Here’s where I set aside my Viking helm and put on the anthropologist’s hat for a bit. I apologize in advance for the diagram sketchs- I’ll be making proper nice looking diagrams once I’m back home for the evening. I have spent time in both the museum and the academic world over the course of my career thus far and it is pretty rare that you see a really strong integration of the two methodologies. In spite of my arguably biased opinion towards this exhibition’s subject whoever had the idea to make a concentrated effort on a variety of fronts had a stroke of genius. Really really well done. Instead of focusing upon delivering a concept focused on an exhibit curators have focused on a hybrid approach that magnifies the impact the content has. Rather than rely on an audience of museum lovers a concerted push is made to gain the interest of the TV audience. In turn this is exploited as a means of conveying the content’s meaning further into an audience that is traditionally seen as less receptive. I honestly think museum studies and museum anthropology programs would do well to closely examine what the curator’s have done with their work here because it changes how we need to consider the wider public beyond the museum doors.
By creating a virtual extension of the physical gallery space and seeking to expand the audience in this manner a change in the traditional exhibition/audience knowledge dynamic can be seen.
In the traditional view an institution’s mission statement and collections are utilized in response to perceived audience market desires and drivers. This drives an exhibition’s idea conception within the institution’s scope. Artifacts and staff expertise are applied to the endeavor with two qualifying vectors on the outcome- budget and funding availability. This is also linked to the amount of exhibition marketing in place. During the course of exhibition fabrication new knowledge may be produced thus lending a reflexive element to the system. The exhibition itself consists of the physical artifact/ art settings, any associated publications and online representation. These are the media utilized to convey the root idea of the exhibition. They interact and coordinate between them. The root concept is forwarded primarily during the event of exhibition attendence. It is an en masse download of information: reception with little influence. Marketing here is often focused on an already museum attending public and specialists.
In this changing world of cultural presentation a more nuanced example exists in the form of Vikings Live at the British Museum. There are two major changes that immediately increase the attending audiences [at least here in the US]. The first is the addition of film. Documentaries access the visual learner element of human populations thus expanding the market. The second addition is social media, which is equally as important to the expansion of audience demographic breadth. Here is the most important change to the entire dynamic- social media allows the audience a greater influence over the exhibition itself during construction and ongoing through the life of the installation in all of its forms. This is a social power increasingly recognized by the audience itself. This changes the information dynamic immediately as audience involvement is directly contributing to the wider body of knowledge in a more consistent fashion. The audience invests more than just time viewing the exhibition resulting in a longer period of interest and receptiveness towards the exhibition concept.
Viking helm back again- Reader, you have no idea how proud I am of my own research field to be at the forefront of this type of change in cultural information dynamics. Really. I hold it in as high esteem as I hold for the pragmatism of the North Atlantic settlement process itself. My ramblings don’t do it justice.