Thursday, November 18, 2010

Curatorial Studies Class Update: Project 4a

The focus of the final third of the Curatorial Studies class has centered on Janet Marstine's New Museum Theory and Practice book (image of cover, at right). We've read chapters devoted to agendas and architecture as well as virtual settings and visitor experiences. While students have read the chapters in the book and prepared written responses of them, we've additionally been able to discuss the content by engaging it directly: through projects that we've managed in class and those that are currently underway.

One of these projects, identified as project 4, consists of two parts: interviews and oral histories. For the first part (what we call Project 4a) students were asked to interview four current GC students, in person or via email or other means, about the Christian mission of the college. Each student in the class gave no introduction to the questions to be asked and, as a means of reportage, either wrote out answers exactly (as in a transcript) or summarized, paraphrased, and/or cited critical passages from the interview and discussion as part of a report of this project. There are several insightful comments made by the interviewees as well as keen observations made by the interviewers.

Students were given one week to complete the interviews. The responses from the students and the interviewers' take on them (as well as complexities of this assignment and the practical aspects) were discussed in class. And, for two weeks, in the midst of working on other projects, we discussed what we might do with the responses that we've collected. What should we do with this information? There was never a promise or, even, obligation to the respondents as to how the material might be consulted, reflected upon, or shared. (Incidentally, I should note that the interviewees were permitted to remain anonymous or to have their identity revealed.)

Last Friday, November 12, the class decided to offer an opportunity for others to help us decide what to do with the material. Do we report on it in some way, given that similar conversations are being had across campus among faculty and staff? Do we "curate" these interviews? And, if so, how and to what ends? Or, as with many projects, do we learn from the experience and build upon this skill for our next project, that is, the Oral History project (Project 4b)? If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know and I will share these with the class.

One suggestion was to bring some of the content from this experience onto the pages of this blog and ask readers for advice; hence, this post. But, should we extend that suggestion further of and disclose details of Project 4a here? If so, why? Or, why not? If we consider this blog to be a "virtual reality" space, such as an online archive of our department, how does a post impact the possibility and authenticity of that material? Relatedly, in her discussion of web galleries as companions to or substitutes for actual galleries, Lianne McTavish has acknowledged, "virtual reality galleries represent museums that are not neutral spaces, fading into the background while viewers have immediate experiences of art works" (p. 231). Does a post about a conversation prevent further investigation of it? Or, does a post encourage and foster further engagement, on a personal level? To what extent could posting questions and responses on a blog, managed by an academic department, privilege the content in some way? McTavish further questions what happens "when everyday people begin to produce the content of virtual museums, appropriating the roles of curator and even museum director" (p. 227). A virtual museum, just as a traditional museum, is not neutral, neither is a blog or other Web 2.0 technology. Our GCVA blog welcomes visitor and reader input through the comment feature offered beneath most posts. Does that make a person an "author"? Yes, simply because they have contributed an idea in a written format. What kind of author are they? What else does the nomenclature or title of "author" imply? Consider that at any given time, readers can post a comment on about any title on view in their gallery of books to purchase (essentially "reviewing" a book). But is that what "reviewing a book" actually means? Historically, no. Now? Perhaps.

While there seems to be no clear articulation of what to do with the quantitative and qualitative data that Curatorial Studies students have gathered, there is much to be learned from this kind of work. It seems that museums, virtual realities, and Web 2.0 deny neutrality, as do the Project 4a interviews and the educational institutions where such work is done. Perhaps, in the case of Project 4a, a critique of our individual take on the college's mission and a sampling of opinions from our larger community as to the institution's mission may serve to bring new light to the current state of our institution and our past, present, and future framing of it.

PS: Be on the lookout for our final project, Project 4b Oral History, which will premier on Friday, December 3 at 1:00pm. All are invited to watch and listen to the students' oral history interviews.


Mexifem said...

I think you should definitely make your finding available. I think there are a lot of people on campus who would be really interested in reading them- I certainly would.

I can offer one option for the students to maybe think about- if they wanted to design a full-page In-Design spread for The Georgetonian, we might be able to run it as a special Features section.

If you're interested, let me know.

Earl Grey said...

Thank you for this suggestion. I'll share it w/ the class.