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

5 November 2013

Transmutation #12 - Tate in transition: discussing the dynamics of digital

Ioanna Zouli is a PhD Student, working collaboratively with London Southbank University and the Tate. She looks at digital in general, and its situation in a large institution. Her title comes from that of Hilde Hein's The Museum in Transition, and in this paper she wishes to look at digital from the perspective of an embedded researcher.

Cultural institutions, she says, are increasingly embedding digital into their work. It is so crucial for modern social life, and it is crucial that museums adapt to and try to understand this technological change. She uses two examples recently run by the Tate, to show digital as a vehicle to metamorphosis and affective media.

Tate's website was first launched in 1998, to fulfil their aims of making art accessible. The first transformation was the relaunch of their website in 2002 - today, it is the second most popular arts website in the UK. But there is a section on there entitled 'Digital' - where visitors can interact through social media and watch Podcasts, amongst other things; a very different kind of digital world.

In their recent publication Digital Transformations, Tate seeks to establish a culture which has digital embedded throughout it, where the digital is natural. They beleive that it can revolutionise practice in a variety of different ways.

In 2010, John Stack argued that 'Participation is not about just functionality, it is about ethos.' Etymologically, ethos is the characteristic spirit of a culture, or era. He authored Tates Digital Strategy for the future - subtitled 'Digital as a Dimension of Everything'.

Tate's online presence has moved rapidly from a transmissive digital 'magazine' to a diaglogic, participatory, multi-platform world, filled with engaging, rich and productive content. Bloomberg Connects is a perfect example of this.

But how can we, as curators and museum makers, use digital to reach out to people who are becoming more and more attached to their online lives? Can we see the internet, as suggested in a recent edition of The Exhibitionist, as the new Lower East Side - a seething, difficult to penetrate mass, filled with its own collective languages and culture, and welcoming in its own way.

In order to understand the digital discourse, we need to embrace the complexities of the museum as a multiplatform institution, and the complexities of the outside world, both intense and welcoming at the same time. Zouli compares this with the analogue museum; the differences are marked. For me, this recalls a discussion we had following Jane Nielsen's presentation.

Adopting digital, we offer new invitations for participation. But how quick will, and should the museum adopt these changes. We need not think, either, that the curatorial role will diminish - the museum still has a significant role. The analogue sees the museum as a known, contained, finite thing. The digital is virtual, networked, unpredictable. Some of these features are difficult; we depend on the digital revolution, but perhaps we still need to filter it through the certainties of the analogue.

But sometime, in the future, might museums choose to embrace chaos?

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