If you name your exhibition The Future of the Photography Museum you’re sure to spark my curiosity. And if one of the installations makes it to the Huffington Post where it unleashes a storm of negative comments – as happened with the stunning 24 Hours Photos by Erik Kessels – you can be certain there’s something worthwhile going on. And there is! If you’re in Amsterdam before December 7th (for GLAMcamp Amsterdam, DISH 2011 or leisure) it’s a must-see.
The Future of the Photography Museum and its accompanying magazine What’s Next? by Foam in Amsterdam are an investigation into the possibilities and trends of photography as a medium, the photography museum as intermediary, the relationship with the audience and even monetary and organisational aspects of the museum of the future. The exposition is slightly messy, which is not bad as it’s a mash-up of different ideas by four guest curators: Lauren Cornell, Jefferson Hack, Erik Kessels and Alison Nordström.
What stayed with me from the exposition is the position of the visitor and the general audience in the museum. We’ve been talking for at least ten years about the transformation of people from consumers to producers of information, but the role of the museum in this new world is still mostly unclear. Foam does some different suggestions for this, ranging from new forms of ‘passive engagement’ using digital presentation – Jefferson Hack’s Mother Sculpture – to ‘passive participation’ in which the wealth of UGC on the internet is used to create installations – Erik Kessels’ 24 Hours Photos – to active participation in the Activating programme, where visitors can contribute to the museum.
The best part about The Future of the Photography Museum however is not these individual experiments, but the fact that Foam does the experiments in the first place. The exhibition celebrates the tenth anniversary of Foam, but rather than looking back at past highpoints, it looks forward to what might become highpoints of the next decade. By inviting the audience in this thought experiment, I’m sure Foam learns a lot about how to stay relevant and engaging in the future. There the true value of the exhibition lies. And maybe the answer to what the photography museum of the future should look like is not in the experiments themselves, but in the role of the museum as a platform for experiments and reflection on art, society and culture.
This made me think about Volt, a to-be-build museum for media arts and technology in Eindhoven. This weekend I was in the proposed future site of the museum to participate in a Vodafone Firestarters discussion at the STRP festival. We talked, amongst others, about what such a new museum should look like, and how it could be relevant in the 21st century.
The future location of Volt in the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven. Photo: Tup Wanders.
I believe the people behind Volt can learn a lot from the current exposition in Foam. Media art is not necessarily easily accessible to a lot of people, and its meaning is often difficult to figure out. More than one installation at the STRP festival is merely ‘impressive’. And although little is known about the plans for Volt, I think a museum combining a presentation of media art and technology installations, combined with the normal side programme museums host, will not make Volt as relevant as it could be. It would be a missed opportunity.
If however Volt will dare to reflect on media arts and technology, its position in society and culture, and – most importantly – the position of Volt itself within this debate, it might become a very thrilling place to visit. Temporary expositions combined with debate, workshops and festivals might function as a mirror on contemporary topics such as media addiction, loss of privacy and the attention economy, while semi-permanent expositions might continuously reflect on the development of the young field of media arts. But also, the place should be flexible and allow experiments that might have a greater impact than the museum alone. It could be a research centre for new ways of interacting with people in all museums, and a place to pilot and research new technologies for corporate partners.
Certainly, the people of Volt are considering these and better options, but I certainly hope they also find the time to visit The Future of the Photography Museum, just in case. As I hope you will, just in case, and because it’s pretty good.
Header photo by Dimer van Santen/Foam on Flickr.