Friday, May 18, 2007

MA conference

I've just spent the last couple of days at the Museums Australia conference in Canberra and can confidently report that the wardrobe colour scheme required for museum and gallery staff in Australia is black - black with red, black with grey and black with an occassional flash of a green or brown. Today I bucked the tidy trend and wore sneakers (very good for running to the car in the rain while my unfortunate colleagues hobbled in heels). Mind you I still stayed with the colour theme in my very dark blue/black jeans, black and grey stripy top under black designer cardigan... better pull out that old yellow leather jacket and inject a bit of loud, tasteless colour into my life.

On a more professional note the conference raised a number of interesting issues and propositions. The first focus session I attended looked at interpreting contemporary art in art museums and working with audiences to get them engaged and interpreting contemporary art for themselves. This is something I as an artist and gallery worker am particularly interested in. Jane Deeth has done some nice work at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery researching how audiences engage with contemporary shows and ways to get them to express their responses to the work. What I liked about her approach was that it goes beyond bombarding people with information and just telling them about the work. She is more interested in getting people to look at work and form opinions and ideas for themselves.

In Tassie she put cards into the exhibition that asked the audience for comments and found that the majority of the responses were judgement calls - I like it - I don't like it - it's crap etc. However when the questions on the cards were changed to ask the audience to comment on the differences between the works or some other element that required them to stop and think a little longer she found that many more of the responses began to interpret the works - to talk about the discursive element in the works.

I'm fascinated by the reactions of people who go into galleries and get frustrated and angry with contemporary art - that a bunch of inanimate stuff/things can piss people off so much. It was really interesting to see in this case, that if people were encouraged to spend a little more time to think about what they are looking at, and if they were prompted by a question that directed them to think about a particular aspect of the work came up with really insightful and sophisticated responses. My theory is that we are basically a visually literate society and bombarding people with lots of text explaining stuff only works for those of us who like reading. If there are other ways of reducing the sense that the art is alienating and confronting and deliberately trying to make people feel stupid and can get people to stop and look for a while - rather than trying to give them answers - we can create some interesting conversations.

If I still have a brain tomorrow I'll write about some of the other sessions - for now it is time for a nap and then beer and pizza - the perfect way to finish a week of cultural bombardment...

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