Ten years ago, some museums began to articulate their mission in terms of a dialogue with communities. In practice, that dialogue occurred mostly in the context of education and public programs; exhibitions tended to maintain a detached, authoritative voice.
As a significant site of informal and social learning, how can museum exhibitions also be dialogic?
This question was central to my PhD research, and I’m revisiting it since an article I wrote in 2001 was recently republished in Ethos, the journal of the Social Education Victoria. In it, I explore the possibility of self-reflexive museum exhibitions – approaches and techniques by which curators and designers can engage visitors in history but also in its making. Specifically, I describe a model exhibition (‘Captive lives: Looking for Tambo and his companions’), and offer suggestions for how the Australian War Memorial could engage visitors more actively in the process of making that site meaningful.
Since it is now much more common for museums to deploy technologies for co-creation, or indeed, to use high- or low-tech means to be participatory – in the parlance popularised by Nina Simon, I am surprised that this article remains so relevant. Is it that exhibition curators and designers – those at the heart of museum representational practice – yet resist the dialogic tum?
If you fancy a slightly longer-than-bloggable read, here’s the a scan of the printed article (PDF 2mb).