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

5 November 2013

Transition #13 - Collecting 'new media art': creating organisational change in museums

Our final speaker of the day is our own Catharina Hendrick (who is pleased that we've all stayed awake!). Today, she will be talking about a small segment of her research, which more broadly focuses on collecting new media art. In this paper, she focuses on organizational change.

What is new media art? For Catharina, there is no single definition and no single term - digital art, plugged in, software art are all terms. The characterists are that they are computable, ephemeral networked, collaborative and interavtive, to name.

Catharina's first example comes from the artists Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, and it came to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston on a USB stick. Called 'The distance travelled through our solar system this year and all the barrels of oil remaining', it consists of two wall projections updated continually from the Internet, which display each of these figures.

The Harris Museum is an old and diverse collection - archaeology, ceramics, fine arts, local history and scent bottles all make an appearance. Looking at this museum provokes though about collaborative practice - to get other professionals involved in all parts of the exhibition process. New media art has a subtle effect on collaborative work, which has to function both inside the museum - between curatorial departments - and outside the museum - with creative arts organizations and the like.

The Harris and an arts organization, folly, set up a call for artists working in new media forms in order that they might produce an exhibition of new art and collect some of the pieces. To chose the final pieces to be exhibited, they brought in the museums technologist to give his opinion - internal collaboration. The panel convened to chose the piece to be collected was made up of a combination of people; collections, technologists, art historians. The Thompson and Craighead was finally selected, but there were problems in its production - including the firewall put in place by the council.

What were the results? The voice and intentions of the artists were given much more authority in the display and, interestingly, in the works. They had to talk about the futureproofing of the object, how it would be conserved and documented. They had to consider how it would be made visible and accessible to visitors - how would museum staff talk about the work in order to make visitors not familiar with new media art understand?

The focus on collaboration is clear and crucial. The result was public benefit, and an enriched museum, with a wide knowledge and skills network. New media art challenges established processes; and this must be acknowledged and dealt with.

There was an incentive to build a collections policy for new media art - for which they gained funding. The Harris now actively commission work, and support new artists in the local area. They work with the university in Preston to assist fine arts and contemporary arts students and produce conferences. This is all evidence of collaboration; and this will continue to grow.

Within the museum, there was much internal collaboration. The connection between the museum and artist is something the Harris certainly want to keep; what happens, for instance, when the barrels of oil run out - does the artwork die? Decision making processes have to change within the museum to engage with new media art, and the profile of the museum to secure audiences and funding is significantly affected by a collaborative approach. Outside the museum, however, contacts are gained with arts organizations, conferences, knowledge sharing, and collaborative choice in decision-making.

New media changes us; this is known. How it will change us, however, is a known unknown, and I for one, am interested to see the subtle and small changes that will occur within museums and society as a whole. Let us hope that the Harris keeps collecting.

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