fbpx
Subscribe

Search Museum Next

Rapid Prototyping for Museums

Jérémie McGowan:

Hello everyone, and welcome to this session of MuseumNext Disrupt, on rapid prototyping for museums. My name is Jérémie McGowan, and I’m a designer and change maker based in Tromsø. I’m also the former director of Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, or Northern Norway Art Museum.

Jérémie McGowan:

I’m first going to share with you three examples of work and thinking that I’ve been doing in the museum sector for about the past three years. And then we’re going to segway into the second part of this session, which is going to be a more hands-on experimental type workshop. Where hopefully all of you will start generating new ideas and tentative probes and solutions to different problems, maybe that you’re working with in your museums on a day to day basis. The need to change museums and the need to radically update the way we think about museums, and the way they act and might behave. That work starts with us, and that work starts today.

Jérémie McGowan:

So, the Northern Norway, like most anywhere in the world, is a pretty complex place. There’s different political realities, cultural realities, different cartographies and maps that exist. And one of the main issues in the Northern Norway, is the sort of state indigenous relationship. So, we have this place called the Northern Norway, but it’s also known as Sápmi, which is the word that the Sámi, the indigenous people of this area, use to talk about the land here. So sort of Sami, Norwegian, or state indigenous relationships, are a pretty charged issue here. And something that I very much felt was not necessarily being dealt with, both by the museum I started directing a few years ago, back in 2016, and not being dealt with by the museum sector in general. And of course that opened up to a lot of other issues about representation and exclusion, which are all too familiar for us in particularly the art museum field, but also other museums.

Jérémie McGowan:

In the past three years, we did two sort of total transformation, total makeover projects, and one experiment in public space, that I think are all worth sharing with you guys. And I’m going to talk through those three projects one by one, and try to flag up the sort of key issues that we were working with and how we sort of affected change and transformation. And also, keep you aware of the sort of time aspect there, and this idea of working fluidly, and quickly and on our feet.

Jérémie McGowan:

The first project I want to talk about is called Sámi Dáiddamusea, or Sámi Art Museum. So back in 2017, I had been director at the museum for just a year, max a year. And trying to grapple with these issues of representation of indigenous presence in the museum, or lack of indigenous presence rather, and trying to figure out how these issues could be solved.

Jérémie McGowan:

So with my colleague, Anne May Olli, who’s the director of RiddoDuottarMuseat in Karasjok. So, we hatched this plan of sort of remaking Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, as a completely different art museum, as the non-existence Sámi art museum. And we did this project at sort of lightning speed. So, from initial idea, to final product, it was a maximum of three months of time that transpired. And we managed to completely transform the existing Northern Norway Art Museum into Sámi Art Museum. Complete maker of the facade, the graphic identity, the branding, a robe website, lots of different museum ephemera like buttons and business cards and t-shirts.

Jérémie McGowan:

Social media accounts, these types of things to create the fiction of a museum that unfortunately did not, and still does not exist. So this was a way of testing an idea live, right? Of sort of using a space, an existing space, the museum I was directing, and seeing what can happen if we are bold enough or dare to sort of imagine even that that museum no longer exists and has been replaced by an entirely different institution. Which is of course a quite radical proposition, particularly if we think back now and where we’re sitting now in a world very much effected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jérémie McGowan:

And a lot of museums of course, are struggling to survive or perhaps not surviving at all. But to sort of embrace that idea of non-existence or a future in which maybe this institution that we call Northern Norway Art Museum no longer exists or ceases to exist, perhaps because it really actually wasn’t so relevant for the community it was meant to serve.

Jérémie McGowan:

Another project want to share with you guys is a project that we called, Like Betzy. Like Betzy comes from the name of an artist named Betzy Akersloot-Berg, who’s an historical female landscape and seascape painter. Now Betzy, like many other women in art has been more or less excluded or indeed actively written out of art history, particularly Norwegian art history. Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, we had one image, one painting by Betzy Akersloot-Berg in our collection. And this gave us an interesting starting point to start thinking about, well, how can we start testing or probing working with this issue?

Jérémie McGowan:

A very known issue of exclusion of historical women artists from the art historical cannon. So the idea of doing an exhibition, a major exhibition around Betzy Akersloot-Berg was also an opportunity to start asking pretty tricky questions in a Norwegian Nordic context about gender equality. So the idea of the rapid prototype, or a probe in this case, did not function as sort of a total transformation or a total makeover project, but rather an experiment in what happens when a museum becomes an active agent or activist in public space. So the way we worked with the Betzy project was to sort of hack public space work with existing monuments of men, statues to Norwegian heroes, such as the polar explorer, Roald Amundsen, which was conveniently right outside the door of the museum in a public park. And start remaking, or partly remaking those types of monuments as Betzy or as a sort of version of Betzy by taking some of these historical artefacts that we knew about through archival imagery.

Jérémie McGowan:

So a sort of case, that she went around with and painted in, and sort of building that case around these statues and public space to start sort of creating these, in a sense, ghost images or possible instances of Betzy as the female artists popping up in public space and asking questions then, not only about our museum and the role our museum might play in public space, but also the way fabrics of cities get constructed. What our cities mean for us and who has power to define, to include and exclude.

Jérémie McGowan:

So one other, sort of, rapid prototype we did at Northern Norway Art Museum. It was the second of the total make-over projects, in which we relaunched Northern Norway Art Museum as a museum also for craft or more specifically for craftivism. So Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum became Nordnorsk Kunsthindvenk Museum. And in English that plays out something like Northern Norway Art Museum and Northern Norway Art and Craft Museum. And this was an idea in a sense, maybe building on the other two projects, both the Sami Deida museum project and the Like Betzy project, to start opening up the museum in a more long-term basis, to start including more people, being there for more people, and also breaking down these ideas that we often find in art museums about elitism and privilege and who art is made by and who art is made for and who has access to it. And who has powers to define things about what is art and what is not.

Jérémie McGowan:

So to start rethinking the art museum as a sort of headquarters for craftivism or craftivist projects. So here we had a case of a three week period in which the museum staff, myself included, were instrumental in physically remaking, basically the whole ground floor of the museum, doing a lot of the painting work ourselves, doing a lot of the change, the quite physical change that was happening to convert what had been historically, and for 30 years, more or less, a very traditional conservative art museum gallery spaces into a sort of, vibrant, sort of, pulsing maker space, cafe, open arena for the people of Trumso. So, and it starts then producing spontaneous exhibitions of other people’s work. People are sharing knowledge, sharing techniques for making.

Jérémie McGowan:

So that was three quick examples about how I have used the idea of the rapid prototype to sort of rethink and change Northern Norway Art Museum. Three times within the past three years. Common to all of these projects was a willingness, of course, to rethink in some cases, radically rethink, the institutional mandate, its profile, its identity. And to really work hands-on and actively with changing or attempting to change the core makeup of the museum. And daring to sort of think of a different tomorrow or a different future and a different trajectory for Northern Norway Art Museum

Jérémie McGowan:

So I want to stress that the focus here is on ideas and making change, making transformation happening. So we want to think experimentally, we want to think open-mindedly, and it’s not about sort of skills like drawing and things like this. It’s about the ideas and just how we managed to communicate them very simply.

Jérémie McGowan:

We’ll start off with the first of our four tasks. Task one, and this is going to be what I’m calling an institutional critique marketing campaign. And the whole idea here is to sort of like, identify problems maybe in our institutional backstory, maybe problems that our institutions aren’t addressing in a sense, scream it out loud. Get a setup similar to this, and then start thinking in terms of maybe riffing on top of classic marketing techniques. You can start identifying sort of areas of a facade, for example. And you can be as detailed or as undetailed as you like. Again, that the point is to focus on ideas and to see what sort of possibilities you can identify.

Jérémie McGowan:

So I’m going to try out a slogan here and see what that might look like. I’ve written here, The Art of Norwegianization since 1985. Now what I would encourage all of you guys to do is to come up with as long a list as possible, of different slogans and things and then start testing them out on the facade. So how about you guys go away and do that and see what you come up with and then ideally start sharing it with the rest of the community.

Jérémie McGowan:

So here’s the second of our tasks. And we’re going to be approaching some of the similar issues that we just took up in the first task, but through another lens or through another mode. So this time what you need, I’ve got a big [inaudible 00:13:49] print out, sort of some relevant passages or two paragraphs from the mandate or the statutes for Northern Norway Art Museum. And we’re going to look at like, how can we modify, gently nudge and modify these types of documents, written materials. So not the facade of a building anymore, but the texts and what sort of roles do they play and what sort of museums and visions of museums do these types of documents and texts generate?? What happens if we gently begin decolonizing mandates through hands-on work like this.

Jérémie McGowan:

And we arrive at some of the same things maybe as altering your facade, but it gives us different inroads and different ways of thinking and maybe challenging ourselves to think critically about our institutions. There’s an issue of maybe identifying gaps or absences here. And that we try to reveal these things and include that which is perhaps missing and see what sort of alternative future institution that might generate instead.

Jérémie McGowan:

Just inserting one or two words here or there. Start creating, I would argue, an alternative institutional identity that can maybe start performing a much different role to the role that our museums are playing now at present. So the third of our lethal quick exercises here and rapid prototyping and hacking museums is going to move from focusing on our own institution to an institution of your choosing. I would encourage many of you out there to maybe think at a national level. I’m choosing to look at the National Museum Of Art, Architecture and Design, as well as another cultural institution, the Norwegian Opera and Ballet. And again, with a view to thinking about recreating a remaking institutions. And each of you will have to draw on your own sort of local expertise and knowledge. What makes sense for the place you are in the world and your own ideas and experiences about what could otherwise be. And again, I’m working in this sort of de-colonial vein, in which sort of indigenous, and specifically Sami issues here in the north. What happens when we radically in a sense include the indigenous international institution.

Jérémie McGowan:

So the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design. Okay, what are some sort of Sami art practises or Sami art works, indigenous art works, that then are not included and don’t then have place, don’t have visibility and certainly don’t get displayed and exhibited. And in a Sami indigenous context, there’s this word, duoddji, which can translate very roughly a sort of craft, but that’s doing it a bit of a disservice, but it’s a different worldview and a different understanding of an approach to art and to making it. It’s a gentle and a minor update, but it becomes, I would argue, quite a mind expanding exercise because this is something that’s more or less today in Norway and the Nordic countries, a rather unthinkable proposition. And we’re going to do the same thing just for fun with the Norwegian Opera and Ballet.

Speaker 2:

In terms of performing arts and stage, there’s also in the Sami indigenous context, this word Yoik, which is a sort of Sami form for singing that’s traditional and also very vital and still ongoing and constantly being a remade within Salmi culture. And this is, again, it’s a gentle, minor change to a logo, but the implications of something like this could really be huge for national institutions in Norway. To open up totally new ways of thinking, new ways of including, and new ways of also creating national identities and senses of belonging. So we’re heading into our fourth and final mini exercise today of this sort of rapid prototyping. Trying to find new alternatives, new futures for ourselves and our museums, to really start making what’s next. And again, this exercise like the last one, is going to focus on another institution than your own. Sometimes it’s good to externalise it and work outwards and look at another institution. And then you can bring some of that learning back to your own.

Speaker 2:

So again, I’d encourage you to do as I’m doing and choose a national institution. So I’m again going after this, the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, and more specifically the building that’s known as the National Gallery. We’re going to go after the total make-over now of rethinking entirely and institutional identity. You know, me choosing a national institution to remake, that all has to do with symbolic power and hierarchy. Do we want the same institutions we’ve had for hundreds of years or more just a few decades? Or is it time to rethink these institution, renamed them, rebrand them, repurpose them.

Speaker 2:

I’m going to come clean with you guys a bit here, because in this example, I’ve sort of done a fixative retroactive remake, because this is something I actually did just a few days ago. And I worked on this together with my colleague, Anne May Olli, who I mentioned previously. So this particular like idea of remaking an image, remaking a facade, we’ve actually worked with in terms of a real project. And not only in terms of image making as you’ll see here, but also in terms of writing an editorial piece. And that’s maybe my sort of bonus assignment for all of you guys out there. If any of you want to, our wish to, or imagine that you can, get these ideas out in practise through, for example, writing an editorial piece in a national newspaper and getting alternative images of museums out there in the real world.

Speaker 2:

Because what happens is that we suddenly open up a space, not just for ourselves and the museum community, but community at large. And then the really interesting thing that starts happening is that not the print version of this newspaper here, but that, of course this image has also gone in a sense viral online. And that starts becoming a very powerful tool and that we see the way they sort of prototypes or a rapid prototype can start immediately generating what’s next for museums.

Speaker 2:

Doing important, changing work, transforming museums is what we need. We need bold visionary leadership. We need leadership that is institutional critical. That is responsible and wants to make a difference. So, that’s maybe my last sort of parting message to you guys. To go out there and do this work. Challenge systems, rethink organisations, and really get down and dirty and get your hands dirty in the work of remaking museums and not just talking about and thinking about what’s next for museums, but really making that happen.

Speaker 2:

So again, thanks to all of you guys and especially thanks to Jim from MuseumNext for giving me this chance to share ideas. And I’m hoping that many of you feel that I’m accessible, that you want to get in touch. Let’s use the community that’s been set up here and let’s share ideas and trade examples and see where we can take all this. Thanks and bye.

 

Related Content

Prototyping New Travelling Exhibition Models

What type of travelling exhibition models shall be sustainable in a post-COVID 19 scenario? We have come to think of the industry as being prevalently...

Why do stories matter to museums and how can museums become better storytellers?

Stories are universal. We all read, watch and listen to them. We all tell them. Stories are part of what makes us human. In fact,...

Livestreaming and museums: making museums truly accessible

Not everyone has the means or opportunity to visit a museum, so should curators bring the exhibit to the viewer? From social media to video...

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week