P. Henningsson, NODEM 2013 - Beyond Control – The Collaborative Museum and its Challenges, e-conservation Journal 2, 2014, pp. 17-22
Available online 25 May 2014
Beyond Control – The Collaborative Museum and its Challenges
Review by Paul Henningsson
December 1-4, 2013
NODEM Network of Design and Digital Heritage, Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, Swedish Exhibition Agency, and Stockholm City Museum
Originally founded within a museum R&D group at the Interactive Institute, Sweden, the NODEM conference has rapidly grown from a bi-annual Scandinavian forum to an international network of professionals, meeting annually to discuss and share creative uses of information and communications technologies (ICT) and digital media to preserve, research, interpret and communicate our heritage.
From the outset, the angle has been multi-disciplinary, attracting curators, engineers, designers, programmers, museologists, exhibit fabricators, educators, archivists, interpretation specialists, architects, conservators and artists, to name but a few. The 2013 edition was no exception and the organising committee had put together an impressive programme, showcasing a variety of digital and interactive projects from Europe, North America, Asia and the Nordic countries.
The conference theme, "Beyond Museum - The Collaborative Museum and its Challenges", connected to shifts in society, where cultural and scientific institutions face new social, cultural and economic landscapes, calling for new synergic and sustainable collaborations between public institutions, communities and audiences.
The theme also connected to the given subject interest of NODEM, digital technologies, and our increasingly digital and media saturated lives. Digital technology not only offers a multitude of information, visualisation and communication modalities but also new formats, as well as new uses, challenge long established notions of authority, ownership and publication rights.
The recent developments of smart mobile technologies and social media are being merged with existing digital museum practices, adding yet further chapters as well as challenges to the profession.
Day 1 (1st December 2013)
Early attendants of the conference were given a guided walk through the Old City of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, given by the Stockholm City Museum, one of the hosts of the conference, along with the Museum of Medieval Stockholm. This museum holds important collections of medieval materials, partly as a result of earlier extensive archaeological excavations on the site. The museum's permanent exhibition includes reconstructions of the Old Town of Stockholm, supported by digital 3D visualisations.
Day 2 (2nd December 2013)
The conference opening and keynote presentations took place at the conference facility of the Hilton Hotel, close to the City Museum. The hotel was also home to many of the guests during the conference.
Founding Director of NODEM, Halina Gottlieb of the Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, welcomed participants to the conference, together with partners Hans Öjmyr, Head of Exhibition Department of the Stockholm City Museum, and Johanna Rahm, Education Coordinator at the Swedish Exhibition Agency.
A total of 11 keynote presentations were given on the second day, chaired in the morning by Anne Balsamo, Dean of the School of Media Studies in New York City. The afternoon sessions were chaired respectively by Maria Economou, Lecturer in Museum Studies at the University of Glasgow, and Kevin Walker, Head of Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art in London.
The first group of presentations related to overarching social and cultural aspects of uses of digital media:
Gerfried Stocker, Artistic and Managing director at Ars Electronica in Linz, held the first keynote entitled "Future Museum and Collaborations". Mr Stocker outlined experiences from developing the new Ars Electronica Centre and Museum in Linz. Mr Stocker made the point that person-led facilitation is at the core of communicating around technologies. In order to be engaging, we need to listen and relate to the perspectives that our users bring with them.
Amareswar Galla, Executive Director of The International Institute for the Inclusive Museum, held a presentation titled "Fetishisms to Digital Incarnations. Things - Access, Engagement and Digital Heritage". Mr Galla has a long track record of working with inclusive work for public bodies and authorities. Mr Galla sees the need for more first person accounts from diverse communities in heritage interpretations, on site as well as in digital media, referring to the Cultural Diversity Charter adopted by ICOM in Shanghai 2010.
Richard Sandell, Professor of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, chose the title "Museums, Media and Human Rights". Professor Sandell presented cases from an ongoing research project where museums can be viewed as a setting for societal debates about human rights and values. One example illustrated how digital media can be used for swift response by interest groups, to contest value standpoints taken by a museum and what the implications could be for museums opening for co-creation of content with audiences.
Ramesh Srinivasan, Associate Professor of the Department of Information Studies and Design| Media Arts, University of California, presented "Community Power - Rethinking Global Media". Taking a more philosophical angle on "technology", Professor Srinivasan wished to question the established causal, logical and linear thinking paradigm of technological engineering. Having worked closely with indigenous communities in web and media projects in various parts of the world, he sees the value of introducing cultural value systems as basis for developing new models for digital networks.
Nora McGregor, Digital Curator at the British Library/BL Labs, presented "Every book tells a story, but what can 68,000 books tell you? New perspectives on digital collections and curation at library and cultural heritage institutions". As a result of increasing digital publication acquisitions, knowledge management and curating of materials are shifting at the British Library in London. McGregor shared parts of this process and meant that letting go of traditional control (curation) over digital collections may breathe new life and new knowledge into heritage materials.
Allegra Burnette, Creative Digital Media Director at MOMA held the keynote entitled "Supporting the Museum’s Mission through Mobile". He offered insights from the museum's recent development of a mobile technology strategy and the renewal of its handheld guided tour programmes. Part of the strategy involved visitor consultations, which indicated that present visitors may privately own smart mobile devices. But for different reasons, they prefer not to use them in the museum setting and did not necessarily find that "high tech" was the selling point of digital tour guides.
Herminia Din, Professor of Art Education at the University of Alaska, presented "Balancing Act: Object, Interpretation, and Technology". Professor Din put forward a case of reason in digital interpretive practices, often seen as a balancing act between target users, technology and subject matter. Some selected current cases showed examples of "blinding" technologies, sometimes forgetting the bottom line of museum exhibitions and programmes: to create meaningful connections with and encounters of our shared heritage (material and immaterial).
The afternoon session concluded with a focus on technologies, design and applications.
Kimmo Antila, Director of the Finnish Postal Museum, lectured on "New Approaches to Exhibition Design: Temporary and Permanent Exhibitions". Antila referred to museological thinking about museum experience models as well as interactive, participatory processes as basis for the renewal of the National Post Museum. Interpretive themes need not only to satisfy audiences expecting "experiences" but can also include difficult topics such as the Finnish Civil War, building on immersive or emotive communication.
Nils Wiberg, Interaction Designer at Gagarin Experience Design, Iceland, presented "Dramaturgy in Interaction". Mr Wiberg presented the notion of dramaturgy in experience design, derived originally from linear forms of storytelling. The Norwegian Sea Bird Centre was used to illustrate the dramaturgic model behind its interactive concept.
Bartek Gudowski, Digital Innovator, presented "Bringing the Digital Museum to Your Home". Mr Gidowski has a background in many early prominent digital projects such as the Virtual Nobel Museum, among others. Mr Gudowski took the opportunity to showcase current examples of advanced visualisation technologies.
Finally, Ebbe Strandell, Chief Technical Officer at ABBA the Museum, spoke about "User Interactivity at ABBA The Museum". Mr Strandell gave a tour of the highlights of digital and interactive designs at ABBA the Museum, explaining a few of the choices made by the development team and the intended experience outcomes by visitors to the new music-ridden exhibition.
In the evening of day two, the City of Stockholm's held a Welcome Reception for participants and guests at the Stockholm City Hall. The Hall was inaugurated in 1923 and was made famous by the Nobel Prize Banquets, which take place in the ceremonial halls on 10th December every year.
Amareswar Galla presenting "Fetishisms to Digital Incarnations. Things - Access, Engagement and Digital Heritage". Photo by NODEM Network 2013.
The third day contained the special sessions of international contributors. Parallel short paper presentations, talks and workshops, organised according to different themes, were held at the Hilton Hotel and Stockholm City Museum.
The different themes explored a number of theoretical and practical issues, relating to areas such as management of resources, ICT and learning, interaction and user interface design, curatorial practices and contemporary art, digital preservation and visualisation and user and partnership collaborations.
In addition, participants could sign up and join expert workshops covering specific aspects of the conference theme.
Over 60 presentations were held this day in an open pick-and-mix format that unfortunately is difficult to review in the format of this article. In addition, being chair over one of the themed sessions prevented this reviewer somewhat from exploring the different topics and papers presented. Here follows some brief reviews of just a few international case studies, which hopefully will interest readers of this journal, as a glimpse of the many inspiring facets of the conference theme.
Within the "Experience Design Inside / Outside Museums" thematic session, Gabriella Giannachi, Professor in Performance and New Media at the University of Exeter, UK, spoke about "Exeter Time Trails”, a prototype for a web based app for smartphones, linking existing digital collection material to walking around the city of Exeter in the UK. The rationale is based on crowdsourcing of content with the general public, as well as blended learning activities of a group of young people not currently in education.
During the "Support for Archiving, Documenting, Preservation, Visualization and Recreating" thematic session, Joel Taylor, researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, presented ”Digitization and Digital Interaction as a Barrier to Democratic Heritage?”. He reconnected to questions raised in the keynote sessions and spoke about ownership issues in heritage; who owns and defines heritage and how notions of "democracy" are often formulated as reasons for digitisation programmes, such as transnational initiatives through the EU.
Another interesting thematic session was "Curatorial Challenges", in which Chiel van den Akker, from VU University Amsterdam, presented "The Online Museum and Its Contribution to E-humanities". Digital hermeneutics explores limitations of computer automation on the one hand, and interaction of people and technology on the other. Recapitulating two chief discourses of museology, information (collection documentation) and interpretation (collection exhibiting) Dr. Akker made the point that it is clear that both are needed and also are present in online museum resources. However, cultural institutions need to make explicit distinctions between the two in order to benefit from their respective uses. Mainly descriptive content materials serve heritage professionals, and such online resources lose their appeal, or remain undiscovered to most groups of users.
Finally, during the thematic session "Social Media for Creative Expression, Communication and Content", Sigurd Trolle Gronemann, Univeristy of Copenhagen and Erik Kristiansen, University of Roskilde, presented "Here We Go Again: Co-construction of Museums and Audiences on Facebook”. Relating to a growing school of online visitor studies, the Danish research team has analysed modes of communication with users in social media channels, among nine different museums and visitor attractions. A few examples illustrated how museum institutions, implicitly or explicitly, affirm their own authority in social media channels by not choosing to comment user contributions, or restating particular stances, rather than exploratively inviting further dialogue. Not responding equally to user contributions, counteracts the building of trust and sharing, necessary for online social media environments.
After a full day of special sessions, participants and guests gathered at the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, for drinks and socializing, before being treated to "julbord", traditional Swedish Christmas food and drinks, served at the Museum of Medieval Stockholm. In conjunction, special demonstrations were held by exhibitors in the NODEM EXPO, showcasing, for example, high definition 3D scanning technology as well as positioning technologies for handheld digital guides.
Allegra Burnette during her presentation "Supporting the Museum’s Mission through Mobile". Photo by NODEM Network 2013.
Ramesh Srinivasan presenting "Community Power - Rethinking Global Media". Photo by NODEM Network 2013.
Richard Sandell presenting"Museums, Media and Human Rights". Photo by NODEM Network 2013.
Day 4 (4th December 2013)
After the days of scheduled presentations and workshops, participants were invited to a post-conference tour of three high-profile museums and visitor attractions in Stockholm: The Vasa Museum, Abba the Museum, Museum of Spirits and Museum of Music and Theatre. This was an opportunity to connect, in practice, to some of the challenges discussed during the sessions as well as exploring some unique features of Swedish culture.
Further details of NODEM 2013 can be found in its website, as well as information about past and coming conferences: http://www.nodem.org/conferences/past/stockholm-2013/
Paper abstracts from all conferences are archived at the NODEM Digital Repository for open access, http://repo.nodem.org/; on Youtube, please see: https://www.youtube.com/ user/NodemNetwork.
The next NODEM conference will take place on 1-3 December this year (2014). It will be held in Warsaw and hosted by Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów/Muzeum Pałacu Króla Jana III w Wilanowie, as well as by The Museum of the History of Polish Jews/Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich. Please see the conference website for more information about NODEM 2014: http://www.nodem.org/conferences/nodem-2014/
Digital Interpretation Consultant, musedia