The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

7 November 2013

Transmutations Infinite

Over the last couple of days the participants in this conference defined ‘metamorphosis’ over and again: even without explicitly etymologising, they were performing their own understandings of the concept and its relationship to museums. Looking over the blog again, it seems to me as though Museum Metamorphosis covered five main categories of understanding: forms of metamorphosis; the role of the museum; theoretical models of the museum and change; tools of analysis; and actual examples of change.
The subtleties of these conceptions are hard to represent in clumsy words: I would like, at this point, to apologise for any errors or unsubtle renderings I may have committed in the last couple of days, and also for the fact that, in this summary, which can only be short, I may commit a few more.

Forms of Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis is a versatile concept of relevance to many aspects of existence and experience. In the opening comments, Suzanne Macleod, Sheila Watson and Richard Sandell all presented their different perspectives on the idea. To put it broadly, they together represented how metamorphosis can be physical, conceptual, social and personal: these are perhaps the main forms of transformation on which many of the other conference papers rested.

Macleod’s main interest is in architecture and the social qualities of the built environment. Her PhD considered the changes in architecture throughout the history of the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. In her opening paper, she used this example, amongst others, to present the thesis that architecture can be physically changed as a result of social circumstances, but can also be altered socially, through use and interpretation, and that it can itself be a driver of social transformation.

For Watson, the museum is a space with the potential for emotional transformation: not just of its visitors, but also itself, in a reconceptualization of the museum as something not dispassionate, but something vital, affective and affected, framing that which it presents through its own lens of subjectivity. Once the myth of the dispassionate museum is recognised and dispelled, she argued, the adoption of emotion could make for powerful displays, and a rich, nuanced pedagogic model.

Sandell also conceives of the museum as a socially relevant space: the movement towards an inclusive museum is, for him, a fundamental part of social justice. The projects he has worked on, both with Nottingham City Council and the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries show how the Disability Rights Movement has impacted on museums over the last decades, and how museums have, and might yet still become, more intimately involved with the production of shared experience, through the change of physical space, programming, and plain old institutional acceptance.

So, here are our forms of metamorphosis: physical, conceptual, institutional, social and personal. The papers presented at Museum Metamorphosis discussed all of these in multiplicitous ways, and focussed on many of their finely grained niceties. They showed metamorphosis to be so many different things, yet all so much alike.

The Role of the Museum

The role of the museum was of course a central concern, particularly for papers given by Sharon Heal, Matthew Constantine and the workshop run by Nick Winterbotham. Museums have, certainly, changed throughout their history, and it is probably true to say that most people present at this conference have never really conceived of the Museum as an ultimately static space. It has seen large shifts throughout its history, however, one of which being the widespread adoption of the idea of the museum as a place not for things, but for people. For Heal, museums are public services, sites of cultural learning and with a distinct social responsibility. Constantine’s discussion of New Walk the day following Heal’s presentation asked a related, but more directed question: who is New Walk Museum for? In Winterbotham’s workshop, particpants were forced to consider the value of ideas a drivers for impact and social good, and to wonder at the ability of the museum to affect significant and lasting societal improvement.

What has, and does, this kind of change, meant and mean for the museum and its inhabitants – the objects and staff who populate it? Change, of course, is often frightening: Heal herself noted this, speaking of the changes in the publishing industry with the growth of digital and the perceived demise of print media. It believe it is important to note that change does not always equate with improvement, and that the appearance of change for change’s sake should always be dealt with cautiously. The conference delegates often called for change; but maybe I can play devils advocate, and suggest that, at times, standing up for the status quo might be equally socially responsible.

Theoretical Models of the Changing Museum

The presentations also offered a number of models for the museum which might be used to understand it and its relationship to alteration. At the more oblique end of the scale, Baggerson and Fleming offered us tools from literature – the heterotopia and the heteroglossia. Baggerson suggested a shift from the museum as accretive heterotopia, propounded by Foucault and others since, to the museum as liquid and chaotic heterotopia, a festival fully in time. Fleming’s use of Bakhtin’s heteroglossia sits well with this: the museum as a concatenation of sounds and voices, cries and whispers, from all corners of history and space.
More grounded, but no less scholarly, we the models suggested by Nielsen and Finn. Jane Nielsen dealt with the transformations of the museum in postmodernity, suggesting the time is ripe for a rethinking of the notion of the post-museum. As an alternative – or perhaps a development – she offers us the ‘transformative’ museum, an idea adapted from Slaughter. This model explicitly recognises the phases which change has to go through, and how it can sometimes feed back into itself. The transformative museum, then, is a place which is constantly rethinking itself, and going through processes of sustained and structured reflection.

Finn offers us a series of contemporary and historical models for the behaviour of museums in regard to collaboration. Though not all agreed with her designations – certainly the idea of the Pitt Rivers as a non-collaborative, ‘arbitrary’ displayer of aboriginal art came as a shock to many – her definitions of arbitrary, intermediary and collaborative institutions are worth considering when any museum undertakes the responsibility of representing another time, place or culture.

I suspect that, as a result of Museum Metamorphosis, we might come up with more models productive of and evidence for, change: and indeed a subtler understanding of its processes and consequences.

Tools of Analysis

Something which I found particularly interesting at Museum Metamorphosis were the tools for the analysis of museums and change offered by its presenters. I have spoken already here of literature, so I shall first of all speak briefly about Ariane Karbe’s workshop, Electric Elephants: an intriguing experience in which I was able to consider, and observe from my colleagues around me, the way in which narrative and narratology, from books or films, is under and misunderstood in the museological world.

Other disciplinary models we gained during the conference were Fashion Studies and Future Studies, coming to life during the presentations of Rikke Baggerson and Jane Nielsen respectively. Future Studies forces its user not to predict, but to expect and acknowledge possibilities: in that way, a museum can become fully aware of its actions and consequences. I loved the subtlety with which Baggerson employed the model of fashion and the heterotopia, and the complex and intricate series of relationships she drew between the realms of museums and fashion: change, here, becomes something affected by many forces, something no single agent can control.

Museum forms were also offered as potential models and case studies for affecting change and understanding its results. I found particularly interesting Judith Dehail’s discussion of musical instrument museums, and Baily’s description of migration museums: both of these types of institutions can present and highlight specific issues and ways of addressing them, and this use of a ‘genre’ museum to influence the practice of the wider community has, for me, distinct potential.

So much for all this abstraction. Museum Metamorphosis also gifted its participants with a plethora of realised examples: attempts and successes at instituting change.

Examples of Change

The examples offered by Museum Metamorphosis fall once again into five categories: there were those which presented physical change; those which presented changing objects; changes in programming; external changes which had an impact on the activities and character of museums; and organisational and social change. For the sake of convenience, I will here treat the virtual world as a physical form of expression.
Rachel Souhami presented us with an analysis of two physical remodellings of display space, and how one, but not the other, failed to break convention and redefine the Museum it inhabited as a changed space. Later in the conference, Melissa Forstrum would remind us of this: visual alteration does not necessarily come hand in hand with conceptual improvement: institutional prejudices, she noted, however unknown, can still be clearly seen.

This is partly the case, too, with the Pacific Hall at the Bishop Museum. Alice Christophe noted that, whilst it has made many improvements in its re-representation of the complexity of the Blue Continent of Oceania, Western names and tropes still occasionally appear. The remodelling of the space as a whole has, however, been highly praised by the people it represents, as a space for them, rather than simply of them.
Ioanna Zouli would take the analysis of physical representation into the virtual world, in her paper discussing the changes to architecture and strategies of engagement offered by the online work of TATE. She charted the shift from magazine like, transmissive website to multiplatform, socially engaged network: a shift reflecting that of the New Museology of the 1980s and 90s.

The representation and perception of objects is also a physical thing. Two papers in particular were indicative of the power of the changing object. In Stephanie Bowry’s paper, we were introduced to the object as metamorphe, something with multiple identities, things themselves and symbols of themselves. We were also introduced to the metamorphosis of the cabinet – from container to cultural curiosity, and reminded of the fact that in a few or a hundred years time, our own museological models might too be behind glass.

A historical consideration of the changing use of objects in was offered by Mario Schulze, in his exploration of two German museums: The Historical Museum of Frankfurt and the Museum of Everyday Life, Berlin. It was interesting to see a reflection of this process in a more contemporary setting: Laura Weikop’s Exhibition Lab, hosted at the Design Museum, Copenhagen, a daring attempt to change institutional perception in regard to the way objects can be displayed and understood.

Perception of objects and places is, of course, affected by programming. In her discussion of Kitchen Conversations at the Tenement Museum of the Lower East Side, Emily Pinkowitz reflected how the changing of timetabling, staff and space has altered the way in which the public engaged with the Kitchen Conversations Project, thereby, hopefully, gaining a better understanding of the lives of migrants and the importance of contemporary tolerance.

For Punshon, however, it was the understanding of the Darwin Centre itself which needed improvement and change. The series of artistic and performance projects that she oversaw during the course of a year led to an exponential rise in visitor numbers and a distinct improvement in the perception of the Darwin Centre, its work, and the character of the scientists there. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints and other issues, it may not be that those activities can continue.

This brings us to another important theme of Museum Metamorphosis – how external and internal circumstances, politics and characters can affect and change the museum and its representative strategies. In ‘Monad to Man’, Pandora Syperek charted how changing personalities and theological-scientific relationships and situation changed the Natural History Museum, London, during the earliest production and operation. The next day, Lefteris Spyrou would how a similar process, fuelled this time by contradictory passions for nationhood and European identity would transform the National Gallery of Athens into the museum it is today, and how they will continue to influence it in the future – particularly in this time of Greek difficulties.

I was particularly interested, however, to note how subsequent political regimes can adopt the objects, and even the institutions, of previous, often diametrically opposed governments to forward their own political ends. The case of Croat Yugoslavia, as presented to us by Joel Palhegyi, is one of myth-making and ideology: a potentially explosive mix in a febrile nation.

Where change seems really significant, however, is in the alteration of institutional structures which deny expression to, or marginalise, a significant proportion of people. The attempt to promote tolerance is visible in the works of many of the speakers at Museum Metamorphosis, including Richard Sandell, and, particularly, the discussion of migration museums and their promotion of cohesion – as well as difference – conducted by Eureka Heinrich. However, it was Erin Baily whom I found particularly affecting; a brave person promoting LGBTQI identity in an institution unused to such notions, in a nation in which those identities are very often hidden and decried.

Some closing thoughts

Here ends my reflection on the Museum Metamorphosis. I don’t want to give any final conclusion: that would almost deny the point of the idea of change. Perhaps the only thing I would say is that the assumption that change improves is to live in a teleology: and I hope that we are beyond the myth of progress by now. Perhaps our knowledge will increase – it may still be used for good or ill. Perhaps the major leap museums need to make is to leave behind the desire for apotheosis, and to embrace metamorphosis for precisely what it is: a change in form.

6 November 2013

Transmutation #28 - A closing plenary

We are so near the end, now. Our own Alex hopes, in this session, to share some final ideas, and things which she found interesting.

So, Alex's thoughts

-objects/buildings and agency
-how academia shapes practice and is their relationship closer than perceived
-working processes
-institutional structures
-the museum as an evolutionary model - critique, and the transformative museum
-the body in space and in relation to others
-challenging authority
-authenticity, truth and knowledge
-human rights and social change

So, on opening the floor, what can we bring out over the last couple of days.

Emily Pinkowitz notes how interesting the difference between differentiating between and grouping together cultures is, and how some people really feel passionate about one over the other.

Cintia has to convince herself that she cannot wait for a great teleological moment to happen when museums become the best thing ever; it isn't going to happen. Metamorphosis in museums should not necessarily be thought of in a biological sense of getting better but just changing.

Melissa Forstrom asks whether there were any spatial analysis of metamorphosis in museums - I can offer the work of Suzanne Macleod, and the work of people like Duncan, Wallach, and even Psarra. Eureka suggests that it is so much more interesting to talk about spaces when you have the participation of the people who made it - and she'd make a public plea to curators to keep it all, and make an archive for the future researchers.

What is kept, and what is thrown away? asks Kirstin James. It is often so down to personal choice, rather than policy.

Hopefully, Alex says, we'll be mulling these things over for days to come. Perhaps we can continue this discussion online...I'll be back in a while, maybe tomorrow or later tonight, to wrap up with some thoughts of my own. Until then, I wish you a peaceful and thoughtful night.

Transmutation #27 - Ethnics, Aussies and Poms: migration museums and the creation of identity in Australia

As a historian, Eureka Henrich is obsessed with the idea of change. In her research, she is interested in changing attitudes towards national identity and migration history. These are often apparent in museum exhibitions, the main objects of her study. The museum is seen as a legitimate arbiter of authority: hence why she as a historian finds them powerful.

Australia a nation built and changed through migration. There are two museums of migration - they are the earliest migration museums in the world, and might prove a constructive model for future migration museums. They might also function as evidence for the changing attitudes towards migration.

In 1986, South Australia celebrated Jubilee 150. Most of its activities perpetuated the standard tale of a jubilant colony. But one does not - this is the Migration Museum, which sought to display the histories and lives of non-Anglo-Celtic migrants. Non-British migrants after the Second World War were expected to shed their historic identities and ascribe to the Anglo-Australian way of life. It became very apparent, though, that this was not happening, and by the 1980s this was replaced with multiculturalism.

This was also part of the process of Australia divorcing itself from its historically homogenous Anglo identity. The rise of social history and women's history in the 1970s meant that an increasing number of people were interested in the everyday person, rather than the pioneers. It was the perfect time to explore other histories in a Migrant Museum.

In such a narrative, the British became merely the first in a long line of migrants, and the idea of the White Australia which was so long maintained is critiqued with an interactive. Curators also wished to contest the idea that South Australia was colonized peaceably, suggesting that genocide was committees against the indigenous people of Adelaide. These displays have been critiqued as merely displaying 'enrichment' narratives - adding to the historic story rather than changing it. But in this period, exhibitions like this had a very practical aim - to show that being Australian did not amount to going to cricket matches, eating meat pies, and having deep seated imperial leanings.

Forward twelve years, and all the way to Melbourne. This was a much more populated area. The communities formed by migrants mean that Victoria is the only state where the Labour Party founded 'ethnic' wings. Multiculturalism, therefore, found a strong foothold; but eventually, it would retreat from this idea.

In 1998, Melbourne was to hose the International Council of Museums, and was rushing to complete the Immigration Museum, housed in the Old Customs House, in which to host the event. It was not designed to be a museum about 'Them', but about 'Us', evidence of the political climate of the time, dominated by multiculturalism and shared history. Politicians such as Pauline Hanson, who overtly acted against cultural diversity, provided a counter against which to develop a popular and inclusive migration story.

At the Immigration Museum, they aimed to show the immigraiton narratives which lie at the centre of all non-native Victorians; the mainstream population was therefore welcomed into the migration story. The displays were designed to be emotionally affective, and personal stories were a centrepeice.

What was the reaction to this more inclusive version of the migration story? It seemed to some (mainly museum professionals and academics) as though they had attempted to sidestep the more gritty issues, and depoliticise the situation. But visitors seemed to find it useful and engaging.

Established twelve years apart, and with some ideological differences, these two museums offer us an opportunity to see how attitudes towards the different elements of Australian identities have changed, and how museological practice has itself altered. The South Australian Museum failed to engage with the British Immnigrants; but it did establish some of the fundamental tenets of displaying migration histories. In the 1980s, they  were also freer to do more innovative and interesting displays and activities - there were no critical museology courses, or anything akin, in Australia at the time. The Immigration Museum in Melbourne was born in a larger institution, in the world of the internet.

But both share a fundamental desire to create unity of the migration narratives, as well as the need to recognize the diverse histories of migrants which prodice their marginality. Their abilities to shape identities, personal, institutional, and national, are limited by the contexts within which they are found, and the people living in Australia who may never acknowledge their migrant ancestry. Perhaps there is a need to move away from migration, and towards issues that concern us all - the right to be recognized, to be valued and the right to live.

Transmutation #26 - Metamorphosis of Islamic Art Exhibition Space: two permanent reinstallation case studies

Melissa Forstrom is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, and has also worked in America. Today, she discusses the metamorphosis of Islamic exhibition spaces - the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia at the New York Met, and the Arts in the Islamic World at the Louvre - two of the largest exhibition spaces of Islamic art in the Western world.

She beleives that there are two metamorphoses happening - that of the instituion, and that of the representation of the Islamic people in wider culture and the media. After 9/11, the number of reinstallations of Islamic art trebled. There have also been numerous travelling and temporary displays. Both of these show a massive interest in the Islamic world developing out of the events of the early 21st century.

These redisplays are often perceived as reacting against the negative image of the Islamic world presented in the wider media. However, they sometimes still perpetuate the Orientalist and Islamophobic tendencies which dominate these other forms of communication.

Forstrom investigates the textual panels in exhibitions as another form of media. They are often seen as unbiased, objective media - they certainly are not. As Helen Coxall wrote, language in the museum can lead to marginalisation. Forstrom uses Said's definition of Orientalism, which suggests the predomiance and rights of the West. She also uses the Runnymede Trust's definition of Islamophobia as an unfounded fear or hatred of Muslims, and suggests that the existence of Orientalism in the Western world paved the way for Islamophobia.

The Met's new galleries opened on November 21st 2011. There are 15 sub galleries, organised chronologically. The collection is mostly historical: the visitor separated from the art by time. Previously titled the Islamic Galleries, the original galleries were opened in 1975, with individual separate rooms. Now, they are represented as a united whole.

Though the visitor is separated from the objects by time, it was important to create a sense of place and connection: so the Met employed artists and architects to create senses of connection with the works. Entire Islamic rooms were created, and arches used in some of the doors.

Forstrom argues that the original galleries shows more clearly the diversity and differences of the Islamic world - the new galleries, she suggests, unify the Islamic world and put a gate around it. They even deny the Islamic origin of the objects in the new name of the galleries.

Moving on to the text. Forstrom shows how the European perspective dominates in the panels: the history of objects begins with their entrance to the West, and is a domineering, Orientalising perspective. It does not speak to a multiculural audience.

The Arts of Islam wing of the Louvre opened in September 2012. 11 years in the making, it was the first addition to the museum since the Pyramid. It was supported by powerful donors from all over the Islamic world. It is a free and separate structure, connected to the rest of the Louvre by a tunnel. Like the Met's collection, it is also historical. It houses double the amount of objects than the Met. The first floor deals with the history from 632 to 1000, and is titled Foundation to Empire. On the floors below, the 11th century onwards is dealt with.

Previously, the collections had been displayed in the basement, displayed in geographical areas: like that of the Met. Again, Forstrom beleives that the original displays showcase Islamic cultural diversity better. At the Arts of Islam wing, there is no sense of Islamic place. The wing is also both inside and outside the Louvre, like the French Muslim population itself.

Again, its text arguably represents some Orientalist tendencies. Again, the Western perspective is dominant: but, Forstrom argues, why? Who is this information important to? The European people, of course, which is not inclusive and has the ability to marginalise the non-European audience.

On the surface, these re-installations appear to be very different. But they share some commonalities. Orientalism and Islamaphobia are shockingly statistically prevalent, as Forstrom found in her analysis of the texts - 14 out of 14 articles in the Met, and 13 out of 17 articles in the Louvre contained such traits. 

Forstrom notes that she cannot ascribe intentionality, and that she is obviously biased as a person looking for this phenomenon. It would be interesting to see some of the responses from the Islamic community: research, I believe, has to, to some extent, enact the change it wishes to see in the world.

Transmutation #25 - Restaging a space for Pacific relationships: a study of the renovation of the Polynesian Hall, Bishop Museum, Honolulu

Alice Christophe's current reseach focuses on the interactions between cultural institutions in the Pacific. She looks at the ways in which exhibitions taking place in the Pacific display several distinct cultures in the same show: in other words, her thesis will look at pan-Pacific exhibtions.

Today, she talks to us about the impact of gallery rennovation on instituional and cultural identities. For this presentation, she compares the ways in which pacific cultures were displayed before and are displayed after the rennovation of the Polynesian Hall at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Has the redisplay, she asks, allowed for the development of new relationships.

The Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by a wealthy gentlemen, Charles Reed Bishop,on the death of his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi. The original Polynesian Hall was opened in 1894, and at that time it was showcasing the entire Pacific. He had no time or money to finish his plans for a museum to display all Pacific cultures in three separate parts (Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, as categorized by Westerners at the time), so all eventually were shown in the Polynesian Hall. In this room, the ground floor displayed objects symetrically and geographically, with a few rarities on display. On the second floor, there was a large map of the Pacific area.

Between its opening and the 1980s, it underwent several rennovations, which there is no time to discuss here. Shockingly, the gallery that existed from 1980 to 2011 was never documented - only photographed. In this display, again the map with the three zones of Oceania dominated. These zones dominated the arrangement of the physical display space itself. The design of the cases was colourful, telling stories that we tell in Europe: tattooing, for instance, and other cheif characteristics of the cultures.

This became obsolete very quickly. It didn't meet visitor expectations, and the community of the area needed to reconnect with the rest of the Pacific. Pressure for change was coming from the University, and students on the heritage program. After the renovation of the Hawaiian Hall, they chose to redevelop the Pacific Hall: in the process, rewriting or rediscovering their purpose - to engage people with Hawaiian culture, and recognise the ancestral cultures in the Pacific.

The curators of the redevelopment wanted to move beyond the three zones, and focus on commonalities rather than differences between the cultures of the islands. How were they to do this? They undertook consultative processes, which were difficult. Eventually, a quote from Epeli Hau'Ofa about the relationship between the people and the sea, and the idea of the Blue Continent, inspired the curators to think about the historical continuities and future aspirations of the people.

The new gallery opened a month and a half ago. It is arranged far more topically, to emphasise commonalities - canoe models from all around the Pacific are displayed together. The archaeology galleries on the second floor are based on the most recent discoveries: for instance, the uncovering of the Taiwanese heritage of Pacific Islanders.

The floor map, made of marquetry, materialises for Christophe the theme of the gallery - the Blue Continent - but also the difficulties of overturning Western ontologies. It was made from a Western design, and uses the Western names for the Islands. So there are still echoes of the old categories of the old Polynesian Hall. But the way it was activated by the artists and visitors in the opening ceremonies show how it brought people together. It was surrounded with a lay, binding the people of the islands together, children played on it, jumping from one island to another, and a Maori choreographer, Jack Gray, performing upon it.

Sometimes, museum professionals and researchers sometimes feel powerless in changing things and institutions. How much of the experience of redevelopment the Bishop's Museum will take home, Christophe doesn't know. But she can see that differences have been made - at least to the communities of the Pacific Islands, and the family of Oceania.

Transmutation #24 - Museum and myth in the making of Croat Yugoslavism

Joel Palhegyi currently researches the role of national museums in creating individual senses of identity in the larger Soviet Yugoslav Federal block. His paper reflects the ruptures and continuities of this process in a post-Socialist context.

He focuses on the Museum of the Revolution and the Creation History Museum in the city of Zagreb, and is interested in how these were involved in the production of nationhood. He asks how the myths they developed in the Soviet period have continued into the post-Soviet period?

Soviet slavism emphasizes the idea of common identity whilst also accepting the differences between the cultural units witin the block. Through exhibition catalgoues, he hopes to understand how museums worked with the political scheme to create nationhood.

In the Croation Museum Journal, the instituions were understood as scientific, with the power to create and reaffirm the socialist identity, now and in the future. He argues that museums are both products and producers of communist history and that of the Croatian Nation and the Yugoslav state.

The Museum of the Revolution of the Croatian people commemorates the partisan communist struggle during World War Two. The location of the museum, in the centre of New Zagreb, shows how fundamental and permanent this was for the development, creation and perpetuation of that ideology. The most dominant myth developed at this time was that of a state forged in revolution and war, the necessity of rebuilding the Yugoslavian version of a socialist ideal., Here, a paralell myth of everyday socialist heroes - everyday people who reprsented the ideal, suggesting that everyday people were able to help create the state. Many exhibitions praised the ideals and capabilities of the Croation people, and how they took part in the creation of the phsycial infrastructure of the revolution and the state.

The Croatian History Museum has different roots. It began in the late 19th century, its origins in the Romanticism of the time. So it seems odd that the communist Yugoslav culture would take on this institution. What it offered, however, was an opportunity to exhibit and re-appropriate, heroic and important figures from the past - to create some historical continuity and a sense of the inevitability of revolution. The figures of Illyrianism, for instance, are lauded as egalatarians and prefigurations of revolution. The Peasent's Revolt and Matija Ivanica of the sixteenth century was displayed, in one exhibition, as a proto-Revolution, and Ivanica as a heroic past precurser: very different to the rather ineffectual position it has been given in other histories. One thing that permeates all the displays is the idea of Yugoslavianism: particularly the inclusion of the Croats.

These myths have continued to influence Croatian museum practice inthe last few decades. In 1991, the Revolutionary Museum was decommissioned, it's contents incorporated into the History Museum. The collections provided the raw material for the new presentation of self in the post-Socialist context. There were continuing themes, however - war, outside aggression (particularly from the Serbs). The objects taken from the Revolutionary Museum now have to be re-appropriated. Objects once seen as evidence of the ideals of the Croatian peoples, now those objects are seen as evidence of the fight for, not socialism, but a self-determined state.

Communist myth-making hasn't gone away. The top-down, authoritative narrative, tied to the authority of the state, has survived. We have spoken today about how things change with changing political systems - but some things, it seems, remain very much the same.

Transmutation #23 - The Greek National Gallery's metamorphosis in the second half of the 20th century

Lefteris Spyrou's PhD considers the history of the Greek National Gallery. His paper today examines the galleries of the permanent collection to explore the political and social environments which caused the metamorphosis of the Museum over time.

When the National Gallery of Athens opened in 1915, the visitors saw 350 paintings, watercolours and drawings, exhibited in the outdated mode of the 18th century 'art-historical' hang. It consisted predominantly of Western European works - partly due to the nature of the bequest from whence it originated, and partly to do with the individuals in control of its 'Surveillance' committee. There was an attempt to align the upper classes of Greece with those of Western Europe, to remove Greece from its status as part of the former Ottoman Empire. The desire was to turn Greece and Athens from an eastern backwater, to the leading light of culture it had once been.

It was in the inter-war period when a gallery for Greek contemporary art arose. Over time, this became more and more important, as the gallery responded to the prevailing desire for the promotion of Greek culture and history: Byzantine icons and artefacts from the Ottoman period were now exhibited as examples of the continuance of the Hellenic culture throughout the centuries.

After the Second World War and Civil War, an ethnocentric ideal of society was promoted. Marinos Kalligas, the first Director of the gallery to hold a PhD, tried to determine the eternal aesthetic values which characterised Greek art across history. He sought to reprsent the evolution of Modern Greek Art, from a post-Byzantine icon to the art of the 1920s. Whilst he did display Greek work that reflected wider European tendancies, he emphasized their Hellenic qualities. This display covered six rooms. The following room displayed gifts given to the national gallery, and wider European tendancies - for although Kalligas was very Greek, he was aware of the political importance of involving the country in the wider continental dialogue. He waged war against socialist realism - particularly after the civil was - and also against abstraction. But by the 1960s they realised their were loosing this battle.

Perhaps the most difficult issue was the development of premises. The new building was inaugerated by Kalligas' successor, Papastamos, who displayed Greek art history in a chronological 'school' model spanning three hundred and more years. The prevailing ideology of Europeanisation and admittance to the EU deeply influenced the display - so on the upper floor, wider European art was displayed without a catalogue. Throughout Papastamos' tenure, temporary exhibitions were popular: the permanent collection was often moved.

The last major development occured in 2000, celebrating the centenary since the galleries acceptance and the beginning of the plans. The display was systematising and homogenizing, and the wider European collections were not the main focus. For the present director, the role of the gallery is to represent national life and nation.

The National Gallery of Athens has, over its history, metamorphosed from a gallery of European art to a gallery displaying the national Greek identity. Today the gallery is closed until 2015 - when it reopens, the gallery space will have been doubled. A new metamorphosis. But what will be its content and response to the troubled present of Greece and its relationship with the European community? Perhaps, Spyrou says, he will be able to tell us at a future conference here in Leicester.

Transmutation #22 - Electric elephants: exploring the narrative qualities of exhibitions

Ariane Karbe's research focuses on Hollywood Movies, and how they can allow us to create innovative and moving exhibitions. I'm intrigued about the collections of small plastic animals presented on the front table...

For Ariane, it was a revelation to learn that at the beginning to film history, films were not used to tell stories, but to show attractions: the electricution of an elephant who had killed a guard provides the workshop with its title. This form of film echoes the way in which modern exhibitions show events. But this form of film is not inherent in its medium. Similarly, Ariane asks, how far is it possible to bend the form of the exhibition to create interesting and moving stories?

She begins with the story of a curator, who was so proud of his objects and his knowledge that he just wanted to share it all. Then semioticians arrived in the museum, and the disjunct between the word and the object arose. The curator wondered if objects could be considered representations, like words - limited, but communicative. Then politics entred the museum, and the curator had to admit that he had only shown his own perspective. When educators arived, he learned that he had to accept the multiplicity of audiences and the value of their own opinions. Then designers engaged the curator with emotion and stories. But, thought the curator, what is a story?

What turns a story into a story? What turns a film, a book, a radio play into a 'story'? What is it's essence? Is it the thing that makes you go 'woah'? Something that you can relate to on a personal level? A journey? Something with a beginning, a middle, and an end? A thing which tells something new? Reflective and reflexive? A device by which different episodes are cohered into a narrative arc? A situation in which an inciting incident changes the circumstances, and the situation is altered by the end? Something that you, as reader, you cannot participate? Something to trigger your imagination? For me, a story is a set of strategies, linguistic or otherwise, deployed to represent some aspect or aspects of reality and imagination. It is made powerful, says Ariane, by the links, established through narratological or other literary devices, between two or more units of information.

Today, each group is asked to curate an exhibition using the animals on the table and the materials we have been given. The idea is to base the exhibition on a story made up of three to five events. One person in the group, takes the viewpoint of the visitor, evaluating the exhibition as it is in the process of creation. Another person needs to note down the process and questions which arise in the production of the exhibition. We'll see what happens...

Eureka Henrich takes on the role of notetaker for our table. We have selected a cow, a fox, a parrot and a giraffe, a river and some snow. We are puzzled, at first, by the scale of the animals in comparison to each other, and we discuss multiple options for how these animals come together. We talk about their domains, their behaviors, but it takes us some time to actually create a story. And we have to think about happy endings? What kind of consequences should our story contain? And should it contain a moral message?

We told to leave our exhibitions and notes on the table, and are asked to talk about the challenges we faced in creating our exhibition. One of the most interesting challenges is how people dealt with the possibilities this exercise offered for dealing with taboo subjects - sexuality, for instance.

The exercise throws up many problems - the structure of story, its physical realisation, visitor perception, political and theoretical issues. Sometimes, Ariane says, you can't narrate an exhibition as you can a film or a book, and perhaps it isn't useful to think of exhibitions as stories in the same way.

The idea of narrative is, for me, a very interesting one. In museum studies, I think the idea of narrative is not always fully understood or exploited. Used incorrectly, it can be limiting. Used well, and more extensively understood, the ideas of narratology and literature can be a tool for critiquing existing modes of museological being, and making these institutions anew.

Transmutation #21 - The Exhibition Lab: change by experiment?

Laura Liv Weikop is a PhD student at the Design Museum in Copenhagen, and she is here today to present an exhibition which she created as part of her PhD. The Exhibition Lab asks people to do things they didn't strictly have the 'professional' experience to do, such as evaluating the exhibition using their own experience. It is an experiment, was of finding new ways to mediate meaning in the museum.

The Design Museum Denmark is located in a beautiful Rococco building, formerly a hospital; the buildings are strangely shaped and protected, giving problematic constraints to work within. It has a limited budget and small staff, but a large tourist footfall. A few years ago, a new and talented director brought a new strategy plan to the museum; but this hasn't reached the majority of the museum staff. The staff who take care of the museum have been there for a long time and are embedded within the institution. They are being asked to act in ways that are new, and that they are not comfortable with. Weikop's standpoint is that there is no willingness to input this strategy, even though there are only three years in which to do it. It is difficult to be flexible and dynamic in such circumstances.

Current exhibition practice is beautiful, but static with a primarily aesthetic focus. It is often thought of as dusty and old fashioned. Mediation and interpretation is very sparce and predominantly textual. The Exhibition Lab is an attempt to rethink these methods of mediation and exhibition creation, and to create debate and document the different behaviours design and mediation can produce amongst visitors.

The budget and timeframe for the exhibition was demanding - it was conceptualized and made within five months, and restricted to three small spaces within the museum. It had a budget of little over £7000 - for an architect, exhibition designer, objects and staffing. It is one display divided into three sub-displays, showing the exact same 25 objects of everyday life. The visitor enters these in sequence, and then entre the Think Tank. Each of the exhibition spaces emphasizes different things, following it's own interpretive ethos.

The ethos driving the first room is 'Attractive things work better', following aesthetic design and mediation principles resembling those of the current practice within the museum; objects appear in glass cases, the text and labels are long and technical. It appears like a classical display; there is nothing new to see here. However, the display of modern objects in traditional fashion makes for a very different experience. It is still, however, seen as dull.

The second exhibition is called 'What You Own is Who You Are', and follows affective design and mediation principles. Here, the objects are placed in a homely setting, and in it people talk, play and explore, spending more time here than in any other room of the exhibition. The text is inviting; things are there to be touched, and the interactive possibilities made explicit. The designers tried to create a dynamic relationship between the scenography of the room and the objects; an audio track of everyday sounds plays to create a natural environment. People seem very relaxed within the space, and the interaction and touching natural, unlike in many other museums encouraging touch.

The third room is called 'Design Fulfills Needs', and this follows more didactic design and mediation principles. The space is styled like a workshop, with booklets enabling the visitor to read about the objects in a great deal of detail. Here, though, people are told not to touch the objects. This part of the exhibition works well in terms of informational content, the evaluation showed, but that same evaluation also indicated that people would have liked to be able to touch.

The final part of the exhibition is the feedback area, the Think Tank, which contains multiple methods by which the visitor might give their opinion and the museum gain an understanding of the visitor's experience.

Naturally, museum objects usually can't be touched; but this exhibition shows how the sense of touch is useful and can be incorporated. Weikop hopes that The Exhibition Lab can promote discussion and change both within and without the museum, so that visitors are included, not alienated, and the museum made not dusty and boring, but new, vibrant and relevant.

This session has been full of interesting projects, run by very daring and determined people. I am astonished at their drive, and feel lucky that they have shared their ideas here today.

I'll be back after lunch with a workshop entitled Electric Elephants. I can't wait to see what that entails.

Transmutation #20 - Revealing Queer: an exhibition and symposium at the Museum of History and Industry

Erin Bailey is the founder of Queering the Museum, a project in Seattle, USA. Her work applies a lot of museological thought, queer theory and gender studies as a platform for the way in which we think about representation in museums.

Queer studies are controversial, and so so often eliminated from the national narrative - alongside other things such as death, asylum seekers, racism, indigenous issues, and more. The list of controversial topics in the US is, for me, quite disturbing, reflecting uneasy tensions between individual rights, the loyalty to the state and church, and the relationship between America and the wider world. For LGBT people, their already controversial situation is complicated by their multiplicity of other, sometimes conflicting, identities.

Changes in societal ideology, such as legalisation of same-sex marriage, allow museums to adapt to the times and tackle difficult subjects. Museums play an important role in creating national identity, and it is important that the government have a role in stating that.

Bailey's work applies Elee Wood's 7 Rules for Revolution, which use the power of museums to create transformative educational spaces whilst rewriting the national narrative. But museums must find ways of interpreting objects which do not give queer identities as given and monumental through all places and times.

Queering the Museum is a joint effort between two scholars, including Baily, with the purpose of researching topics including inclusion, representation, engagement and collecting/preserving history of relevance to the LGBTQ communities.

They made a proposal to the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, which accepted it. This allowed them to host a symposium and a digital workshop, and an exhibition is being planned. MOHAI is a significant institution - the largest history collection in the area. At the time, they were themselves undergoing a significant process of change; in 2012, they moved to a larger and more prominant building.

The exhibition will be the first to address LGBTQ history over the last 40 years. They plan to work with a community advisory committee within the Puget Sound region. Unlike many such committees, the QtM group get to take part in every aspect of the development and marketing of the exhibition. The exhibition is designed for a general audience; MOHAI's audience is beleived to be predominantly middle aged and right wing. But Seattle has one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the US, and has historically been at the forefront of LGBTQ rights. They had their first Gay Pride festival in 1973, and were treating AIDS before the epidemic broke.

The committee is made up not just of individual members, but of members representing organisations. They have monthly meetings, and three subgroups worked on the exhibition, the digital storytelling project and the symposia (these groups are now merged and collaborate on the exhibition). Members were recruited through public events, coffee shop meetings, word of mouth.

What does such a process take; trust, which is made up of time, emotional investment, listening, patience, and, perhaps most importantly, committed follow through. LGBTQ communities in Seattle have historical reasons for not trusting institutions; so trust, talking and listening is absolutely crucial.

The Queering the History Museum symposia brought ideas and speakers to the museum, but institutional change didn't occur. There was, perhaps, a lack of trust here. I wonder how the project is supposed to have a future when 'the Man' isn't there? I hope that this changes soon.

So how, after the exhibition, are the project and the History Museum supposed to build relationships sustainably into the future? This is something I don't have an answer to. I can say, however, that this is an astonishing and brave project, and I hope the trust is built, and sustained, to allow it to continue.

Transmutation #19 - Beyond binaries: a history of the Kitchen Conversations program at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Emily Pinkowitz is Deputy Director of Public Programs, Education and Community Engagement at Friends of the High Line and New York. Today, she talks about her previous work at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

This area has been home to wave after wave of immigrants since the late 1800s. The mission of the Museum, house in an old tenement block, was to produce integration, awareness and tolerance of communities; and in 2004, it launched the Kitchen Conversations Project. Four years later, this was seen as a model for other museum programs seeking to promote engagement and tolerance. But it too needed development; and so it changed from one hour long program to a two hour long tour.

How were these shifts motivated? Pinkowitz argues that it was through subtle shifts in thinking within the museum, and reflects the fallacies of the binary between museums and people, and the singular nature of the visitor. This sits within a wider critical dialogue that has existed throughout the history of museums.

The Tenement Museum was created in 1988, using the stories of real immigrants throughout history and from all over the world. They wanted to build connections between visitors and the immigrants of the past in the hope that this would build connections in the future. But by 1998, they realised that this model was not working. Visitors were coming to the museum seeking affirmation of their romantic views of the past.

So they complicated history, deromanticizing stories of the past in ways which were often less flattering to the historic people they represented. But that didn't work either. They came to the conclusion that the best way of challenging history was to challenge the museum itself.

And this resulted in Kitchen Conversations; a project which allowed for dialogue, discussion and remembrance. The Conversations occured directly after the standard tour given by education staff, but they were a deliberately separate thing; the physical space was different, and the people chosen to lead the dialogues were employed from a completely different source than the tour leaders.

This stemmed from the beleif that the rhetoric of the museum and the hierarchy of educator and visitor limited the role and authority of the visitor. This binary is akin to the difference between the museum as temple and the museum as forum. Duncan suggested that not only is the temple contaminated by the insertion of a forum, but the forum contaminated by its housing within the temple. Hence the way the Conversations were run.

But people weren't engaging with the program - staying for the snacks and then having the gall to leave. So by 2005, bridges began to be built between the tour and Conversations programs. Staff were put in dialogue, shared experiences, training and knowledge, and the spaces were styled in more comparative ways. By giving the leaders of each projects knowledge about the other, more satisfying connections could be made. As a result, visitor participation increased. By 2007, the programs were so integrated as to be almost two halves of the same thing. And by 2009, visitor numbers had increased exponentially. In the same year, the program was fully integrated into a two hour dialogue, not a separate tour and conversation.

It is clear that people wished to have conversations; but the types of conversations and the way in which they were run had a significant impact upon their satisfaction. Was the final result impacting visitors in the way the original Kitchen Conversations had been intended to? Yes, says Pinkowitz.

Cameron's model of spaces of authority and spaces of questioning has seen much discussion in the museum world. But this model creates a false dichotomy, assuming that the identity of the visitor is not fixed throughout the visit. So the museum is not a space of either authority or questioning, either temple or forum, but an identityscape in which we exist as complex and overlapping constructs. The Museum should facilitate this liquidity to legitimate a variety of perspectives. For it has an identityscape of its own; in my opinion a museum is, as much as its visitors, a liquid entity itself.

Transmutation #18 - Musealizing change or changing the museum: the case of the musical instrument museum

In the past thirty years, Judith Dehail says, museums have looked more and more at the visitors who come through their doors. But rarely are those visitors asked to participate in rethinking what the museum should be. The musical instrument museum is a case in point; the main focus of her work is about how the external work of the music lover is able to destabilize the notion of the museum, and act as a catalyst for change.

The music lover is not only an instrumentalist, but anyone who takes part in listening to music and making instruments, no matter how amateur or professional. She uses two institutions, one in Paris and one in Leipzig, to illustrate her thesis.

Usually, a musical collection is defined as a set of objects which have lost their original function and often their original place. Museum objects are elected to stand as witnesses to beauty, identity and civilization - expected to lose their use value, and transform into something symbolic. The changing significance of the object is represented in James Clifford's Art-Culture System: A Machine for Making Authenticity. In this system, objects circulate. In it, musical instruments in collections are freed from their own personal past and come to have a multivalency of potential meanings.

But the perspective of the visitors might force us to reconsider this idea. One of the most commonly shared reactions of visitors is frustration at the inability to interact with the objects. Sometimes they are empathic in their reaction; understanding how the use of the object might not be compatible with conservation and other requirements. Sometimes, a tension arises when a visitor does not see the latter values as comparable with their own desire to use and play the instruments. In the third form, the visitors do not understand the transformation of the object from used to symbolic; often, these people get to play the instruments.

Visitors, then, clearly perceive different values for the instruments than the museum does. This suggests that the transmutation of the object from used to symbolic thing enacted by the museum does not entirely work, and that the implicit rule of distance in the museum visit can be problematic. Jay notes that the in Western philosophical tradition knowledge must be gained before anything else, leading to the predominance of vision in modern knowledge. The museum has indeed often been seen as the ultimate in opticality.

But in the musical instrument museum, this is clearly challenged by the visitors. The 'fetishisation' of the symbolic object frustrates the visitor's normal relationship with such objects, and counters the very idea of music itself. Audioguides can help with this; but touch, too, would assist in a significant way with the visitor's ability to interact with the instruments. Musical practice strongly involves the body, and calls for a different hierarchy of senses than the museum usually requires.

It is particularly interesting to note the comparison between the display of none Western and Western musical instruments in both of these institutions; both relegate their non-Western objects - Leipzig gave their the to the neighboring ethnology museum, and the Parisian Museum presents them in a separate gallery outside of time. The white, male, Western, chronological narrative of classical music is privileged - and both are limited in their display of instruments of the pop culture of the 20th and 21st century. Musical visitors, however, often challenge the hierarchies implicit in this.

And the museums can respond; temporary exhibitions, for instance. And the Museum in Paris presents concerts on a daily basis, sometimes with informative talks about the music and the instruments that they play. However, in interviews Dehail conducted, she discovered that some visitors were in fact disturbed by the concerts, that some musicians found the space uncomfortable to play in, and that some visitors saw those musicians with pity; as objects on display, rather than people to be listened to.

The musical instrument museum is threatened by the deep and bodily relationships the visitor has with music outside the museum. They bring to light the hierarchies of power and the senses on which the traditional museum model relies. As such, they are prime sites for the rethinking of the space, attitude, and display strategies of the museum in the twenty-first century.

Transmutation #17 - Intermediaries to Collaborators: international nmuseum representation of Australian Indigenous art

Aboriginal art is used in a wide range of ways in the cultural media. Misunderstandings and ambiguous labelling are commonplace. In this paper, Tasha Finn discusses three models of museum which engage with aboriginal art; the Arbitrary, which does not allow for aboriginal inclusion in representative practice; the Intermediary, which allows for some dialogue but in which majority power still lies within the museum; and the Collaborative, in which participation is welcomed. Whilst post-colonial and poststructural discuorses have exerted some influence on exhibitions since the 1980s, arbitrary and intermediary model still exist.

Her thesis is based on the notion that museums are not neutral sites; as Peter Vergo suggested in his paper 'The Rhetoric of Display'. What was most disturbing for Vergo was the denial of the subjectivity of the space which seemed to predominate within many museums.

In 2009, the Pitt Rivers rehung its cases. They exhibit aboriginal art as ethnographic artifacts, rather than a contemporary form of art. The cases contain a mix of historical and contemporary works, by artists of various degrees of fame. Words from Pitt Rivers are used, ethnographic photographs. There appears to be a hesitation in displaying the aboriginal peoples in a contenmporary context. It was only recently that contemporary aboriginal works began to be collected and represented. For Finn, this suggests that they had little desire to represent the aboriginal people as vital and living.

Clifford's idea of the 'contact zone', appropriated from Pratt, allows for collaboration and dispute. Debate and exchange, rather than dominance and control, are forgrounded. The contact zone idea followed on from the notion of the museum as forum. The museum, in this model, becomes a space for dialogue and negotiation about the power over representation. 'Museum frictions' is a term which acknowledges the negotiations and complex perspectives that exist within the museum.

The Kluge-Ruhe collection of aboriginal art in Virginia, USA, was based on a series of paintings collected by two men - Edward Ruhe, collecting from 1965, and John Kluge, from 1988 onwards. The Museum opened in 1999, and immediately began a series of residences. So now, the artists act as the collectors and producers of the art. Clifford's idea of the contact zone can be applied here, particularly in the cases where artists make specific interventions into the museum's space.

In 2006, the Musee du quai Branly commissioned eight architectural installations. Whilst direct funding from Austrailian arts organisations was found, and diplomatic relationships forged, the installations were interpreted by the staff of Quai Branly. Whilst Penelope Wensley, Australian Ambassador to France, called the installation one of the most significant representations of Australian art abroad to date, there were still significant problems.

The text for the artworks lacked political context, and were highly ambiguous. Thus, they eclipsed the social and political aspect of Judy Watson's work Two Halves with Bailer Shell; much of which was a discussion of France's nuclear testing in the sea.

There are various models, then, for the ways in which a museum might engage with aboriginal artists and people. What should a museum do? Should they be free to chose any of these models? No matter what stance they chose, it is their responsibility to be aware of the consequences; they represent not only other cultures, but their own attitudes and the societies from which they arise.

Transmutation #16 - KEYNOTE - Love the dinosaurs and mummies, the rest is boring: developing New Walk Museum & Art Gallery in the age of austerity

Our keynote this morning comes from Matthew Constantine, Collections, Learning and Interpretation Manager from Leicester Arts & Museums Service. Museum Metamorphosis has been a collaborative project between the School and LA&MS; so it is only appropriate that he should present here today.

His intention today is to give us an insight into the issues and challenges facing New Walk in particular and LA&MS more generally. He's been in post for just a year, and it's been an interesting one in which he has had to grapple with the context in which the Service finds itself.

New Walk Museum was lauded on its opening in 1849 - to paraphrase the Leicester Post, a place in which to to chase away the cares of the heart. But today, many people see it as dull, little changed, and whilst the dinosaurs remain perennially popular, not very much stands out. There's a familiarity for local people after 150 years, which breeds a kind of contempt, whether that is deserved or otherwise.

But New Walk has a significant collection - of German Expressionists, Egyptian artefacts, the dinosaurs and of course Charnia - crammed into a small space (which brings its own problems). Constantine shows us archive photographs of the museum, on its opening, and around the time of the Second World War. It is, truthfully, amazing how it has changed architecturally. It is, Constantine says, a building in a constant state of evolution.

So the question at the moment is 'What is New Walk Museum for?' What are they trying to do? What is a modern, 21st century local authority museum trying to achieve? Being a local authority institution brings its own challenges.

Currently, the City Mayor is a man with a distinct interest in heritage. He sees the cultural offer and the built environment as an economic driver - a way of making people come and visit, and even live, here. Leicester is also a very diverse city, and the mayor sees the museum service here as a way of helping people in the city develop a sense of identity and place. LA&MS is not separate from the wider concerns of the council - they are intricately intertwined with them.

The complexity of LA&MS is compounded by its multiplicity of museums; there are now four other than New Walk - Newarke Houses, Abbey Pumping Station, the Guildhall and Jewry Wall. Many of these are vital and important buildings, but not all of them have had the support they need. How does New Walk relate to these other four sites? New Walk, as the flagship and oldest museum, is often seen as the centre. Is New Walk the be all and end all? How do the collections housed in New Walk fit together - the fine art and the Egyptian gallery? How does the service deal with all the passionate people who love the other museums.

Who is New Walk Museum for? As it is paid for by local tax payers, it's important that the demographic of the audience reflects the local population. But the other collections, the Picasso works and the German Expressionist collection, draw people in from further away. Unlike other council services which are so tied to the city, the museum has an audience which stretches far wider - and this was seen as a problem, historically. But under the new agenda of the mayor, the city wants people to come from further a field. But, nonetheless, you can't ignore the local people.

So what populations are in the city and the wider county? Is New Walk interested in attracting the fine art aficionados? People with a more passing interest? People wanting to see the dinosaurs? Or is it more important that it be a social space for anyone to attend, no matter their background? In 1909, the curator E.E.Lowe said that the museum should be 'thoroughly popularised and prove proportionately attractive and illuminating to the average visitor'. Essentially, this is the attitude that holds today.

Leicester is a large, young, linguistically, socially and culturally diverse city. All of these things have to be taken into account. The county is much more dominated by middle class white communities, but with important pockets of deprivation.

How can we make all of this work, and these people be served by the Museum Service? New Walk is not, strictly speaking, a local history museum, but a place in which people come to engage with art, take part in creative activities, look at the natural world. In recent years, it took on the activities of the former City Gallery; a very contentious and problematic issue for the identity of the Museum and the identity of contemporary art practice and practitioners within the city. The Museum Metamorphosis exhibition is a product of collaboration between the School, local artists, and New Walk - a vital thing which Constantine wishes to continue.

But New Walk also needs to deal with internal building issues. Only one wheelchair user can be upstairs at any one time because of fire regulations. It is riddled with asbestos, and represents a patchwork of history and what were originally two independent buildings. Once they're clear with what they're trying to do, they need to work out how to do this within these confining physical circumstances. In an age of austerity, they can't build a new building, or even a new wing.

There mission and value statement, developed in collaboration with the School states that it needs to be a space where interesting things happen, where people can come to learn, change, and experience all manner of things. Constantine is positive that despite the problems this is achievable; there is a good team, a good Mayor, and goodwill. I hope to see the results soon.

Transmutation #15 - Welcome Back!

Well, here we are again, day two of the conference and people are slowly emerging. Placing leaves made of post-its on the trees around the room. Tea drunk and biscuits eaten. Today's programme looks full again; there's another keynote coming up for you, followed by sessions on community dialogues and identities, and two concurrent workshops. I hope you're looking forward to following and reading in the future. We'll be beginning with an introduction and welcome back from Alex in about 15 minutes.

5 November 2013

Transmutation #14 - An Opening at the End of the Day

This is not a speech, says Janet, but a brief provocation.

Yinka Shonibare's Party Time is a study in metamorphosis. Set in a Victorian dining room in the Newarke Museum in New Jersey, it presents a tableau of a rich banquet where rules and aesthetics are all askew. Victorian propriety has been replaced with self indulgence and sexual abandon. Guilded Age wealth is compared with our contemporary culture of excess. It speaks of our need to reject silences around social justice issues and to assert moral agency.

Artists can take risks and reimagine our collections, shed light on the past as a way of addressing the present and future. Similarly, in the Museum Metamorphosis exhibition, local Leicestershire artists act in dialogue with the collections of the Leicester Museums Service. Welcome, says Janet, to our exhibition.

And that's me done for the night. An interesting and provocative day. Very different in a lot of ways, to the conferences I have seen here before. I might go and explore the exhibition now. See you all tomorrow - sleep well, and have dreams of change.

Transition #13 - Collecting 'new media art': creating organisational change in museums

Our final speaker of the day is our own Catharina Hendrick (who is pleased that we've all stayed awake!). Today, she will be talking about a small segment of her research, which more broadly focuses on collecting new media art. In this paper, she focuses on organizational change.

What is new media art? For Catharina, there is no single definition and no single term - digital art, plugged in, software art are all terms. The characterists are that they are computable, ephemeral networked, collaborative and interavtive, to name.

Catharina's first example comes from the artists Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, and it came to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston on a USB stick. Called 'The distance travelled through our solar system this year and all the barrels of oil remaining', it consists of two wall projections updated continually from the Internet, which display each of these figures.

The Harris Museum is an old and diverse collection - archaeology, ceramics, fine arts, local history and scent bottles all make an appearance. Looking at this museum provokes though about collaborative practice - to get other professionals involved in all parts of the exhibition process. New media art has a subtle effect on collaborative work, which has to function both inside the museum - between curatorial departments - and outside the museum - with creative arts organizations and the like.

The Harris and an arts organization, folly, set up a call for artists working in new media forms in order that they might produce an exhibition of new art and collect some of the pieces. To chose the final pieces to be exhibited, they brought in the museums technologist to give his opinion - internal collaboration. The panel convened to chose the piece to be collected was made up of a combination of people; collections, technologists, art historians. The Thompson and Craighead was finally selected, but there were problems in its production - including the firewall put in place by the council.

What were the results? The voice and intentions of the artists were given much more authority in the display and, interestingly, in the works. They had to talk about the futureproofing of the object, how it would be conserved and documented. They had to consider how it would be made visible and accessible to visitors - how would museum staff talk about the work in order to make visitors not familiar with new media art understand?

The focus on collaboration is clear and crucial. The result was public benefit, and an enriched museum, with a wide knowledge and skills network. New media art challenges established processes; and this must be acknowledged and dealt with.

There was an incentive to build a collections policy for new media art - for which they gained funding. The Harris now actively commission work, and support new artists in the local area. They work with the university in Preston to assist fine arts and contemporary arts students and produce conferences. This is all evidence of collaboration; and this will continue to grow.

Within the museum, there was much internal collaboration. The connection between the museum and artist is something the Harris certainly want to keep; what happens, for instance, when the barrels of oil run out - does the artwork die? Decision making processes have to change within the museum to engage with new media art, and the profile of the museum to secure audiences and funding is significantly affected by a collaborative approach. Outside the museum, however, contacts are gained with arts organizations, conferences, knowledge sharing, and collaborative choice in decision-making.

New media changes us; this is known. How it will change us, however, is a known unknown, and I for one, am interested to see the subtle and small changes that will occur within museums and society as a whole. Let us hope that the Harris keeps collecting.

Transmutation #12 - Tate in transition: discussing the dynamics of digital

Ioanna Zouli is a PhD Student, working collaboratively with London Southbank University and the Tate. She looks at digital in general, and its situation in a large institution. Her title comes from that of Hilde Hein's The Museum in Transition, and in this paper she wishes to look at digital from the perspective of an embedded researcher.

Cultural institutions, she says, are increasingly embedding digital into their work. It is so crucial for modern social life, and it is crucial that museums adapt to and try to understand this technological change. She uses two examples recently run by the Tate, to show digital as a vehicle to metamorphosis and affective media.

Tate's website was first launched in 1998, to fulfil their aims of making art accessible. The first transformation was the relaunch of their website in 2002 - today, it is the second most popular arts website in the UK. But there is a section on there entitled 'Digital' - where visitors can interact through social media and watch Podcasts, amongst other things; a very different kind of digital world.

In their recent publication Digital Transformations, Tate seeks to establish a culture which has digital embedded throughout it, where the digital is natural. They beleive that it can revolutionise practice in a variety of different ways.

In 2010, John Stack argued that 'Participation is not about just functionality, it is about ethos.' Etymologically, ethos is the characteristic spirit of a culture, or era. He authored Tates Digital Strategy for the future - subtitled 'Digital as a Dimension of Everything'.

Tate's online presence has moved rapidly from a transmissive digital 'magazine' to a diaglogic, participatory, multi-platform world, filled with engaging, rich and productive content. Bloomberg Connects is a perfect example of this.

But how can we, as curators and museum makers, use digital to reach out to people who are becoming more and more attached to their online lives? Can we see the internet, as suggested in a recent edition of The Exhibitionist, as the new Lower East Side - a seething, difficult to penetrate mass, filled with its own collective languages and culture, and welcoming in its own way.

In order to understand the digital discourse, we need to embrace the complexities of the museum as a multiplatform institution, and the complexities of the outside world, both intense and welcoming at the same time. Zouli compares this with the analogue museum; the differences are marked. For me, this recalls a discussion we had following Jane Nielsen's presentation.

Adopting digital, we offer new invitations for participation. But how quick will, and should the museum adopt these changes. We need not think, either, that the curatorial role will diminish - the museum still has a significant role. The analogue sees the museum as a known, contained, finite thing. The digital is virtual, networked, unpredictable. Some of these features are difficult; we depend on the digital revolution, but perhaps we still need to filter it through the certainties of the analogue.

But sometime, in the future, might museums choose to embrace chaos?

Transmutation #11 - Artistic change? Live performance and participation at the Natural History Museum

Sarah Punshon is a freelance theatre maker, working on curatorial projects with museums such as the Wellcome. She begins by showing us a video about a project in which she and her colleagues worked with the Darwin centre by producing an enlivening experience through a Nature Games Weekend, a Campsite, and a nature trail through the museum called Curious Collectors.  These projects were realised with the assistance of games designers, artists, tv producers and theatre makers. The prerequisite was interactivity; and it seems, from the video, as though this was achieved.

These were all part of a one year experiment. So what did they change about the Darwin Centre and what were the results? The way the museum used its space changed. The visitor experience changed. Visitor understanding and perception of the museum changed. The skills of staff, including the artists, changed too.

The Darwin centre is a new, white extension to the London Natural History Museum. It's clinical, cold and apparently unpopular. The events run by Punshon and her colleagues increased the visitor footfall by at least 10%, peaking finally at a figure of 67% of visitors to the Natural History Museum visiting the Darwin Centre too. Previously, the figure had been about 13%. They made, then a significant difference purely on that account.

So, what worked? It might be obvious, but it was colourful, bright things at the entrances, costumed interpreters, the possibilities for participation, role-playing, dressing up, flexible parental role, real specimens, measurable rewards and consequences, having room to run about, and free admission which really seem to have made the difference.

Marie Hobson, who can't be here today, found it striking how much the project changed the visitor perceptions of the museum. Children who thought they would find it boring did not. The perceptions, actions and attitudes of staff too, was altered - when leading experts in entomology are able and willing to play with children dressed in teeny-boppers, that's a significant change.

Working with artists pushes people in different ways that they wouldn't ever have considered. When things are marketed as an 'artistic experiment', and only temporary, they can seem much safer. Many museum staff, I suspect, would find the idea of 'capturing' children as specimens, no matter how much in jest, quite disturbing.

Was it value for money? It might have been useful, but was it purely an add on, not sustainable. Punshon believes that there are many reasons the scheme is no longer continuing; the bureaucracy and size of the Natural History Museum, the brand, the mess the kids made, the influence of digital and the costs of live work - whilst live work has significant impact, digital has fashion and finance behind it.

There is now no department to deliver this kind of thing at the Natural History Museum, and this has an impact on institutional memory. Who will change things in the future if we have no memory of the change?

Transmutation #10 - A WORKSHOP! Metamorphoses: leadership, resilience and learning

I always wonder how to liveblog workshops. So much happens.

In this workshop, Nick Winterbotham talks about how both processes and people metamorphose in the context of the museum and society. We begin with a story, and with a task to balance nails on top of each other, similar to those activities offered by museums and science centres. It is seemingly impossible.

If a family unit is given such a task, they might change their roles in relation to each other: if a son solves a problem, they may command a new found repsect from older members of their family. If a family knows that another family has previously achieved the goal, they may seek to imitate. They may also think with their fingers, manage their anxiety with learning things. Flow is also important in solving problems, as Csíkszentmihályi noted. You can also buy in experience.

The baseball player Satchel Paige once said that 'None of us is as smart as all of us' - so if we worked out how to work together, might we be able to metamorphose and solve problems. (By the way, Elee just solved the problem of the nails. Clever thing.)

Ovid's Metamorphoses shot him to superstardom. Each of more than 250 tales was a parable of change. He followed Heraclitus, in viewing everything as change. He saw the vital progress of history as emerging from a concatenation of changes: Winterbothem shows us two examples.

Ever since that time, we have evidence of personal transformations - in history and literature, Caligula, Macbeth, Jekyll and Hyde. Much of Winterbothem's work over the last few decades has been about embracing and making positive the changes that we experience. We can chose what lessons we learn from this 2000 year history of cultural expression, and to chose our own kinds of metamorphoses.

What kinds of transformation are we interested in now? Religious? From religion to secularisation? What, Winterbothem asks, would be our big idea for change? And once you've settled on this idea, does it have soul, emotional appeal? Can it define the new tomorrow? What it's moral underpinnning? Is it a real possibility? Big ideas can be elusive. It's worth going beyond the consensus.

What causes change? What hastens tipping points? Big ideas, disasters, unmet needs, revolt, democracy, guilt, envy, pester power...

Now we have to take part in an experiment - to be the change we want to see in the world. We have to rate concepts in terms of how transformative we, as a group, believe them to be. Back in a moment...

Well, we've debated over many ideas. Restitution, prosecution, literacy. It depends what we are interested in, what we value, and how we determine the nature of transformation. It's certainly made us talk to each other. The following workshop would be about the consequences of our choices, and what they actually, practically mean.

Transformations and metamorphoses are dependent on your standpoint. Ovid contains the obvious mythological metamorphoses; but hiding behind this is the political background and its change from democracy to empire that Ovid lived within. He ended his life in Asia Minor, a refugee on the outskirts of Turkey.

We are meaning makers, but the greatest ones have often been personal and mythical, of sorts. What are we going to do - transform personally, or save the world at the same time. 

Transmutation #9 - Things are changing: about objects and exhibition design in German Museums

Mario Schulze, a PhD student at the University of Zurich, studies changing approaches to design in the museum. Today, he speaks to us about objects, and exhibition design.

He begins with a picture story, telling the shortened version of his presentation from the end to the beginning. He begins with the display of 'Commodity Beauty - a Time Travel', held at the Martin Gropius building in Berlin. Four years earlier is the next image, in the same institution: 'Impermanent exhibition of the permanent collections'. The 1987 exhibtion, 'Pack Ice and Pressed Glass', is the next to be shown. The next selections come from Frankfurt Historical Museum - the first being 'Women's Movement and Women's Everyday Life' of 1980. 1972's 'Destruction of Frankfurt in the Second World War' follows. The last image was taken in 1968 in the permanent collection of the Rothschildpalais in Frankfurt.

Stories of clearing and installation take place inbetween these displayed stories. Connecting histories of design between theories of objects and things allows Schulze to ask 'what is a museum object?', and 'what does exhibition design derive from these ideas of objects?' Between the 1960s and the 2000s, the object changed from a relic of the past, a voiceless thing, to something with a voice, a present relevance in the material now. And this change is reflected in the attitudes of museums, and how they themselves develop. He understands 'things' as abstract, rather than constant fundaments of reality. Things are always a collection of materialities, environments and sociality.

This idea of material things, taken from social science, is crucial for museums, particularly those which are explicitly about identity. There are stages of this development: objects as direct evidence, the mistrust of objects and their replacement with texts, and the return of the objects as newly nuanced and multivalent things.

The Historical Museum of Frankfurt was founded in 1878. 1968 saw the opening of the first permanent exhibition to be built after the second world war. In 1972, the Museum moved to a new brutalist building, and responded to ICOM's call for museums to have more public relevance. It had the first Children's Museum in the country. The museum sought to be attractive to all, not just the elite.

But curators were sure that everyday workers were not interested in the objects, and that they objects were mute to them in a way they weren't to connoussiers. So they created a walkable guidebook, privileging text. They were criticised for this, told they were degrading objects. In 1980, they reacted to this by integrating a lot more objects. The Women's Movement and Everyday Life displayed integrated pictures, too, but most interestingly, perhaps, they installed a pool setting - indicative, according to the curator, of female liberation and emancipation, as well as evidence of everyday activity. In this installation, a small jar of Nivea cream becomes a semiophore - indicative of meaning, of youth, women's lives. Now objects can convey political messages - if shown in the right context, the objects become texts.

The Archive of the Werkbund Berlin, the Museum of Everyday Life, wants not just to display the everyday, but set out for a new reality. As in Frankfurt, the displays were intended to be inherently political. The exhibition titles show this impressively: as does Pack Ice and Pressed Glass. In the first room, Dreamy, there are no texts - only the catalogue, not supposed to be in the display, is the meaning of the room explained. These objects are not just to be deciphered, but to experience and sense. But the enterprise seems to have its head in the clouds - how are you supposed to not understand, and feel, when you are being told to decipher all the time?

In the 'Impermanent Exhibition of the Permanent Collections', the Museum displayed itself, but also its continuing commitment to political discourse. It was supposed to give a feeling of the mechanical operative construction of our everyday lives. There is no text, but again, an abstract message. The things alone talk, remind us that they are dependent on them, says Schulze - but I do wonder how much this presupposes the inherent meaningfulness of things.

So, what is an object in a museum? The only way to answer this is to focus on what a museum object was and what it will be. He tried to tell us of the history of material objects, and of the material turn, in two institutions. What things are, and can say, Schulze says, is bound up with people who select, the environment of display, and the people who look. And this is, as Schulze reminds us, inherently related to dialogues of power. Who has the right, and the ability to make meaning?

Transmutation #8 - Metamorphosis as Dialogic Discourse

David Francis takes Ovid as his frame to explore the myths that are left behind when change takes place in the museum. There is often an equation between changes in practice and display with changes in thinking - Eilean Hooper Greenhill's adoption of Foucault's episteme in the context of museum history is an example.

Here, Francis choses to use the heteroglossia - the multiple dialogues - of Bakhtin to characterise the museum. How, then, do contemporary voices and historic heteroglossias come to light today and how do they let us dispell myths?

The first myth to be dispelled is that of progress. This myth is very apparent on the facade of the British Museum, where statues document the movement from savage to scientific civilized man. Whilst the British Museum is often seen as a secular institution, it had a religious background, but always with an interest in the natural world as the glory of God.

Francis shows us the original plans for the museum, which over time changed significantly. Today, 33% of the galleries are dedicated to Greek and Roman objects - less ethnographic, less natural history. How did this happen? During the early 19th century, there was a race to collect objects between England and France. There was also, inherently in the British Museum, an aesthetic spirit, an idea of the Platonic ideal of art in the Greek form: a chain of art. James Stephenoff's An Assemblage of Works of Art showcases this hierarchy, as did the layout of the British Museum. In theories of art, a cultural relativistic approach replaced this chain. Now there is no key to unlock the code of arrangement: the visitor lost in a wilderness of things.

Ethnography is one of the lost voices of the British Museum. It was almost apparent in the original displays, and became more obvious when cook returnd from the seas. But the objects are often labelled in terms of the collectors, and many were dispersed, sold in Vienna in the 1800s. Yet they were one of the most visible parts of the collections.

When the natural history collections left, there was more room for the ethnography collections. From the 1860s, objects were organized according to the principles of type and social evolution: another progress narrative. The creation of the Museum of Mankind in 1970 was the next big change for the ethnographic collections. Here, the exhibitions didn't attempt a huge typology, but a small example of all cultures with a series of small displays.

In 1997, the British Library outgrew the British Museum and gained its own site - and then the ethnography collections returned. They were returned to an aesthetically minded typography, given little context and historical discussion. The Living and Dying gallery is a prime example of their contested status.

The new episteme of cross cultural analysis is displayed predominantly in the British Museum's temporary displays. A History of the World in 100 Objects, however, exemplifies this paradigm, and shows how to contextualise objects you need not change their display, but change the media in which you talk about them. History of the World stressed the voice of communities in the collections, and placed the objects in their contexts and histories of collection.

The voice of the curator, then, is still there, but in dialogue with an arena of voices, contesting and supportive; the museum as heteroglossia.

Transmutations #7 - Monad to man: shifting natural histories in the Index Museum

Pandora Syperek's research focuses on jewel-like objects in natural history museums. But her focus today is different, and she begins her presentation with the statue of Charles Darwin house in the central staircase of the Natural History Museum in London - a triumphal rebuff to theology. But his position in this oddly religiously tinged 'cathedral of nature' was not stable - Richard Owen's statue is placed in direct opposition to him. Owen was a deeply religious man, the man who campaigned for and created the first plans for the Natural History Museum and its Index Museum.

The architectural space between these daunting statues complicates the relationship between evolutionism and religion. It was originally intended to house the Index Museum, a guide to the complexity of the natural world. The Natural History Museum was and is a complex institution, demonstrating not only science, the history of science, religion and politics, but an interest in aesthetics. Many commonplaces of the history of science - particularly as a gendered discipline - are complicated in the Index Museum.

The history of the architecture is filled with idiosyncrasies. As early as 1858, Richard Owen began his campaigns for a better site for the display of the natural collections of the British Museum. His plans were considered excessive and outlandish. The original architect died, to be replaced with Alfred Waterhouse, who would ultimately design a new building.

Waterhouse was a Quaker, and would follow the new fashion for neo-Gothic. This suited Owen, who was seen as the British Cuvier. Owen, however, was not an evolutionist, and greatly religious. It's romanesque design, extensive use of terracotta and the use of animal figures throughout all display its religiosity. Folkson's original plan had been much more influenced by the Renaissance - but for proponants of the neo-Gothic and Romanesque, this was too grounded in paganism, and had replaced the glory of the Medieval period with tired order.

Even the division of the galleries points to the natural theological background - the west wing, recent zoology, the east paleontology. The sculptures of the facade mirrored this internal arrangement - a pterodactyl opposes an eagle. This displays natural history not as gradual development, but a story of sudden historical changes - like the flood.

The original proposition for Index Museum of the Central Hall was also imbued with this ideology. The ordering of objects, from humans to single celled organisms, plants and minerals, represented a hierarchy. As well as this typology, the Central Hall was to display extraordinary animals - quite at odds with the Index Museum, it privileged the unusual over the normal. This, Syperek suggests, is related to the curiosity cabinet and its glorification of god. For Owen, the Index Museum was designed to convey as much information to the general public as possible. Not just to glorify God's creation, it was to offer a user friendly experience to the non-naturalist.

But rapidly, Owen's ideas became outdated. Keepers complained that the Index Museum would steal the best specimens, denuding the rest of the displays. The architecture and lighting of the potential space was critiqued - by the publication Nature as well as the curators. It's side chapels were difficult spaces in which to display objects. The style of the building suggests grotesquery.

The Index Museum was a microcosm not just of the natural world, but of the museum, with all its religious and political ideologies. Owen's plans and the surrounding controversy were purely theoretical, however - Owen retired only two years after the Natural History Museum was opened, and the Index Museum had yet to be build. Flower, who took over, continued with the Index Museum, however, despite being an ardent evolutionist. He changed its focus, however, treating the Index Museum as a general introduction rather than a microcosm or glorification.

But there were some stricking similarities to Owen's plans - the Man to Monad, man to single cell and mineral layout remained, and evolutionary tree. But Flowers focus was on development and collection. The displays on the central floor were very different than Owen had imagined: they pointed not to the extraordinary oddity made by God, but the peculiar developments of evolution.

There was also a move towards gritty interiors - the dissection of animals. Oddly, this was accompanied with a new focus on the value of aesthetically minded display. He wished the space to be an example of display: so Owen's fussy architecture became the housing for a new paradigm of order and deep time, combined with popular tastes and education. Display and knowledge did not compete - in the end, they would be inseperable.

I've long been interested in the reflection of curators and museum makers in buildings and displays, as well as overt practice. How far can we read intentionality into these - or can we at all? What is left unsaid in the records, and whose influences are there that we can never know?