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Media Archaeology of/in the Museum

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Abstract

Screen media are increasingly a pervasive feature of our new memory landscape. Inside the museum the screen has moved from being supplementary to artifacts, to becoming a museal object in its own right, to being removed altogether (through the use of projections onto surfaces and architecture). But what do the media of memory reveal about curatorial assumptions as to both the representation of the media of the day and the everyday media practices of the visitor? This chapter interrogates the shifting value and uses of the media of memory in museums in the context of the conflict-induced memory boom. For example, Erika Doss has written of a “memorial mania” whereby the anniversary of almost anything and everything is marked through a variety of memorial sites – from saturating news coverage to museum exhibitions. What we have today is a stacking up of these markings of events, from the catastrophic and nodal, through to the most banal, which are churned through commemorative cycles and seem to spin ever closer to the present. While, from a memory studies perspective, the relationship between media memory and the museum as part of this mania is outlined, the role of artistic interventions in challenging dominant modes of exhibition and commemoration in contemporary memorial culture is also investigated.
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Media Archaeology of/in the Museum
Andrew Hoskins and Amy Holdsworth
In: The International Handbooks of Museum Studies: Museum Media, First Edition.
Edited by Michelle Henning. 2015, pp. 23-41
Pre-proof version
The connective turn has threatened the scarcity value of museal media culture (Hoskins
2011a; 2011b). This ‘turn’ is the sudden abundance, pervasiveness and immediacy of
communication networks, nodes, and digital media content which opens up new histories:
new ways of sorting, sifting, and seeing the past. What was once scarce and relatively
inaccessible from the past in the present is suddenly and inexorably visible and accessible in
an emergent ‘post-scarcity’ culture. But the connective turn is far from being some benign
phase in the evolution of media and memory, rather, it devalues scarcity as the once universal
currency of museum culture. Museum content, simply put, is everywhere.
But how museums use or can use media to represent the past and shape memory of
media and media’s pasts the subject of this chapter has been deeply affected, and indeed
infiltrated, by the media of the day. Media have long entwined the personal and the public,
locating the unfolding details of everyday life in terms of the events of the larger society. But
the difference today is that digital connecting, networking and archiving is a qualitatively
different force of media-memory, from previous transformative media, in that it
simultaneously makes present multiple pasts, whilst captivating the present.
As the key dynamic of the shifting relationship between media and memory, digital
connectivity offers an immediacy and fluidity ushering in a new set of opportunities and
challenges to how the past is represented and representable through contemporary media
forms. For example, databases organize, classify and make accessible the past in new
configurations that transcend and translate time and space.
For example, the Crimes against Humanity exhibition at the Imperial War Museum,
London, does not contain a single artifact or museal object. Instead it uses a 30 minute
documentary film projection onto a large screen and six touch screen consoles which provide
database access. And it is here that the database, which is updated with ongoing and emergent
crimes against humanity, is open to reflect the incoming present. Thus it is as much future as
pastoriented.It is through this open and continuous connectivity that Peter Lunenfeld sees
cultural memory as ‘warped’:
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When image, text, photo, graphic, and all manner of audiovisual records are available at
the touch of a button anywhere in the unimodern wired world, the ordered progression
through time is replaced by a blended presentness (2011: 46).
An influential factor here is the impact of different media in shaping an experience of
proximity (in time and space) to events deemed ‘historical’. For example, ‘historical
distance’, according to Mark Salber Phillips is manifested ‘along a gradient of distances,
including proximity or immediacy as well as remoteness or detachment’ (2004: 89). But
digital devices and networks have seized and short-circuited precisely these ‘manifestations’
of distance and not least in their deliverance of immediacy as one of the defining and
compulsive experiences of their use. And the conditions of remoteness or detachment seem
inexorably dissolvable through the equivocations of the digital: the reduction and
reproduction of all-things-past in the fluidity of digital data. Digital networks and databases
don’t just bridge historical distance: they crush it. And yet these are precisely the media that
are being brought in to represent, organize, and manage the organizational, archival and
official memory of museums.
How then to respond to these transformations, both in terms of the uses of media-in-
the-museum, and a theoretical framework that can best interrogate the ‘warping’ of cultural
memory, in Lunenfeld’s terms? To both these ends, we offer ‘media archaeology’. Media
archaeology is an emerging approach that departs from traditional methods of media history.
It implicitly opposes the simple construction of linear narratives that follow the history of
specific forms and their economic, political and social developments. Instead, media
archaeology reconsiders objects, technologies, media, techniques and processes in their
historical specificity and singularity (Hoskins and Merrin, forthcoming). According to Bolter,
media archaeologists ‘examine earlier media and media forms in both their technical and their
cultural contexts. They are particularly concerned to get behind the ossified narratives that are
told about the development of such media’ (2008: 108). So, media archaeology looks for
discontinuities and disruptions whilst also considering non-linear lines of descent. This entails
interrogating the forms, processes, and phenomena of media; especially how they are
rediscovered, remade and reappear in later eras and media. However, within media
archaeology there are different strands of emphasis. For example, Wolfgang Ernst (see
Chapter 1 in this volume) sees media as process rather than as object or designoriented, and
thus the challenge for museums is how to show media in operation rather than merely as a
display object. More broadly, Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka encapsulate the work of
media archaeology as ‘a cruise in time’. They explain: ‘The past is brought to the present, and
the present to the past; both inform and explain each other, raising questions and pointing to
futures that may or may not be’ (2011: 15). Whilst Ernst and others employ media
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archaeology as an analytical model, here we want to propose it as a model for museum
practice.
The museum then is inevitably caught up in media archaeology, both as a version or
form from a macro-historical (or anti-historical) perspective, but also in the uses of media
archaeology as a curatorial strategy in responding to both the transformations of the digital
outlined above, but at the same time, to a deep dissatisfaction as to the novelty from which
discourses on the digital are frequently hung. Furthermore, it is precisely in this space and
time that artists have flourished, intervening to construct alternative or hypothetical media
histories to challenge both the inexorable immediacy of the present and its post-scarcity
digital futures.i
In what follows we explore some cases of media archaeology in practice both implicit and
explicit and consider their effectiveness in offering alternative medial times and spaces
amidst the onslaught of the connective turn.
Media archaeology and the memory booms
The ‘Memorial to the Iraq War’ Exhibition, which ran at London’s Institute for Contemporary
Arts (ICA) in the spring of 2007, was comprised of the work of twenty six artists from
Europe, America and the Middle East who were each asked to imagine what a memorial to
the Iraq War might look like. Amidst the frustration and exhaustion of the seemingly
perpetual flux of news images that characterized much Western mainstream coverage of this
war, this exhibition sought to dig into an alternative future. This future is one in which the
traditional forms of memorialization seem more uncertain given the current era in which wars
and conflicts deemed to ‘need’ memorials appear perpetual and horizonless rather than of
fixed duration and of unambiguous conclusion. The exhibit shown in Figure 1, Roman
Ondák’s ‘Snapshots from Baghdad, 2007’ is a disposable black camera on a white plinth.
Notably, this camera is a one-off: it is already antithetical to the insatiable appetite and
seeming perpetual reproducibility of digital photography today as an unsatisfactory basis for
remembrance.
[Insert Figure 1 here: Figure 1: Roman Ondák’s ‘Snapshots from Baghdad, 2007’,
source: Institute of Contemporary Arts, London: Source: photograph by Andrew
Hoskins, 12 June 2007]
The camera supposedly contains an undeveloped film of shots from present-day Baghdad.
The unexposed images trapped inside permit a future that is both imaginable, in relation to
what the photographs may contain and their impact, and unimaginable, with regard to the
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contingency of the indeterminable moment of their exposure. In this way the intact camera
challenges the highly media-saturated imagination of the 2007 aftermath of war in Baghdad,
instead placing it as contingent upon the moment and context the emergence of the
exposure and mediation of the unseen images.
But the camera placed as it is in a cabinet on a pedestal, ‘evokes the eventual
ossification of the circulation of both people and images’ (Janda 2008). In this way,
‘Snapshots from Baghdad, 2007’ speaks to James E. Young’s notion of a ‘countermonument’
(1992, 2000). Notably, it simultaneously draws attention to both the possibilities and the
limitations of the traditional memorial. It challenges the notion of the monumentality of
images in the unknowable future and content of the photographs inside of the camera, in other
words a profound uncertainty of future media memory. At the same time, the exhibit is
ossified both in its truncation of the process of photographic recording, exposure, circulation,
and through its form of display. The temporal delay of the analogue photographic process is
stalled and that ‘spark of contingency’ (Benjamin 1999:150) characteristic of the
photographic image, is arrested and preserved within the plastic shell of the camera. It is
doubly sealed, firstly within the plain black plastic case and then within a glass display
cabinet, the latter fetishising and emphasizing the sculptural qualities of the throwaway
monument.
Furthermore, Ondák’s work and the wider ICA ‘Memorial to the Iraq War’ can be
seen to counter traditional memorial culture through a strategy of ‘premediation’ (Grusin
2004, 2010; Erll 2009; Hoskins and O’Loughlin 2010). That is, efforts to try and imagine,
shape or challenge, future (as well as current) memorial cultures through imaging,
conceptualizing, representing what a future memorial might or should look like. What is
striking about this collapse of the future into the present is that the events that are subject to
premediation or ‘prememorialisation’ are not only recent in living memory compared to the
more common length of passage of time between particularly twentieth century nodal events
and their memorialisations but in the case of twenty-first century warfare in Iraq and
Afghanistan, for example, public memorialization becomes synchronous with the event itself.
It is precisely this synchronicity that is denied by Ondak’s exhibit.
So, a new immediacy of memorialization is caught up in the politics of memory of
the twenty-first century, in legitimising or delegitimizing ongoing warfare. These
memorializations include the potential continuousness afforded by digital memorial
networks, archives, and databases, which set out the potential trajectories of future memory of
present and recent-past warfare and other catastrophes. For example, the artist Joseph
DeLappe’s Iraqimemorial.org project aims to commemorate civilian deaths since the onset of
the 2003 Iraq War and its bloody aftermath (http://www.iraqimemorial.org). Its stated aims
include to: ‘mobilize an international community of artists to contribute proposals that will
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represent a collective expression of memory, unity and peace’ and to ‘create a context for the
initiation of a process of symbolic, creative atonement’. The site lists over 150 artists’ works
under ‘Exhibition of Memorial Concepts’. This includes diagrams, gallery plans,
photographs, videos, and mixed media exhibits. The site is also open to public views and
ratings of entries in addition to those made by ‘internationally based curators and scholars’.
To these ends, the web provides a memorial platform that is dynamic, apparently democratic,
and potentially highly expansionist. In this way the project probes and extends the concept
and practices of memorialization affording the memorial new immediacy, and an ‘extended
present’ (Nowotny, 1994).
Welcome, then, to the ‘third memory boom’ (Hoskins and O’Loughlin 2010). The
first memory boom, set out by Jay Winter, is marked by the 1890s to the 1920’s formation of
national identities around the memorialization of the victims of the Great War (Winter, 2006:
18). And for Winter, remembrance of World War Two and the Holocaust in the 1960s and
1970s is indicative of a second memory boom. It is this latter era that is most often seen as the
modern memory boom in the field of memory studies and most influentially by Andreas
Huyssen (2003). This includes significant developments in the role of technologies and media
in facilitating the reflexive audiovisual capture and representation of personal testimony,
namely the mediatization of oral history.
Although the third memory boom overlaps with the second, it is the connective turn
that makes it distinctive in shaping an inexorable media present and presence. Under these
conditions, the museum can only survive if it becomes media archaeological, if it can offer
new value amidst the flattening of post-scarcity culture.
The connective turn has dislocated the memorial connection between the medium of
the time of an event’s first mass mediation, and its later representation (in museums and
exhibitions). How an event is later represented, seen and understood has always been to some
extent determined by the medium through which it first entered into a collective or cultural
imagination. As Lisa Gitelman argues, media, no matter how ‘old’ or ‘new’ are ‘functionally
integral to a sense of pastness’ through the ‘implicit encounters’ we have with the past via the
media responsible for producing that past (2006: 5).
For example, the audio of radio and the audio/visual of television have become
increasingly defining of the second memory boom, particularly with such media entangled in
the actual production of the events they record, in that process altering the moment by
moment trajectory of events and so becoming inseparable from those events. But these
(traditionally at least) ‘punctual’ media have always sat uncertainly in the museum space in
terms of the curatorial organization required to shepherd the highly mobile and distracted
visitor-as-audience. The common ‘looping’ of audio and video content (unless pre-scheduled
and advertised) inevitably finds the wandering visitor arriving (and departing) out-of-synch
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with the beginning and end, respectively, of the recording being reproduced. Here the visitor
becomes, according to Jessica Morgan, ‘victims of its timing’ (cited in Cowie 2009, 127).
Digital media that have ushered in the third memory boom, however, effect a
continuous time through mobile and pervasive connectivity (including the remediation of
traditionally more punctual and cyclical media (radio, TV, press)). And it is this greater
connectivity of past with present that requires new kinds of excavation and interrogation.
Whereas media history privileges continuities over discontinuities, ‘media-archaeology
replaces the concept of a historical development, from writing to printing to digital data
processing, through a concept of mediatic short-circuits’ (Ernst, 2006: 111). So, despite the
seeming digital crushing of historical distance: the media archaeological museum has to
reveal and interrogate the fissures, the unintended, and the gaps, against the apparent smooth
and smothering immediacy and pervasiveness of memory forged amidst and from post-
scarcity culture.
‘The Persistence of Vision’
In 2010-11 a major artistic media archaeological intervention entitled the ‘Persistence of
Vision’ was exhibited at FACT (the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool,
UK) and at Nikolaj (Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, Denmark). This exhibition
explored the interplay of media, vision and memory, and included the repurposing of a range
of current and past image technologies camera obscura, slide projectors, 16mm cameras to
revisit and reimagine the media and technologies through which memory is mediated.
The potential scarcity of film (at least in the era of the second memory boom) is
explored by Melik Ohanian in his ‘Invisible Film’ video projection, a media archaeology of
the controversial 1971 docu-fiction film Punishment Park, written and directed by Peter
Watkins, and not officially distributed in the UK and US for over 20 years. This pseudo-
documentary is set amidst the escalation of the Vietnam War and is seen by some as a
landmark work on US political repression. It follows an assortment of '60s counter-culture
detainees, opting to avoid long prison sentences, they embark on an attempt to reach an
American flag planted many miles into the inhospitable Southern Californian desert, pursued
by a bunch of gung-ho law-enforcement types: their three days in ‘Punishment Park’.
[Insert: Figure 2: ‘Invisible Film’ (2005) Video Projection 90 minutes by Melik
Ohanian. Source: Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris. ]
Ohanian’s work is encountered through hearing the audio track and seeing the film’s subtitles
on a screen, synchronized to the video projection. Upon entering the exhibition space (hidden
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by curved screens) the visitor is confronted with a video projection of a 35mm projector
(Figure 2, above) beaming the film, Punishment Park, into thin air in the same desert
landscape the original film was shot in: there is no surface on which to project the film. So,
the absence of the film offers reflection on the relative absence, and suppression of, the anti-
war movement not least over the 20 years or so that Punishment Park was banned.
‘Invisible Film’ marks the significant interruption in time of the distribution of
Punishment Park (now widely available) and the suspension of media history. But it also
challenges the notion of cinematic space, of the co-presence of projector and screen or other
surface through the invisibility of the displaced projection. The film is reduced to the form of
the projector.
At the same time, the idea of an invisible film is a very useful metaphor for reflection
upon the suppression of anti-war discourses and a kind of underground, counter-memory, that
despite its repression has a certain residual presence that is always with us. As with the ICA’s
‘Memorial to the Iraq War’ Exhibition, considered above, Ohanian’s work can be seen as
antithetical to the over-exposure associated with the televisual excess of the coverage of
warfare, especially since the 1991 Gulf War. Indeed, it is precisely the stream of images of
conflict and warfare that is said to have driven what many see as today’s memory boom.
Ohanian’s Invisible Film offers us counter-modalities of memory both in terms of the
closure of the visual mode of engagement (cf. McLuhan 1964) and the absence over time that
this represents.
The medium is privileged over content in another striking piece from the same
exhibition in Julien Maire’s ‘Exploding Camera’ (2007) (Figure 3). Two days before
September 11, 2001, an exploding camera killed the most senior anti-Taliban Afghan war
commander Massoud in his camp in Afghanistan. The use of a camera by terrorists inspired
this exhibit as though for Maire the camera has continued to work to film a war film ever
since. So, according to Maire, through this destroyed medium, a new live experimental
historical film is rendered as a means of reinterpreting the events of the war. In this way,
Maire implicates the camera as a new form of eyewitness both in relation to historical fact
and through its process of image production.
[Insert: Figure 3: ‘Exploding Camera’ (2007) by Julien Maire, exhibited in the
‘Persistence of Vision’ Exhibition, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology
(FACT), Liverpool, UK. Source: Photograph by Brian Slater]
The work is comprised of a still-functional dissected video camera on a table but which has
had its lens removed. Video images are produced on a nearby monitor through direct
illumination of the camera’s CCD (light sensor) through LEDs and a laser as well as external
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light. The images are sourced from photographic positives on a transparent disc placed
between the lights and the CCD. Explosion sound effects are triggered by lights and the laser
(Maire 2007).
Through constructing the camera-as-weapon, Maire also highlights the media as an
object inextricably bound-up in the conflict it purports to report on. The exploding camera is
thus the ultimate realization of the weaponization of the media, and offers a kind of dystopian
vision of the relationship between media and warfare. The installation thus prompts us to
think about this relationship at a visceral and machinic level, making the media form
centrifugal both as medium and as weapon.
However, Maire’s work is not only media archaeological in teasing with form,
content and history; it is also performative: ‘The lights that produce the ‘explosions’ not only
illuminate the frame for the video image but also the exhibition space and spectators at the
same time’ (Maire, 2007). In this way, according to Maire, the exhibition space becomes an
‘experimental film studio’, invoking the battlefield as theatre. The battlefield theatricality of
‘Exploding Camera’ is also emphasized by the very limited light in this space, so that
spectators are almost wholly reliant on the lights from the exhibit itself and they and the
exhibit are often plunged into darkness. Furthermore, there is no easily discernible
beginning or end to the performance, and there is an absence of a chronology to disturb or to
miss. In this way, the exhibit is not constrained by a punctuality, which so often makes
museum media awkward for visitor navigation.
Maire’s work is an instructive case of media archaeology in affording the camera a
new technological beginning. He offers material emergence from a destroyed medium in that
instead of reproducing (again) the already over-familiar and saturative images of 21st century
warfare, he makes them experimental affording them new life, history and meaning.
An unexposed film entombed within plastic and glass, the projection of an invisible
projection, an undead camera: what links these works and what more might they tell us about
the uses and potentials of media archaeology in the museum? Each emphasizes and fetishises
the materiality of media hardware the plain black camera on a white pedestal, the lone
projector against a desert landscape, the deconstructed video camera, illuminated by its own
explosions. The sculptural qualities of each technology is insisted upon. But so is the
potentiality of the image. Our expectations of media processes production, exhibition,
distribution are frozen, denied or disrupted. What remains are spaces of anticipation, where
the spark of contingency keeps firing but never catches light. They challenge the immediacy
of post-scarcity culture and the digital archival myth of total access and accumulation. Whilst
constructing alternative or hypothetical media histories they should also be seen as part of a
new set of opportunities and challenges that open up the time, space and memory of the
museum.
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‘The Big Picture Show’ (Imperial War Museum North, Manchester UK)
In the main exhibition hall of the Imperial War Museum North (IWM North), visitors are
immersed every hour in the images and sounds of the ‘Big Picture Show’ (see Figure 4).
Designed as a showcase for the museum’s audio-visual collections of photography, art,
archival footage, oral history and testimony, the Big Picture Show is comprised of eight
distinctive shows that focus predominantly on conflicts from the First World War until the
present day. The original three are themed around weaponry, the home front and children’s
experiences of war (Weapons of War, Children and War and the War at Home). More recent
commissions offer a focus on the memoriaization of war, the experiences of a nurse in
Afghanistan, a creative response to a street bombing in Baghdad in 2007 and the Horrible
Histories take on rationing during the second world war (Remembrance, Build the Truce,
Service and Separation, Al-Mutannabi Street: A Reaction and Rotten Rationing). Each
foregrounds specific curatorial themes and emphasises the museums remit as a war museum
rather than a military museum (Imperial War Museum Acquisition and Disposal Policy,
March 2011). This distinction highlights the museum’s specific focus on people’s
experience of war, for example, as the male British voice that speaks out of the darkness at
the beginning of Al-Mutannabi Street: A Reaction - “Every image, every document, every
voice is part of someone’s story”. The museum website describes the Big Picture Show as,
...an award-winning 360-degree experience unique to IWM North. Using surround
sound, projected digital moving images and photographs, the show brings to life
people’s experiences of war. It immerses you in the heart of the action, creating a
complete sensory experience which is totally involving, and often very moving. ii
[Insert Figure 4 here: Figure 4: A precursor to the ‘Big Picture Show’, main exhibition
hall Imperial War Museum North, Manchester. Source: photograph by Andrew
Hoskins, 22 December 2011.]
Enabled by developments in digital sound and image projection and certainly a
distinctive exhibition strategy, the Big Picture Show must also be placed within a longer
history of the relationship between the museum artifact and the moving image. The use of
screen media in museum exhibitions is commonplace. Often acting as a supplement to object
displays - documentary footage, archive film or television operates as an additional layer of
contextualization and narrativisation, animating and bearing witness to the images, objects
and stories re-counted. The work of Alison Griffiths (2002), Haidee Wasson (2005), and
Michelle Henning (2006) reminds us that this use of moving images to supplement artifact
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based exhibits dates back to the 1920s and 1930s
Henning has also usefully sought to connect and establish continuities between ‘new
media’ and earlier technologies of visual display. She writes of the parallel between the
organisation and modes of address of analogue and digital media, employing an example
from the American Museum of Natural History in New York where the,
...famous halls of dioramas, dating from the 1920s to the 1940s, the darkened spaces
recall cinema auditoriums. The backlit habitat dioramas are breathtakingly naturalistic.
Taxidermy, painted backdrops, and wax modeling, through “multimedia”, are combined
to give the organic coherence of narrative cinema, inviting us to momentarily forget
their status as representations and imagine they are more than skin deep (Henning 2006:
304).
Here the ‘spectacular mise-en-scene’ (Huyssen 1995: 34) of the museum and the
cinema coalesce and both must be seen as part of an ‘exhibitionary complex’ where
technologies of display developed in circulation across a number of exhibitionary sites and
institutions (Bennett 1995: PAGE).iii The Big Picture Show is part of a continuing
relationship between the museum and the moving image that evokes persistent tensions
between the stillness and movement of artifacts, images, technologies and bodies. iv As an
exhibition strategy it is these tensions that reveals the temporal and spatial characteristics of
the BPS as a media archaelogical intervention.
On every hour the exhibition hall of IWM North plunges into near-darkness to be lit
only by the bright red lights illuminating the bases of the static exhibits (a theatrical flourish
that is no doubt a product of health and safety regulations). The visitor is enclosed within the
darkness, to some extent hostage to the sights and sounds of the film. The six architectural
silos which intersect this permanent exhibition space are independent of the Big Picture Show
and are still navigable during each performance. The projection itself is not cast upon one
fluid 360-degree screen but is pieced together over a series of disjointed walls that fragment
the large cavernous space of the main hall. The experience is spectacular, cinematic, yet
verisimilitude is not its aim. It neither evokes the naturalistic dioramas of Henning’s
description nor the simulation of ‘total cinema’ (Bazin 1967) offered by the IMAX
experience (which accompanies many contemporary science museums). It is an example of
an immersive exhibition strategy, as discussed by HabsburgLothringen in this volume (see
Chapter 15), in both its scale and the ways in which it organizes the movement and attention
of the visitor.
We have already seen the tension between stasis and movement at play in the
interruptive nature of the works previously discussed. However, in contrast to the temporal
uncertainty of these artworks, the Big Picture Show returns us to the ‘punctual’ media of the
second memory boom, programmed to ‘interrupt’ the visitors time with a different film on
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each hour of the museums day (the schedule itself is projected onto one of the white walls of
the main exhibition space). Whilst the visitor is perhaps less likely to become a victim of its
timing, the Big Picture Show is still a time-based installation with distinctive temporal and
spatial characteristics. Elizabeth Cowie, whilst arguing for the specificity of digital media in
the gallery, writes that,
each place of viewing a time-based installation is not only a context geographical and
social, public or private but also an architectural place, organizing the spectators
access to mobility and stillness (2009: 124).
Here, the stillness of the museal artifact and the movement of the film are reflected by
the spatial configurations of stillness and movement enacted by the visitor.
Whether the visitor has planned the show into their visit or are taken by surprise, the
temporal darkness of the exhibition hall necessitates the interruption of movement. Most sit
against the walls/screens or stand still, a few others continue moving through the space with
added care. Architectural and space syntax approaches to museum studies remind us how
‘like any spatial layout, a museum or gallery will generate and sustain a certain pattern of co-
presence and encounter amongst visitors through the way it shapes movement’ (Hillier and
Tzortzi 2006: 299). The Daniel Libeskind-designed architecture of IWM North already
affords the exhibition space a fragmentary and chaotic character within and onto which the
Big Picture Show is projected. Jonathan Shaw, Ben Squire Scholes and Christopher
Thurgood et al. (2008: 227) for instance, writing on space and place at IWM North, argue:
‘As an example of deconstructivist architecture, which is a subset or development of post-
industrial architecture, a sense of controlled chaos is conveyed through architectural forms’.
Here then, the combined temporal-spatial ecology of the museum mediates visitor experience
to a unique event.v The deconstructivist architecture and scattered artifacts produce a
fragmented screen, but one which is further disjointed by the movement of visitors onto
whom the film also projects and distorts, affording another level of random mobility to the
Big Picture Show In this latter instance, there is a certain media-visitor co-construction in
that media interrupt the churn of visitor patterns to produce a time-based ‘integration core,
where congregation takes place’ (Hillier and Tzortzi, ibid)vi. These congregations, however,
are relatively dispersed and not really crowd-like: affected through the location of the seating
and visitors’ sense of the best advantage points for viewing and being immersed in the
spectacle.
There is another temporal element to this experience and that is duration. If visitors
are patient enough (and/or aware of the schedule) then they will experience the full twenty
five minutes of each performance. Otherwise, they will be subject to the same temporal
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uncertainty of beginning, end and duration, of looped and other video/filmic screenings in
museum spaces.
So, the space and time of the museum is wrapped in the immersive strategies of the
projection. In its play with the built environment, its kinesthetic and sensory staging of
bodies, to what extent does immersion, as Margaret Morse (1990) and Elizabeth Cowie
(2009) have argued, give way to reflection? Once again, the organisation of stillness and
movement is central and draws upon the performative characteristics of commemorative
practices.
In their introduction to the edited collection Still Moving, an interrogation of the
relationship between photography and cinema, Jean Beckman and Karen Ma argue that ‘the
hesitation between stasis and motion actually produces an interval in which rigorous thinking
can emerge’ (2008: 5). In contrast, social psychologist Steven Brown’s discussion of the two-
minute silence as a commemorative practice offers an alternative perspective. Brown usefully
challenges some of the assumptions about the commemorative or reflective
functions/experiences of silence and, by extension, stillness, as he questions the ‘modes of
access to the past [that] are opened up through public silence and the forms of experience that
are thereby afforded’ (2012: 239). Here, public silence becomes a spectacle, a performance of
empathy and sorrow where those commemorated are doubly absent. But the commemorative
silence remains a particularly powerful social force, dictated by an enactment of
remembrance and dominated instead by particular behavioral expectations around the stillness
and silence of our bodies. As an experiential form it evokes the ‘scopic reciprocity’ (Bennett
1995) of the museum. Whilst the behavioral expectations of visitors within this hybrid
museum/cinema space is arguably less clear, the sense of co-presence maintained throughout
the Big Picture Show insists upon a peripheral awareness of the bodies of the other visitors.
Sat against screens, or moving through the projectile stream, bodies, disruptive or
compliant, also become part of the surface of the projection, made over as ‘temporary
monuments’ and integrated into the exhibition space. Brown argues that
to stand still, to make oneself in to a temporary monument, is to have accomplished the
act of making the past relevant without words. Again this is not so much as
‘overmastering of self’ as allowing one’s own bodily substrate to temporarily become a
vehicle for the performance of the past in the present (2012: 248).
And when the show is over, the congregation departs, as the ‘instant community’
(2012: 251) dissipates throughout the museum and the museum reverts to its recognizable
self.
Whilst the Big Picture Show can be seen to choreograph bodies and a performance of
remembrance in a similar vein to Brown’s argument, the interruption of time and the
13
transformation of space in the Big Picture Show invites reflection in specific ways; on the
curatorial themes and messages, the films as memorials and the experience as
commemorative, but also on the different and various strategies of mediation and the use of
media within the museum. Morse, writing on video installation in the gallery, argues that
installation art in this setting reinvigorates all the spaces-in-between, so that the museum
visitor becomes aware of the museum itself as a mega-installation, even to the point of
self-critique (1990: 166).
The collection, Susan Stewart writes, is often about containment as a mode of control and
confinement in which it strives for the closure of all space and temporality (1993: 151).
Whilst this is perhaps not a fair interpretation of all contemporary curatorial practices, it is
precisely through an aesthetics of immersion and enclosure that the world of the exhibition at
IWM North is self-reflexively thrown open. The curators and visitors’ mastery over the world
of the collection is tested by both the dramatically shifting scales of the exhibition and the
challenges of an emergent ‘post-scarcity’ culture.
The nature and development of the Big Picture Show , projected against and on the
artifacts and the architecture housed in and constitutive of the space, reveals the upgradeable
form of this kind of intervention. For example, this exhibition strategy was originally
composed of 60 slide projectors to showcase the museums photographic archive, digital
projectors were installed in 2011 allowing greater flexibility and creativity in the
commissioning of audio-visual presentations. The Big Picture Show has also upgraded from
an original three to its current eight shows. This, as we have already observed, reflects IWM
North’s focus on people’s experience of war. However, the increased flexibility that came
with the projection of media content into the void so to speak, enables the museum to be more
responsive to understandings and representations of more recent conflicts (e.g. Al-Mutannabi
Street: A Reaction) . But this also opens the potential for the museum space to become more
of a mutable medium in its own right, being liberated ‘from archival space into archival time’
(Ernst 2004; cf. Hoskins 2009). This is how even static architecture and artifacts and their
impression of permanence suddenly seem vulnerable to the more fluid temporalities and
dynamics of “permanent data transfer” (Ernst 2004, 46) as their surfaces and fissures are
increasingly employed as and connected to screens. In this way, IWM North reveals its media
archaeological tensions. Although IWM North is an artifactually and architecturally-
determined space, it is also fundamentally mediated through the smothering immediacy and
pervasiveness of post-scarcity media.
Whereas the ICA’s ‘Memorial to the Iraq War’ Exhibition, discussed above, in part at
least sought to wrest a separate and distinct time and space in contradistinction to the flux of
the new media ecology, IWM North exposes itself to the data-driven extended and immersive
14
present of post-scarcity culture. Whilst the aesthetics of immersion in the Big Picture Show
operate as a particular exhibition strategy, the space and times of IWM North and other
museums are being more radically thrown open and diffused through the inexorable
penetration of digital and social media. For example, Huhtamo (this volume) argues that an
‘exhibition anthropology’ approach is needed to take account of the new permeability of the
museum’s walls ,whilst other contributions to this volume envisage the museum as ‘diffused’
(Ippolito and Bell) and ‘elastic’ (Wasson). As an example of this, as part of a ‘Social
Interpretation’ project, the IWM London and IWM North have developed mobile applications
through which visitors can scan objects’ QR codes, accessing the ‘story’ of each enabling the
visitor-as-curator to ‘share stories of their own memories and experiences about War and the
IWM collectionsvii’. And the IWM blog claims that, via the IWM website, they have “added
social interpretation elements to over 750,000 collection objectviii This development is part of
the ‘Internet of Things’ linking the material and the internet: embedding objects with sensors
to produce a sophisticated network of traceable items. In this context, the museum is newly
extended, networked and diffused, plugged in to a distributed sociality of its objects and their
ongoing trajectories of connections. This challenges its principal authority of containment and
closure (in Stewart’s terms, above) but also gives its objects new temporal momentum and
new status as media archaeology.
Conclusion
Media archaeology is inexorably an effect and a strategy of/in the museum, subject to a post-
scarcity culture that ushers in both a digital revelation/revolution of the past and an
astonishing connectivity in and of the present. The post-scarcity museum offers a new
archival regime that can more easily track the history of events that are still unfolding: part of
a longer trajectory of time.
Yet, the museum’s increased capacity to be responsive to events of the day as well as
recent and more distant histories, presents both a media archaeological tension and
opportunity. Technologies and media of the day have long developed modes of representation
and mediation. But the advantage and the challenge of pervasive digital media networks and
connectivities is their terrific temporal force. Connective culture fundamentally re-constitutes
the past but digitally bleeds more of the present into all of the museum’s fissures. The result is
a pressure pot in which the media of this day have not only become irresistible to shaping
curatorial strategies but inexorable in pushing a connective present into representational
spaces, and in pushing the Museum’s objects and artifacts outwards as part of the emergent
Internet of Things. In these circumstances, containment and scarcity are no longer workable
as curatorial strategies: cultural memory is well and truly out of its metaphorical box made
transparent through post-scarcity culture. The digital present inexorably disinters the past of
15
and the past in museums, and new curatorial imaginations are required to make a greater play
for the memory of the future (as with the ICA’s ‘Memorial to the Iraq War’).
And yet the very challenges of the temporality and pervasiveness of museum and
media content can be seized and reimagined as strategy: to redeploy and reimagine museum
artifacts as part of the Internet of Things, for example, makes the museum a centrifugal
dynamic of the connective turn, rather than being merely its subject, and in effect networking
the ‘canon’ and the ‘archive’ in Aleida Assmann’s (2008) termsix. The new temporal and
memorial paradigm of the third memory boom can be harnessed as a rampant media
archaeology turns the museum inside-out and (re)creates it anew.
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Notes
i The work of contemporary media artists and their media archaeological approach can be seen in part
as a continuation of the strategies of artists such as Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell. Their play with
and configurations of television hardware were in part an effort to defamiliarise the medium and to
interrogate and critique commercial television.
ii See http://www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-north/big-picture-show (accessed 10th January 2013)
iii For example, between the 1880s and the 1940s, architects and designers in the United States worked
on and with technologies of display across a series of sites including theatres, department stores and
museums (Leach cited in Henning 2006: 304).
iv The relationship between vision and movement within the museum and its influence on the
development of cinema in the nineteenth century has been well traced. For an excellent overview see
Eleftheriotis Cinematic Journeys (2010).
v See also Peter Higgins concept of total media in this volume.
vi With reference to the work of Hsu Huang (2001), Hillier and Tzortzi emphasise two key themes
embodied in the spatial layout of the modern museum: organised walking and the congregation of
visitors. The former is realised by the organisation of spaces into visitable sequences so as to map
knowledge, and the latter is manifested by the creation of gathering spaces, the integration core, where
the congregation takes place (2006: 292)
vii Claire (2012) Roll up and Roll out. The Final Push for SI, Imperial War Museums Social
Interpretation Blog: http://blogs.iwm.org.uk/social-interpretation/category/qr-codes/ 26 July 2012.
viii Ibid.
ix Assmann (2008: 98) sees the canon as an active mode of cultural memory in the museum in terms
of that which is on show and visible to visitors, whereas the archive is a passively stored memory
comprised of objects stored and out-of-sight.
... Doch diese finden sich zufällig auch auf ihren Abbildungen der Ausstellung, sodass etwa in der mit "Spiritueller Widerstand" übertitelte Sektion völlig unmissverständlich deutlich wird, dass man trotz aller Widrigkeiten soweit wie möglich jüdische Bräuche und Erziehung fortführte, Konzerte gab, Theater spielte, Tagebuch schrieb, Zeitungen herausgab und die Verfolgung dokumentierte. (Holtschneider 2011, 67) 35 "Neue Medien" (Hoskins und Holdsworth 2015), wie sie etwa das Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moskau oder das Museum der Geschichte der polnischen Juden in Warschau prägen, sind in den hier systematisch analysierten Museen selten und bleiben auf Videos beschränkt, die passiv konsumiert oder Infoseiten, die angeklickt werden können. Erst in den letzten Jahren fügte das Haus des Terrors zu seiner ungarischsprachigen Ausstellung einen Tablet-Guide in verschiedenen Sprachen hinzu. ...
... The websites often provide entrance points to public collection databases, and the ubiquitous social media buttons show that museums deploy contemporary networking technologies as complementary platforms through which to engage visitors. The websites highlight the present-day museums as media spaces (Russo, 2012) and as part of a "post-scarcity culture" with images, texts and data available on a massive scale (Cairns & Birchall, 2013;Hoskins & Holdsworth, 2015). When online activities are an integral part of many people's everyday lives and there is an overwhelming abundance of information, curating has become a buzzword (Cairns & Birchall, 2013). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter evolves through critical reviews of two strategic examples of museums that have reformed their collection databases with the aim of providing new modes of audience engagement. The goal of this discussion is to point out some implications that the two cases studies have for critical studies of online databases. The Swedish museum agency LSH and Rijksmuseum represent two main takes on how to navigate online databases: Text-based search and discovery-based navigation. Their databases mirror the challenges museums’ face on how to balance educational values with pressures to adapt to the effects of consumer markets. The chapter points to the need to locate curatorial agency in how algorithms and protocols interact with human curatorial agency, as well as copyright issues, and institutional histories.
... □ 安德鲁 · 霍斯金斯 引 言 记忆潮受到战争、对战争的记忆以及特定时代的技术 与媒介的驱动、界定。在 " 连结性转向 " ② 这一趋势之下 [1] , 无论是战争还是媒介,对过去的自反式塑造都经历着重新 组合的过程。连结性转向就好似一杯引人陶醉的鸡尾酒, 混杂着数字化的即时性、大体量和深入性,这一切都导致 记忆实践——记忆为何、记忆何为——在本体论层面发生 转变,并令人类记忆的前景暧昧不明。媒介/记忆关注的 问题是我们如何与过去相联系、如何体验、再现、铭记或 遗忘过去,透过连结性的动力机制,各种 " 记忆 " 过程恍 然之间变得更迅即、更丰富、更深入,仿佛铺天盖地,确 乎触手可及。在变动不居的记忆潮之下,连结性转向如何 重塑我们对于战争的纪念和记忆? 后稀缺文化让记忆陷入失控状态:过往的战争往往 带有虚假的光泽,它们长久以来便是所谓 " 文化记忆 " 的素材,而后稀缺文化则让这些光泽得以延续。战争记 忆无休止地累积、膨胀,以致在裂缝处膨胀开来,在自 身档案的重负之下坍塌。这些记忆不愿意面对自身的枯 竭,结果被冻结在数字化的洪流之中,无法解冻、无法 前移。 今时今日,我们面临着全球层面上的不确定性:我们 感到战争离自己越来越近、无休无止,这让我们更多将目 光投向过去。与此同时,新的战争愈发信息化,深深陷入 技术无意识之中,挑战传统的再现模式,而传统的记忆模 式却持续累积关于过去的记忆。 这两种机制——战争记忆和新近战争的媒介化——之 间的拉扯(和交汇)处在新的记忆战场的中心。在这里, 围绕 20 世纪的犹太大屠杀和各式战争发展起来的记忆图 式持续影响着我们如何审视(或无视)并正当化(非法 化)新近的战争;但与此同时,在后稀缺文化之下,新近 战争的即时再现和战争画面/影像的即时流通与渗透,挑 战并污染着文化记忆的空间。这些转型过程非常重要,因 为它们不仅界定了战争如何被看见、被(去)正当化,也 制约着当下有关记忆本质及其可能性的论争与现实。 战争和媒介发生的变化是迈克尔 · 迪龙所称的 " 新的 接近性体验 " 的产物,所谓 " 接近性 " 是指事物彼此联 系、依附乃至归属的方式,而 " 多中介、多媒介、多渠道 的全球散播过程 " [2] 则改变了这些方式。比如说,在连结 性转向之后,媒介不可避免地将连结性的当下推入文化记 忆再现的场所和空间之中,同时将博物馆中的展品推入后 稀缺文化的数字化混战之中,无论是对技术还是当下需求 而言,两者的边界都变得模糊不清 [3] ...
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