Invisible Architectures

Posted on March 11, 2015

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Well, the MCN2015 theme has been posted, and I could not be more excited to share it with you:

MCN 2015: The Invisible Architectures of Connected Museums: Making Meaning with People, Collections, and Information
The world continues to move past the simple physical/digital dialectic towards a more nuanced matrix of architectures uniting digital and material culture. For this year’s MCN conference, we seek submissions that expand the museum experience through the marrying of the physical and the digital, the back office and the visitor, the screen and the vitrine. How will we utilize embodied, digitally responsive, and inclusive methods and approaches to build 21st-century literacies with our audiences?

One thing I love about this theme is that it asks us to think critically about the systems, structures, and rules that impact museum work. What are the existing implicit and explicit architectures and systems that dictate how we do our jobs, and impact how people experience the museum on- and offline? And (how) can increased awareness of those architectures enable us to build upon them differently?

Some of the architectures that immediately come to my mind include: our buildings (physical architectures), our organisational charts (procedural or institutional architectures), the systems created by others (funding and political systems; digital networks and social sites like Facebook that have their own rules), and broad cultural architectures. Then there are the less obvious ones, like language. Jean-Francois Noubel, for instance, explores how:

ontology (our language structures that define our relationship to the world) builds our collective self, and how these invisible architectures often maintain the collective entrapped in predictable social structures that self perpetuate via language.

He continues:

One of these (many) old ontological structures can be seen in our habit to use substantive words that express a function, a social status or state, rather than essence… [An example of this is] a user in the software world, rather than a person (shall we say some day a person interface rather than a user interface?).

How does the language we use to address visitors/users/the public change the way we think about them, or our objects? What is the essence, rather than the function of people who visit? I know many people in this sector have had conversations in recent years about what to call the people who come to the museum. Does changing what we call someone who attends the museum also change the way we think about and address them? And does that have any impact on inclusiveness and designing better experiences? We know that museum taxonomies significantly impact how we think about objects; does the same apply to other aspects of museum work?

In 2011, there was an Invisible Architectures festival in the UK, which sought to expose “layers of the city that would otherwise remain imperceptible.” What I’m hoping is that through this theme, MCN2015 will help us expose layers of the museum and museum work that would otherwise remain imperceptible, too.

There is much more in this theme that I love, and I might write a little more about it in coming weeks. The Call for Proposals will come out in early April, but until then, I’d love to talk more about these ideas, the thoughts that surfaced for me at least in the discussions that led to this theme, and how these might shape a super interesting conference.

Let me know what you think. What are some of the architectures (visible or otherwise) that impact your work? Have you made changes to the language you use to describe [users? visitors? other?], and what impact did that have?

Posted in: Conferences, Ideas