhibition. You get the preparator’s voice, the education team, the videographers, the interns, the docents – expanding who feel they have the authority to talk about art. I think this have the possibility to expand even further, allowing any one who comments to be validated and have a voice in the conversation.
Ad an artist how can I use these ideas within my own work’s presentation?
This idea of the internet as a site for education, outreach and the ability to connect with an audience even when they are not physically in the gallery are the top priorities for me in my work, and is starting to become integrated into my art making from the ground up. As my exploratory project will have an internet based component, how can I ensure that the way it is viewed and interacted with, subvert or challenge the way objects are already classified in their scientific and objective principles. How do I make the audience feel that they are the ‘experts’. How will I use the internet as my technology of display to break down the power relation between viewer, artwork and institution?