The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

30 March 2011

Hop the Twenty Second - Heavy Metal and Yet More Brum!

Rob Horrock and Jez Collins, From Trousers to Tickets - Finding New Spaces and Places to Exhibit Popular Museum Culture

The display of music is particularly difficult, as my friends on the Attic have already discussed. In 'The Beat Goes On,' at the National Museums Liverpool, the value of exhibiting popular music culture was shown, for it re-engaged with those younger, perhaps non-traditional audiences. It also afforded the visitors an opportunity to engage with non-iconic objects. In Liverpool, most of the exhibits were loaned, and have now returned to their owner. How, then, do you display a collection so impermanent and ephemeral? The Experience Museum Project and the Science Fiction Museum is dedicated to the exploration of creativity and exploration in popular music through interactives, memorabilia, and sound. However, just having a collection or a temporary exhibition, doesn't always work. Very often, we need tangible items, and these are often used to tell iconic, 'traditional' narratives, rather than the experience of the audiences which surround them, and the social contexts which exist between them.

Do online exhibitions, collections, interpretations, have the ability to fill in this lacunae? The Manchester District Music Archive, which allows 'collectors' of music to upload their music and items to the website, is a prime example of a positive answer. It suggests the idea that individuals themselves, can be seen as museums, and the social creation of museums can be evidenced in the Crown Pub Punks fanpage on Facebook. The community fill in the blanks which exist in the academic understanding and knowledge of this time and place. The online space becomes a space of memory and polyvocality, a space for the engagement with cultural heritage.

The preservation activities of the museum and the online archive offer very different possibilities. Whilst museums, perhaps, tend to host the iconic, the website can curate the mundane. It's difficult, however, in terms of collection, for the variety of media formats and the quantity of material which may well be generated by such a call for papers as the Manchester Project shows throws up all manner of artefacts with all their positives and inherent difficulties. Shaping these collections into some kind of cohesive whole which it is possible to exhibit it in a digital realm is also something of an issue.

How can - or can - online museum archives and fans work together with museums and technologists to create new audiences, understandings, technologies and modes of interpretation? How can museums use online archives to expand their boundaries? Can we reach audiences through these archives, and through this draw them into the space to immerse themselves within the physical world. Can projects such as the Home of Metal allow the audience and museum to re-engage, to give a home to counter-culture and the ephemeral, the emotion of the fan? Does the popularity of the music determine its visibility in the museum space now, and can projects such as this give a cultural value to that less often exhibited? And can they deal with the difficult media formats which music, and other forms of non-plastic, mutable arts and productions, result in, thus expanding the boundary of what the museum object might be?

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