What is more real: The Virtual museum or the Institutional Museum?
Augé, Marc. Non-places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. London-New York: Verso, 1995. Print.
Augé analyzes the effects of a globalized society in relationship to what he considers to be a triple decentering process that affects the city (identified in the urbanization and architecture of the city), the household, and the individual. This globalization has anthropological consequences related to the individual and collective identity since this is constructed in negotiation with otherness. He particularly studies the erasure of spatial frontiers. Therefore, he focuses on what he calls “empirical non-places” which are places of circulation, consumption, and communication. The place / non-place pairing is based on the level of sociality and symbolization of a particular space. According to Augé, if a space can be defined as relational, historical, and concerned with identity it is a place. If it cannot, then it is a non-place. Non-places are often spaces such as hospitals, airports, and shopping malls. As Augé asserts, places and non-places never exist in a pure form so they reconstitute and resume themselves and the human relations generated in these spaces. Moreover, a place and a non-place are never totally completed like palimpsests that are constantly juxtaposing and overlapping new identities and relations where traces of past identities and relations are built upon.
In relationship to my project, I am interested in using Augé’s ideas in relationship to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. The museum design is a product of a globalized architecture created by Frank Gehry who is recognized as very reputable architect. This building has embedded the whole city within its walls revitalizing and incorporating it into a globalized market and providing it with cultural capital (Bordieu The Forms of Capital 243). It has extended the museum function to the city of Bilbao. As Augé defends, particularly large-scale worldwide architecture, such as the Guggenheim, restores the meaning of time and talks to us about the future. It also questions time in relationship to artistic creation and history, continuity and discontinuity, local and global, place and non-place, emerging in art and in the artistic creation. I defend that the Guggenheim falls into what Augé defines as a “space that it is not in themself an anthropological place.” The Google Art Project, as a space pertaining to cyberspace, is therefore also a non-place. As with all non-places, the Guggeheim and the Art Google Project are hypermediated. In the case of the virtual museum, is especially visible that it is hypermediated space due to the implementations of social interfaces such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that allow the user to expand and share his artistic interests on the web. In relationship to spatial issues and hypermediation, I would also like to explore limitations of the physical space and the professional curating function provided by the institutional museum in opposition to the virtual-social interface and the virtual user-curator functions of the Google Art Project.
Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Michigan: Michigan UP, 1988. 1-20.
Baudrillard focuses on how reality is mediated to us so the code of “real” does not exist. Simulation is not based on referential being or a model, but it is generated in the same way as the simulated action or thing without an origin or initial reality. Matrices that reproduce this code an indefinite number of times produce the real. Therefore, it is not longer real. He calls it the “hyperreal.” Combinatory models in the hyperspace lack a referential / empirical reality to rely on which produces the hyperreal. The hyperreal is sheltered by the imaginary and its lack of distinction between the real and the imaginary. Therefore, simulation is based on the absence and not the presence of an empirical reality. It also negates the validity of a sign as a value. Moreover, he questions the veracity of images and religion as defended by iconoclasts. Baudrillard argues that, at this point in history, the image has no relation to any reality because it is a pure simulacrum. It is also interesting to point out that he argues about the relationship between the hyperreal and the imaginary as the imaginary (he uses the example of Disneyland) serves as a simulation to make the individual think that the real is somewhere else, that is to say, that it is no longer about a false representation of reality (and its ideology) but concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, saving the reality principle (13).
I would like to apply Baudrillard´s theory on the real and hyperreal to the issue of the virtual museum. Google Art project provides the user with a personalized experience of what it is to visit a museum. The user can create their own particular collection, send it to his or her friends and family, or share it on the web. The false illusion that is based on a previous model, the institutional museum, promotes the idea of Google Art project as being part of the hyperreal and therefore based on a referential / empirical model proposed in the code of the real world (the so called national institutionalized museums). The fact that users can choose from a vast number of museums to visit and gather their own personal collection encourages the idea of living an experience more real than the real visit to a physical museum. On the other hand, the institutional museum, despite being conceived as part of the code of the real, is also being mediated by its own physical restrictions (architectural) as well as by the work of curators, designers, and history of art experts. The impression of experiencing a museum visit as something occurring in the framework of the real is also an illusion. Thus it does not matter how many times we visit the same museum, our visit is always the product of a specific moment in time subjected to specific spatial arrangements, special exhibitions, a particularly designed visit tour, or the appearance of disappearance of a determined work of art. Keeping all these factors in mind, I would like to explore the virtual visit and its technological construction (with the help of Manovich´s Software Takes Command) and interface in an open dialogue with a physical visit to an institutional museum (I will also use the Guggenheim museum as an example). I would also like to intersect Baudrillard´s postmodern theory with the structuralist ideas of Victor Slovsky in his essay: “Art as Technique” exploring the defamiliarization effect produced by art in the virtual and physical museum context as well as the neo-marxist ideas of Walter Benjamin and his concept of the artwork possessing a unique “aura.”
Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding Media. Cambridge-MA, London-UK: The MIT Press, 2000. Print.
Bolter and Grusin debate the logic of transparent immediacy in the virtual reality where the medium is designed to disappear. In this attempt to create an interface that is “interfaceless,” there is a wish to erase the traces of mediation to make the virtual reality closer to the code of the real (5). The concept of remediation is characterized by adapting from one medium to another, and in the digital world the medium cannot be completely effaced so the new medium remains dependent on previous ones despite wanting to give a transparency illusion to the user. Hypermediacy is constituted by its multiplicity making various acts of representation visible. While immediacy suggests a unified visual space, hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space that offers the opportunity to open multiple windows to other media representations (34). The hypermediacy of non-places are mediated spaces that, according to Augé and cited by Bolter and Grusin, are also defined as pure conceptual experiences, experiences of enjoyment of media the same way as it happens in cyberspace. Cyberspace is a non-place with the same characteristics as a physical non-place, and therefore exists in the conjunction of the network of multiple nodes and connections. The same way as virtual reality remediates the visual spaces of painting, film, and television, the social space remediates historical places such as cities or non-places such as museums. Like other mediated spaces, cyberspace refashions and extends earlier media which are the product of material and social environments (183).
In relationship to my project, I am interested in applying Bolter and Grusin´s theories of remediation and transparent immediacy in the context of the institutional and visual museum infrastructure and architectural design. Both are spaces where hypermedia is a common denominator. Therefore I would like to explore if there are similar individual experiences in the interaction between the work of art and the virtual user / visitor of a museum and link it to Baudrillard´s ideas on the hyperreal. Also, I would like to explore the similarities between both the Google Art Project and the Guggenheim as hypermediated non-places and the implications that this has in terms of curating and engaging the physical museum with digital technologies.
Secondary Bibliographical Sources
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Reproducibility.” Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings 1938-1940. Vol. 4. Cambridge-MA, London-England: Belknap Harvard UP, 2003.251-283.
Bordieu, Pierre. “Forms of Capital.” Soziale Ungleichheiten. Ed. Reinhard Kreckel. Trans. Richard Nice. Goettingen: Otto Schartz & Co., 1983. 183-98.
Ciolfi, Luigina and Liam J. Bannon. “Designing Hybrid Places: Merging Interpretation, Design, Ubiquitous Technologies and Geographies of the Museum Space.” CoDesign 3. 3 (2007): 159-180.
Debord, Guy. The Society of Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994. Print.
Davis, Stuart. Writing and Heritage in Contemporary Spain: The Imaginary Museum of Literature. Woodbridge, UK-Rochester, NY: Tamesis Books, 2012. Print.
Maulraux, André. The Voices of Silence. New York: Doubleday, 1953. Print.
Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media. London-New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Print.
MCKay, A. “Affective Communication: Towards the Personalization of a Museum Exhibition.” CoDesign 3.1 (2007): 167-173.
Murrey, Janet H. Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge-MA, London-UK: The MIT Press, 2012. Print.
Slovsky, Victor. “Art as a Tehcnique.” Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Trans. and ed. Lee T. Lemon and Maron J. Reis. Lincoln-Nebraska, 1995. 5-22.
Wyman, Bruce et al. “Digital Storytelling in Museums: Observations and Best Practices.” Digital 54.4 (2011): 461-468.