Remember

July 25th, 2006 by Kathy McLean

In 1998, Canadian designer Bruce Mau wrote “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth“—43 ideas that exemplify his beliefs, motivations, and strategies, and describe how his BMD studio operates. While I appreciate all 43 of these ideas, it is #42 that sticks with me as I think about our wonderful new project, ExhibitFiles:

“42. REMEMBER. Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and as such, a potential for growth itself.”

I envision ExhibitFiles as a collective memory-space for our field. In ExhibitFiles, we will be able to record our memories of exhibits past, our successes and failures, our inspirations and struggles. And in the remembering, we will grow the field. In my recent article in The Exhibitionist, “We Still Need Criticism,” I suggest that exhibition criticism needs to be more than simple opinion. I make a plea for criticism in context, for building upon past practice, referencing other similar media, comparing similarities and differences. In a similar vein, as Bruce Mau says, “Without memory, innovation is merely novelty.”

But in order to “remember,” we need collective memories. We need a place to record what has been done so that we may all experience it, even as “a partial construct different from its source.” ExhibitFiles will contain our partial constructs of the many exhibitions that have gone before, that we created in the past, that visitors have experienced over time.

ExhibitFiles won’t be a memory-space only. If it is truly self sustaining and nurturing, it will also be a current space, where we can reflect on our practices, get advice and consent from our colleagues, and perhaps foster future alliances.

“We Still Need Criticism” PDF (263KB), reprinted with permission from The Exhibitionist, Volume 25, Number 1, a journal published by the National Association for Museum Exhibition (NAME).

16 Responses to “Remember”

  1. Andrea Bandelli Says:

    Thank you Kathy for this post!

    Memory leads to how we preserve the individuality of the members of a community.

    I see at least two directions that are fairly common on the web now (although they are evolving and changing), and we should give careful consideration to both.
    One is the Wiki approach, where a common body is open for editing, but the individuality of the contributors is invisible (they identity can be of course retrieved at any time).
    The opposite example is the foum/discussion board, where the individuality is highlighted, with each contribution associated to its author.

    I think that individuality should depend on the content of the contribution, rather than on the system/technology used.

    And it should be more than the dicothomy “registered user vs. anonymous”.
    It’s a very human need to be able to “play” with the degree of individuality we want to let emerge from us (think of the choice of clothing, for example. But also on how people intervene in a discussion, etc.)

    Sometimes you want your contribution to mix in the common body of knowledge without really stressing that it comes from you. Sometimes you want to stand on the podium and shout out loud. All these actions are important to build the collective memory, and to give it the properties that make it more than a collection of memories.

    I would like to see online systems that support this approach, allowing different “shades” of individuality, rather than confining users to follow rules which depend on the technology of choice.

  2. Kathy McLean Says:

    Thanks, Andrea. This made me think that we probably want more of the discussion/forum style at this point, where individuality is featured, since I don’t think we have much of a collective body of knowledge to build upon. The value of what gets said about exhibits (what gets remembered?) depends on the indivdual doing the remembering, I think. The wiki model works when there is some “accepted” body of information that has some standards, checks and balances, “common” knowledge. Bu when it comes to exhibits and exhibitions, I want to know who is saying what, because I value some assessments over others. Does this seem too narrow or exclusive to you?

  3. Andrea Bandelli Says:

    The level of individuality shared in the group is connected to the degree of trust that exists in the group. If members know each other rather well, then the forum model is very appropriate. I think at this stage it’s just perfect. If the group becomes bigger, with new members who are not yet completely confident about “jumping in” (maybe there is a way to measure this by looking at how many “lurkers” vs. contributors are there) we might want to think about other ways to participate. I think it would be nice to offer, at some stage, various degrees of participation. I fully agree with you that it’s important not only what gets said, but also by whom – it’s like creating the context where things get said.

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