Wibbly wobbly people

What’s great about the Christmas season, is that I get to go home! Back up North to Newcastle! I love it here.  I mean I do love being back in London, mostly because there is so much to see and to do, but back home is brilliant. Today we went off to south shields. And boy was it bracing. Blooming freezing! But it was lovely to be there and spend some quality time promenading along the sea front and taking some pictures of the wibbly wobbly people!

Otherwise known as Conversation Piece (1996) by Juan Muñoz. I believe this to be an absolutely outstanding sculpture; it is in such a stunning setting and it allows the viewer to interact with the sculpture and the environment around about. Also there is no pomp and circumstance about it, you just stumble across the sculpture, interact and then go about your business, mostly at this time of the year dog walkers and mad fools like myself who head out to the beach whatever the weather. Also South Shields is a breathtaking beach in the winter.

Conversation Piece involves 22 bronze sculptures positioned in different poses. Some appear to be deep in conversation, whilst others look out towards the sea, one is even checking the time his/hers/its watch.

The Spanish artist Juan Muñoz (1953-2001) sculptures are well known for placing the human form in specific architectural environments. He had an immense power to create tension between the illusory and the real, the contrasting acts of looking and receiving, and the poignant isolation of the individual amongst a crowd (source Tate Modern A Retrospective). This is very apparent in South Shields.  When some of the figures huddle together, today especially it seemed like they were huddling together to combat the cold, whereas other figures were isolated from the group, looking out to the foreboding sea.  Great stuff!

The everyday web- social, situated and sensory: situated


This is a section of the conference that everyone got excited about, but due to my un techy ways a lot of this went over my head, but the ideas looked very exciting. It’s an interesting idea to look at how you experience things based on where you are. However due to a lack of understanding i don’t think my notes are very good. But here goes…

(for more useful notes about this bit, check out the very clever Jeremy Ottevanger’s blog)

Paul Golding – Situational web
celluar networks inherently track location using Cell ID’s, however there are location inaccuracies.

There are a number of proximity services:

  • RFID
  • Barcode scanners
  • QR codes
  • Wifi
  • Bluetooth
  • Computer vision

iphone 3GS has GPS built in, therefore it is easier to gain more accurate location information.
by 2015 80% of population will have a smartphone, making Conversation via place and located media  an interesting concept for museums to utilise.
Andy Ramsden: QR codes


using QR codes to reduce barriers for a person accessing information on their mobile device – efficiently and effectively connecting the physical and electronic materials.

University of Bath library using QR codes an interesting example, a constructivist approach to learning, students becoming more involved in the process. also Sheffield archaeology department connecting the physical and the virtual with interesting learning materials.  Should museums utilise QR codes as guided tours?

Are students aware of QR codes? 40% know what a QR code is, 9.4% have access a QR code there is a pick up in awareness of this technology.  In Japan the percentage is much higher, 84% have scanned a QR code, and 63% have the tech to install a QR reader.

Mike Ellis: real world virtual experience

We don’t live in a virtual space, we live in a real one. ‘everyware’ means looking at content in a digital/real way?

Convergence of tech is making more things doable, examples of some cool stuff:

  • tikitag
  • Ambient umbrellas change colour when it is about to rain in the vicinity.
  • Wikitude
  • layar

The everyday web- social, situated and sensory:social

on Wednesday was the annual Museums computer group – ukmw09 conference, held at the V&A, it was a fantastic day, i came away brimming with ideas, and it provided another opportunity to meet some twitter people in real life, slightly disconcerting at times (sitting next to DSalmon and both of us knowing each others sirnames from our twitter ID’s before fully introducing ourselves – great to meet you in person David).  I took too many notes, and tweeted a lot of the interesting stuff along the way, but here are my unedited notes from the sessions.  I will hopefully do a blog post on each and then do a round up of what i thought about it all and how i shall be planning on taking some of the ideas forward – out of the conference into  the fire…

First Up: Social

Why social? Fed up of listening around twitter and facebook… ephemeral and superficial. But there is a bigger issues that can be discussed. Re contextualising our  culture. Learning from the past to help towards the future. Social is serious. Social tools are very young. Like playdough, can be shaped in new ways because its powered by people. The museum sector has a big contribution to make to the shaping.

British museum and the BBC

Matthew Cock (British Museum) & Andrew Caspari (BBC)

A history of the world  in 100 objects on radio 4. Neil Macgregor presents. Describe and understand how cultures around the world developed, rather than the Eurocentric word view. Jan 18th 2010.

Public service partnership 2010-2012. 100objects covering 2 million years of history.

100 episode Radio 4 series, involving 350 museums, local radio stations, website, Cbbc programmes (relic guardians of the museum… cool name!), plus 100 objects from BM. Using radio as a medium rather than TV for speed, as TV would cost even more time and money, and all they would have is a posh shot of people wearing sandles on exotic locations, rather than a coherent and inspiring story.  Therefore the 100 objects focus is the story rather than visualisations of the object and its context . Big opportunity for a social site and engagement.

It becomes a digital project when the museum community and the rest of the bbc try to extend the project to be more then a radio 4 programme. Take 13 of the objects/radio programme episodes to a  make a childrens programme. Bringing the idea of how objects tell history to a new younger demographic.

500 objects from around the uk, regional museums have buddied up – how does objects show regional importance.  350 museum partners. National and regional radio stations also involved. This instantly reminded me of culture shocks, (I wonder if this involved in the project-if it isn’t it should be) UGC upload objects that tell stories behind the history of the region and how that effects world history.

Create a national conversation about the history of the world. A unique opportunity. Forging partnerships, participation, new audiences for digital museums and history featured pan platform, social media and syndications creating a permanent and enduring online collection.

Being able to travel through objects and travel through time on the website.

Each object has its own page on the website. The primary priority is the ability to listen to the radio 4 programme whilst looking at the specific images.  There will be video, some with 3D for visualisations, related objects, other contributions, comments, public comments. Curators being available  to comment after each broadcast

Cross web searching… bbc website and BM website. Same in regional bbc sites. Spread beyond the nationals.

“Anybody anywhere can upload history.” This is such an open, engaging, inspiring way to open up history to everyone, I love this idea.

Not authenticated people objects – moderation.

Blog – a crucial way to expose the conversation.

Denise Drake – summer university Tower Hamlets

Staying social online- started as a anti-crime initiative. Free summer courses, 127 course, and 2,205course places.

Spotlight – summer uni in all 32 london boroughs commissioned in 2006.

Denise manages 13 active social network sites. Facebook, flickr, myspace, twitter and you tube, as well as tumbler blogs.  Negative comment on facebook – needs to be dealt with appropriately. Need to make this a better experience for people. Ground rules – dos and donts. Working with young people online leads to a lot of issues with child protection.  There is a rule to not add under 18s as a ‘friend’, you have to be careful using images, and ensure online privacy. Young people love being online and seeing themselves online they are uninhibited digital natives.

Web team of 1! It absolutely outstanding work for only one person to do!

Denise uses the following things to keep up to date with what is happening in social media:

e-MINT, facebook developers pages, mashable, twitter keeping up with resources.

However it is problematic working with local authorities. Only  2 of the 32 summer unis, due to local authority access  can actually physically access social media sites – this inevitably squishes a key potential connection to young people.  If you can not connect with young people on their terms how are you meant to understand and interact to the best of your ability?

The Tower Hamlet initiative is facing a new challenge: New brand and new name for 2010:  futureversity. Where things can happen.

Social media re branding causing difficulties. How do you bring your fans/friends/followers to the new branded image?

Nadia Arbach  (V&A)Wikipedia loves art…

User generated collaborative campaign, a way of generating images for WikiPedia in order to update articles with those images.  All happened in February 2009. 16 museums took part, mostly in USA, the V&A was the only UK participant. In 2010 the V&A will lead a proper UK project, Britain loves Wikipedia

The campaign utilised facebook and flickr. As well as twitter as a communication medium.

Photography guidelines change according to institution, and a Creative Commons licence required for all contributions

Thematic photograph lists, for example as it was held in February one of the themes was valentines: lots of interesting interpretations of that came back from some of the images.

Apart from adding a lot of photos for use on Wikipedia and by the museums, Nadia found there were a lot of areas in the museums (and a lot of objects too) which she had either forgotten or maybe never previously discovered. Great way for all to get engaged with art.

are all old objects swimming with the microfiches?


Now im not old by any stretch of the imagination. But today I was made to feel incredibly incredibly old. Why? Well because I was one of only 3 people in a lecture hall full (actually full- not one spare seat and people were even sitting on the stairs) who had actually used let alone heard of a microfiche. That’s outrageous. As some of you may be aware if you follow me on twitter, I started a new job last week. I’m now a researcher type person at UCL, in the Department of Information Studies. I’m currently doing some work on how academic communities use twitter but that’s another story. The great part about my job is that if I don’t understand something (which is happening quite often- info studies… is quite far removed from archaeology and museumy things, there’s a lot of lingo that I need to pick up and consolidate quite quickly), there is most likely a lecture about it. Yay! So off I went to the first electronic publishing lecture of the year. Now this is a Masters lecture, I’m only a few years older than the students in this class. In fact I did my Masters at UCL in 2006, so I know how they are feeling. But by gum. I wasn’t expecting to outdate them by like a century!

That aside it was a very interesting lecture. The historical development of electronic publishing was discussed. I hadn’t really thought of electronic publishing at all. ever. Even though I use it every day and have used it for a very long time. You tend not to think about the general things that you take for granted and use on a daily basis. The fact that these everyday objects develop and then decline has really passed me by. But when you think about it, we as a culture, are obsessed with technological upgrades. So from microfiche and microfilm to floppy disc, to CD to a memory stick and now bypassing that all together the cloud.

But when these objects are superseded by another, is it really a decline into Obsolescence (vocab points for me)? There’s a lot of hype about the Electric Revolution. Things may have been superseded by, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger equipment/applications/things but some are making a come back! The Polaroid for example http://www.the-impossible-project.com/ is it just nostalgia? Or are the things that were once forgotten, coming back round again, just like fashion.

Do we need to be instantly-gratified? Do we have to be immersed in digital culture? What’s wrong with a tape deck, a corded phone, and a book? I for one am going to hunt out my ghetto blaster, put on my run dmc shelltoes and take my photo, and then wait for the film to be jolly well developed.

(image from http://mechanicrobotic.wordpress.com/)

Marks and Sparks:the clothes, the food…the exhibition?

AM&S tannoy announcement in Marks and Spencer pricked my ears last week ‘Marks in Time, It’s your heritage’.  I think that’s fantastic.  I’ve grown up with Marks and Sparks, it’s always been there, and i trust it.  My I even worked there a long time ago.   What I found interesting is that they have made a really big deal of their 125year anniversary. And it seems the public have embraced it too.  And now there’s an exhibition. It aims to celebrate the role M&S has played in British cultural history from the beginning and looking towards what M&S will have to offer in the future.  And there’s a website!! Full of lovely images and interesting facts, for example Marks and Spencer’s employees in 1941 raised £5000 to buy a spitfire for the war effort. I like it. Its nice to think that shops like Marks and Spencer realise they do play a large role in people’s lives and it has a responsibility to share its archives and its history with the public. Well done M&S!

Details of how to visit the exhibition can be found here

whose heritage?

terry_cavner_tyne_bridge_470x297I’ve been back in Newcastle for a few weeks, whilst i sort out my London living and working arrangements.  I’m immensely proud of where i come from, and it is always i fantastic feeling crossing over the Tyne bridge, i know I’m home. To me the Tyne is a major part of my heritage. However I watched a rather thought provoking programme this week called saving Britain’s past. This particular episode was about Covent Garden market.  The neighbourhood surrounding Covent Garden, the ones who lived, worked and breathed Covent Garden had a fight on their hands.  The government in the 70s had scheduled the Market to be rehoused and Covent Garden to be demolished. A shocking tale when you think about how iconic Covent Garden is to London now, and how many thousands of tourists go to visit it every day. The outcome of the fight, unsurprisingly, was that the locals saved Covent Garden. But the irony is that it’s not their Covent Garden anymore. They feel excluded, and that loving sense of community that was once thriving, no longer exists. There is no camaraderie there, what remains is sadness.

Today’s Covent Garden is not their heritage, it’s not what they fought so hard to save, yet it is ‘our’ heritage, Britain’s heritage, part of Britain’s past. But is that the point? By saving the building, yes the building is saved, but what about the people, the way of life, the community? Is that not the heritage that we should be trying to save? Is it just one or the other?   The programme shows how passionately the local community fought for its right to survive and to save its historic buildings, but who now regard their triumph as at best a Pyrrhic Victory.  Would it have been any better if they had just let the developers demolish the site?

It made me think long and hard about what heritage means, and to whom. Its an interesting concept.   ‘Heritage’ normally refers to objects, buildings or places associated with past public and private memories and traditions. But really do Heritage objects represent things we pay attention to because they’re still meaningful to us, not always because they tell us about the past but because we use them to tell stories about ourselves.   So does heritage actually have anything to do with the past? Or is it simply one way we use to make meaning about our lives?

This also links back to Geevor, the ex miners fought long and hard to save Geevor from the scrap man and lovingly turned into into a small scale heritage centre. Then the museum pros came on board, and used the line of ‘protecting their heritage’ to turn Geevor into a full functioning museum.  But who was that for? Was it for the ex miners? Or was it for the 40 thousand tourists who came this year? Who’s heritage is being preserved?

Another example is something i read in the Evening Chronicle, the local newspaper in Newcastle about  The Rising Sun Country Park, in North Tyneside. 40yrs ago it was a working pit which at one time employed 1700 coal miners. Its now a park enjoyed by families, dog walkers and cyclists.  A history walk was organised by the Friends of the Rising Sun Country Park, to give walkers a chance to learn more about the regions mining heritage.  All well and good, a valiant attempt. However, the ex miners who had been invited to speak, didn’t turn up. In the end the walk was saved by a chap attending the walk who’s father had worked at the colliery.  What’s interesting is that the miners did not turn up for the event. Why not? To be honest im not really surprised. I doubt i would want to go to the place where i had worked for most of my life, to be reminded that the once thriving industry, no longer exists, and is now a vast expanse of grass lands for people to walk their dogs.  Again it comes down to an interpretation of heritage. The Friends of the park, thought they were helping preserve the heritage of the miners, but really were they just looking for validation that turning an ex colliery into a park was the right thing to do, and not surprisingly the miners weren’t going to support that.  This is just my interpretation of events however (I don’t know all the facts, only what was reported in the newspaper) but i have had a fair share of experience working with miners, and they are very complicated and fiercely proud people. If the idea for a heritage walk didn’t come from within the mining community, then it is unlikely to be supported. Again this comes down to peoples interpretation of heritage. Perhaps heritage isn’t about the past; perhaps It is about meaning making in peoples lives and if its no longer relevant to peoples lives then it is no longer heritage? Hmm….