Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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On ‘institutional wabi sabi’

April 23rd, 2013 by Seb Chan

So at Museums and the Web 2013, Sarah Hromack from The Whitney and John Stack from Tate published a lovely little photocopy zine – Institutional Strategy Digest – to go with their institutional change panel.

I have a short piece inside called ‘Institutional wabi sabi’. The phrase was one that I used at a talk a few weeks ago as part of ArtsTech with Aaron Cope where we spoke about the role of language and tone in humanising communications between institutions and their publics.

In the International Strategy Digest I write,

Wabi-sabi is a challenging concept for Westerners raised on a diet of Modernism. It celebrates impermanence, imperfection, and incompleteness. It celebrates the small and the intimate. It is the rough hewn bowl, not angular refined box.

Importantly, though, it is not an excuse for incompetence.

Consider how your museum could be ‘a bowl’, rather than ‘a box’. A tumble of objects rather than a grid.

The museum as a ‘rough hewn bowl’ should be an idea that resonates with Nina Simon’s ‘perpetual beta‘ concept for exhibit design and Ed Rodley’s ‘Making a museum from scratch’ series. Or even Shelley Berstein‘s celebration of the ‘scrappy solution’ in her technology work.

Anyway, other than a nice soundbite, I’m hoping that ‘institutional wabi sabi’ frames these issues in a new way and perhaps allows us to connect and draw upon the deeper Japanese aesthetic and philosophy of wabi sabi beneath.

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