As museum workers, narrative is always on the brain. Shaping narratives is the basis of everything we do - we do this through our collections, research, exhibitions, education programmes and so on. It's all about stories. And as museum workers it is our challenge to coax new narratives out of our collections; to find hidden threads and weave them into something meaningful and enduring for our audiences; to find new ways to frame familiar stories. So in the spirit of exploring new narratives I present you with the following...
1. I've recently discovered Nicole Robert of Queering the Museum (among many other things). In this blog post, Nicole discusses the concept of digital story-telling (as opposed to traditional oral histories) as a way to facilitate inclusive, sensitive and authentic narratives:
While we wanted to add to the existing LGBTQ archives, we also wanted to make sure that individuals could keep control over how their stories were represented. Oral histories contain a lot of valuable information in a format that is not suitable for exhibition, unless the history is edited. This leaves decisions about how an individual gets represented up to a curator or video editor. In contrast, a digital story is a short narrative video that is designed for exhibition and functions as a complete audio-visual representation created by the subject of the video. By choosing this method, we handed representational control to the storytellers.
2. What can young people tell us? The folks at the Appalachian Media Center have initiated a youth oriented rural-to-urban cultural exchange programme which invites participants to "critically explore their home communities through filmmaking, photography, podcasting, and creative writing—all with the [Carnegie] Museum of Art as the backdrop and inspiration for learning...
Seated in a circle in the Hall of Sculpture at Carnegie Museum of Art, Kate Fowler, director of award-winning youth media program the Appalachian Media Institute (AMI) at Appalshop, poses two questions to a group of young people from Pittsburgh and eastern Kentucky. “When have you felt like you were part of your generation?” asks Fowler, a documentary filmmaker, photographer, and educator. “When have you felt outside your generation?”
Fowler and Matthew Newton, associate editor in the Museum of Art’s publishing program, lead this “story circle” as an exercise in examining the layered ideas of place and identity."
3. In Can an exhibition be a story? Fiona Romero presents what she sees as the many challenges to narrative building in museums: "There are great claims made for narrative in museums, whether that’s people’s stories bringing individual objects to life or storytelling in exhibitions. Museums have the potential to go further than books and film, to tell stories in both time and space...But I think there are very big problems with storytelling in museums." Romero identifies three challenges: 1) non-linear experiences, 2) standing up to read, and 3) academic text. I'm particularly interested in the potential of non-linear storytelling and disagree that it's a problem. It's a challenge yes, but an enticing one. I do however love Romero's description of the physical act of following a narrative presented in a museum as a "dance." Much more interesting and creative than a factory line approach IMO.
"To weave narration into an art show, the curators have selected works by more than 40 visual artists from various disciplines—sculpture, installation, video, photography—and have gone a step further, enlisting 31 big-name writers and poets to engage with these works through unrestricted forms of literature. The result is a wildly varying anthology displaying the human capacity to thread stories in unconventional ways out of seemingly disparate material, to scrub the opaque into something translucent, or to simply conjure something from nothing."
5. And lastly, for anyone in Auckland over the coming weeks you should most definitely head a long to We may have to choose at the Auckland Fringe Festival, directed by my fabulous friend Prue Clark: "A monologue of sorts, a one-sided stream of consciousness, a list of declarations about the universe. Inspired by Tim Etchells’ Sight is the Sense, this is a study of what it is to speak one’s mind. A personal values framework writ large in all its maddening logic and insanity and a comedy of the personal soapbox. There is a reason we don’t talk about some things."
As we head into the weekend, I'll leave you with one of my favourite local storytellers, Aldous Harding. She spins such complex, layered, haunting narratives and has a voice like none I've ever heard. AND she's in Auckland this weekend....