Recently I’ve been working on a project called QRator. From this I’ve been thinking alot about digital storytelling, meaning making and whether digital technology, specifically iPad’s, can enhance museum experience and visitor engagement.
One thing I found really interesting is how conventional museum labels only allow for one way communication. They don’t discuss anything with the visitor, not really. Even if labels do ask questions or aim to provoke a response, there is no actual way for the visitor to feedback directly to that question or object. Labels also don’t display the amount of work that has gone into creating one tiny label. I’ve been involved in creating museum labels and interpretation before, as well as creating content for museum websites. But I hadn’t really thought about how little of that is displayed in the final piece.
One of the objects we are using for QRator testing is a cast taken by Flinders Petrie. Which has been titled Who is the man from Mitanni? It has been fascinating to read all the research which Debbie over at the Petrie Museum has done and the difficulties presented in trying to discover the true identity and object biographies of artefacts. You can read her blog post about it over on the UCL Museums blog (yes it’s a new blog and they are actually blogging proper interesting stuff! like ambiguous boxes and poisoning cats). It was also quite sad in a way to have to reduce her research from 5 pages down to one paragraph, and having to miss out the discussions included in the text with comments from the Petrie’s curator, who used the term repugnant at one stage. Love it! Why don’t we show this to the visitors? I for one would be really interested in hearing about all the research and all the discussions and conversations that exist around a single object. Perhaps that’s just me. I know labels have to be succinct and clear and condensed because of course nobody wants reams and reams of text scrawled all over the walls. But what if you want to know more, what about multiple interpretations? How do you deal with them? Is digital Media the answer?
As part of QRator we are asking visitors to leave their own thoughts and comments on objects, which can be challenging to do seamlessly within museum spaces through conventional labels. So for example, Who is the man from Mitanni? Has its own online presence over on Tales of Things. You can add your comments on the questions Debbie raised or and very excitedly we will be using an Ipad in situ right next to the cast, in the Petrie Museum from the 16th Feb, utilising our nifty QRator app to add your own interpretation.
But what I really want to know is if digital storytelling and digital tech can enable visitors to reflect and create their own meaning of objects, is it possible to use them to display the inhouse curatorial disputes over interpretation? And should it?