Caitlin Denny

Creators Project

The Digital Museum

March 17th, 2012 - The Creator's Projet at Fort Mason, San Francisco

Museums are going through some major changes these days, their status quo disrupted by technology. Whether it’s questions about how to extend their collections into the virtual space, how to supplement exhibitions with interactive experiences, or how to tackle the integration of technologically-powered art work into their collections—it’s clearly no longer business as usual. Representatives from the Hirshhorn Museum, SFMOMA, the Exploratorium, and Caitlin Denny will discuss how they are evolving in this new landscape, and how these shifts affect museums and art lovers alike. 

Speakers also included Kevin Hull (Hirshhorn Museum), Willa Koerner (SFMOMA) and Eric Socolofsky (Exploratorium).


Having worked at a museum on digital projects and now working on curating digital works, it seems to me that a lot of the technologically enabled arts experiences run counter to the systems and standards existing in the art world today. Have you noticed this tension? 

Tension exists somewhere between audience, interpretation, display and the bureaucracy of institutions.The audience is unknown for the most part for new media works, and we cannot watch the behavior of our audience most importantly. This lack of definition scares museums away from new media works. The online audience is cast aside as unimportant, not a "real" visitor. Their online experience is never equated as the same as a trip to the museum…. perhaps this is because of the way museums and institutions are "counting" visitors. Compared to the functional portions of the museum site, any net art 'hit count' will be extremely low. but functionality cannot be compared to exhibition...

Early museum efforts to highlight net art were blurred with the functionality of the site. The work is often compromised to ensure viewers to the site. We're use to new technologies being very "use" oriented, and when our typical use of technology is not apparent within the work, functionality is the last ditch effort for understanding and grounding. New media art, net art, post internet whatever you want to call it, is confusing to the regular museum goer. They know the technology through functionality and utility because technology is so integrated into our everyday lives and psyches. It's not the presence of technology that's an issue, but how to "use" it in the space. We want control over it. so, we must mold and develop the interpretation of the technology to best suit our viewer - computer games, screen based interactions, websites or more immersive initiatives and works like MAX/MSP, Jitter, video mapping and social networking taken out of the screen. 

But who is the new media viewer? And this is what institutions are concerned with. The growth potential for new media art audiences has been stunted and misunderstood, so display and presentation of new media works is often misunderstood as well. There is a new way to judge and interpret the audience for new media works. It's not about headcount anymore, but about quality of engagement - repeat visits, long visits, interaction of visitors with each other and with the works, and now the aftermath of the engagement using agents such as twitter + hashtags.

What’s the biggest way technology has disrupted the status quo within the museum? How do you deal with this?

Presentation and display are the most obvious difficulties in presenting new media works. Something as small as a wall label has become a crux of understanding for art goers. We always check to validate our experience. With new media works the classification of work is not so simple- multiple versions, multiple artists and teams working on one piece, and layers of mediums and disciplines.

Confusion of use is always at the forefront - should we facilitate the understanding of digital based works in the museum? Should "how to use" information now be included in the wall label? This is a big question of facilitation in understanding.