Elastic Museum


This article was written on 10 Aug 2012, and is filled under experimental projects, Theory.

Stop Making Sense


I keep trying to write about exhibit development in an old way. That is, where the value of the idea, it’s manifestation and ultimate experience are understood by a division between social media and physical experience. Even when we blur the lines by “following the visitor home” it’s still a linear progression.

I’d like to see engaging ideas that we surface at museums as more of an intelligent… morass. And that’s Ok by me. I understand the value of clear, direct messaging and Big Ideas. Yet we all have so many tools to navigate the intellectual realm that I keep feeling like we maybe we can leave it messy. Provide a bunch of questions, a pile of ideas- cohesive, yes, sexy, as needed- but pile the thinking on. Let it be there and let people make the meaning and sense of it they want. Give them something to chew on that has some heft, and some depth.

They have the smarts to use their phones and their networks to pass the idea along-  and in a sense then ponder it, turn it over in their minds all the while evolving it and their own thinking.

I’d like to tear across a home page as you would tear a piece of paper, revealing another world than the one of the page. However I’m not interested in removing the walls from the museum or changing your Facebook profile, but changing how we all think the vehicles and measures of idea transmission with our public should work.

We are so good at isolating and shaping ideas at museums. Our ability to surface and broadcast a line of thinking or creativity and articulate it both online and in person is fantastic. Yet the initial tackling with concepts is still static for me, and the results often feel over-digested. Sometimes I wonder if too much effort has been spent trying to figure out how to be media-friendly that there seems to be a dearth of creative conceptual work going on. We’re stretched thin, I know, but hey, this is the fun stuff.

I’m not talking about didactic panels vs. talk back walls, dioramas vs. digital media. I’m talking about the basic assumptions we around museums have about how to initially engage with ideas, and how those ideas can then transition, infect, and disrupt.

I’m suggesting that there is a way to create experiences that are intelligent and that rely on the unique and varied abilities of people to take from it what they want. Give them a sense of wonder or resonance, and cut them loose -with abandon.


  1. Irina Zadov
    August 10, 2012

    Maria, I totally agree. In a desperate effort to communicate to everyone museum often over-interpret. I rarely engage with text on wall but instead prefer an intimate or emersive experience with clues, questions, or optional opportunities to share. Keep on, keep on!

  2. Maria Mortati
    August 20, 2012

    Thanks, Irina. It’s all a work in progress.

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