Amsterdam Museum Night

I’m just back from an ace weekend in Amsterdam, luckily my visit coincided with Museum Nacht. Museum Nacht is annual event which sees 45 museums open to 2.00 am, not only are the museums open but they also host a pretty random mix of events from bikini waxing, to 3D printing you can check out more their programme here>>

I was blown away by the quality of events at Museum Nacht. Museums weren’t simply open…they programmed exciting and innovative workshops and events and welcomed with open arms Amsterdam’s young creative types.

People paid to take part.

17,50 euro isn’t cheap but 1,000’s of people parted with their hard earned cash to visit museums on a Saturday night. Everyone really made an effort (we felt a little under dressed!)

The event sold out, and lots of people we spoke to said they really wanted to go but that they couldn’t get hold of a ticket anywhere. There is an interesting value relationship at play here. Museums value their young visitors and invest in creating exciting and engaging events, young visitors invest in culture because they know that it is something that they will enjoy.

Visitors and museums financially invest in Museum Nacht…which I think changes the nature of the event – in a good way. Visitors did not just ‘visit’ they participated with museums, they produced exciting new work in response to museum collections, and they had a great time doing it.

What follows are a couple of great things that we came across on the night:

Amsterdam Museum I really loved the mix of paintings, objects and interactives at the Amsterdam Museum. The buzz around the place was unbelievable it actually felt like we where in a club, and there was a great mix of people drinking and dancing in the courtyard and people taking in the exhibitions inside.

The Amsterdam DNA exhibition, the museums central exhibition uses lots of QR codes, but presents them in a really easy to use way. I loved that when we walked in to the gallery space a guide sorted us out with info in English and explained how to use the QR codes. Each visitor gets a book with a unique QR code that they can use at home to follow up there visit.

FOAM Next up we headed to FOAM…we followed the crowd and the queue to find it!

I’m not a fan of queuing but the impressive architectural mapping projecting made standing in cold more than worth it. I’ve seen lots of videos of this technology but this was my first time actually seeing it first hand and it looks blooming brilliant.

Once inside we went to an exhibition which looks at the future of photography, and the photography museum. The exhibition posses lots of challenging questions, and asks visitors to get involved. You could barley get hold of a pen because so many people where queuing up to add their voice to the exhibition.

Visitors also got the opportunity to make their own work out of photographs- which my friend Sarah Campbell is demonstrating in the photo below.

Mediamatic I was really excited about getting to check out Mediamatic they seem to constantly be producing really cool projects.

For Museum Nacht they asked people to register a RFID tag (in the form of a pink heart!) to their Facebook account. Visitors could then scan their tag by objects that they ‘liked’ …such a great idea.

With a queue out the door it’s not surprise the tech was struggling a little to keep up. I loved the experimental nature of this exhibition and the use of the RFID tags, it wasn’t perfect but it was so nearly there.

I will definitely be watching with interest how Medimatic continue to develop the use of RFID technology in exhibitions spaces!

Alongside the great tech, Mediamatic also had the cheepest beer of the night at only 2 euro…so all round we where impressed.

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For more info on Museum Nacht I would highly recommend watching Geer Oskam (project manager for N8) talk about his work at MuseumNext click here >> for a link to the video and text transcript

A platform for innovation and experimentation

A couple of years ago I was selected to take part in a British Council ‘International Young Curator Programme’. As part of the programme I worked in the Northern Ireland Gallery at the Venice Biennale. Myself and a few other emerging artists and curators decided we should make the most of our time in Venice and set up Parallax. envisaged as an arts collective, we wanted to create a platform to showcase and make new work in the exciting and dramatic setting that was Venice. We had no money, and at first the British Council was hesitant at the idea of us hosting events in their gallery spaces, but after a little persuasion and a pooling of resources we held our first event. From pop up exhibitions to art crawls and pecha kucha nights we experimented with different formats and events. Quickly Parallax started to be noticed and our events drew a mix of emerging and established international artists, curators and commercial dealers.

We saw Parallax as a temporary collective that would lead to future collaborations after our time in Venice. However we are delighted that the format we developed has proved to be so successful that a second group of staff at this years Biennale have breathed new life in to it. You can see more information about Parallax 2011 on their blog and Facebook page. I am proud to have been a founding member of Parallax and really hope that it continues to grow into a significant fringe presence for emerging artists and curators at the Venice Biennale.

Handing over Parallax to a new set of artists and curators, and witnessing their approach to what we started has been an interesting lesson in creating an open source format. Parallax was never about ownership, it was instead about empowerment, skill sharing and professional development. It’s open source nature has facilitated a dynamic platform were innovative ideas can be exchanged and tested.

Parallax clearly demonstrates what artists can achieve outside of traditional bureaucratic arts organisations and funding structures. It has left me wondering what lessons we can take from this model that could catalyst innovation within traditional funding structures.

A focus on collaboration, networking and seed funding could be really beneficial. Small pots of money, that require short bursts of activity could provide much more innovative artistic output than traditional funded projects. Indeed it would be interesting to see arts councils looking at how the digital sector is funded and it’s emphasis on supporting start up’s, innovation, and the acceptance of project pivot. Art is a creative journey, and artists cannot know what the outcome will be before they start on their journey. I’m not saying throw money at every artist out there, I’m simply saying that perhaps Parallax demonstrates the benefits of fluid and intense working, something that traditional funding structures do not support.

5 things that make the BALTIC an inspirational place

On Friday I went to the BALTIC for the first time. I expected to spend an hour there but ended up spending half a day….and left wishing I had more time to spare. I visit lots of museums and galleries as a result it takes a lot to impress me. I was beyond impressed by the BALTIC and here are 5 reasons why.

1.Friendly staff

You’ll not find any bored looking staff, sitting in a dark corner in the BALTIC. 80% of the BALTIC’s Front of House Team or the ‘Crew’ as they are known are practicing artists. The BALTIC takes a really innovative approach to staff development with Crew Members going through a 3 tiered training programme, firstly an induction programme, secondly communication skills from learning to deliver guided tours to learning sign language. Thirdly the Crew get to develop their own projects, learn research skills from how to facilitate a focus group to observational research. The Crew even get to travel internationally to research exhibitions and education programmes.

2.Great interactive spaces 

Rather than a small space in the basement, the interactive response space in the BALTIC takes over nearly a full floor. With a great range of furniture and activities this is the type of place that you would love to spend all day. They run a weekly mother and toddler group in this space.

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3.Lovely, bright and comfy library

Comfy sofa, great books, journals and art world type magazines. A photocopier and an honesty box. If I lived in Newcastle I think I would move into this library.

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4.Relaxed cafe, yummy food

A great coffee shop, massive glass fronted facade. A range of newspapers. Tea in a teapot and again great staff. This is the perfect place to sit with a cup of tea for a couple of hours, read the paper and hold a meeting.

5.Fantastic building 

It’s like the Tate Modern but with character.

I think the BALTIC has lots to teach other cultural organisations about creating engaging, exciting, dynamic, friendly yet challenging environments. 

Shaping Visitor Behaviour

A few weeks ago I visited  casa de Julieta, the fictional home of Romeo and Juliet’s, Juliet. The house which is a massive tourist attraction provides an interesting example in the use of stagecraft as a means to create unique visitor experiences and shape visitor behaviour.

The outside walls of the house and the digital displays mounted on them are covered in graffiti, messages of love, hope and everything in between. Whilst it is strange to see interactive displays scrawled over with permanent marker, it made me question why visitors feel it is appropriate to deface the courtyard area. I guess its a mix of crowd mentality, and a lack of value. The entrance is covered in graffiti, so visitors feel that they are permitted to leave their mark. The court yard area is quite modern, as are the digital displays so visitors do not recognise their value and instead are caught up in the moment, guided by the graffiti from visitors who have been there before them.

The crowd mentality, instantly changes upon entering the actual house. A large sign tells visitors that it is forbidden to leave messages on the walls, strangely this sign is extremely effective. The house unlike the courtyard feels like a traditional museum, with guards watching your every move.

I was fascinated by the immediate and obvious change in visitor behaviour created by the two staged areas. In the courtyards visitors were boisterous, laughing, chatting, leaving love messages, writing on walls. In the house visitors were contemplative and engaged, they were quiet, they walked slowly and purposefully. Casa De Julieta demonstrates very clearly the power of stagecraft in shaping visitor behaviour in museums, galleries and heritage centres.

Text from Romeo and Juliet can be found all around the house

Visitors can send Juliet a love letter by e-mail

Bite Size Culture

This chewing gum packet prompted me to have 4 pieces of chewing gum today, that’s more than I visit most museum websites in a year.

The text on the packaging cleverly positions this product, chewing gum into 4 different daily activities.

Museums could learn a lot from this approach, rather than being an occasional activity clear positioning of online museum experiences could make them central to a range of co-existing daily activities from breakfast, lunch and dinner to snack time.

The Joy of Discovery

Recently when visiting a friend’s house I noticed a beautifully bound book sitting on her bookshelf. I picked it up, opened the cover and simply could not put it down. It was a diary, but it did not only have the usual dates and contact details it was also pop up, pop out, interactive and directive. Whilst providing factual information like a diary should such as dates, public holidays, dialing codes it was also enticing and exciting.

Each page had something new to offer, sometimes you new to simply lift a flap or unfold a map. Other pages were more directive ‘lift here’ ‘pull here’.

I loved the combination of purpose, fun and excitement. I was also intrigued with the layers of engagement, readers are encouraged to stumble through the book, but at times directed how to interact, readers are also encouraged to play to experiment to try something new.

This book reinvent’s the concept of the date diary as a functional object and instead turns it into an experience.

Exploring this book felt like a unique cultural experience. It did not feel like I was one of no doubt 1000’s of people who had read this book. Instead I was caught in the moment, stumbling through, excited to see what I came across next. This book made me feel like I was walking around a museum, moving from exhibit to exhibit, gallery to gallery. All the time discovering new things, feeling like I was the first person in the world to discover a rare dinosaur or to get lost in a painting.

So the big question it seems is  ‘how can we embed that element of excitement, discovery, authenticity and cultural distinctiveness into online experiences?

Inspired by the M Restaurants Diary  I have begun to explore interactive children’s books as a way to understand how text and images can be used to shape online behavior.

Take for example the children’s classic ‘There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly’ in this book a simple cut out in the centre of each page gets bigger and bigger as the lady eats more and more strange things. With each page turn there is an element of visual discovery, and it this combined with the text of the story that makes the book compelling. Young children can barely wait to turn to find out what is on the next page. An other classic that utilises the excitement of discovery is ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’

Whilst these books essentially represent a more traditional, static way to tell a story they prompt higher levels of interaction, engagement, fun and discovery than many multi-media websites.

I would love to hear recommendations of other books (children’s and adults) that provoke this type of engagement, or indeed of online experiences that feel like real ‘page turners’.

Feel free to comment on this blog post here or tweet me @OonaghTweets 

Thanks to @erinblasco for sharing the Three Little Pigs i-Pad book:

@KimberlyKowal Said that she likes the x-ray view element of the Three Little Pigs and wishes that Peter Rabbit had this option. Peter Rabbit is another example of how the traditional pop up book has been modified for i-pad:

Laughing at the museum

Museums are full of rules. No photography, no eating, no running, no touching the works. ‘No’ features a lot in museum signage, but the Art Museum Tennis Palace in Helsinki takes a simple approach to demystifying all these rules.

In a simple leaflet called ‘why’

What I particularly love about this leaflet, is that after explaining all the things you can’t do. It ends with a positive direction  and tells visitors ‘Speaking is allowed!’ it even says that it is not even necessary to whisper…

I visited the Tennis Palace last month and I was delighted to find that the great Interpretation continued throughout the exhibition, they had a great book shop and loads of comfy seats. All in this is one of the friendliest, most engaging small museums that I have been to in a while.

As my dad always says the simple ideas are the best!

Lessons from Venice

I was lucky enough to work for the British Council and Arts Council of Northern Ireland at the 2009 Venice Biennale. My time in Venice was professionally priceless; it gave me the opportunity to engage with art and artists from around the world. I came away from Venice feeling inspired and challenged in equal portions.

Parallax

The Venice Biennale presented the perfect opportunity to experiment, network and produce events and exhibitions.  Myself and a group of staff from other galleries decided to put our heads together and start a collective through which we could curate and show work during out time in Venice. Over a few bottles of Prosecco we decided on ‘Parallax’ as the name of our collective. Within the space of a few days we planned our first event a ‘see + talk’ session which we held in the court yard of the Northern Ireland pavilion (and the former home to Vivaldi!)This event was attended by over 30 people from more than 10 different countries, it took the form of a Pecha Kucha style event, with each artist discussing and answering questions about their work. Over the following weeks we curated performance art ‘crawls’, these consisted of site specific performances that engaged with the architecture of venice, we held exhibitions in apartments and palaces, we held making sessions from origami to drawing nights.

Parallax challenged the idea that the Venice Biennale is a place for established artists, it threw the floor open to a new generation or artists, curators and arts managers. Parallax provided us with the opportunity to examine our own practice, to grow professionally and to work in a peer supported environment. Parallax was unique in that it was not a funded project instead it was a collective of like minded people who pooled resources and expertise from printers to projectors, from web design to graphic design from courtyards to bedroom walls. Quite simply we had an idea, and we put it into practice.

Parallax in a Power Point

Parallax After Venice

Since the last Biennale Parallax has remained an active group of like minded individuals. Earlier this year we were contacted by galleries asking about how they could become involved in Parallax at the 2011 Venice Biennale.  It’s exciting to know that a small idea dreamed up over a bottle of Prosecco has made such an impact. 2 years after it was first conceived it has become a source of inspiration and mentoring for those working at this year’s Venice Biennale. Due to funding problems Northern Ireland won’t be at Venice this year, however Parallax will. The Fruit Market gallery are keen to breathe life into Parallax and I can’t wait to see how their invigilators creatively respond to living and working in Venice.



My advice to anyone working at this year’s Venice Biennale?

  • Bring business cards- they will get you free entry and exhibition catalogues
  • Bring Berocca- you won’t get a lot of sleep!
  • Bring lots and lots of Mosquito repellent (Irish art critic Aidan Dunne was so concerned by the size of my mosquito bites that he and his wife delivered repellent to my galley- sweet, but also terribly embarrassing)
  • No matter who you meet in Venice be it a ‘big’ artist, curator or critic, talk to them exchange emails, ask for advice. The sun makes people so much more approachable than at other big commercial events like Frieze
  • Get hold of a free British Council map, they are the best! The official Biennale map is really confusing


Tallinn capital of culture?

On a recent trip to Tallinn I was surprised by the lack of cultural information for tourists. As European capital of culture 2011, Tallinn had managed to raise it’s profile as a city break destination with major Newspapers such as the Telegraph and the Guardian posting really positive reviews. When Ryanair announced a new route Dublin > Tallinn I decided to jump on the Tallinn/ Capital of Culture bandwagon. I have been watching the Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013 project develop and  I was intrigued to see what such a title could bring to a city. I think it’s fair to say that my trip to Tallinn was a healthy mix of work and play.

Before I went I checked out the Capital of Culture website which was nothing more than a 2D listings site. When I arrived in Tallinn I was surprised by the lack of information available. I expected cultural ambassadors and prominent tourist information but after 5 days the only info. point that I came across was in the docks, far out of the city. I can only presume that this was intended for people getting off the Helsinki > Tallinn ferry.

Holding the title Capital of Culture is such a great opportunity and it seems a shame that Tallinn isn’t making the most of it,  especially as Estonia has the reputation of digital innovative country. Estonia was one of the first countries in the world to include access to the internet in it’s bill of Human Rights, it is home to Skype, and it prides itself on its free Wi Fi coverage so why then is the Capital of Culture campaign so old school? Why is their website so flat?

I should point out that despite the lack of tourist information I had a brilliant time in Tallinn, it’s a really friendly city, the food and wine are both good and cheap. My cultural highlight and the jewel in Tallin’s cultural crown has to be the outstanding Kumu museum. Opened in 2006, it was awarded the title European Museum of the Year in 2008.

The Kumu challenges people before they even enter the building. On it’s website the Kumu states:

‘Kumu is meant for different people – for those who are already well-versed in art and for those who simply wish to spend their time in a congenial environment. Kumu welcomes children and families and, most importantly, Kumu serves as a laboratory where diverse ideas emerge and develop. These ideas examine contemporary visual culture and its function in society.’

whilst on it’s informational leaflets it suggests a new way to approach a museum visit

‘Kumu in half an hour…

Are you afraid of long guided tours and believe that art is to complicated? …Visitors to the museum can receive a special paper guide from the ticket office, which introduces briefly the most remarkable exhibited artworks and guides you easily through the exhibition halls. Choose a ‘Kumu experience’ from the ticket office and disprove the notion that you need a whole day to visit a musuem!’

I was really impressed by such welcoming language and this was reflected when I visited the museum (which by the way I would recommend dedicating a whole day to!) The museum is about a 20 minute walk out of the old wall town, through some pretty grim communist era housing, but is surrounded by a beautiful park. The contemporary architecture is refreshing as Tallinn is a mix of medieval and  communist architecture.

The exhibitions on display ranged from Estonian Art, to a Print Triennial. The museum was full of helpful and friendly staff, they even had colour information leaflets on each of the artists in the Print Triennial, a no doubt expensive luxury that most museums could only dream off!

We ended our visit with the obligatory city break ‘coffee stop and cake’,

As we were leaving we decided to ask something we had been thinking about since we arrived, ‘can we sit on the chairs?’ The chairs being giant chairs made from used car tyres by the artist Villu Jannisoo. The Answer? yes, but then we should have expected that by now, the Kumu is a fun, welcoming and engaging museum that would not look out of place in any major museum capital from London to New York.

It’s always inspiring to see such innovative approaches to museum practice in stand alone locations, I wonder if the museums of Derry~Londonderry will shine so brightly when they get their big moment during Derry’s stint as City of Culture 2013?

Images: Oonagh Murphy

Title Image: culture360.org