(1) International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University; (2) Digital Interaction Group, Culture Lab, Newcastle University
Cultural institutions are increasingly adopting technology to incorporate user-contributed and visitor-generated content into exhibitions and displays. This however presents challenges for the stakeholders involved in the process of designing for a balance between what is considered meaningful curated content with more open social network platforms that encourage active participation. Furthermore, digitally-mediated participatory installations continue to occupy the ambiguous space between audience engagement and exhibition interpretation, with an impact on both how visitor-generated content is collected and archived by institutions and also how displays facilitating visitor-generated content fit with exhibition designs. This presentation will focus on ‘My Great North Run’, an experimental participatory installation that incorporated a website, digital Anoto pens and touchscreens as part of a public exhibition in the North East of England. The installation remained live for three months and attracted c.13,000 contributions online and on-site in the form of drawings, text and photographs, 8% of which made it through the moderation process and became part of the exhibition.
Drawing on the qualitative evaluation of the installation with museum visitors and the analysis of the textual contributions, this presentation aims to reflect on three communicative tensions present in digital installations that encourage visitors to generate and contribute content in exhibitions: (a) how lowering the barriers to participation through technological decisions may affect the quality of the contributed content as well as the experience of the contributors; (b) how the tension between the curatorial desire to enable user-participation while maintaining a coherent and aesthetically consistent curatorial narrative is un/resolved, and (c) how visitors negotiate the ‘private’ and the ‘public’ when contributing content.
The paper concludes by proposing that such installations – and subsequently their users – would benefit from a design space that would safeguard the installation’s embeddedness in the actual exhibition space as well as the institution’s interpretation practice.