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Nancy Proctor

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Nancy Proctor is a Network member and is helping coordinate the September 2011 symposium at the Smithsonian.


Welcome and introductions to the Symposium


Questions I'm hoping to address in this gathering:

My overarching concern about using technology to "broaden access" to the museum is that we not stop at simply repopulating the same power structure with new and perhaps more faces, but that technology be a truly transformative tool that "differences the canon" and helps reshape the museum and its role in people's lives. 


In the opening chapter of Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum, "Visions of Sex c 1920", Griselda Pollock writes about "the exhibition as encounter that opens up new critical relations among artworks, and between viewers and artworks, that points to repressed narratives in the histories of art, and continues what I called, in 1999, the feminist project of differencing the canon." (p. 13) This idea lies behind a lot of the much less theoretically-informed, everyday discourse that I hear in the museum field about social media, user-generated content and the importance of enabling multiple voices, including those of visitors, in the museum. The dominant discourse of museology that I encounter today advocates the idea that the museum is not a temple, and the curatorial voice should not be the voice of God: rather, the museum and exhibition should be spaces of encounter where multiple readings are enabled and the visitor is an active participant in the interpretive process. To this end, Max Anderson, a museum director known for his leadership in museum technology, has recently rephrased the common museum mission formula, "collect, preserve, and interpret" as "gather, steward, and converse". http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Gather-Steward-and-Converse/21513 (Thanks to Rob Stein from the IMA for this reference!)


Whether this ideal gets put into practice is another matter - what is referred to as a "Web 1.0" approach to broadcasting the wisdom of the museum without listening or enabling conversation with the visitor certainly persists as well. But "new technologies", and especially social media, are often heralded as key to unlocking new relationships with the museum's publics.

What is it about the fantasy of the "new", and "new media" in particular, that appeals to and enables museum practitioners to reframe the museum as an interactive, fluid and critical encounter among artworks, meanings, and the public? And if Art History has always been, as Pollock argues, "deeply dependent on and co-emergent with reproductive technology, notably photography, since every art history book or lecture in one way or another performs a kind of museal collecting of art as image, assembling a range of works actually dispersed or even destroyed into a single virtual site/sight." (p. 15), then do the new digital media have any truly disruptive power in the generations-old symbiosis of art history and its reproductions?

To put it more succinctly, my personal challenge is using new technologies - and mobile platforms in particular (which opens up interesting
connections to discourses of nomadism and the blurring of boundaries between the social and the personal) - to enable feminist readings and feminist interventions in the museum. My hope is that this conference will inject the discourse of museum technology with some thoughts and perspectives on the ethical dimension of our work that go beyond a liberal agenda of inclusiveness. I would also like to discover what the potential and limits are of technologies to enable feminist practices in the museum.


Respondents Nicky Bird and Nancy Proctor discuss Peter Samis' "New Media as Counter-Narrative and Corrective"


>> We want to thank michael who is going to make it possible to stay in here later so we can have a final conversation about peters presentation.  I am going to be joined by ‑‑

>> Well, so I am just sitting there thinking about both of you have been involved with ‑‑ representation of born digital art and we worked on an early piece of her called head herrings which was in part it was a photographic installation an also ‑‑ how many ways when I think about those early websites that we built the early interactives how innovative the interfaces were and there were no rules yet and there was no best practice an we tried all sorts of stuff and NIKKI AO*ERBGS site had no navigation bars you had the figure the thing out.  It was a game and it was you had to figure out what questions to ask and you explored and you found things by surprise.  And I was just thinking you know I'm not sure we were work anything 14 K dial up modems then.  We have gone beyond that and have regressed a little bit as the rule haves been put in place.  I am curious to hear both of you reflect on that and again kind of with your feminist intervention NIST perspective on what is that mean?  Going back to Catharine's the new media not yet an old boys club.

>> What does that mean?

>> Yes?

>> I don't know I thought that to end this day with you has been it's been a fantastic day an fantastic set of journeys an questions about judgments an having made those judgments and REESA say wag other question K‑S we ask the technology that's available.  And I was when you were doing this demonstrations of the called the interactive educational type of things thinking about what kind of conversations happened after this content ‑FPT it was in the artist voice coming out this way and finding it with an artist voice on you tube who has been collected by major institutions that is not available to the public to end on that quandary.  I am going back to ‑‑ we see strange use of new media now.  You realize when you talk about something that's new media we are already battling.  You were talking about having to consider now those are ‑‑ CD ROM's thinking about that god yes no one is going to access those in a few years time as it becomes another kind of dilemma about what that work is when it's in technologies and they move on and go forth.  The questions that obsolescence in how access to information an access to kind of intervention and can be shut off by technology in tear own decisions of not gettings and all of those things.  It's also that kind of thing about play and experimentation and it not being a kind of heavily regulated or interested field at certain point which was what you were talking about.  You got get buildings to get on with and then in the meantime looking at these other ways of how do we get this information across where it's not just dependent on with a you enter in on the gallery wall.

>> In fact it's not just the women artists missing it's the information that's the content that's the worlds from which all of these art works originated.  Beit male or female for the experience that don't carry that with them.  To go back to your question a little bit nancy I think that the one place where that kind of innovation and in experimentation with the interTPAEUGS continues in France in R E E S A ‑‑ exhibition when site you see how the American websites are more blogged based.  There's the counter to that when you get INNOVATIVE like that then often they are not accessible.  That the blog based sites are far more accessible and so there's a trade off there and also there's also a longevity factor the more long the ‑‑ the more likely they are pain TAEUPBed over time.  The exhibition an the archive of the exhibition will be able to be consulted 15 years from now an it won't be locked out like CD ROM's have been.  There's a total trade off there.  I mean I too miss the you know the graphical innovation and artistry of so many of those early CD ROM's where you were kind of create ago new KOZ PHO for each one or the website that is are more experimental before things are cod fied.  I also see the trade off with the greater accessibility what's ironic is of course that your story of how when the museums in the web you tried the make it a criteria for the best of the web category that they be accessible an inspite of the lack of the imagination and only two websites qualified.  It's not like we are actually getting the benefit of that gain.  The idea of moving in a direction where more voices can be accommodated an where a user ‑‑ the installation shop that is REESA raised the installation views.  Websites in the past we are finished just the way the exhibition was finished the day you turn the lights on and open it to the public ‑PL obviously the installation views happened after the exhibition opened.  One can imagine for installations to be added in time even potentially after the exhibition goes down.  I mean it dozen even have to be up, there might be people still afraid as ‑‑ they are if they see it all on‑line they aren't going to see the show.  Obviously that's an argument that's been flogged for many years now.  We have proven that's not the case it creates curiosity.  If people have a problem with it with can observe the moment of posting until after the show is over and still build that into the site architecture for later on.  I think we would all benefit from that.

>> On the subject of exhibition installation and about REESA is talking about this is history and certain practice a very practical note is that thing where when you are in conversations of artists an emerging artists how is this object displayed?  How is it displayed so you can see a good documentation of the art work.  You are not always again, that kind of missing context about what is the view the bodily relationship with this piece of work in a particular space that's why it's fascinating that thing about the exhibitions shifting the gays an having that different experience from venue to venue.  The decision that is were made, but also for artist that is came out how were these works displayed because that's also generated some of those kinds of debates, the debate that is have had with the audience which obviously you don't, you won't get that fully with and not to replace the websites to replace those things.  It seems that that's another kind of Marker are saying this is how the audience experiences this work and series of works an how the shapes the kind of meaning as well.

>> The installation defines the gallery.  As you give views of installation especially if you can give views of it.  Look at the limitations you can't see a thing in that installation without doing zoom views.  ‑‑ you can get a sense of like what it's in that gallery.  It's just confined to it's frame or that spot you don't know how it was installed and what it's next too and what the relationships were and the constellations an meanings that were installed alongside it in terms of any, there's the web is a different space.  It's a different thing.

>> I am wondering what you both think the role of voice is in that space in a more literal audio sense.  You know I love the way that really thanks to your efforts peter SF MoMA has built up this amazings video archive now in high DEF of artist interviews.  If your museum is not out there video every TKAG gone artist walking through the door you are make ago mistake.  I am wondering what you are thinking the role of sound is going to be like as we move forward in these digital spaces on‑line and you know as soon as I say that I also think about I supposed the back of my mind the questions peter about creating experiences, spaces for experiences in communities and if audio voice has some role in that what options or have you seen any strategies or good models for parallelling that for people who won't be able to physically hear that voice?

>> Well, classically what we have done with our video clips is close captioned them and that's what we did with the DOROTHE audio clips we put closed captions in.  It's not the case with the you tube clip we saw.  I think at this point I think we are back onto that track.  In terms of audio I mean when you talk about the audio voice and spaces of experience an audio experience I think in particularly in the galleries I think on‑line in the galleries video is no longer a preferred medium because you want people to be able to look at the art and not be looking at their screen.  So the augmented reality most ‑‑ can they be something other than purely TKEU TKABGT tick.  Can they be something on the one hand there's something to be said for providing guidance to looking at content.  You want to be able to complicate that also and open it up in more expressive ways perhaps by other artistic creative intervention that is come in an angle an reflect an art work in added dimensions to it that's not, not to look at everything for a formal list lens or historical lens and say these are the only ways in which these objects mean something.  Of course this is where you should be talking about ‑‑ and space and how do you create space effective where by other visitors can be primed to add a voice that actually augments rather than dilutes.  The experience that you are having in the moment in the presence of an art work.

>> That's really interesting thank you for bringing that up.  You are right it's an example and just for those of you who might not be familiar with it.  There's an app in I tunes called SKAEUPs.  In fact we have been working with him recently.  He just started a Smithsonian fellowship here.  He worked with us to reskin that application for our Smithsonian museums on main streets traveling exhibition programs.  These are exhibition that is go all around the U.S. to small towns to taking the Smithsonian to where ever people are.  They want today collect oral histories from the people who live in these small towns for what it's like to life there.  His platform is open source and he helped us reskin it ander it's being featured if I tune this is week.

>> That means someone will actually find it and down load it.  I hope you will be among those.

>> End of commercial.  It's called stories from main street.  And that use was actually inspired by Beth who came to me asking about ‑‑ museum and objects through the Smithsonian on‑line and making them available in other ways and what was the best way to approach that.  The Smithsonian has something around that's hard to count and it's hard to know how you count.  So we worn going to be able to hire a team ‑‑ ‑‑ through his installation how you could create a scaffolded experience with questions beautifully question that inspired people meaningful generated content.  So what I love about that whole story is that it started with an artist and it was inspired by this accessibility need and where we have arrived at is something that serves everybody because I think everyone's going to find it fascinating to hear how other visitors to the Smithsonian are experiencing an seeing the objects here.  Although the new media world is visually heavily that the audio components is still incredibly important.  That's kind of why I was asking about that role of the audio per SE in digital experiences from your points of view.

>> What this makes me want to do is actually invite an artist so go through our collection and all the place that is we have a mobile multi media tour stop or other places as well have them formulate questions about art works in the collection.  You know the way they put out poetic questions in a way in a ‑‑ so it's not us asking you know what do you think's going on here or this or that or the other.  Some silly education type question.  


The concept of the conversation

During a recent trip to New Zealand I was very inspired by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. The Maori concept of Marae – the public conversation/meeting place that is also a sacred space, is an interesting model for thinking about the museum in a more dialectic, web 2.0 mode: an alternative to the "from Acropolis to Agora" metaphor I've been using in my thinking to date. There is also a contemporary woman Maori artist, Lisa Reihana, whose work I saw in Te Papa's exhibition, "E Tu Ake: Maori Standing Strong." She is making a "virtual marae" as a series of digital artworks, "whose architectural elements serve both to pass on knowledge of family links and to create a sense of belonging." I am also interested in the work of the Maori feminist activist and art historian/artist/curator Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and how she can help us understand and use the concepts of community and conversation.




Nancy Proctor heads up mobile strategy and initiatives for the Smithsonian Institution. With a PhD in American art history and a background in filmmaking, curation and art criticism, Nancy Proctor published her first online exhibition in 1995. She co-founded TheGalleryChannel.com in 1998 with Titus Bicknell to present virtual tours of innovative exhibitions alongside comprehensive global museum and gallery listings. TheGalleryChannel was later acquired by Antenna Audio, where Nancy headed up New Product Development from 2000-2008, introducing the company’s multimedia, sign language, downloadable, podcast and cellphone tours. She also led Antenna’s sales in France from 2006-2007, and worked with the Travel Channel’s product development team. From 2008-2010 she was Head of New Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Nancy is program chair for the Museums Computer Network (MCN) conference and co-organizes the Tate Handheld conference among other gatherings for cultural professionals. She also manages MuseumMobile.info, its wiki and podcast series, and is Digital Editor of Curator: The Museum Journal.




Comments (1)

NDIAYE@si.edu said

at 10:02 am on Sep 23, 2011

Thanks, Nancy, for assembling this timely and intriguing conference. Interesting that at the same time that there are important moves towards simultaneously "democratizing" and personalizing voice through new media, the DIY movement, the re-emphasis of materiality in art and the revitalization of the handmade, are occurring within the same group of people--often female and 2nd generation feminists. I worry, however, about the continuing digital divide between relatively well off, college educated (and employed) women with easy access to smart phones and internet access and the growing numbers of women struggling to keep the lights on and food on the table---access to the wonders of new media as so dependent on access to economic stability--This does apply to the issues relating to curating and feminism--because if our goal is more voices through tech we've got to think about access/

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