Museums as Play

Museums as Play” or why theater studies is essential to understanding contemporary historiography and museums as they intersect with digital technologies and culture.

The full title of this piece from the data praxis series of the “dh+lib” site is “Museum as Play: Iteration, Interactivity, and the Human Experience.” It’s a conversation between Thomas Padilla and Sebastian Chan about museums and their use of digital technologies in creating interactive experiences in museum and historical collections. This is a frequently recurring topic among museum curators. As I’ve written previously, the 2015 meeting of Museum Next last April prompted observations of the museum as theater last spring.

This conversation extends this nexus of history, digital technology, and interactive experiences (performances?) among museum guests. It’s well worth the read.

“Deep Space Theater”

I’ve been writing and talking (ok, mostly talking) about theater as an over-arching concept in digital history. My current book project tracks this influence both through the history of theater and performance, as well as in museums, galleries, and alternative forms of historiography such as historically oriented games. [I have been very interested in historical video games such as “Total War: Empire,” among others.]

Now, there’s a new development not in history, bdeepspace_singapore_2_169ut space. Ars Electronica just posted about the creation of “Deep Space Theater” for the The Science Centre Singapore’s new exhibition “E3 – Emmersive Experimental Environments”.

I’m intrigued.

This seems to follow a logical progression from previous science stagings, including most obviously planetariums and other forms of science demonstrations from the not-so-real occult performances to spirit photography to contemporary science theater. [I’m thinking here of examples cited in Kurt Vanhoutte’s projects in Media Archaeology at the Research Centre for Visual Poetics at the University of Antwerp, Sue-Ellen Case’s Performing Science and the Virtual (2006), and Ciara Murphy’s essay, “Participatory Electrical Performances in the Enlightenment Period – Shocks and Sparks” in Kara Reilly’s Theatre, Performance and Analogue Technology (2013).]

But, it also seems related to emerging issue in museums of all kinds, where the dominant mode of presentation is increasingly digital media deployed in and as theatrical experiences. It’s significant, I think, that these environments are cast as theater and not cinema. The theater, for all its creaky, antiquated techniques is still linked (at least in these iterations) with presence, immersion, and (dare I say it?) liveness. That the rivalry between theater and media should now wrap around such that digital technology is deployed in the creation of explicitly theatrical events…well, it makes me think I need to write another chapter in the book.

Google’s 360° Theater

As if the world of performance history and technology weren’t already interesting enough, Google is announcing 360° performance recordings through the Google Cultural Institute. Functioning much like Google street views, these recordings seem to be the next stage in performance recordings and add a new wrinkle to performance history and historiography.

I’ve only just started playing around with the recordings, but aside from consuming a lot of bandwidth (at least as it seems on my current wifi setup–no hard analytics yet), it seems promising.

One weird feature: in at least some of the performances, the audiences are vast and empty.