April 9-12, 2008
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Sessions: Abstract

Who has the responsibility for saying what we see? mashing up Museum and Visitor voices, on-site and online   go to paper

Peter Samis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA

What is the Museum’s role in giving voice to the objects it presents? A recent exhibition of Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson provided an opportunity to test one institution’s internal tolerance for multi-vocal popular response. Eliasson explicitly states that his immersive environments are set-ups for engagement, and that the viewer completes the work. With that in mind, the SFMOMA Interactive Educational Technologies (IET) team produced an interactive kiosk / Web site that offered background commentary and footage of the artist discussing his philosophy and studio practice, but stopped short of describing individual works in detail. That role was left to the visitors, each of whom, it was theorized, would have a personal experience of the various works in the show. What would come of this kaleidoscopic perspective?

There were technical as well as philosophical hurdles to overcome – notably, mashing up a static Pachyderm presentation with a customized WordPress blog – but the emphasis in this paper will be on implications for interpretive practice, and the opportunity opened up by Web 2.0 technologies to a) get to know our visitors better, and b) come to know the artworks we display differently through the prism of visitor interpretations. What is lost by allowing the museum’s message to become more "diffuse?" What are the limits of this democracy of voices? Are there specific strategies that elicit and give shape to more compelling content for readers, and greater insights for the visitors who contribute to the conversation? These and other issues that have arisen over the course of this first SFMOMA blog experiment - running from September 2007 through February 2008 - are discussed.

Session: Theoretical Frameworks [Institutional]

Keywords: user-generated content, Olafur Eliasson, interpretation, museum authority, visitor voices, Pachyderm, blog