Review of Museum and Archive on the Move: Changing Cultural Institutions in Digital Era | Leonardo/ISAST

Review of Museum and Archive on the Move: Changing Cultural Institutions in Digital Era

Museum and Archive on the Move: Changing Cultural Institutions in Digital Era
by Oliver Grau, Wendy Coones and Viola Rühse, Editors

Walter De Gruyter, Berlin, Germany, 2017
316 pp. 39,95 €
ISBN: 978-3-11-052051-4

Reviewed by: 
Ana Peraica
December 2017

Since Douglas Crimp's canonical book, On the Museum's Ruins, a discourse contrasting two different cultures has arisen. These are ones of the museum and one of the archives, commonly distinguished on the level of exclusivity and inclusivity, and are one of the centres of debates in humanist studies of collections. Museum and Archive on the Move, edited a team of recognized Media Art History scholars from the University of Danube––Oliver Grau, Wendy Coones and Viola Rühse––published by Walter De Gruyter, is a new reading of this area. This volume, in overlapping fields of museum and archive studies, introduces emerging questions of media art in terms of its rare and very often unsuccessful preservation. Eminent media theorists, including Sean Cubitt, Erkki Huhtamo, Ryszard W. Kluszczyński, or curators such as Documenta XI curator Okwui Enwezor and Transmediale director Andreas Broeckmann, contribute to this crucial theme.

The introductory essay (by Jorge Wagensberg) overviews the theme of a museum of art and science, followed by Viola Rühse's essay pointing to the digital collection of Rijksmuseum whose decade-long restoration saw the opportunity to rise a large online digital collection. Dieter Bogner's text focuses on museum planning and exhibition dynamics, usually not visible from common museum discourse, starting with narratology and audience [reception] theories. Goner uncovers various factors, often not taken into account by architects, such as ventilation, the position of speakers, size of the area behind interface, etc. Erkki Huhtamo, from the position of “exhibition anthropology,” is pointing to the growing need, but also consequences of, interactive material in museums, in which a sense of touch is questioned, arriving to the interesting concept of “tactiloclasm”. To counter this, Huhtamo is advocating “tactical transgression.” Besides the touch prohibition inside the museum, he is also analysing the expansion of museum via different apps (as Museum of London's Streetmuseum) in mixed reality, and their role as cultural industries in shaping quality of visitor experience. Ryszard W. Kluszczyński analyses the position of linear (narrative) and non-linear (interactive) art in contemporary museum displays. Since the “process of videofication” in the 70s and interaction in contemporary age, masking differences in cinema (and creating something as museum/cinema), where the difference from expanded cinema to interactive film seems to be illustrative of the second shift. Kluszczyński also provides definitions and conceptual criteria for mapping/analysing different types of interactive films. Next is Digital Art’s Complex Expression and Its Impact on Archives and Humanities, by one of three editors of this reader, Oliver Grau. Grau warns on the total loss of media art due to fast technological and media changes and a lack of interest of museum context, offering the solution in databases and platforms that serve for preserving information on such art (such as Archive of Digital Arts - ADA expanded in Interactive Archive and Meta-Thesaurus for Media Art Research – AT.MAR), Youngjin Lee continues with archive and research practice in Asia, while Okwui Enwezor focuses on Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art. Enwezor analyses African a-museum positions, being outside of the discourse of the museum at all (not anti as - being opposed to, but rather – being completely outside of the discourse). This enforces the idea of archives that better describes non-narrative cultures, based on dynamic/oral, rather than fixed written histories. Wendy Coones' essay on scientific and non-scientific approach to Mars (including different archives) functions as reductio ad absurdum of museum logic shaken already by previous essays, showing how any data collection (as Mars, in this case study) can behave as a museum, providing different objects and information for interpretation.

The second section, of the archive, starts with Sean Cubitt's approach to archival ethics (clear in the selection of what to preserve and which materials are preserved. Christine Paul provides a comprehensive overview of media art and its archivisation, with a case study in Douglas Davis’ The World’s First Collaborative Sentence (1994), unrolling key issues of the preservation of the work in details, followed by practical solutions. Morten Søndergaard elaborates on Media Art Platform (MAP) group, working from 2004 - 2008, while Sarah Kenderdine and Jeffrey Shaw focus on conservation of immaterial heritage on UNESCO WH list. Their approach centers on terms of recording performance, enabling future re-enactment, as video recording, motion recording, 3D theatre et al. Andreas Broeckmann writes on the famous show by Francois Lyotard staged at Centre Pompidou in 1985, Les Immatériaux, little of which is preserved by today. The last three articles conclude the book by writing on themes like the loss of digital heritage. Harald Kraemer writes on CD-ROMs and Flash works, whereas Lev Manovich writes on large digitisation projects as Europeana, distinguishing museums from libraries, being different according to the idea of cultural sample, being a pattern chosen to represent certain culture. The last text, by Lutz Engelke / Anja Osswald, approaches narrative and symbolic elements of the library, focusing on the project Wetregal. Museum and Archive on the Move points to important problems media artworks have regarding musealisation and archiving processes. The reader maps important parameters for the entrance of time-based (but also time-consuming) arts as well as interactive arts in physical media collections, as well as the purpose and use of large digital collections. Other issues include the strictness of the exhibition narrative and its individual approach possibilities, controlling (and monitoring) of curious visitors, paradoxes of exhibiting interactive art together with non-touchable art. But it does not stay on merely mapping the problems. The reader proposes platforms and solutions, so it is a practical compendium pointing to common QR and RFID tourist guiding, as well as enlisting many of platforms and databases useful to curators and museologists. Surely an ultimate source for the topic of media art musealisation and archivisation, as its best-known theorists and curators, this book will find place in university libraries, being a good compendium of topics for students in art history as well as in museology, but also in museums, where this critical knowledge is more than critical in practice.