Dan Hill from Arup and the author of the wonderful City of Sound blog wrote a review of the Powerhouse’s Modern Times exhibition. In his criticism of the exhibition he wondered where the extra-exhibition content was – especially given the perfect fit between the content of the exhibition and specific places and sites. He describes the possibilities of architecture walks, downloadable maps, encouragements for museum visitors to go out ‘in the field’.
This approach also doesn’t limit the exhibition to Sydney. It enables the actual museum exhibit to take a more balanced view of the artefacts that don’t relate to the host city – as this distributed exhibition is already reaching out to the host city, by taking it to the streets. So the Powerhouse is experienced outside the Powerhouse, even outside Sydney, and the modernism exhibition likewise (when the exhibition tours, and other institutions host the exhibit, the plaques and exhibits can switch accordingly.)
An accompanying Google Map (or equivalent), detailing modernist places of interest, could be Bluetooth’d/SMS’d to phones and other mobile devices from the exhibition (or the exhibition’s website) as well as from transmitters embedded in the plaques mentioned above. Walk away with the map on your phone (current issues around accessing collaborative maps on mobiles notwithstanding.)
Then, with a group of colleagues he then went off and built a collaborative Google Map pulling together a ‘map of modernism in Australia’. (Zoom in to see the detail . . . )
Not only is this a lovely example of mapping exhibition content, it is also indicative of the new participatory environment that museums now find themselves in.
Visitors can now easily go and create their own media for our exhibitions and the walls between the museum and the outside world are becoming far more porous than ever before – and not because of what museums are doing, but because of what ‘the people formerly known as the audience‘ are doing. In part this is the rationale for Hill saying “that the design of the show isn’t simply about mounting a display; it is an exhibit, a cultural artefact, in its own right.” “Mounting a display” is now something that the audience does themselves, recreating their own version of the visit experience through their own digital media – images, videos that they capture during their visit – then sharing these semi-publicly.
Inviting these participatory interactions is no longer optional. And as museums we could be doing a lot more in encouraging, guiding and providing resources to these.