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.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bygone Macclesfield Pubs

Check out this wonderful project by Jonathan Chadwick, which makes use of photographic archives. I would love to do something similar with my vintage postcards of Leicester. I have previously attempted a 'then and now' series of photographs, but none so nearly as successful as these, which have a real emotional impact.

The Artistic Type: Latest News: Bygone Macclesfield Pubs

Museums at Night 2010

As many of you will be aware, Museums at Night is coming up! Even though we only have one event here in Leicester (get on with it LCC!), I'm excited. I'm especially excited too, to have been invited to the launch of the event, so I'm off to London today! I shall report back with all the gossip, and an update on the soon-to-open Florence Nightingale Museum!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Exhibition of Circus Photography

At the Ringling Museum in Wisonsin (an interesting place in itself - check out the miniature circus!), the photographs of life taken by Frederick W. Glasier taken during the heydey of the American Circus provide an evocative, sometimes melancholy, peek behind the scenes of this strange and ancient form of theatre. Its on from May 15, 2010 - September 6, 2010. Worth a peek, methinks, if you're Wisconsin way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CTCC workshop on public art and tourism in Leeds

The Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change is pleased to announce the
following forthcoming one-day Workshop that might be of interest to you:


21 May 2010

Old School Board, Boardroom

Calverley Street, LS1 3ED, Leeds

Artwork is now often used in place marketing, but does public art attract
tourists? Do artists share a language with destination managers? How can
artists, art managers, destination managers and tourism promoters work
together? Is what is good for art also good for tourism? And what kind of
publics do art and tourism produce?

There are questions to be asked about the role of art as utilitarian
objects or live events: should art be useful? What is use in relation to
art? What makes art public? And how do we articulate the importance of the
extra-ordinary in our experience of public spaces? Should tourism be a
concern for artists, or should art be a concern for tourism? In a time of
tighter public spending, how should tourism managers be thinking about and
working with publics, artists and art?
The Workshop will be of interest to professionals working in arts
management and regional development; destination managers at local and
regional level; tourism development organisation and consultant; owners and
managers of tourism sites as well as artists.

The Workshop will feature the following experts:

* Nicola Hughes
Communications Manager, The Northern Way
* Dr Nigel D Morpeth
Artist and Senior Lecturer, Tourism and Entertainment Management, Leeds
Metropolitan University
* Katy Hallet
National Art Co-ordinator, Sustrans
* Professor Franco Bianchini
Professor of Cultural Policy and Planning, Leeds Metropolitan University
* Sue Ball
Director, Media and Arts Partnership (MAAP)
* Professor Mike Robinson
Director, Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change (CTCC), Leeds Metropolitan
* William Culver-Dodds
Director, Culver-Dodds Cultural Consultancy (CDCC)
Registration and Fee:

The Workshop is open to everyone interested in the outlined themes. The
delegate fee for the full day is £75. Booking can be made online at

Workshop Venue:

The Workshop will be held in the Old School Board on Calverley Street in the
centre of Leeds. The venue is opposite the Leeds Town Hall and behind the
Leeds City Art Gallery. The closest car park is 2 minutes by foot in front
at the Rose Bowl on Woodhouse Lane. The venue is also less than 10 minutes
walk from Leeds Railway Station.

A map of the venue can be downloaded online at
Programme outline

The registration will start at 9:30am and the workshop will be finished by
5pm. The complete programme will be available soon on the website.

For further information, updates and the link to the online registration
please go to

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Alternative Method of Guiding...

For those of you who are interested in guided tours and the visitor experience, as well as artist interventions, an interesting take on this has just been published over at the Mythogeography Blog

Here's the linky

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Obscura Day 2010

I've posted about Obscura Day before. It's cool! If you want to see a short video about the day this year, you can go

Narrative Space Coda - Concluding Thoughts and Thanks

Well, that was the conference that was Narrative Space! I've been thrilled to be a part of it, and to be allowed to bring it to you Attic readers. I hope you've enjoyed reading it. There are a few things which I'd like to do, before I sign off completely though.

Firstly, the thanks. To Suzanne, Laura and Johnathan for all their hard work in organising this conference and for selecting such an inspiring selection of papers. Thank you too, to the speakers and delegates who came and contributed so interestingly and well. And thank you too, to the caterers, to the City Rooms for accommodating us and feeding us (yes, even me!) really well.

Special thanks to Barbara, Jim and Bob. They've truly been sterling, and they didn't murder me when I was daft!

Well. The conference has raised a number of questions, of the nature of narrative, the role of space in its unfolding, and the power of people to change and build their independent narratives within that. There have been so many things to think about, so much of use. I'm not sure I've fully absorbed all of it yet, I'm afraid.

But I hope you've enjoyed reading the blog, and I hope that people will comment upon it. I hope that the conference delegates will read this, that the speakers and others will comment, and perhaps some of them would like to do a guest post sometime. I'd hope so.

I've met so many wonderful people, and I hope that we can continue a dialogue well into the future. Because really, one thing the conference has highlighted is that narratives don't have to end. They can continue. So this is thank you, but not good night. Because as Bachelard wrote in The Poetics of Space

'For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts – serious, sad thoughts, and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.'

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Ten

Well, really, these are some thoughts which I had, and a short prescie of Adam Caruso's talk at Nottingham Contemporary Arts Centre yesterday. But I had to post it now, because by the time we got back to Leicester I had literally fifteen minutes to get out of the house to go to the conference dinner last night! So sorry about that...

'Experience and Interpretation' Adam Caruso

What is it to build a place for contemporary art? asks Adam Caruso. He is, himself, heavily influenced by art in his practice as an architect. When he began, the contemporary arts scene in the UK was, he felt, far more vibrant than architecture. CarusoStJohn Architects gained a reputation for understanding contemporary art and the spaces in which it exists.

A number of exhibitions have achieved legendary status in his own mind, and therefore the prime motive for Caruso is making exhibitions memorable. Architecture should, he argues, have a commonality with the content, sharing the needs and purposes of the art. Taking inspiration from united places, such as churches and palaces, and houses designed around art such as the Lembach House and Leighton House, he argues that architecture should work in concord with the art, should feel right.

But he also argues, correctly, that while you need to be site specific, something which has come up a lot this week, you also need to build in this the opportunity for development and change.

Actually, part of this might be acheived through working with spaces not originally designed for art. Through his work with artists, he has learned that they very often enjoy working in found spaces, spaces not built for art, facing the challenges and taking the opportunities which these offer. The success of PS1 in New York is an example of this.

This idea of 'found spaces' very much influenced his work on Nottingham Contemporary. The brief for this he found inspiring, open to the idea of artist run places so popular in the 1960s, time-based practice art as well as installation art, and a sense of the role of the audience in completing the artwork. They allowed room for a shifting programme, for change, and development.

The site was one which was found, an old industrial site near the old Lace factories. This made history deeply influential on the project, and it was also important that the building spoke to the present environment in which it sat. Thus there is a large hard landscaping element to the project. The masonry of the building is reflective of the sandstone escarpments for which Nottingham is famous, the gold camera structures on the roof echoing the buildings which lie atop them. The cladding of the building reflects the lace making past of the city.

This talk was inspiring, really interesting and powerful. And interestingly, the space we were sitting in listening to it, was a space which was found during the excavations of the site. I have to say that I was deeply impressed with the space of the building and will, one day, return when I've more time, and more brain power.

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Nine

'Place Time and Memory' Stephen Greenberg/ Rachel Morris

Stephen Greenberg is, unfortunately, ill today. We hope he gets better soon! Fortunately, Rachel Morris, also of Metaphor, has stepped in to read his paper, for which we thank her enormously!

This paper suggests the relationship between storytelling and architecture, and how this might develop. How might the thoughts which we formulate in museums be applied beyond this, into the world of urban space, in mixing content and architecture, narrative and art together. Can we move performance into the wider cityscape?

The First Emperor was very theatrical and multisensory, as I experienced myself when I went there. Exhibtion design tells story, uses content, but it also uses facsimilie and simulacra. One of the biggest challenges in upscaling the interpretive environment to the cityscape, is that those architectures more often use form and content. When the key driver is commercial, such things are almost inevitable. Where, in this, is the story.

Le Corbusier's Voisin Plan for Paris was visionary, and dominated much of the 20th century. This has meant that much past and history has been erased. The past has been wiped out in many places. When a building is demolished, its intangible memories are lost. But still, even in buildings which are reappropriated, the past is erased.

The post-modernists, though, were interested in the collision of eras. The Sainsbury Wing, which samples a range of styles, reflects this ideal, much as Eliot's poetry does. Whilst the moderns wanted to confine history, the post-moderns wanted to pile it in, and bring it out, in the present. For centuries, we have lived in organically growing cities, in cities without Voisin plans. We need to make story a part of our landscape. Dennis Severs' House is the closest you can get to time-travel, as if he tried to bring Hogarth back to life. When you come out, you move back into the modern world, from candlelight to towers of glass.

Architects and urbanists do not use stories as much as others do. Goven used to be one of the great shipbuilding areas of Glasgow, with a handsome, but run down high street. At one end is a Viking burial mound, with a church upon it. This looks across to a new transport museum, which seems disconnected from the community across the river. Metaphor put a bid in for this, which wanted to relate to the past of the Glaswegian community. But they lost out to Zahar Adhid.

It seems interesting that city councils so often want starchitect branding for their city. In a sense I suppose they are trying to do right by their city, but they don't always do so. This often means that homogenity ensues, and we loose the sense of the authentic city. I find this a terrible shame.

El Paseo, Santa Barbara, was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1925. But it used the local community history, and is now one of the most beautiful American cities, retaining rules and character with regard to its building principles. But whose history takes precedence when you do so? Such things are always subjective and selective, and places engage with so much history, so many layers, that inevitably some are elided, or subsumed.

Accuracy is a different thing from atmosphere. Places which are not wholly historically accurate may yet, I would argue, retain some soul. But sometimes, fully accurate reconstructions are heartless. It is because they have no story.

Sur-i Sultani Penninsula, Istanbul. Places are made up of pivotal moments, and Istanbul's come from 312, Constantine's conversion, and the 1453 Ottoman invasion. It is a site of multiple metanarratives which have often been hidden or dispersed, and need bringing out, or put into dialogue. Here Metaphor's interpretive plan pivots around the principle that objects come back to their appropriate home, using three buildings as museums, and the landscape around it to build a narrative and public spaces for the citizens, a landscape of many histories which tells the story of 'One Place, Three Worlds'. Such a landscape of many histories can be found at Museum Island. Stories are central to interpretation, and interpretation is central to placemaking. The past is a foreign place, but we can use storytelling to at least come to an imaginative engagement with it.

Whilst the current architectural zeitgeist is about fragmentation, stories are about connection, and when you run the two together, something very interesting occurs. The inscribed skin of buildings, so prevalent in design before modernism, has been lost, and perhaps we need to re-engage with this.

Metaphor are currently working on the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and I'm impatient to get in there and see how it turns out! Climbing up the staircase there, the visitor goes on a journey through Egyptian history, and is a concept which gives "power to stories and stories" Stephen and Rachel say, "give power to the future".

I shall update you all later with the concluding thoughts from the conference - looking forward to it chaps!

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Eight

'Where do you want the label: the role of graphics in museums and exhibitions' Jona Piehl

We've heard a lot about spaces and narratives, but what about the graphics? As a graphic designer, Piehl argues that these are one of the most important elements in any exhibition. Where do they fit in transmitting the content? How can they transmit the full richness of the content? Why should they be restricted only to labels and panels? They need to be integrated with the three dimensional whole.

Graphics are the physical carrier of the work, the storyline. They should cater to the narrative, audience and space, and should be accessible and orientative. So what, then, can they be, and how would this change the relationship between curator and graphic designer? Looking at four projects which she has worked on, Jona Piehl explores this question.

The first was the Age of Couture at the V&A, where graphics were used to set time and place, photography and text panels on the walls, and a chronological rendering of the thematic layout of the exhibition on the gallery guide. This timeline was also expanded further on the walls of the coda of the exhibition. This project allowed a lot of collaboration in terms of the development of the exhibition, making the graphics very specific for the exhibition.

Ice Station Antartica at the Natural History Museum was developed as a mock training camp for an Antarctic exhibition. The graphics were used almost as a brand to keep the identity of this training camp, which could be moved then into different venues. Pictogrammes were used throughout, to create not an exhibition, but a real camp with an identity.

The British Music Experience at the O2 had no curators, no objects, and no storylines. There was an architectural site, and a vague idea. This made the design of the graphics rather interesting...Given, too, that the content spanned a period of 50 years of British Popular Music, and that it was unfixed when they first came into the project, they had to use suggestion rather than explicitly stating the contact. They created different areas which evoked different times, using photographs and custom typefaces. So whilst the graphics are very vocal, they do not explicitly reflect the content.

Medical Futures, at the Miraikan Museum in Tokyo, had extremely complicated content. So they decided to take a visual embodiment of DNA to inform the order of the content and the theme in terms of the graphic treatment. It became a grid for the exhibition. The form of the graphics holds the themes together, but they don't interfere with the content, which are highly complex. The graphics here are more decorative and organisational rather than embodying deeper layers of meaning. But this was the appropriate role for it in this situation.

Graphics, then, have multiple roles. Organisation, as backdrop, as branding device, as carrier of information and as level of meaning in their own right. An interesting question arises about the audience's reading of them, and how and whether they differentiate between the curator and the designer. Graphics and content should work together to the benefit of the relation of the meaning designers should engage with content, and museums should engage with designers, and accept that sometimes they need to listen to each other. Graphics can both tell and display stories, and really should be given more consideration in the construction of museological narrative. They are part of the space, which I have heard a lot about this week, so Jona's presentation is a refreshing point of view!

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Seven

'The Thick Present: Architecture, Narration and Film' Samantha Martin McAuliffe

How can architectures distant in place and time be made to seem close to us? Film might be one such tool.

What can film tell us about architecture? This is a very difficult question. Theoretically, the chronicle of film can provide a whole, objective vision of proof. But this is not, perhaps, the case. Films can fictionalise space, can be made with a particular vision belonging to the filmmaker. Can we ask film to convey more than the concrete, the ineffable and intangible elements of architecture, which are beyond the visual? Architectures are not just visual. But film, in many ways, restricts us to this. Buildings smell. They sound. They can be touched, and maybe even tasted. Buildings also become memorable and affective/effective when they encourage emotional and sensory experiences. This is the thickening of the present, in which we revist sites over and over again.

These buildings can loose their meanings as they degrade and are demolished. Dara McGrade questions what happens when architecture comes to the end of its life. What would happen if we designed an architectural exhibition was desgined around these more intangible memories, rather than about the diagrammatic study of the building? TAKA Architects did this at the Venice Viannale in 2008, which was called The Lives of Spaces The architects used films to address the here and now, but as influenced by the past and pointing towards the future. The central principle was that architecture needs to get beyond the formal, to the lived experience of place, if we are to understand how to build buildings which can truely affect people.

Space is central, but slippery. It can be felt but is intangible. Often, this is forgotten in architectural exhibitions. Lives of Spaces wanted to examine the ordinariness of architecture as compared to the idealisation of conventional surveys. This might permit architectural exhibitions to connect with the public.

Conventionally, it is thought that the only true experience of architecture can come through being in the place itself. But this can be tested - is there a non-located validity of place? Lyric Theatre took over Lives of Spaces to respond both to the spaces, but in the other installations, which overlayed a new level of narrative.

What stories can be told by architecture from people, places and history? Using the Lives of Spaces exhibition, we can ask question about methods of architectural exhibition, and how these might be developed. They excavated the Thick Present of places, and film was one of the tools which they used to do so. A focus on particularity of place, its qualities and its time can be both very specific, and speak to more universal themes. Films, like architecture, develop, and work, within an intertext. They become parts of other parts, boxes inside boxes, unfossilised Russian Dolls.

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Six

'Frameworks of recollection' Mattias Eckmann

Events take place. We're in LT3 watching a video which has been sent to us in leiu of the actual presence of the speaker (ashcloud again), which questions how memories become embodied in place, and how places become embodied in memory using interviews with both visitors and staff at the National Norweigen Art Gallery. Often, those memories which we retain are very different to the reality. The architectural plan of a building in its physical form, do not always conform to the architecture of our imagination. We often remember those buildings and rooms in the framework of events and the relations which those build between the rooms. This is a peice rather reminiscent of Bachelard's Poetics of Space, which speaks of the power of space to recall within us places which we thought we had forgotten. We stage and restage events in places over and over again. Memories do not conform to chronology, but to association. Memories and places are contact zones.

Eckman is curious about how the gallery is a site for both institutional and personal memory. Thus might architecture embody the memories of collectives, of individuals, and the more intangible memories (or stories, if you like) which things build for us. Documents become sites of memory in these places, and as the day books which I have recently studied, become performative texts and contact zones themselves. Recalling places in other places, surrounded by other information, also modifies and manipulates those memories. Sometimes you have to seek out those memories.

Memories may be embodied in place, but to me they exist in so many other places, both tangible and intangible, in the architecture of the individual mind, and the architectures of mind which are created when we come into contact with other people and objects. It is relational, and fluid, constantly moving.

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Five

'The Past Recaptured' Sally Stone

St Wilfred's Church in Preston is well integrated into its urban environment. Surrounded by buildings on three sides, it is located just off the main street. The links which this permits, to wealthy and affluent areas, is incredibly important in the character of the place. First constructed in 1793 as part of the development of the area, and remodeled 1880, recased in 1882, the building has been a hugely important part of the Catholic community in Preston, which although a large part of the population, was often not given a really prominent position, socially and architecturally.

Interestingly, amongst the beautiful decoration, are small terracotta swastikas. These have now unpleasant connotations, but before the rise of National Socialism this was a symbol of good luck and religious piety. It has become known as the Swastika Church, with all the pejorative implications this encourages. It means that the Church has gained meanings and associations which it was never intended to have. Our perception of the past, Sally Stone says, is hugely interpreted through the contemporary situation - we cannot disentangle the past from the present in which it is apprehended. This obviously calls into question the ability of the historian to relate the present in any degree of objectivity.

In remodeled buildings, her main interest, we see the values of the society which did the remodeling as much as we do of the original occupants. The study of history and architecture, and architectural history is no different. Architects study and use forms from ruins and older buildings - much really as every part of culture does. When we appropriate from ruins, as opposed to buildings which still stand, this appropriation is very different. But even still, buildings which we consider 'complete' have changed from their original state no matter how technically 'complete' they seem.

When sites are reappropriated for other uses, such as by Urban Splash, or by the company who restored my building, there is a certain amount of romanticism. We mythologise the spaces, especially if they are for living. There are parts of that history which we choose to forget. I have experienced this in my own flat. It is modern, clean inside. It retains the big windows, and the external walls of the building on three sides remain the same. But there are few traces within the living spaces of its previous life of a hosiary factory. It is only when you go into the forgotten spaces, such as the cellar in which my electricity meter is housed, where you begin to see real traces of the hard manual labor and tough qualities of this building. The layers of history are often hidden, and can often be accessed only in imagination. As Sally Stone says, we all select our own personal reading of the past, which may be interpreted in multiple ways.

I'm going to have to be technical support this afternoon guys, so I'll post when I can!!!

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Four

'A Narrative Journey through an Industrial Site - Creating storytelling environments with architecture and digital media' Tom Duncan and Noel McCauly

Located near Berlin, they have restored an old brickworks site to create a Brickwork Museum. They acted as architects, curators, interpreters and storytellers on the site and they want to explore the narrative possibilities that space holds. To present traces of site uses and social memory they attempted to engage the emotions of visitors. They augmented the space through soundscapes and media to transform the site into a place of memory. It works in tandem with artefacts and space to tell this story. A multi-layered narrative is really important for the successful museum experience. Showing us a moving video of the visitor experience with a soundtrack allowed the audience to get a really clear idea of the narrative journey of the visitor. They can gain a historical reading of the site, which attempts to generate a whole unity in the same manner which a film would, telling the actions of brick making and the social environment within which this took place. In the former DDR, working and private life was closely linked. The stories which are used here, unlike those in the Back to Backs were fictional, which makes me wonder about this role of authenticity. Is either approach better, or more honest? I think not, at least as long as the fictionality or reality of them is made clear.

Films which interview the real workers are used, however, within the spaces and soundscapes, which project memories onto the space. The documents which the project generated are now parts of the museum's archive. Their installation, called the 'moving trolley', calls into question the reality of the physical experience. The real, trolley, which is moving but unpushed, passes behind a screen where a figure appears to push it. This calls back the past into the present, an almost seemless integration of tenses. Nonetheless, it again promotes one of those moments of realisation, the knowledge that we are in a space of illusion.

In the brick kiln, audiences are invited to take a brick along the journey through the firing tunnel. They become part of the performance, part of the soundscape which is very embedded and situated in the space, invisibly associated with the environment and part of it.

The whole sensory experience is incredibly important in this design. I think that the use of this coreography can build a storytelling experience, a place which tells but also allows for interpretation.

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Three

'Conservation architecture and the Narrative Imperative: Birmingham Back to Backs' Geoff Matthews.

There has been something of a crisis in knowledge management in museums - with the departure of the old guard of museum curators, there has been a loss of knowledge, and museums cannot afford conissourship. With people being so transient in their work, knowledge becomes less embodied. He argues that narrative comes out of the community which makes it, and comes to embody the experience. Geoff Matthews uses the Back to Backs, which some of us visited, to discuss this.

Both conservation architecture and interpretive design attempt to reconcile authenticity and usability in different ways. Conservation architecture starts with an archaeological understanding of space, and comes to ask how we might sustain the space in the long term. Interpretive exhibition design looks at people's interactions with the content, with their memories and stories. But whose stories do we tell? There is an ambition in exhibition to attain shared meaning. Narrative is used to attempt to embody this. The role of design too, is about the intelligibility of designed space, which can be noisy.

The Back to Backs were a courtyard form of housing, usually a single room stacked on top of a single room. They appeared in Birmingham in the influx of people during the late 19th century, and there is one surviving courtyard left in the UK. My family come from there, actually, and so I'm quite emotionally attached to the area. This makes this talk fascinating for me. They have survived because of their location near the Hippodrome. But they could never be representative of the wide range of experiences that occured within those walls. In 1999, Birmingham Conservation Trust started a campaign, and in 2004 the museum opened. Querceus Design did the interpretation.

In this project the relation between the archive and the museum, the living and the dead is incredibly important. From the early period of the Back to Backs, there was very little life narrative available. But using community narrative testimony, material could be gathered from the 1880s onwards. The choice to use real stories from real families allows for a really integrated museum to develop.

Querceus came up with a narrative spatial concept, which allowed for orientation and interpretation, education, access and layering. The four houses were arranged chronologically, with a museum space outwith that. The space is organised for guided group tours, so there is no spatial correspondance between the houses and what is narrated in the museum space.

The architectural conservation of the building can operated very traditionally in terms of the physical space and preserving the past traces left of the buildings. Gaps in the spaces, you can either cover over, or hand over to the interpretive design people.

At the top of the Levy house, there is an unrestored space which engenders that moment which Johnathan Hale spoke about earlier, that moment of realisation and the distancing of focalisation; the realisation that we are looking at theatre.

The recovery of ordinary lives creates a populist perspective. There is a cycle of interaction here, with staff allowing interpretation to evolve with the additions of people's stories who come to visit the museums. With urban sites, everyday things, and the recovery of experience, narrative becomes a platform for visitor experience. You can't design a narrative, but you can use it as a tool to direct this. People overlay the narratives, enact memory, and so the space is always open to interpretation, but it engenders a myth which is very humanly understandable. The myths which are represented are not representative. Nor do they necessarily claim to be. Whilst there is nothing really original in at the Back to Backs apart from the buildings themselves, there is a kind of emotional experience which I had at least, an engagement which is left open.

Narrative Space Day Three - Post Two

'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.

Narrative Space Day Three - Post One

'Bits, Bodies and Buildings' Johnathan Hale

As technology becomes smaller and smaller, and more embedded in our buildings, it alters the human relationship with the environment. For Johnathan Hale, this leads to the question of augemented realities, and how they alter our experience of architecture.

His guiding principles are that perception is related to action, space is experienced through movement and objects and experienced through materiality. But this raises a number of questions. How do we curate buildings? What kind of stories do buildings tell, and what language do these buildings speak? How can new technologies allow us to access the stories which are embedded within the buildings, and allow those stories to emerge that come from our emboddied experience in space?

Buildings have both a semiotic and phenomenological language. The first is a disembodied visual and textual, the second more tactile and visceral. He doesn't think that the two are antagonistic, though, that they can work together. Historically, buildings have had a semiotic language, acting as a book, and on a phenomenological level Dr. Hale enjoys Louis Khan's Kimbleworth Art Museum and the H2O Expo Pavillion. There has been a shift, he argues, from storytelling to poetry. With poetry we are in the realm of the fragment

If there is a poetry of architecture, what is it about? It is about the encounter between people and things, the entanglement of matter and meaning. There is a link between the mind and world through the body. Buildings are a class of equipment through which we experience the world.

Heidegger also wrote about the body mind world relationship is Being in Time. Speaking about 'ready to hand', the notion that we pick something up and use it as an extension of the self, he notes how we forget we are using it when we are using it well. But when the tool breaks down, it jumps back into our perception. It becomes part of that world which we encounter in a more semiotic sense. Sterlarc's third hand projects show how the idea of extending the body is not a new idea in art. We have often been frightened of this, as a threat to the sense of who we are, but we need not be.

But the process is not just one way. The world 'pushes back'. There is a circular causality, we are engaged in a 'dance of agency', and through the way it resists our action feeds information back to us. To be extended into the world is not an alien condition, but rather fundamental to our sense of who we are. It is, he says, taking from Dewey, only with this resistance that we become aware of ourselves.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Brown Bag Seminar: Wed, 4th May 2010

Brown Bag Seminar, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK. 4th of May

On the relationship between testimony, memory and art: Some thoughts based on the use of art objects at the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Melbourne.

Andrea Witcomb


Taking its cue from Charlotte Delbo’s powerful writing about the Holocaust in which she highlights the role of sense memories in the expression of trauma, this paper begins with the proposition that sense memories – as distinct from narrative or vicarious forms of memory – are a particularly effective vehicle for the communication of past trauma in the present. The paper explores the potential value of this proposition for the display of art objects in a community based Holocaust museum in a context where the desire to give testimony is paramount. The paper will use the example of sculptural works about the Holocaust from two very different contexts – in one case, those made by a survivor and in the other, those made by a Jewish migrant who left Poland in the 1920s. Despite their very different experiences of the Holocaust, I will argue that both artists register their sense memories in their sculptures and that, in doing so, they help the Museum to create a bridge between the survivor community and the wider general public. The argument hinges on a particular interpretation of the testimony process by Auerhahn and Laub, (1990) who argue that all testimonies require that audiences listen in a manner that makes them a witness to past traumas. This listening process, I want to argue, offers not only an opportunity for healing on the part of survivors but also, following Simon (2005), the exchange of a ‘terrible gift’. That gift, I will suggest, places the visitor as a witness to past traumas and builds an ethical request that they should actively work against future genocides. Central to that possibility, I want to argue, is the way in which the process of witnessing a sense memory is an affective experience for the viewer leading to the potential production of empathy.

Historical Hot or Not X

One thing I've learned (yes, this is an educational exercise!) while researching candidates for Museum Hot or Not has been that America has a strong philanthropic history largely unmatched in other countries around the world. That is, whereas in Europe, museums were generally founded by monarchs and aristocrats, and added to by the same, in America it is more likely that wealthy patrons, not necessarily collectors themselves, make museums possible. Having said that, however, this week's candidate (and the last, I'm afraid - museum people are not, as a whole particularly attractive, and if you thought some of the ten people I've presented for consideration have been ugly, you should have seen the rest!) was a member of America's aristocracy, such as it was, and was involved in the arts personally.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942) was, as her maiden name suggests, one of the heiresses of the Vanderbilt fortune. She married a wealthy oil/tobacco/banking tycoon (as you do), and went on to do whatever she wanted. Fortunately for American art, she chose to take up sculpture, patronize music and art, and promote women's artistic education. In 1931, still stinging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's rejection of her collection of American art by living artists, she founded her own museum, the first director of which was a woman. As you can probably guess, she was a pretty groundbreaking lady; but what of her aesthetic appeal?
Unknown photographer, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney ca 1910, Smithsonian Institution.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney wearing a Leon Bakst costume in 1913-4 by Baron Adolphe de Meyer.

Robert Henri, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 1916. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney wearing a jeweled gown and tiara and holding a peacock feather fan by Adolphe de Meyer, 1916. Published in: Vogue, Jan. 15, 1917.

As I've already said, this will be the last Museum Hot or Not; if I can get the technology to cooperate, I will be posting a poll next week, so you can all vote on the Ultimate Museum Hottie!

Narrative Space Day Two - Post Two

We've had our coffee and biscuits now, and so hopefully we've woken up, and shall have some really interesting presentations in the next session,

'Artists' Voices, Disruptive Narratives, New Sensibilities'

'Narrative Spaces: The Book of Lies', Paola Zellner

We worry that if we cease to talk, we will lose ourselves in a confused and unconnected world. We are compelled to tell stories about context and ourselves. Architectures use narrative and metaphoric forms, ranging in type from a diagram, or unambiguous story, to a more open form. Narrative can range between these, can act as the translator through which design ideas can be translated between designers, clients, visitors and guides. They can, once more, lead us to that third space. We need to acknowldge the existence of both conceived and perceived space, the ideal and the sensual between which we sway to find meaning and transformation.

Architecture can move us at different levels, but is often relient upon multiple narratives - partly because it is often that environment which it is made manifest. How do we manage this multiplicity, do we focus upon the body or the intellect? How do we mediate the two?

Perhaps rather than asking this, we should act how architecture can appropriate and integrate the principles of narrative. Entering into its logic, making the content an intrinsic element of its performance, we can engage with this space of imagination.

Typically, the deliberate use of narratives results in a singular linearity. But those narratives which buildings become, those which develop intuitively, can stimulate the imagination and build multiplicity.

Eugenia Butler's 'The Book of Lies' was originally intended to be an exploration of truth and lies in an interaction of art, words and life. It brought out an awareness of the creation of the future. In 2006, her three volumes were exhibited in order to bring out these multiple narratives, the truths and lies with which we are most complicit. Rather than scripted experience, it was left open to interaction and interpretation. The narrative was intended to remain invisible to the visitor, a number of parts and methods to manifest the idea of fragments with the potential for unity. Through concealed and differentiated spaces, and different levels of display, the placement of the pieces and concepts reconceptualised the relationship between themselves, the visitor, and each other. It encouraged ambiguity and doubt. That third condition which flows like a river and changes constantly.

'Imaginary Museums: What Mainstream Museums Can Learn From Them, Rachel Morris

Imaginary museums exist all over the world - on the web, in literature, in museum catalogues, in concepts, and the versions of museums which we all carry in our heads. Many museums, which are real, often have a distinctive thread of imagination run through them, such as Soane's, tells a story about himself through fragments. He wrote a short story called 'Crude Thoughts about the History of My House.' Snow's Hill Manor, by Charles Wade, was filled with objects from throughout history, which vibrate with meaning and a sadness about the transience of time. Imaginary museums are both playful and melancholy.

They make us ask why the museum is used as a metaphor, and what kind of museums do artists create? Do all museums have an element of fiction running through them? There is much, Rachel says, which we can learn from paper museums.

Both museums and novels allow us to enter into complete, scaled down worlds. Boxes inside boxes, miniature worlds. Thomas Browne, in 1684, described the Museum Clausum, the 'Closed Museum', a place of wonders and secrets. This apparent truthfulness in a narrative of fiction, is also apparent in the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

In Book Eighteen of Homer's Illiad, the Shield created for Hercules becomes a museum of the war outside Troy, of farming life - a world in miniature. A russian doll feeling that you get in museums of miniature worlds within miniature worlds. In Parmuk's Museum of Innocence objects become carriers of memories, a space in which time becomes a place. He takes this further, for his museum in the text, will become a reality. He wishes to express himself, his own interior, which is one of the qualities which novels have given us. In literature, we have been able to invest objects with life, with great power, as they did in Wilkie Collins' Moonstone. Novelists understand that museums can be invested with mystical power, which is something museums could really benefit from. Citing Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus shows how collections of valuable and unusual things create a tension between reality and fiction, between the straight formality of display cases, and the strange and wonderous things which they contain.

Authors such as Calvino, and Borges, with a taste for magical realism, have often responded to museums. But museums perhaps need to acknowledge this, this quality of the fabulous and strange. The ways in which museums catagorise the world is hugely powerful, and has the potential to be incredibly poetic. Museums can blend erudition with a pleasure in the fantastic.

There is an innate sadness in museums, related to their transience, the fact that their subject is time. Their existence in the physical and the imaginary world makes them powerful metaphors, which writers and artists play with. Visitors too, understand this. They come to museums for many reasons, but those which are beyond the educative are often less comfortably engaged with by museums. In the spiritual and emotional realms, museums can learn a lot from fiction and poetry.

Dennis Severs knew that he needed the imagination of the visitor to be set on fire and satisfied, in his creation of the house in Spitalfields. And he managed, here to create a beautiful, immersive, and poetic place of wonder.

'Exhibition Making in Film: Peter Greenaway's 'The Belly of an Architect' Alona Martinez-Perez

In Invisible Cities the city changes and yet remains the same. Things are repeated and re-enacted by different characters, at different times and ways. There are layers of narrative, layers of space within cities, which we can harness in the production of museums.

Peter Greenaway's film documented the process of producing an exhibition about the architect Boullee. It is also a comment upon the architecture of the city of Rome, its metaphoric character, and the film juxtaposes pre-existing multiple layers of meaning whilst creating its own. Though it uses long, panoptical shots, it is much about interiority and obsession, dissolving the spaces between inside and outside.

Obsession becomes a huge theme - it becomes part of the visual and sensorial qualities of the film. Greenaway collects buildings and spaces and the film becomes an exhibition of works of art. But it also illustrates the encyclopedic nature of Greenaways thought, how worlds with unity can be fused together from fragments. The city of Rome is a city of spectors and histories, many different cities lying on top of one of the other. The film permits the viewer to choose how you experience that narrative, the levels of complexity which you choose to engage with in the film.

Both the filmaker and the architect need to manage diverse people and money. They need to be both aesthetic and imaginative, but practical and sometimes brutal. The relationship between their curation of space and concept is also somewhat analogous with the role of the museum, which is something that this conference is speaking about a lot.

Different media can teach us much about museums. We can understand so many places as museums, films, books, poems. We can learn a great deal from them, both in terms of what they contain and how they contain it. It is fascinating, I think, to explore these relationships further. I intend to in my work, and I hope others shall too.

Narrative Space Day Two - Post One

Good morning everyone. I'm earlier this morning! Not being techie today, so hopefully I'll get enough presented. But given that we're off to Nottingham this afternoon, and I don't know if there will be internet access, you might have to wait until later for my report from there!

'Narrative and Perception'

'Artefacts: Narrative Transformations' Stephen Wischer Assistant Professor in Architecture at North Dakota State University.

Beginning with the story of the Minotaur, he discusses how the artifact produced the space of the Labyrinth. The artifact has an ability to provoke imagination, which is directly connected to the architecture, which must allow them to continue to tell these stories. Culture has survived precisely because of this ability to continue to relate stories. Churches were built to tell a story, a temporal, mythopoetic cycle. They were not merely practical.

But the products of our postcosmological, objectivist era has reduced the poetics of perception. Linear time, homogenous positivist space has, over the last two centuries, undermined the labyrinthine structure of perception. Our bodies have been removed from the space, and thought and experience have been separated. No longer do we experience space and time - we think about them.

But perhaps this is changing. We must learn to engage with that knowledge which is subjective and lived. 'Daedalon' artifacts are poetic, always removed from discipline, familiar yet bringing something entirely new. To immerse the locale, the life, the history, and the artefacts is a way to bring space alive, to bring in the poetic meaning. But artefacts, such as models, also allow design to be developed over time, through experience and a sensory understanding which helps thought to advance.

We cannot use objectivity alone. Our ideas become divorced and fleeting, and we cannot come to the multiplicity of understanding which our architectures and artifacts will come to engender. Both orientation and disorientation are important, and it is something which cannot be conceptualised. It cannot be prescribed, but only fully experienced. Reopening the cora, the primal space of communication, the place where thought and body are intertwined, a space of ritual, we can come to a lived response, the 'thick moment' of lived space, time and depth.

'Incomplete Stories' Annabel Fraser and Hannah Coulson

They are interested in the intangible, third space between narrator and viewer, the place where imaginative translations occur. These spaces of unending, fluid stories, are becoming more prevalent in our hyperlinked world.

Museums hold objects which we may not be familiar with in some way, and it is thus that they can engage with this third space. But they cannot do it alone; Eco writes that there is 'always a reader'. You need all to generate meanings. But they are all built in unpredictable, intimate moments, and the question becomes how we generate these moments in as much depth and with as much impact as possible.

Sometimes the simplest words are the best. They generate a large space in which to built that third encounter and free our responses to it. And yet voices which are ideosyncratic and characterful are also compelling; museums which integrate multiple voices, such as the Museum of Everything in London, can encourage these multiplicities and acknowledge that we are all subjective. What, too, is the role of graphic writing itself in this; how is the typed label different from the handwritten? What would it mean for narratives in museums to use particular voices, styles and genres.

So there are many 'silent cacophanies' around the museum, but these are influenced by each other. And sometimes, not knowing is fine. Curiosity is sparked in uncertainty, and by drawing the unknown into museums we can encourage increasing agency and experience for the audience. By leaving a story open ended, we give stories room to be misunderstood - but I wonder if this is, really, a problem?

The narrative approach as used in museums has objectified the space. Does the very act of museums in forming stories distort them? We can never experience the whole story. Perhaps fragmentation, which takes part in that untidy experience which is life, and engages with the third space, is the way forward. We may still tell stories, because they are a way to understand our place within the world, and because not to would engender a risk of confusion and loss. We need to balance the space between audience and curator, recognise that stories are multiple and open ended. More uncertainty has the potential to encourage more discussion and attention, more constructive self-building of understanding. And it might help us to build more sustainable, long-lived exhibitions.

'Early Museums, the Exhibition of Architecture and the Experimental Production of Knowledge'
Dr. Florian Kossak

The academic architect, he says, is a bricoluer, building in elements of history, sociology, and art amongst others. By returning to the strategies of early museums, he argues that it might be possible to enrich our creation and interpretation of museums.

Between the 15th and 18th century, prior to Bennett's 'exhibitionary complex' the term museion was ambiguous, embodied in artifacts, architectural spaces and intangible concepts. Thus early museums had a capability for fluidity and experimentation. They lacked historical time and linear narrative, scientific taxonomies, valued amatuerism and the developing strategies of display. They were, then, exhibited in multliple ways which may be used to inform what Dr. Kossak terms 'productive museums'.

The Renaissance Studiolo, although it was one of the earliest places of display, experimentation and study, was still a private space, and open therefore to a huge gamut of meanings. Two slightly different forms, princely studiolo in which the prince could gain knowledge and power over the world through its microcosm, and other forms where experimentation and study were the main goal. In these spaces, object displays were temporary, constantly changing with the agenda and needs of the study, and this, too engendered multiple narratives of objects.

When the hidden collection became public, in the kunst and wunderkammers of the 16th century, buildings whose sole purpose was to house collections began to be built, and the study function was subsumed by that of display, of the public manifestation of power and aesthetic wonder. They built a new relationship between the collector, collected and the invited visitor. They built a world which legitimated every question, all levels of curiosity, the inquiring and the amateur.

In the cabinets of curiosity, the recreation of a cosmos was replaced with the idea of display in order to represent to a visitor the borgeouis self and encourage specific social practices. He is not really interested in the class-based issues, but in the huge number of these cabinets which existed. Historically, they were aristocratic and socially competitive, but the artists' cabinet followed a different aesthetic; by intertwining their own are with the collections, the collections as their own work, they were created to build harmonious wholes of aesthetic pleasure. The exhibition was a work of art in its own right.

He turns, now, specifically to museums of architecture. These had been introduced at the end of the 18th century. Often these were temporary, or in private hands, perhaps exhibited for specific projects and purposes. These include that of Sir John Soane's, but the hybrid nature of this as public space and private home, it's picaresque and diverse nature, made it very different to many others. It was not purely architectural, still embodied in this integrated sense of architecture and art. Thus it retains its relation with the cabinets and the studiolo.

Productive exhibitions engage with these relations of history, space, audience perception and narrator. They are transhistorical practices which relate to many times and spaces. They provide a testing ground for architectural research, experimentation of the as yet unrealised, incorporating uncertainty and critique. It would understand architecture as physical, intellectual and social object, and its continued development would be a part of this.

Today we've heard a lot about specificality and personality, the importance of voices which are both concordant and dissonant, about the relational spaces which exist within museums. Those spaces of relation, the intertextual webs in which meaning is generated. It is true that we cannot any longer (nor could we ever), separate spaces from things. In order to make our meanings, we need to understand these 'third places', and that all is built within a virtual web, interlinked in an ever-changing, cloudy, pre-real space.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Narrative Space - Post Five

In the unfortunate absence of Peter Greenaway, Peter Higgins of Land Design Studio has kindly stepped into the breach!

'Place-making: Lines, words, pictures and sound'

What is the interest in place making, in cityscapes and town planning? Originally from Crawley, a result of the Garden City movement which was very much about places for social improvement, Peter went on to the Architectural Association where he became very influenced by the architects of Archigram, who designed incredible, inventive buildings, palaces of fun, extreme suburbs and dream-cities. From here, he moved to the BBC, where he began to work with scripted space, the idea that there is an architecture of words which must be translated into the architecture of the physical world. He began to uncover the differences between television and drama, in terms of visualisation. How the dreamspace is presented to people existing in the "real" world, which focaliser and how many there are comes to be hugely important. In the late 80s he joined Imagination, designing media environments such as parts of the NEC.

Thus he combined landscape and architecture, scene design, and communication and media. He became interested in the importance of place-making. Like 'narrative' it is a term that seems to have been inappropriately used. What, really, does it mean?

He began to talk about Chernobyl - and it occurred to me that places can also be made through theft, through lost. New places are not simply constructed, but they are also made within, and through the very process of, deconstruction. But to make a place, there needs to be a story. Often, within created places, there is no story to make a place, but in these places of destruction, you find a story by default. You need a meaning, a rationale, for a place to be beautiful. Places need to fit, and this means with the outside and the inside.

We have sometimes lost the link. Commercial developments, bounded disciplinarity have caused is to 'building block' the processes of making a place. We need to understand that the different strategies of placemaking, building, interior design, storytelling, urban media, need to be integrated from the start. The question of who has the authorship and control of all of these elements is particularly pertinent.

So he turns to the positive. What does he like and why? There are some incredible ones - the Ito Tower of the Wind, a transformation of an existing water reservior, for me brings back an idea of William Morris - that something basically functional can be, too, very beautiful. And he also talks about speading the idea of placemaking beyond the architect, into the gardener, the engineer, the artist, the scenographer and the 'digirati'. Paxton's Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition, Singapore Gardens, the Barlow Shed at St Pancreas, Mazdhar in Abu Dabi, the Weather Project at TATE Modern, Urban Spaces in Manchester, and the Cultural Quarter in Abu Dabi again, are all incredible examples of the diversity of placemaking and how people can understand the environment in which they exist. Working in conjunction, as curators worked at Terminal Five, is really important for a more nuanced creation of space.

So where do we go from here? What is the way forward? We all have a lot to say, and we should all have a voice in placemaking. We can do that through the press, through reviews, through listening to and communicating in a shared language with people, which is a challenge in itself. We also need to teach it, in the worlds of academia and wider education. We need to understand, document, and value all of these processes. We need to give talent its true worth. We need to give meaning to our places, to get the right people to make those places, and fundamentally, we need to have places with a reason and a value.

That would have been an impressive presentation in the best of situations, but today of all days, that was amazing. I'd love to congratulate Peter for an incredible performance.Actually, we've had a great day all told. I've seen artists, architects, landscape designers, sociologists. I know there is much more going on than I've been able to cover. As virtual as I am, I can't generate avatars just yet. But I'm sure that there will be more information coming soon! I'm signing off for the night now guys, because I'm shattered. Sorry about this morning, but I hope I've managed to make up for lost time!

Narrative Space - Post Four

Exhibition as Stage - Performance, Theatre, Body

Klare Scarborough
'Narrative Encounters: negotiating contemporary exhibition spaces'

The performance of spaces is negotiated by individual experices, and the dialogues which are created between audience members and the space themselves. This is active and dynamic, which is especially apparent in the appropriation of unusual spaces, and sites in which the audience member became the artwork.

In museums, viewers create their own performances and narratives. They photograph themselves and their compatriots, making themselves the subject of their art, memorialising their narrative.

PS1 Contemporary Arts in Long Island, a structure originally designed as a public school, was converted in 1976 to the arts centre. this was once again increased in 1997, and is now affiliated with MOMA. But it is located in a different site, a different geography and landscape. It is a completely different structure. The 1969 exhibition restaged MOMA's 1969 exhibition, but also juxtaposed this with historical documentation regarding the museum's existence in that year and the responses of contemporary artists. The visitors were not given a pre-staged itinerary. There was no chronological order, each artefact was an entity within itself.

The small old classrooms of the Arts Centre fragmented any narrative, and permitted the telling of multiple stories and multiple themes. As authors achieve spatial form by focusing on the parts, focusing on the present, so to was 1969 marked by spatial and temporal dislocation. The past was layered in the present, and contemporary arts were placed in the past, and used elements of the past within themselves, such as music from the 1960s. The past was, in a sense, frozen in the present, and became a puzzle for the museum visitor to unpick. The tansplanted white cube gallery space provided a critique of the museum concept which was prevelent at that time. It also responded to the literary notion of framing, the self reflexive framing of the white cube space, itself a frame of art.

It was a space, then, of multiple voices, which provided the opportunities for diverse critiques and interpretations of the exhibition and its rationale. It engendered responses in other galleries, which used the same or similar materials to promote yet more alternate readings of that exhibition itself. Thus PS1's 1969 became yet another piece which was framed once more.

The DS Centre for the arts presented 'The Performance Exhibition of Creation'. This was a progressive experience, a dining extravegansa in which the audience were guided through a meal. The spaces themselves, for many people, evoked memories of people's previous experiences in the space, but also of the future of the Centre. Scarborough's own meaning was also affected by her earlier visit to PS1. And these memories have since interacted with her own, more recent experiences. Thus our knowledge and understanding of museums and exhibitions are caught up in intertextuality, enmeshed in a web of meaning. The narrative is a battlefield, where people struggle for control, and also a space in which all participants are constantly performing. We are all parts of the web, we are all actors.

This was a paper deeply influenced by her own experience, which was an experience built within her own education.

There are many ways in which we can term narrative. The stories which we are relating, the narrative of the curator and exhibition designer, the story of the self-narrative of the visitor.

Douglas Gittens and Ang Bartram
'Lost Gallery Spaces and the Performing Body'

From the University of Lincoln,

This paper represents the start of a project. The typological interiors of contemporary art galleries have become sterilised and homogenised. But they can also be considered as sites where in the odd and awkward can be examined, and, indeed, legitimated. They allow the visitor a space to reflect upon that which is outside their own experience. The traditional white cube space allows difference to exist safely, and often negates the historical differences which may remain apparent externally. The architectures of gallery space bring their multiple histories with them, and often change the meaning of the art work.

Site specific work bears a very different relationship to space than objects which are appropriated through galleries.

In orthographic renderings of spaces, the marks and scars and traces of human performance are often lost. How these can be retained is the subject of the project. The space which was presented, x-church, is an interesting space which has been used as a space for art, but has NOT been appropriated as a white cube. Any work created there, therefore, has to be sensitive to it. All work there is site specific. It is an unorthodox community creative space. It is a fluctuating, transitory space, filled with unexpected, ephemeral items. How might these irregularities be rendered in an orthographic drawing? How does the performance remain and how is it remembered?

Recent orthographies of the space did not incorporate the areas with which they were particularly concerned. They had to construct their own. Orthographic drawings posit an authority, a technocratic sense of truth. In this, much is overooked. Survey drawings discuss technicalities only. Those ideas outwith them are only irregularly recorded, and only the undamaged, technically legitmate aspects are recorded within them. Though marks and traces may be noted, in the drawings buildings are regularised.

The artist wants to promote difference. So the marginalised body, by its presence in the gallery, reinvigorates the heterogentity of the space. We can, once more, become aware of the irregularities and transient qualities of places. The out of context creates a tension, building the relevance of the underused, and thus a new space is created, to which, in Lefebvre's terms, the response is often visceral. Ang climbed through the space, wearing a microphone which created a drawing in sound. The body had to document the decay and loss which was part of the church, part of what the space was, is and will be. Repeated visits highlighted further these processes of decay. Five visits and performances left their own marks on the building, the artist, and the later performances themselves. Each performance became modified in terms of the others, the space changing each time, and the artist's knowledge altering constantly. After these performances, Ang marked the orthographic drawings with the 'marked' and damaged places on the building, to represent the space as it was on its architectural map, the actual within the ideal.

These sessions, for me, recalled layering. The change which things undergo, the meanings we are consistently changed and reformed over time, is such an inherent part of buildings. How do we - indeed, should we attempt to memorialise these? Or should we allow memories to decay? They showed how we might understand the different ways in which spaces, people and art becomes. Perhaps we should stop being so prescriptive and regulative in what we present, or perhaps we should make the methods by which we do so more obvious. We need to understand that we are interpreters too, making meanings of our own, and we need to make this plain. Every interpretation is a set of reductive processes - they cannot help but be. This should not devalue them - rather, its recognition should make them ever much more valuable.

Narrative Space - Post Three

I'm sitting in the Lecture Hall, about to hear the plenary from architect Lee Skolnick, presented from his offices in New York!!! He's about to present via Adobe Connect, which is going to be fun!

'Beyond Narrative: Designing Epiphanies'

The word narrative has changed in its meaning. He spent many years preaching the virtues of narratives, within his agenda of understanding design as interpretation which results in meaning making and enrichment. Narrative, which he conceptualises as a basic aspect of human experience, is fundamental to this. But when something becomes ubiquitous, and thus misused, it becomes time to move on. Has narrative become so overused that it has lost its speculative edge?

The media, science, and philosophy have used it. Narrativity has become an overarching theme of all walks of life. Medicine has even developed a strand in which the experience of the patient, and the relationship between doctors and patients , becomes part of a 'narrative'.

But how are narratives brought into the physical environment? Architecture is certainly a very narrative medium. Narrative, which he does not intend to trash, is indeed fundamental, but it cannot be an end in itself. Rather, it is subject to interpretation and revelation. These things are often best acheived through storytelling, which does indeed furnish a narrative. But our most primal urge is to communicate which may not be narrative. The role of communication is to make manifest - however this may be so done.

Interpretation is an act of translation, of something which may not be immediately obvious. It defines the role of the designer, of the teacher, and narrative is the tool, and the story, of that interpretation. This is especially obvious, perhaps, in game design.

Museums have regularly been unsuited to the successful construction of narrative - partly because of their multiple roles. But some architects have attempted to embody specific themes within museum buildings. Skolnik, however, belives that architecture can reach beyond this. Fragments of stories are carried in functions and features of buildings. How can a space grow organically from the relationship between its content and itself?

As far as Skolnik is concerned, churches and music have come closest to transcending this problem. Religious buildings are visually and emotionally effective, and they embody their faith. There is a theology of stone. They have fully embraced the idea that environmental situation encourages the internal situation of the experiencer. Music, too, is a powerfully affective abstract embodiment of meaning, and it too, has an architecture. Buildings which are built to house music are fundamentally created to facilitate the production of that phenomena. Thus, their representational character is subordinate to their role as a perpetuator of auditory experiences.

Thus Skolnick wants to go beyond symbolism and representation in architecture, and come closer to that embodiment which music and religious buildings engender. He wants to bring to museum spaces that PURE understanding. He wants to reveal these 'mystic truths', work towards a synthesis of the individual elements into a complete whole, which results in an epiphany, a product of all our temporal experience. All aspects of space, both perceptual and conceptual, are fundamental in the realisation of this epiphany, this manifestation of a hidden message, this 'authentic inner self.' This was the goal of ancient artists, and should also be our goal in the modern world. Sometimes we don't have to analyse and make sense of this. Sometimes, it is something we just feel. We cannot explain the joy of many of our experiences, and yet, on some other level, they meant something very basic and deep. Narratives can be very complex, too complex for this deeper level. So perhaps narrative needs to be dissolved, in favor of epiphanies. He ends with a quote from Lenard Cohen - 'It is not the song that dignifies human activity, it is human activity which dignifies the song'.

Narrative Space - Post Two

Well, its been a hectic morning here at Narrative Space! But I think a rather exciting one. Given that a few of the speakers have been unable to make it, we've had to do a little timetable re-ordering and some technological issues which have arisen in consequence with people sending files via adobe connect and the like, its certainly been interesting!

In the break, I thought I'd try to write about what I've seen so far. We had to re-order the session that I was in, which was entitled, because unfortunately one of the files which we were sent didn't work. But the other two sessions which were due to present went, I think, very well, and they certainly incited a lively discussion afterwards.

The Session was entitled 'Sense of Place: interpretation, cityscape, landscape.' Dorian Wiszniewski, an architect from the University of Edinburgh, gave a deeply theoretical paper about the role of architecture and museums in mediating narratives of the everyday, and those which are somehow special. He used a really interesting, heavily literary basis with which to discuss this theme. At the heart of this was the idea of the museum as a site of heterogenesis, a place of multiple meanings. Thus, he argues, the museum and its architects need to come to some kind of understanding of how to articulate these frames of reference. We need to understand that museums are read in parts, often incidentally when reading about other things. Architects, then, need to understand what their role is within this.

Steven Miles, a sociologist, also centred his discussion on the role of the museum. He suggests that museums are places of consumption, and that thus they encourage homogenity. Though they might claim to be socially inclusive, what they actually do is present an image of personalisation, whilst requiring the complicity of the audience in their own power structures. Often, museums which orient themselves to this individualisation lose their own identity. And those museums which work to promote a city, which have often fallen into the hands of Starchitects, often become parts of this turn towards generalisation and similarity. For me, one of the points which arose was the idea of the museum as community itself. What is the role of this community, how did it come to be? What is its history and why does it exist? I think the purpose of the museum is so highly individualised that we cannot come to any overarching conclusion.

It was an interesting way to start the morning! I'm looking forward to the rest of the conference now!

Narrative Space - Post One and an apology!

Hello all - we've had a few technological issues, so I shall have to blog about this later! Many apologies, but if I'm to do it properly, I'll have to think about the papers! We've had to do a bit of re-ordering, because of the ash-cloud. Three concurrent sessions are running all at once, and I shall blog about the ones that I get to go to later. But I'm currently working as techie-geek, and that is making things ...interesting...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Amy's Awesome Museums #2: Horniman Museum

Actually, not so much the Horniman Museum (which is awesome, btw), but particularly the temporary exhibition 'Nature as Designer' installed on the mezzanine level above the African Worlds Gallery. The blurb:

Nature acts as an inspiration for artists and designers. This unusual exhibition combines photography, design and nature and includes beautiful large scale photographic images of objects displayed in unexpected and truly inventive ways.

I absolutely loved this exhibition. The designers, Alison Milner and Steve Speller, have, in addition to mounting stunning, large-scale photographic images, collected and creatively displayed together small groups of similar objects (in terms of material, and sometimes form) in wall-mounted boxes, reminiscent of mini cabinets of curiosity. What is particularly exciting are the prompts - the questions asked of the audience - about the objects, offering genuinely new ways of looking at things and actively encouraging visitors to really engage with and critically think about natural objects (and museum display), in a really gentle and non-invasive way. Very inspiring.

My photographs can probably articulate what I'm getting at better than words.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

'Nature as Designer' is on until Sunday 9th May 2010 at the Horniman Museum.

Free Museums for Stranded Passengers in NYC

Everyone's eyes are on Iceland, but if you need a distraction, be stranded in New York. Museums there are offering free admission when you present a plane ticket for April 14-23! Given that NYC museums are really expensive, and then there's the hotel price-gouging, this is a much-appreciated relief! Also, Lonely Planet have made their City Guides for the iPhone free for a few days due to volcano-related extended stays.

CARARE - Europeana Focus On Europe's Monuments

About / Home - CARARE


CARARE is a Best Practice Network, funded under the European Commission’s ICT Policy Support Programme, which started on 1 February 2010 and will run for three years. It is designed to involve and support Europe's network of heritage agencies and organisations, archaeological museums and research institutions and specialist digital archives in:

* making the digital content for the archaeology and architectural heritage that they hold available through Europeana,
* aggregating content and delivering services,
* and enabling access to 3D and Virtual Reality content through Europeana.

CARARE is one of a suite of projects, funded by the European Commission, to help further develop Europeana. It will play an important role in involving Europe's network of organisations responsible for investigating, protecting, informing and promoting unique archaeological monuments, architecturally important buildings, historic town centres and industrial monuments of World, European and National heritage importance alongside the existing national, regional and local content providers. Such involvement will not only bring together a rich diversity of content about the archaeology and architectural heritage but also adds 3D and Virtual Reality content to Europeana. CARARE aims to enable 2D and 3D content for heritage places to be brought together in Europeana and new services for users.

Narrative Space...

...Opens tonight! You can see the programme here.

We are very much looking forward to it. I'll be blogging from the event (well, some of it!) and I hope that many of you will check the Attic out. However, for the latest, you can use the twitter hashtag #NarrativeSpace

We are all very excited now!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tales of Things

About Tales of Things

Tales of Things is part of a research project called TOTeM that will explore social memory in the emerging culture of the Internet of Things. Researchers from across the UK have provided this site as a platform for users to add stories to their own treasured objects and to connect to other people who share similar experiences. This will enable future generations to have a greater understanding of the object’s past and offers a new way of preserving social history. Content will depend on real people’s stories which can be geo-located through an on-line map of the world where participants can track their object even if they have passed it on. The object will also be able to update previous owners on its progress through a live Twitter feed which will be unique to each object entered into the system.

The project will offer a new way for people to place more value on their own objects in an increasingly disposable economy. As more importance is placed on the objects that are already parts of people’s lives it is hoped that family or friends may find new uses for old objects and encourage people to think twice before throwing something away.

The Tales of Things site is located within the emerging technical and cultural phenomenon known as ‘The Internet of Things’. The term is attributed to the Auto-ID research group at MIT in 1999, and was explored in depth by the International Telecommunication Union who published a report bearing the same name at the United Nations net summit in 2005. The term, ‘Internet of things’, refers to the technical and cultural shift that is anticipated as society moves towards a ubiquitous form of computing in which every device is ‘on’, and every device is connected in some way to the Internet. The specific reference to ‘things’ refers to the concept that every new object manufactured will also be able to part of this extended Internet, because they will have been tagged and indexed by the manufacturer during production. It is also envisaged that consumers will have the ability to ‘read’ the tags through the use of mobile ‘readers’ and use the information connected to the object, to inform their purchase, use and disposal of an object.

The implications for the Internet of Things upon production and consumption are tremendous, and will transform the way in which people shop, store and share products. The analogue bar code that has for so long been a dumb encrypted reference to a shop’s inventory system, will be superseded by an open platform in which every object manufactured will be able to be tracked from cradle to grave, through manufacturer to distributor, to potentially every single person who comes into contact with it following its purchase. Further still, every object that comes close to another object, and is within range of a reader, could also be logged on a database and used to find correlations between owners and applications. In a world that has relied upon a linear chain of supply and demand between manufacturer and consumer via high street shop, the Internet of Things has the potential to transform how we will treat objects, care about their origin and use them to find other objects.

If every new object is within reach of a reader, everything is searchable and findable, subsequently the shopping experience may never be the same, and the concept of throwing away objects may become a thing of the past as other people find new uses for old things.

TOTeM is funded through a £1.39 million research grant from the Digital Economy Research Councils UK. The project is a collaboration between Brunel University, Edinburgh College of Art, University College London, University of Dundee and the University of Salford.

You can find out more information on related projects by visiting our blog site

You can download our press release here (pdf file).

MEG Conference 2010, 'Making Things': A Review

Well, readers, I have returned! This friendly Attic resident has just spent three days in Reading, rather enjoying themselves at the Museum Ethnographer's Group Annual Conference. I've conferenced before, of course, but I didn't manage to live blog this one – partly because I was presenting. So please, don't think my standards of speed have slipped. It was just a case of fear and the desire to concentrate and look professional. Plus, there was limited internet access.

Anyway, if you want to read on, a report follows.

This year's MEG conference, centred on 'Making Things', was held at the Museum of Rural Life, in Reading, and organised with superb flair by Ollie Douglas, the Assistant Curator. As you can see, if you click on the link, MERL houses a huge variety of material which might be termed social history, or ethnographic, depending on your proclivities, I suppose. In any case, it was an interesting collection, housed in a fascinating building. The house was originally built for Sir Alfred Palmer, the chap who owned Huntley & Palmers Biscuits. (And because I know that biscuits are very close to many readers' hearts, I've included the link there, too. Sadly, however, Huntley and Palmer's no longer make biscuits, but I'm also sure that many of you are rather adept at making your own! ) It became the site for MERL in 2005, and is a lovely site, really, located near Reading city centre in a conservation area. The hanging of the objects makes objects such as handcarts, often displayed as objects of work, seem like art. The garden is charming, and as the weather was nice I spent much time out there, inspecting the medicinal herbs, lavender varieties and the two small allotments. Small, but beautifully formed.

The same might be said of the Conference. There was just a nice number of delegates and presenters enough to keep everyone entertained! Initially, as this was my first conference at which I was presenting, I was intimidated. I didn't know what to expect from the conference itself, and having never been to Reading before had already had to reorient myself in a new place. Fortunately, however, I needn't have worried. All the members were incredibly friendly, the museum staff were hugely accommodating, we (even awkward vegan me) were well served by the University Catering Services and taken out to dinner at the Reading International Solidarity Centre, where Tutu's Ethiopean Table served us lovely lentils, veggies, and injera. So, that's the social stuff done, on to the academic stuff. I've spraffed enough.

The programme for the conference involved a huge diversity of people, from well established luminaries such as Jeremy Coote from the Pitt Rivers, and Len Pole, from Saffron Walden, through artists such as George Nuku, to 'emerging scholars' such as myself. It also encompassed a huge diversity of subjects. Though the rationale for the conference arose initially from how museum ethnographers and ethnographic museums might engage with the physical processes of making objects, the focus constantly shifted back and forth between this and the processes that occur within the museum itself. The different interpretations which people bring to a conference theme always fascinate me, and it is certainly true that the idea of 'Making Things' was taken to various ends. I found many of the papers really fascinating, actually, for precisely this reason. The organisation of the conference was such that we didn't remain stranded in one particular mode of discourse for too long, whilst still retaining a sense of unity throughout. This must have been incredibly hard to achieve, and just shows the skill with which the papers were selected and put together. I can't really precise all the papers here – there will be a Journal issue, I believe, so you'll have to wait until then to read more in detail, but I'd like to offer a few of my personal edited highlights, and some of the main themes and ideas which I picked out, in no particular order.

Day one was centred around four main themes: 'Making Artistic Interventions', 'Making Shrines', 'Making Community Connections' and 'Making Museums'. A major strand which ran throughout all these panels was that of the status of the 'object' – where in objects does value lie, and in what process and characteristics is the status of 'object' constituted? The notion of object biography is significant here, the transitions through which an object goes throughout its life being critical in the apprehension of its significance from one period to the next. The papers also raised issues of the nature of 'object' – for myself it is the interpretation which is placed upon any extant in the world which accords it the status of 'museum object', and thus ANY extant 'thing' can be taken as such. I found particularly interesting the importance which Jeffrey Sarmiento and Chris Wingfield gave to the objects which are generated by curatorial practice. In Ossify, Jeffrey Sarmiento has built a version of a Maori paddle in glass form, incorporating within it images of the documentation with which it is surrounded. This reinterpretation in a transparent media brings the multiple layers of the paddle into sharp relief, showcasing that behind one singular object, a multitude of stories lies. And thus was the argument propounded by Chris Wingfield, in a paper which highlighted the importance of conducting 'archaeology' upon museum objects, through chasing their paper trails, labels, and previous incarnations. In the museum, intertextuality is crucial, and is frequently tacitly understood, but often remains undertheorised. These papers brought that issue to the fore.

On the first day we were also lucky enough to experience the charm of George Nuku. An artist of Maori, German and Scottish ancestry, his work uses old strategies on new materials in order to make the ancestors speak once more. His works in perspex and polystyrene have appeared in exhibitions throughout the United Kingdom, such as Pasifika Styles, and he has also worked on reconstructing objects such as this Maori waka, or war canoe, held by National Museums Scotland, by restoring its missing elements with these new materials. His work shows that many museums are leaving behind that 'ethnographic past' which they are so accused of propounding, and shows us too that such blatant and honest reconstruction can result in incredibly beautiful works which in no way denude the truth value of the original. He stressed, too, the difficulties that many of his countryfolk face in working with Western museums. The task is problematic for both sides, attempting to acclimatise themselves to cultures and beliefs which they may never previously have experienced, to learn about the skills and processes which each uses in their varied activities as 'makers'.

Throughout the conference, in fact, the role which museum staff play as makers was emphasised. For understanding an object, there is little doubt that a practical haptic knowledge of it's construction can play a valuable role. This is especially true, perhaps, in terms of conservation practice, where experience of the materials and the manner in which they are manipulated can prove invaluable to the successful preservation of items, as both Sherry Doyal and Marieanne Davy-Ball showed. But there is value, too, for academics, and I for one, came away from the conference wishing that I was a creative maker, that I could manipulate these forms and come to an understanding of the materials with which I might work in the future. Perhaps, one day, I shall get this chance.

The first part of the second day, I have to admit, was spent in an abject state of terror. Fortunately, my presentation was the first of the day, and I hoped that most of the audience were still waking up! But they were kind to me, and I hope that I did not bore them too much. I am truly grateful for such a gentle introduction to conference presenting. It was sited within a set of ten minute presentations based around works in progress, and all the presenters there had a really tiny time slot in which to pack a huge amount of study, a task at which, aided by the skilful chairing of Claire Wintle (henceforward to be known as 'Whiplash') they acquited themselves extremely well! Again, the papers were extremely diverse, ranging from the processes of object making, to issues of collection building and re-creation. The second part of the day, which centred around 'Materials, Manufacture and Meaning', saw again an engagement with the issues surrounding object validity and the acculturation and reinterpretation of forms within new contexts. The generation of meaning for an object lies within many forms, and Mark Jamieson's discussion of counterfeits raised, for me, many questions about where authenticity lies and whether there is any real justification for the ascription of 'authenticity' to items. Personally, I believe that the conceptualisation of certain things as 'authentic' accords them a reified status which they do not really deserve. It precludes from that status other items, and to me, every object which exists is in some sense 'authentic'. It is how you choose to ascribe that authenticity, to what and in what terms, and in which particular situation which matters, and so the term becomes a subjective, rather than objective one. An item's validity should not be based upon its 'authenticity', because there is no objective, all encompassing truth. Only the particular case with its particular needs.

But the particular situation of the MEG conference 2010, I have to say, was for this particular interpreter, an extremely enjoyable experience. I hope to be able to attend next year, and that in the meantime I will have learned a lot more about making, making myself and my thesis better as a result.