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09.00  Reflecting the "Other": Digital Museum Installations as Sites of Dialogue

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9:00, Dimanche 5 Juin 2016 (30 minutes)

Liz Ševčenko in “The Dialogic Museum Revisited” (2011) concludes that digital media may become the platforms for dialogue around sensitive/difficult topics and she suggests that “this is the future form museums will have to take on—a provocative remix of the real and the digital.” This paper will explore the opportunities and the challenges that arise from the use of digital media in heritage and museum settings to facilitate and/or engender dialogue around sensitive topics. It will particularly raise questions around the role of digital installations in encouraging museum visitors to consider “otherness” within their own selves, as a way of setting the scene for conversations and dialogue. In this respect, the paper aligns with contemporary thinking and museum practice in the use of dialogue in museums to “humanize” the “other.” It further expands this thinking by considering how interactional aspects of digital installations, especially ambiguity, surprise, and curiosity, may shape museum visitors’ encounter with “otherness.”  

The paper will initially reflect on in-gallery practices around dialogue. It will ask the questions: How is dialogue understood as part of the exhibition space and how do ideas around participatory culture shape our understanding(s) of dialogue between museum staff, visitors, and oneself? In this context it draws on examples of current in-gallery dialogic practices such as the interpretive approach of “human libraries” and artistic interventions such as Tino Sehgal’s “This progress.”  

Subsequently the paper will examine theoretical articulations of dialogue with the view of establishing a useful vocabulary for in-gallery dialogic practices that are relevant to in-galley digital installations. It particularly explores two complementary notions associated with dialogue: the dialogue with oneself “as a starting point for having any encounter with the other”; and the dialogic principle of responsiveness, which connects dialogue firmly with meaning-making processes and the potential for transformation of one’s own position through talk and encounters with museum content.  

The paper will discuss the above ideas drawing on the design process and the visitor experiences of a digital media installation in the permanent exhibition “Destination Tyneside,” in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. The installation combines the use of archival records and photographs, related to migration in the UK, and responsive mirror and screen-based technology to surprise and challenge visitors’ own assumptions around historic and contemporary migration in the region. Through the use of “calm technology” it particularly aims to create a reflective space that respects the complexity of multiple narratives around the experience of migration by drawing connections (both historical and contemporary) and by encouraging people to “see something different in the familiar.” 

The paper will conclude that the use of digital media applications within exhibition settings to support dialogue around sensitive topics is challenging, both in terms of its interpretive intent and its interactional affordances. It also will reflect on the value of digital installations in disrupting museum and visitor narratives by introducing and managing ambiguity in museum encounters. Furthermore, the paper calls for a more nuanced understanding of ways and methods of capturing and understanding the impact of digital museum dialogues on visitor experience.  
The paper contributes to the discourse and practice-based knowledge around “heritage-making” by exploring the role of in-gallery digitally enabled and mediated dialogues in facilitating fluid heritage-making processes.

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