How do we use ‘time passing’ as a conceptual tool for web development? Can we create and present digital objects that have reciprocal aesthetic relationships with their material counterparts? How do we enact our journeys of curiosity when experiencing an exhibition digitally, or physically? These are just three questions that arose from Central Saint Martins’ recent workshop exploring digital-materiality with the Wellcome Trust.
Many museums digitise their entire collections, as well as the specific objects on display in an exhibition. As such, a material-digital relationship between the objects forms and extends beyond the physical domain of the museum. Shortly, Wellcome’s highly acclaimed Souzou exhibition will close, its physical presence rendered as a digital trace. So it is timely to start reflecting upon the rich conversations between CSM’s postgraduate students, Danny Birchall and myself – we were investigating digital-material relationships in a museums and gallery context.
Having spent time in the exhibition, the physical objects on display were described as intense, inspiring and impressive by many students. The materiality of the artefacts, the perceived connections to the artists through their work, and the sense and appreciation that artists were “working life out through making”, are some ways through which students engaged with the show. When discussing the digital objects, however, there was a significant difference – largely the digital representations were seen as having a flattening effect on their sensory and emotive connections.
Following this, notions of digital/sensory associations were discussed. It was thought that the intended relationship between the digital objects and media, and the material objects was complementary – with the material objects in the museum setting conferred a higher status. It was also apparent that for CSM’s students, the digital reproductions were not “evoking the magic” of the material artefacts, and in fact there was a pervading sense of disappointment regarding the digital objects (not so the digital media such as text and video documentaries).
Digital teasers, or, digital spoilers?
So, what if the digital-material relationship was revised such that the digital objects were interpretations or reflections of their material counterpart? How can the unique properties of the digital realm be explored in order to present the material or affective essence of the physical form? Hence we are no longer looking to digitally reproduce a vessel or a print. At this point we are exploring materiality as a repertoire of affective and effective properties and qualities; we are crafting afresh, using aspects of this repertoire to do so within a digital setting; and we are re-presenting or reinterpreting digital-material synthesis. It might be useful to look at, and think about, the breathtaking work of Jane Harris before moving on.
Some more themes arising from our workshop yet to be explored:
- Repetition: eg. process, “uniformity and difference”;
- Reflections: eg. digital culture investigated and used as interpretive tool;
- Curious performance: how visitors enact their curiosity physically and digitally;
- Social experience: translating the “strong aftertaste and impression” of a show to the digital domain;
- Materiality and digital-ity: what does this mean in the museums and galleries setting?
- Expanding and “impanding”: a useful conceptual tool, or a simple linguistic error?
This post acts as a marker, and along with expansions of the above list etc, will help to inform the questions I seek to address next year. Thanks again to the MA students from Textile Futures and Innovation Management for helping me on my wander.