'Live Narratives: sharing authorship on line and on site' Ross Parry
What happened when digital media started to walk into the gallery? How did it change the architecture and environment? What is it doing now, and what is the meaning of the sensory situated media in 'narrative space'?
Firstly, how does narrative relate to the museum? At one end of the spectrum, we have a very specific, textual narrative, and at the other something wider, anything experienced within space and time. Ross argues that there are lead narratives: first the constructive. Because of our architectural heritage we have found ourselves using buildings which are linear and progressive. They take us through prescribed movements, having a footprint similar to the renaissance moment in which we started to build museums. The process of navigating through architectonic space is a narrative one. Narrative is in our bricks and mortar. But there is another tradition; interpretation. If we think about the scholarly subjects which have defined our collections and documentation, they are pervaded by narrative sequences and ideas - Gombrich's Story of Art being one example. We have a tradition of chronology in history, and the sciences, and we seem unable to escape it. The theoretical lenses which we have traditionally used have been predisposed to sequence and narrativety. But there is another theory; that of communication. Narrative is the natural condition of storytelling, a default setting to relate knowledge. Yet a fourth aspect is the performative. The traditions which shape the museum include theatricality and drama, of masque, entertainment and shows. That still exists today. Museums, then, are narrative. Narrative is a function of them.
About twenty years ago, we began to use devices which began to play with this idea of narrative. The internet provided a web of distributed users outside the museum. The museum began to visit the users. This challenged the notion of the visitor event and questioned where narrative took place. When we first began to build museum websites, they were analaogous to the buildings. But now we are beginning to build sites which are far more web-specific. The hyper-link has changed our notion of narrative, opening myriad possibilities for the reader. But the linkages remain hard wired (or they have done thus far). This environment was dominated by the database, which according to Manovich has become the symbolic form of our age. We could layer, interconnect, and filter content, building connections of your own within that database. The reader becomes empowered. And this also meant that the reader could speak back.
Though the print world heavily influenced the early web, there is now an idea of augmented narrative. Situated media allows information to be attached to a specific geographical location. Both the museum and the user can access and tune this information. Readers can choose the relevant pieces of information. The move towards mobile technology has huge potential, but it is troubling for our idea of controlled narrative. The semantic web too is challenging us. Even in recent technology we have had control, but the semantic web challenges our control and authorship. The social web is now the place of the pro-sumer, the producer-consumer. Whilst the museum may provide and promote content, we go out to the user, rather than waiting for them to come to our websites, which makes the museum's role as narrator very, very different. And with the text becoming ever more multisensory, this will change further. This world is always on.
The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.