Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/803195
- Affect, interpretation and technology
- In this paper, I discuss museum display strategies that aim to communicate to visitors through what Julies Prown terms an 'affective mode of apprehension' (1980: 208). As an interpretive strategy, this mode can be profoundly meaningful and emotionally powerful. This paper considers the importance of the materiality of the object in this mode of display. I also consider this mode in the context of a general trend towards the 'experiential'. In the latter part of the paper, I consider affect in relation to the rise of multimedia technologies in museum displays, and consider the place that multimedia technologies have within the rise in affective experiences in museums. Many museums attempt to create immersive experiences for visitors, combining the traditional linguistically-based modes of interpretation with affective modes. They seek to engage visitors at a sensory level, emphasising their physical relationships to objects. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for example, employs affective strategies in its display of objects such as shoes confiscated from Majdanek, a Polish cattle car and the infamous 'ARBEIT MACHT FREI' sign. These exhibits place visitors in physical relationships with these objects that can evoke empathy with victims of the Holocaust. So, visitors learn about the Holocaust at intellectual and cognitive levels (historical narratives, dates, places, people and events) but also at extra-cognitive and extra-linguistic levels. Semiotics-based models of object interpretation dominated much thinking in the 1980s but, effective as they were, they ignored the significance of the highly-subjective aspects of our encounters with objects, particularly the role of our senses, memory and emotions. Since the mid-1990s, however, a new generation of theorists such as Jill Bennett, Ernst Van Alphen, Meike Bal, Geoffrey Batchen, Susan Best and Brian Massumi have considered these kinds of 'felt' responses. Bennett describes these kinds of encounters as being,"in a very palpable sense, 'felt' rather than merely observed." (Bennett 1997: 131) While theoretical work on affect is ongoing, many of these theorists agree that our embodied engagement with objects, their capacity to trigger certain kinds of memory and the emotional dimension of memory are central to understanding affect. According to Dipesh Chakrabarty, this move towards experience-based interpretation in museum practice can be seen within the broader context of the shifting role of museums since the nineteenth century (Chakrabarty 2002: 5-6). He argues that the changing function of museums in society directly bears upon the modes of communication they employ. Whereas intellectual engagement and abstract reasoning once dominated museum display strategies, they are now being supplanted by more 'experiential' modes of communication (Chakrabarty 2002: 9). Contemporary museums now actively encouraged visitors to engage the museum on a physical and sensory level. Their embodied experiences contribute to the interpretive framework. Given the importance of the physical relationship of the visitors to museum objects, can 'immaterial' multimedia technologies contribute to these affective modes of communication? Many multimedia exhibits tend to be of the mouse-and-monitor variety; we either sit or stand before a screen and interact with the technology, usually through a manual interface, such as a keyboard, mouse, pushbuttons or touchscreen. At the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, however, an exhibit called the Welcome Space succeeds in creating affective experience for visitors. The Welcome Space leads visitors into the Museum's Gallery of First Australians, which focuses upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. This paper concludes with a brief discussion of the ways in which this multimedia exhibit opens up possibilities for affective modes of interpretation that utilise multimedia technologies.
- Open Museum Journal Issue 7
- Australian Museums and Galleries Online
- Resource Type
- journal article