The most rewarding part of the exhibition for me was just to be present during the three days it was open and actually see the impact of our hard work, it was amazing to witness visitors engage with the way that we decided to showcase the different collections and how they reflect our society and heritage and to discuss with them what importance the exhibition or a specific collection/interpretation holds. I tried to take notes where I could and of the many visitors I met, a few really stood out:
Jennifer, a retired teacher, told me she had taken a photograph of ‘Rebel Girls’ and plans to buy it. She mentioned having a bad day yesterday but said she felt uplifted from visiting our exhibition, we talked about library accessibility and the importance of exhibitions.
Derek, a mature ballet dancer who takes classes three times per week, really identified with ‘Fitness for Women’, we spoke about gender differences in generations, Billy Elliot, Margaret Morris Movement and the significance of marriage titles e.g. Mrs/Miss in his generation as well as his mother’s generation.
Danny, a gardener, was really interested in the Isabella Bird photographs in the travel section. We talked about class differences in women and he showed me a book about life in the slums of London in 1902 titled ‘People of the Abyss’, that he is currently reading.
Eleanor, who unfortunately did not have time to see the full exhibition, explained she is deaf and has trouble with the rate technology is moving, she asked what advice we would have for her.
Interactive display incorporating ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ c. The Author (2020)
Digital projection of ‘Fitness for Women’ c. The Author (2020)
Travel section – featuring books and protected/touchable facsimiles of photographs by Isabella Bird c. The Author (2020)
A dual display of original/digitised pages of Phoebe Anna Traquair’s illustrated manuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ c. The Author (2020)
Tablet with access to GA&C online exhibit ‘Making the Perfect Home: Broadside Ballads and Advice to Women’ c. The Author (2020)
Activism section – Featuring a recording of Millicent Fawcett’s Home and Politics speech available on wireless headphones c. The Author (2020)
Desktop PC with instructions to make ‘The Gender Games’ and other digital legal deposit collections accessible to visitors c. The Author (2020)
Collections brought into Conversation Corner from GWL speakers and archive c. The Author (2020)
Notably, these are all visitors to the library who have simply chanced upon our exhibition. It was really interesting to hear their various viewpoints and be able to connect with them in person, and the five of us being present in the exhibition, in addition to the conversation corner, definitely afforded the visitors a more intimate experience of our curation of the library’s collections. I think it is the perfect end in that the focus of the exhibition ultimately came full circle to achieve an ideal outcome expressed in our very first meeting, of creating a participatory space that invites discussion.
Visitors watching ‘Fitness for Women’ c. The Author (2020)
Visitors interacting with ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ display c. The Author (2020)
My Dad finding Orion’s Belt in Meg’s exhibition design, which features the Andromeda Constellation c. The Author (2020)
Myself with our youngest visitor to the exhibition at 6 weeks! c. Carl Todd (2020)
Meg giving a tour to student visitors, finishing in the Conversation Corner c. The Author (2020)
Lauren and Morag from GWL chatting with a visitor in the Conversation Corner c. The Author (2020)
On a project such as this collaboration really is key and, especially working in second semester, I can witness how our time together (and impact from our individual roles) has helped the project to extend beyond a single limited vision to a multidimensional group perspective. Further, our collaborative journey, up until exhibition set up, has actually mimicked part of our project experiment, in that it has been a mixture of physical (meetings, workshops, discussion) and digital (productivity software, email and instant messaging). I have found that under the influence of my peers I have learnt to collaborate better, especially through digital means. For example, Google docs, which initially intimidated me, became an essential tool to collaborate and move forward together, housing the details of the whole project in one place and giving the opportunity to comment, make decisions and alter in real time with a visible record.
Our group’s first meeting back after Christmas break c. Aija Cave (2020)
Selecting potential photographs to be digitised c. The Author (2020)
Reviewing promising pages to be open in a display case c. The Author (2020)
Checking out cradles for displaying books with conservation c. The Author (2020)
A meeting with digital imaging on our selections for facsimiles c. The Author (2020)
Evaluating image choices for GA&C slides on Google docs c. GRP Group/Screenshot by Author (2020)
Reviewing wording on object captions on Google docs c. GRP Group/Screenshot by Author (2020)
When it came to set-up day, I think that the level of work that had gone into every detail, as well as the level of trust that had slowly been built between us, provided that when issues did inevitably arise we could be confident in our ability to solve and move toward a solution without loosing composure. It also spoke to a higher collaboration between us and the institution itself, in that the various staff members we had consulted and worked with along the way had each made their own significant impact to our project. Nothing encased this more than in the last half hour before the exhibition’s opening, where all the final tasks were finished equally by our group, our contractors and NLS staff, showing each person has a role to play and these roles are all equally integral to a creative project’s success!
Exhibition overview, layout and task sheets keeping us on track c. The Author (2020)
A combination of skills present in the 5 hour set-up, including us, contractors and various staff from NLS c. The Author (2020)
Exhibition boards start coming together after an initial delay of conflicting measurements c. The Author (2020)
Exhibition boards almost up and the space starts to transform c. The Author (2020)
Exhibition boards and cases set up, with collections installation still to go c. The Author (2020)
Departments coming together to finish – learning outreach and conservation c. The Author (2020)
Books complete with cradles and object labels arranged in case c. The Author (2020)
Cases being locked in order to protect collections and display c. The Author (2020)
Stickers added to plinths to finish the section ‘Can I touch it? New Media and it’s Display’ c. The Author (2020)
Exhibition executed through a brilliant collaboration! Our group representing UoE and Sheena representing NLS c. Stewart Hardy (2020)
Back in November I reached out to Shona Thomson (Creative Producer & Curator), who gave a seminar to our course on project management that included delivering projects, addressing risk, managing budgets and timelines. Shona helped me to set up an initial budget tracker using excel for our group project. Starting with the basics, we considered an initial shopping list for equipment, research into potential public speaker/artist commission costs and resources for accessibility. I learnt that the budget is easier to manage through breaking into categories of spending in order to work out where money could be potentially be invested as well as recorded, i.e. for an exhibition the aesthetic appeal needed is quite high on the list and therefore a generous amount should be allocated for graphic design/production. Environmental considerations are also important – using natural, reusable or recyclable materials, sourcing things locally and hiring instead of purchasing, are all ethical practices to follow where possible to reduce the environmental impact of an event.
Once we had confirmation of our collection selections and agreement on how they should be exhibited, our original budget started rapidly changing from projections to actuals. I found it a tricky but ultimately rewarding experience to manage quickly evolving ideas and changes to plans into the budget and gather quotes. Positives included attaining an in kind donation of headset rental from Silent Knights worth £90 on the basis of supporting an interesting project, whereas an area of learning came from attention to detail and rechecking my formulas regularly to catch errors I had made early on, which fixed an inaccurate budget estimation of approx £500.
When it came to start processing payments we had a group meeting with Michelle Christie (External Relations Coordinator), who from then on I co-ordinated with following payment procedures for the library. Here, I gained experience about specific procedures, as well as the timescale things usually take to get processed. We really tried to keep non-essential costs down, keeping a healthy surplus and adding an internal contingency of 3% for any issues on the day. This helped when, with just over a week to go before exhibition set up, a disaster struck over missing parts vital to the exhibition design. Here, having a healthy but accurate budget and knowledge of options to cut enabled me to advise on an decision to purchase a certain amount of parts, including expedited shipping and credit card charge costs, on the basis that the exhibition design was paramount to the exhibition’s success and therefore worth the emergency investment.
‘And Breathe…’ installation view c. Manchester Art Gallery (2018)
Museums, as gatekeepers of national collections, can be argued to problematise public access and experience. This is made apparent even more in a digital age, where information is mobilised and a museum’s fixed geographic location and public perception as a space of authority could be perceived as increasingly out of touch with the issues present in today’s society. Community led projects with the aim of creating an immersive and participatory space within an institution are a way forward to bridge this gap and benefit visitor engagement. Within this text I will explore these topics critically with a view to argue that the new dynamic space created through community collaboration in the museum needs to be durational and not just project based.
In an overview of various key academic texts that critique the museum at it’s worst as the ‘Death of Experience’ and at it’s best as a precarious space for visitors to experience culture, Hetherington (2014) suggests three main points of complication: singularity (when a museum is understood as a sacred space that serves to decontextualise collections through ordering them); interiority (the collections being only narrated from within the museum’s walls) and finally the outside (the idea of the space of ‘otherness’ and it’s absence in a museum’s archive). Whereas singularity and interiority are barriers museums are making attempts to broach, Hetherington suggests that the third point, the outside or ‘other’, should be further recognised by museums when looking at engaging visitor experience.
What is problematic is the idea of a disorderly outside that might impinge upon the archive and challenge not its representation of an order but its very principle as an ordering device. (Hetherington, 2014, p. 79)
Kidd (2014) also acknowledges that museums have an embedded cultural understanding of experience but suggests that the boundaries of museums are changing through networking and adopting more participatory approaches. Here they suggest the potential for the museum to be a Transmedia storyteller – experimental, playful and unfinished and that a museum encounter should narrate across different platforms to ‘spill over into the everyday’ (Kidd, 2014, p. 23). Although highlighting online exhibition’s potential to make the museum more immersive Kidd argues to not move the museum’s space online, as virtual galleries replace physical relationships with material culture. Instead Kidd promotes interactivity as the way forward and notions that museums should instead push to motivate audiences to experience their collections in new ways.
Waterton and Watson (2013, p. 558) advise ‘decentring heritage’ by looking for connections with lived experience. On the other hand, Stern and Seifert (2016, p. 278) promote that the value of cultural engagement is impeded with the experiences of visitors and note the restriction of ‘the reflective individual’, suggesting that we need to go further to also focus on the neighbourhood complex. Dawes (2008) maintains that integrating local communities, particularly young people, serves to strengthen public engagement through a sense of ownership with art and argues that these short term projects should not have a finish and end point but always be part of a process.
‘Rather than asking ‘them’, shouldn’t we be trying to dissolve boundaries and distinctions between them and everyone else? While it may be a sign of progress that cultural professionals are now paying attention to ‘their’ aspirations – what ‘the people’ want – shouldn’t we now be reaching beyond that to what we want as communities?’ (Dawes, 2008, p. 56)
An example of a recent museum collaboration that hopes to achieve this goal is perhaps the best way to complete this thematic analysis. And Breathe… is a recurring art exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery that co-curates with local communities to intercede into the traditional gallery space in order to heighten wellbeing, offering visitors a personal connection to artworks through the promotion of mindfulness. The exhibition is not a narration the gallery has put on internally, but is instead an interdisciplinary partnership working to use the gallery’s collections to engage with current societal pressures such as anxiety and depression and promote an improvement to a visitor’s mental health.
‘And Breathe…’ installation view c. Manchester Art Gallery/Photograph by Author (2018)
‘And Breathe…’ exhibition label c. Manchester Art Gallery/Photograph by Author (2018)
The version I visited and will be using as an example ran from March 2018 – September 2019. This version was delivered in partnership with local mental health organisations Start and Manchester Mind and Year 5 and 6 pupils from Charlestown Community Primary School. It is interesting how only minor changes made to the space, including colour scheme and inclusion of furniture, can make such a dramatic effect to engaging with an artwork due to the environment created around it. This was enhanced through an audio guide that used a meditative approach, not telling visitors what the artwork is about but rather asking them to reflect on how it makes them feel, mirroring the exhibition’s catalogue statement that ‘There is no right or wrong way to engage with art’ (Manchester Art Gallery, 2018).
Importantly, this exhibition is a component of a greater partnership between Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust and Manchester Art Gallery, who have been working together since 2013 to create mindfulness activities across the gallery’s public programmes. It is an example of a programme that actively works in effective collaborations for the community to achieve the gallery’s strategic plan 2016-20 of ‘a warm welcome for all and a strong social conscience’ (Rahman, 2020).
In writing this thematic analysis it was my intention to explore reasons for why it should always be a community led endeavour when putting on exhibitions to bring the outside in and make the museum a more dynamic space for visitor engagement. Whilst the museum can act as a barrier, it’s surrounding community based networks have the potential to create immersive, participatory spaces that can be used to reflect the tensions in our current culture back on to us. And Breathe… and it’s larger body of programming, works to promote art as functional, socialised work within the wider community in connection to the museum’s physical and geographical location. I would argue that the possibility of a reworking of the archive from outside sources in this way should remain as a work in progress in order to continue to evolve and reflect the surrounding community’s key interests.
Dawes, M. (2008) ‘Beyond Process: Art, Empowerment and Sustainability’ in Coutts, G. and Jokela, T. (eds.) Art, community and environment: educational perspectives, Bristol: Intellect, pp. 55-64.
Stern, M. J. and Seifert, S. C. (2016) ‘Understanding the value of arts & culture: the AHRC cultural value project (2016) by Geoffrey Crossick and Patrycja Kaszynska’, Cultural Trends, pp. 25(4), pp. 277-279, DOI: 10.1080/09548963.2016.1241468.
In the last decade electronic books have grown immensely in popularity and in recent years the Literature world has started to produce interactive ebooks that play with the invisibility of digital through the use of software such as geotagging, remote access, copying and sharing. What would happen then if a Library were to try and exhibit work such as this? Traditionally, books are displayed in cases, closed or open to a certain page, they are treated as an artefact and their objectiveness is displayed alongside object labels serving to address their content and legacy in society. In this short essay, I wish to explore the limitations/potential of these digital technologies in offering alternative forms of engagement via participation in displays and argue against treating digital content in the same way as physical materials.
We now live in a digital age. Indeed, Frith and Kalin (2016) argue that new digital technologies are so intertwined within our daily life it has become the norm to create our own archives of memory by using applications such as Foursquare and Facebook, which offer services to ‘check in’ and record travel. This is not a static archive, ‘by actively cultivating the routes they track or the places they record, people show how identity can be shaped through the accumulation of certain memories of place and mobility’ (Frith et al, 2016, p. 51). Hence, as we can alter, manipulate and delete our experiences online, we in essence have the power to curate how we would like to be seen by others. A potential problem suggested from this might be that we now feel less need to savour the value in a specific moment as it is able to be instantly captured digitally, thus capturing it this way might be a shallow experience, the study ultimately argues more research should continue (ibid).
In Mobilising connections with art Ross, Knox, Sowton and Speed, C. (2019) critically reflect on the Artcasting research project, which utilised day to day uses of mobile technology to experiment with ways of recording data and reviewing how visitors ‘cast’ their experiences onto artworks in galleries. Through the use of an app (as an object to think rather than to buy) visitors were asked to choose an artwork and ‘cast’ it geographically to a map, adding their comments for doing so. Ross et al suggests that utilising a mobile app moves toward methods of collaboration and coproduction by connecting people imaginatively to art, sometimes directly and other times ephemerally. Overall it was suggested that these digital experiments could be helpful for colleagues in the cultural sector to push towards a site of real exchange. The project (and it’s critical reflection) also explored aspects of authority and implied a potential shift from institutions being the sole voice of a piece of work, addressing a larger issue that taps into how big societal challenges of inquiry, openness and inclusion should be reflected in institutional spaces.
Editions at Play, a partnership between Visual Editions and Google Creative Labs to experiment with new ways of engaging with digital books, is a relevant example of how digital technology is currently functioning in our society and is not merely a gimmick but here to stay. Their short ebooks are playful and promote viewers to recognise hidden digital mechanics. A selection of examples include All This Rotting, where text is coded to react to gestural actions, making words and sentences gradually disappear and in turn creates a new story by form of dissociation; Breathe, which uses geotagging and remote sharing to incorporate the user into a ghost story, one made more haunting through including personal details of the user’s location and camera and Entrances & Exits, which uses the street view interface from Google maps to tell a love story through real locations existing in the world.
These experiments all rely on the idea of using digital technology to enhance a user’s emotional connection to a story as well as their potential for imposing meaning onto objects through association. Perhaps the best example that encapsulates themes of ownership and self reflectivity is A Universe Explodes, where blockchain technology allows users to edit and pass on the book to another, creating multiple copies, the story that was originally about the disintegration of a parent’s world is thus digitally edited to nothing. To try to exhibit an ebook like this as an artefact would to be a disservice in that it’s objectiveness, unlike a physical book, is hidden. Whereas books are bound in physical material, digital books move across various devices, their mobility asks for a participatory act instead of an objective one.
Perhaps when exhibiting born digital content we should then should consider the effectiveness of a designated space that invites participation as part of the exposition. Kidd (2014) suggests the museum (or institution) in the new media age is conflicted between ‘internalism’ and ‘externalism’, i.e. the want of an institution to sustain their historical voice (and tradition in displaying collections) but also to throw it off in favour of a new and contemporary approach. With this in mind, Kidd suggests a reinvention of consumption, remixing the institution itself to perhaps try to find a balance between both, however, a certain bend on the institution’s behalf would be necessary to achieve this, ‘If museums and galleries want to genuinely embrace the affordances of remix, they would do well to relax their understanding of their own authority, and their assessments of who and what constitutes creativity’ (Kidd, 2014, p. 134).
In conclusion, from briefly exploring the the new opportunities afforded through digital technology as an alternative form of engagement, I would suggest that our thinking and approaches should change with regard to displaying digital content to be considerate of digital’s basis of mobility and participation. Instead, an alternative method for displaying ebooks that challenges traditional display methods should be employed. I acknowledge to do this would be to remix a Library’s method of traditional display, which, although requiring a big readjustment of thinking and practicality, would be ultimately beneficial in helping visitors engage with Literary heritage, which has already embraced digital as a viable method of delivery.
Crouch, D. (2015) ‘Affect, Heritage, Feeling’, in Waterton, E. and Watson, S. (eds). The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, London: Palgrave Macmillan pp. 177–190. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137293565_11.
Kidd, J. (2014) Museums in the New Mediascape: Transmedia, Participation, Ethics. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Ross, J., Knox. J., Sowton, C. and Speed, C., (2019) ‘Mobilising connections with art: Artcasting and the digital articulation of visitor engagement with cultural heritage’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 25(4), pp. 395–414. DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2018.1493698
In our induction meeting to NLS, Calum (Exhibitions Officer), gave a presentation that outlined the potential benefits of using digital methods to engage audiences, including adaptability, ease of sharing and creative potential. Alice (Learning and Outreach Officer), also discussed the promise digital brings as a connection between past and present in a medium a lot of people can access. Despite this, we have also been made aware that due to the library being part of a legal deposit system, legislation can prohibit using some content from an access point of view. I would hope one way our project can be of value to NLS is to promote the need for accessibility via exhibitions to the public by showing the benefits of including a mixture of both digital and physical content for learning purposes. I wanted to highlight current, local, institutional exhibitions for examples that played with this.
Body Language (July-October), a short exhibition at University of Edinburgh’s Library exhibition space showcased Scotland’s contributions to movement and dance through curation of local archives including that of dance pioneer Margaret Morris. The exhibition’s content was not only highly relevant to our project, but also its method of display, which I found very immersive on account of the variety of material culture, which included textiles, photography, posters, dance notes, video and more. Here, digital tablets and headphones were used to display various dance films at the start of the exhibition, which I found made me more appreciative of the individual physical objects included and what role they have played.
Tablet and headset available to experience ‘The Gong’, an experimental dance film c. The Author (2019)
Enlarged photographs printed onto fabric works well as a backdrop c. The Author (2019)
Ingenious idea to use flooring reminiscent of a gym hall into the structural design c. The Author (2019)
The exhibition design runs fluidly throughout all of the displays, bringing them together c. The Author (2019)
Another exhibition I visited was the Fashion and Style gallery in National Museums Scotland. One of ten major galleries added to NMS in 2016, I really liked how the space was designed to incorporate physical objects such as textiles, books and sketches with video, projections and permanent electronic display screens. In a gallery which exhibits only a small selection of a phenomenal range of historical textiles and styles, I thought the exhibition space served its purpose well in giving a flavour and introduction to fashion and showcasing its continual innovation and design.
Two fifteen foot high suspended screens show projections of a mixture of film and manipulated archive footage of fashion shows c. The Author (2019)
Digital display screens elevate the space both physically and contextually c. The Author (2019)
Touch screens allows visitors to zoom in and read additional information c. The Author (2019)
Lighting is used to highlight the physical objects and provide balance c. The Author (2019)
We are currently in the process of determining which collections we will be including in our own exhibition, it is likely that they will also span decades and maybe even centuries, I hope through a mixture of physical and digital we are able to also bring an eclectic mix of collections together in a solidified and engaging space for visitors.
On 4th October I attended NLS “Sharing 50 Years of Scottish Ballet” event, a behind the scenes look into the current collaborative project between Scottish Ballet and NLS Moving Image Archive to digitise 46,000 existing moving image formats from the company’s collection. The talk incorporated expert speakers from both institutions and focused on the urgency of digitising video tapes in particular, (their complete obsolescence and degradation predicted by 2028), as well as the significance of this project in terms of posterity – it will provide worldwide data, be permanently part of the library collection and as such will greatly contribute to the Scottish culture landscape.
Through having a public event on the nature of this partnership, NLS has taken a first step to show the positives of digitisation, (as well as providing a backstage look into the function and contribution of MIA), and the presentation itself had an effective sensory approach.
Videotapes were passed around to show original formats and aid in the understanding of the process of digitisation c. The Author (2019)
The presentation included digitised videos edited to provide side by side comparison of the same choreography at different moments in history c. The Author (2019)
There are obvious correlations between our project ‘Behind Glass’ and this digitisation partnership. Specifically, it can serve to address the two problems posed in our project:
How can the National Library of Scotland engage audiences with our digital holdings through curated displays and public events?
Is authenticity of the original format important?
We can look at Scottish Ballet Company and it’s public engagement programmes as inspiration in this regard. Notably, ‘Digital Season’, a month long eclectic programme of born digital content produced by interdisciplinary creatives from both within the company and on commission, ‘The Digital Season features short films, live streams and digital experiments to enhance, alter and inform the way we experience dance’, (Scottish Ballet, 2019). The new possibilities offered through digital technology and the partnerships and resources needed to sustain them can be further understood through reviewing specific works.
Tremble is SB’s grandest short film commission to date, staring twenty six SB dancers, set to Anna Meredith’s evocative ‘Nautilus’ track and co-choreographed and directed by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple, who use post-production techniques to play with time/dance effects, as well as surrealist imagery and humour to provide accessibility to new audiences. It becomes not only a public engagement exercise but an art film in its own right screened at international film festivals.
Frontiers is directed by in-house filmmaker Eve McConnachie, choreographed by San Francisco Ballet dancer Myles Thatcher and set to Edinburgh based Callum Easter’s ‘Make a Move’. It incorporates gender neutral choreography by six SB dancers to explore the problematic gender norms associated with the classical ballet industry and uses post-editing techniques to achieve a sense of fluidity between the pairs of dancers. Set in various industrial locations in Glasgow, the short film takes the company back to its roots and provides an element of realism, in this way the setting is just as important as the dance.
Prometheus & Epimetheus is a collaboration of Zachary Eastwood-Bloom (SB’s first Digital Artist in residence) and choreographer Alexander Whitley, featuring music by Ash Koosha and a cast of two SB dancers. Part of a series of three works titled Technology//Mythology//Allegory, the short film investigates our relationship to the progression of technology, using motion capture and digital augmentation to create structural digital visuals that connect and elevate the dance (even sparking a poetry commission titledFacets of a Quest Narrative).
These short films from Digital Season are a significant example of how a national institution more often than not considered inherently traditional to the public (mirroring NLS) is using the format progressively and to perform to a contemporary digital market without loosing its origins and marketability as a tactile experience – the digital products are artworks in themselves, using technology to visualise dance but not attempting to replace a live performance either. Further, the fact that these performances are designed for smartphones and cinema provide an accessibility to ballet not previously possible before. This accessibility via digital engagement effectively opens the door to potential new audiences, offering a solution to Brook, et al.’s (2018, p.31) recent cultural policy report that highlights contemporary dance and classical ballet as being only ‘minority pastimes’ (ibid).
A wealth of research has and is currently being undertaken exploring digital and mobile approaches to understanding visitor engagement with art and how this can help to break down institutional barriers. Ross et al. (2019, p. 399) suggests, ‘devices and mobile approaches make new arrangements between cultural heritage, movement, and public and private spaces’ and Souza e Silva (2006, p. 261) also explores the ‘space’ new mobile technologies offer, classifying them as ‘hybrid spaces’ (ibid), i.e. social spaces online that a user can connect and become part of whilst physically moving through an urban space. Bal (2006, p. 525) states, ‘the museum – as institution, material object, and endeavor – interferes with, makes “noise,” in other words causes interferences that trouble the “pure” aesthetic experience of visitors’, implying that the institutional space can hinder rather than enlighten and offers a resolution of filming conversations on artwork, carefully planned, yet in a separate setting to the institutional space, experimenting with video to record and exhibit how people might engage with art.
Studies such as these support the creation of an alternate digital space that retains a connection to the institution’s physical space. In the case of SB, their Digital Season videos provide access to an experience usually reserved for regular theatre going customers or audiences with pre-existing connections to the classical ballet industry. Through not just recording a performance, but rather creating a new type in a separate space, SB is able to reach a wider audience, perhaps one that has never been able to connect with ballet previously, to give an idea of their institution’s core values. With this in mind and in the way Scottish Ballet fully integrates ‘digital’ as part of their body of programming now, are we able with our project to start a platform to do the same with NLS born digital?
Bal, M. (2006) ‘Exposing the Public’, in Macdonald, S. (ed.) A Companion to Museum Studies, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, pp. 525–42. DOI: 10.1002/9780470996836.ch32
Haldrup, M. and Bœrenholdt, J. O. (2015) ‘Heritage as Performance’, in Waterton, E. and Watson, S. (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 52–68. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137293565_4.
Ross, J., Knox. J., Sowton, C. and Speed, C., (2019) ‘Mobilising connections with art: Artcasting and the digital articulation of visitor engagement with cultural heritage’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 25(4), pp. 395–414. DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2018.1493698
As it is likely we will be using film collections in our exhibition, we arranged a research trip to Glasgow on 18th October, (using part of our budget to fund our individual travel), to visit NLS’s Moving Image Archive at Kelvin Hall. Sheena (Learning and Outreach Officer), who is mentoring us on behalf of NLS throughout our project, met us and gave us a tour and insight into the space and its function within the community.
The key insights I learnt from this trip is that the audience in the building is intergenerational and the ethos of setting the MIA in Glasgow is to spread the National Library’s collections out, making a connection to people and highlighting film as a living memory as well as a tool. It truly is an interactive and inviting space for visitors, encompassing a video wall, which plays different content silently throughout the day, a static exhibition, that gives visitors an insight into how people use film as research and touchscreen computers making available selected films from MIA by theme. There are also viewing rooms, individual research computers and a room housing a collection of books solely related to film research.
What has struck me the most on our visit is the benefits of the MIA’s location at Kelvin Hall, which is in contrast to the more traditional space at NLS George IV Bridge. The Hall itself has been redesigned into a fantastic cultural hub, combining Glasgow Life, the University of Glasgow and MIA alongside Glasgow Club health and fitness centre and a cafe. Entry is free and notably MIA does not require a library card for visitors to access its archive material. There is something very exiting about the combination of all of these different community outlets in one place. The openness of space and freedom of movement between various communities is something I hope we can explore to create the same inviting experience in our exhibition space at NLS.
A collections showcase in Kelvin Hall – Visitors can stop to view a curated selection from The Hunterian, Glasgow Museums and National Library of Scotland c. The Author (2019)
(1) Identify your key responsibilities and list the main areas of work you have been involved in. Briefly highlight the skills and competencies that are relevant to this project/work area.
Key responsibilities in the project so far (October 2019):
Brainstorming ideas/creative responses for project brief (interpretation and execution)
Research across different areas into both theme and digital display of exhibition
Constructive discussion weighing up and comparing proposal ideas, citing potential problems, highlighting ideas to develop further with continuous critical reflection of potential audience response/engagement
Planning week on week for next stages of project, highlighting relevant event and exhibitions that will inform project and consideration of practicalities of adapting into our project
Key responsibilities in the project overall:
Budgeting – Creating a budget plan from scratch and adapting it as the project progressed to bring all costs within the budget limit, tracking costs and retaining receipts, emailing vendors for quotes and attaining in-kind donations where possible, raising any necessary new supplier, purchase order, invoice and expense form requests to finance, communicating clearly budget limits to team, ensuring payments are processed on time and gathering cost estimations for internal recharge to provide a clear idea of overall actual project costs
Event planning – Taking the lead in organising furniture/equipment rental from various locations, including arranging separate van and driver hire for certain items, adapting and rescheduling dates/times when needed and contributing to event management tools such as risk assessments, task sheets and event overviews in order to provide smooth running of exhibition inclusive of set up and take down
Supporting where needed – Accommodating to needs of group and being available to give additional support to various jobs when required such as writing object labels, writing/responding to emails and sharing feedback on artistic, theoretical and functional decisions
Skills and competencies relevant to this project/work area:
Effective project management and organisation including planning and adhering to deadlines
Excellent ability to research, think imaginatively and make comparisons and connections across different platforms
High level of verbal and written communication including presenting proposals, feedback and outcomes in a range of media
Self-awareness and the ability to collaborate and work well as part of a team fostering a healthy working dynamic
Ability to anticipate obstacles and intervene to prevent or minimise impact, also the flexibility to change track when necessary
(2)Looking ahead, list your key objectives for the GRP. 3-7 SMART(Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed) objectives should be noted with realistic timescales and focused outcomes. (October 2019)
Produce a draft “mission statement” (300-500 words) outlining the theme of our exhibition within the next 2 weeks – Will be used in communications with both the hosting institution (NLS) as well as potential collaborators/promotional opportunities going forward. This will also help to set clear defined goals for the remainder of the project
Itemise list of specific collections from NLS to include in exhibition within 4 weeks through research, trial and error in questioning how each specific item will ‘fit’ within the theme of the exhibition and as part of a collection in the space/impact on audience. Narrow collection down to 3-6 items using this method to refine project
Book induction (as a group or individual from group takes on role) at Ucreate studio to support extra research into potential digital display. Experiment with display options for each item (could include simple prototypes) and decide on any digital tools we will use to display objects within 6-8 weeks
Present final exhibition proposal to GRP in January (with physical plans and timelines) and adjust based on feedback
Enhance visitor experience and engagement through trial run through of potential space with contacts from NLS and volunteer visitors etc in February (giving the rest of the month to iron out kinks and organise installation/promotion)
Gain experience beneficial to creative project management/production by taking on a relevant role in the group that can be developed with support from the institution
Use the benefit of meeting many staff members from various departments throughout the project to better understand specific career paths I could work toward after graduating
(3) Discursive self-reflection
Use this section to, 1) Reflect upon the outcome of the project (both as a whole and with regards to your own specific area/role). 2) Critically reflect upon your experience working with the group.Here you may consider your contribution, the value of your specific strengths and expertise, the effectiveness of group communications and your performance in group meetings.Looking back, how might the group enhance its performance?
The project overall was successful in the curation of an immersive exhibition that experimented with audience engagement to answer a multilayered, time based brief. Over 350 visitors came to the exhibition and 20% completed a survey, in addition to recorded discussion and interaction, which will provide a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data to report to NLS outlining recommendations for future approaches and work in this area. Some areas of improvement, that can be applied to future projects, include awareness of the necessity of communication between exhibition design and production if individually subcontracted, recognising the limits of ambition in a project that has restricted implementation time and reconsidering the length of an exhibition when it interferes with set up and take down time, as all put a heavy amount of pressure on the group. Additionally, having a dedicated plan implemented in advance on how to analyse the information gathered post-exhibition. In terms of my specific role, in charge of budgeting I helped to keep the exhibition’s finances on track, bringing in a budget of £4,500 with a surplus of £127. This included adapting to a crisis of missing exhibition construction components 1.5 weeks before exhibition set up which provided printed fabric costing £804 would not go to waste. If dealing with budgeting on future projects, I would be mindful to attain quotes from the outset and get major contracts scheduled as early as possible to avoid unnecessary shipping and payment charges.
Early on in our project we determined as a group our individual ream roles based on Belbin summary descriptions. We found that our chosen roles balanced each other out and agreed on me being the ‘Teamworker’. Throughout the project having this balance of varying attributes in the group has proved productive when working together and I feel I have definitely embodied both the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘Teamworker’ role. In terms of my contribution, I think I have promoted a good team atmosphere through being co operative, perceptive and reacting to the needs of others. Despite this, having been used to a hierarchical system from a career in hospitality, I have found it hard to adapt to a new working dynamic and as a result have sometimes been indecisive/unconfident in my own voice and skills, having hesitancy in bringing certain ideas to the table and tending to side with the most popular route of action. However, I did find that as the project progressed and I took more ownership over certain tasks/jobs my confidence and assertiveness grew. We could have enhanced our group performance through recognising and applying secondary roles with clear definitions and making use of an agenda (and agenda organiser) so that in our weekly meeting’s key objectives could be identified, documented and delegated in equal measure. Although the group communicated very well, I think it would have also helped to set clear boundaries regarding potential over-communication, anti social hours and appropriate communication methods for different tasks, to avoid burnout.
The brief given to our group from National Library Scotland asks us to work with their collections to design a project which tests creative responses and informs the Library’s future strategy regarding exhibitions of born digital materials. We can work with both digital and physical materials and have been asked to focus our programme around themes that align with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (8th March). We have already had and will continue to have meetings and inductions with various staff members within NLS, giving knowledge and insight into their relevant departments and skills. In our introductory meeting to NLS as an institution, Graeme (Head of General Collections), nicely outlined the aim of their public programming as, “We are telling a story”.
Entrance to National Library of Scotland c. The Author (2019)
For our ideas workshop on 1st October, we each were asked to bring along inspirational materials that connect with our brief to share with the group in order to generate ideas. This proved very beneficial as the diversity of our individual contributions provided a good range of topics to discuss together. My contributions included examples of global immersive and interactive exhibitions, but it was the examples that I found from the Library’s Moving Image Archives, particularly of various exercise videos for women in the 1950s, that I found provided the best input from myself to our talk. Our discussion took two strands, theme (deciding on which to go down) and digital display and access. In terms of theme, from our discussion on topics such as hidden female voices, ‘Tips for Girls’ and also unsolicited advice women receive, we managed to narrow down our exhibition to a specific topic: Advice to women, the bad and the good, with an ideal outcome: creating a participatory space for discussion.
c. Glasgow Women’s Library (2016)
The MIA exercise videos from 1953, ‘Fitness for Girls’ and ‘Fitness for Women’, are silent, black and white, short films, and would be a strong potential collection to include into our exhibition in some way as they have many layers of interpretation for this theme. They are both commissioned by National Fitness Council for Scotland, with well meaning advice put forth in a relatively condescending manner via on screen text. Yet, despite the rather insensitive nature of the text based advice, the videos display evidence of activities by movements of women that are still used today, including the Girl Guides and Margaret Morris Movement. The MMM, in particular, was influential in recognising the connection between dance and exercise to promote mental health.
Screenshot of ‘Fitness for Women’ c. National Library of Scotland (2019)
Thinking of the potential range of generations that might come to the exhibition, this would be a good point of discussion in terms of how the videos fit within our cultural heritage. Also, the medium of the films themselves, digitised from their original 16mm format, offer the chance to gather audience’s responses to changing mediums of advice and invite conversations on the authenticity of digital content. In this way, we would be using the library’s collections to tell a specific story to the audience and also to invite one back through a multigenerational and self-reflective response to methods and modes of advice.