• Campers

    Nancy Proctor

    I published my first online exhibition in 1995 for a travelling exhibition of contemporary art I was curating in ‘alternative’ spaces while working on a PhD in American art history and a couple of films. Finding myself unemployable upon graduation, I co-founded TheGalleryChannel.com in 1998 with Titus Bicknell to present virtual tours of innovative exhibitions alongside comprehensive global museum and gallery listings. TheGalleryChannel was later acquired by Antenna Audio, and I joined Antenna to head up New Product Development for nearly 8 years, developing the company’s multimedia, sign language, downloadable, podcast and cellphone tours. From 2006-2007 I also led Antenna’s sales in France. When Antenna Audio was acquired by Discovery Communications in 2006, I began working with the Travel Channel’s product development team and subsequently headed up research and development for the nascent Discovery Audio brand. I now work cross-platform again as Head of New Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. When I can get a teaching gig, I love to interact with students, and try to speak and publish on museum interpretation for digital platforms whenever possible. I also enjoy working on MuseumMobile.info and its wiki and podcast series, and helping out Curator: The Museum Journal as their Digital Editor. This year I’m heading up the program committee for MCN’s conference in Austin, and the 2010 Tate Handheld Conference.

    My Posts

    Digital v. Analog: There’s no competition

    Friday, March 19th, 2010 | NancyProctor

    On the way to Great Lakes ThatCamp, I started thinking about the competition between analog and digital that has been implied, implicitly or explicitly, in much of museum discourse about the Internet age. At first it seemed a lot of museum professionals feared that putting images of collections online would make the analog or ‘real world’ collection irrelevant; people would stop coming to museums and they’d all lose their jobs. I think we’ve pretty much gotten over that, especially when we realized that museum attendance has only increased since the 1990s – in part because websites now help encourage and inspire people to go see ‘the real thing’ in person. After all, how many times have you seen the Mona Lisa in representation (online, on tea towels, earrings, t-shirts, mouse pads…) in your life? And does that in any way make you less inclined to go see the real painting the first time you go to Paris? On the contrary, it makes the pilgrimage to the object all the more important and exciting. So much of the pleasure of looking is in recognizing… (what do you say, @drszucker [Steven Zucker, principal of Smarthistory.org]?)

    But in a recent symposium at the Bard Graduate Center on “The Artifact in the Age of New Media”, one of the participants, Dan Cohen, tweeted, “Barratt [Carrie Barratt, Met curator], pushing back against @dancohen & @epistemographer, strongly argues that there’s no substitute for seeing objects live. #digifact” Full disclosure: Carrie is a friend, and I don’t in any way disagree with this sentiment, however it was expressed originally. But the comment implies a competition between the digital and the ‘real’ that I think we need to move beyond in order to get the most from both our analog and our digital experiences. Instead, I think we need to be thinking in the direction that Maria Gilbert [also a museum professional and friend] suggested, following the same Twitter thread: “#digifact Digital surrogate can offer interaction/experience unavail w real object, e.g. mechanism demo or hi res magnification capability.”

    In other words, what happens if we think about platforms’ differences and how they might be complementary and mutually-supportive? Can we list in very general terms what the “real world” formats are good at, and what “digital” does well? If so, perhaps we can leverage the particular strengths of digital media to create online experiences that are as valuable and engaging for virtual audiences as the experience of the real world artifact can be in person.

    Here are my initial thoughts about the kinds of experiences that people can have of digital representations of artifacts, and that may not be possible, practical or easy in the museum or with the actual object. Can you add more?

    • ‘Handle’ and examine digital representations of objects personally, up close, in detail, and from all angles
    • Alter objects: reframe, resize, and recolor them e.g.
    • Put objects in different contexts
    • Collect, curate and share objects and collections
    • Write about them
    • Assemble vast quantities of scholarship and publications on objects and related themes relatively quickly
    • Read and watch long pieces of media/scholarship about objects: articles, documentaries, archives etc.
    • Engage in conversations about objects and collections with people all over the world
    • Make very brief or fragmented visits to the object
    • Alternatively, spend extended time with objects and collections, even after hours
    • Track changes in the object’s or collection’s state over time

    These seem so obvious once they’re written down that it almost seems absurd to mention them. And yet: by really understanding and responding to the obvious strengths of each platform, I think we can redirect energy from sandbox battles between the ‘digital’ and the ‘real’ to building interpretation and resources for objects and collections that create a whole truly greater than the sum of its parts

    ‘Quality’ in the age of social media: is it only in the eye of the beholder?

    Thursday, March 18th, 2010 | NancyProctor

    My current research interests revolve around new approaches to interpretation and mobile content and experience development at museums and cultural sites. One of the key learnings I’ve taken away from this work is that social media is not about the technology, but rather about a kind of engagement that creates “a relation, a sense of collectivity, a coming community”. (Szylak 2009) This has led me to ask questions like, “What is a Museum? Who is a Curator? In the age of social media.”

    Particularly in fine art contexts, we see a lot of tension between the expertise of the curatorial/museum voice vs. the ‘citizen curator’ and crowdsourced content. Although ostensibly an advocate for a ‘social media’ kind of curatorial practice, I have been fascinated to find that I’m not immune from this conflict: at times I find myself coming down, rather awkwardly, on the side of ‘quality’ and the curator’s authority. At others, I am inspired by the courage of artists to take risks and even fail very publicly as a means of opening up new ways of seeing and engaging others in dialogue.

    So at the moment my thinking about this is taking me down the direction of a deep semantics of the art experience: if art’s unique role is to give us a way of articulating and reading something that we cannot express or understand through any other medium, then in the age of social media we can start to talk about art as platform, born of collaboration with the very audiences for whom the work is intended – as a radical form of social media.

    Similarly the curatorial role in an art context can take on a very particular inflection – something akin to opening up new ontologies for audiences, which requires both a certain expertise and authority, and a strong dialectic relationship with the museum’s audiences. In order to realize the power of the art object and experience, art interpretation needs to be about more than filling in gaps (in knowledge, in language) but also about opening up spaces in which new meanings can emerge…

    Perhaps these insights are also applicable outside of the fine arts field? I’d like to hear what the ThatCampers think!