Audiovisual archives in a sustainable museum

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Budget cuts are no longer to be considered a merely temporary accident, so we have to face the fact that ours is now a post-affluent society, where vast primadonna-like museal programmes (and …

Budget cuts are no longer to be considered a merely temporary accident, so we have to face the fact that ours is now a post-affluent society, where vast primadonna-like museal programmes (and architectures) are going to be a thing of the past, and sustainability, as well as vernacular architectures, are the things we should take into focus.
This also means downsizing infrastructures and tools. In documentation and communication - of single artefacts, collections, and museum programmes - we can consider the role of humbler (and less expensive) tools.
Like social upheaval’ dissemination in the Maghreb and in the Middle East has effectively demonstrated, a smartphone can be a very powerful tool. If we think of the fact that museum professionals are very often already networked, we can easily imagine a new, “lighter” and less expensive process of collections’ documentation, based on already existing know-how.

This presentation has been prepared for a meeting organized by ICOM and the City of Bologna Museums Authority, focused on the preservation of virtual memories (19 May 2011). Further details about the meeting can be found on twitter at #memorievirtuali.
If not stated otherwise, all pictures are by the author.

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  • 1. Audiovisual Archives for a “Light” Museum Notes on a sustainable development model Alessandro Califano ICOM Italy - Commissione Tematica Audio-Visivi e Nuove tecnologie Istituzione Musei del Comune di Bologna “ preserving virtual memories ” Bologna, 19 May 2011
  • 2. Museums – How and Why
    • “ The failure to ask ‘why’ museums do what they do discourages self-critical reflection, which is prerequisite to heightened awareness, organizational alignment and social relevance.
    • Instead, the focus is largely on the ‘how’, or the clichéd processes of collecting, preserving and earning revenue — the latter being the cause of much of the organizational drifting characteristic of many contemporary museums.”
    • [ Robert R. Janes,  Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance, or Collapse?  p. 16 ]
  • 3. A Difficult Context
    • Commercialization of Cultural Heritage
    • Budget Cuts
    • A (post-)affluent Society
  • 4. Commercialization
    • Cultural Heritage as an income-generating asset: a error in logic
    • Great events, blockbuster exhibitions, international loans…
    • … and not enough consideration to value adding actions, and to preventive conservation (ICOM)
  • 5. Budget Cuts – A Widespread Reality
    • Italy – budget cuts to cultural heritage preservation and restoration:
    • 335 million € in 2004
    • 102 million € in 2011
    • [ VII Federculture Report (12 May 2011) ]
    • Canada – Museums Assistance Fund cut by 25% twice in the last few years (– 44 % in total)
    • [ John McAvity, MUSE, May/June 2011, p.6 ]
  • 6. A (post-)Affluent Society
    • Generally speaking:
    • We live in a society with a (too) high consumption of not renewable resources, and a (too) high degree of refuse production
    • In museums:
    • We shifted from the monument as a museum to the museum as a monument
    • British Museum, Louvre, Uffizi vs. Calatrava (Milwaukee 2001), Gehry (Bilbao 1997), Libeskind (Berlino 2001)
  • 7. Into the future - USA
    • Art Museum (Extension), Milwaukee – a large bird taking off over Lake Michigan, a new dramatic landmark of great urban and emotional impact (photos: left by Philip Greenspun, right by rycam.net)
    • [Santiago Calatrava , 2001]
  • 8. Industrial archaeology – Germany (1)‏
    • Museum im Kulturspeicher, W ürzburg – an old (1901?) silo , its outside mostly untouched , reused as a “heritage container”.
    • [Brückner & Brückner , 2002]
  • 9. Industrial archaeology – Germany (2)
    • Museum im Kulturspeicher, W ürzburg – the exhibition space is in self-supporting concrete boxes, the lobby keeps its old wooden structure
    • [Brückner & Brückner , 2002]
  • 10. A provoking thought
    • We have been building expensive museums, and have to spend almost as much to try protecting artefacts from light and variations in temperature…
    • The glass-and-concrete art museum in Tashkent – an ineffective fight against summer heat
    • The Savitsky Museum (Nukus) and the Archaeological Museum (Termez) – the effectiveness of a vernacular architecture approach
  • 11. Afghanistan – the setting (1)
    • Bamiyan – power is guaranteed (but just to a few…) by generators and storage batteries
  • 12. Afghanistan – the setting (2)
    • Panjsher – working to complete the first hydroelectric plant in the whole valley (2008)
  • 13. Afghanistan – the setting (3)
    • The Salang Tunnel (3400 m) is the only connection letting tankers down to Kabul’s high plateau
  • 14. Kabul, the National Museum of Afghanistan
    • With no heating, hygrometric control systems, or access to the internet, the museum (ice-cold in winter) is fresh in the summer.
  • 15. Rethinking a Museum
    • Three are the main points to consider:
      • To care for artefacts’ protection and documentation
      • To limit expenses/energy consumption
      • To implement new services and augment visibility
      • … and these points are not necessarily contradictory!
  • 16. Energy Saving and Artefacts Protecting Measures
    • With the substitution of neon and incandescence lights with LEDs we can achieve up to over 90% of energy saving, while both heat and lux affecting the artefacts are very effectively kept under control.
  • 17. New Technologies: Strength & Weakness
    • ITC infrastructures for land lines are very scanty, but mobile and smart phones are widespread
    • A majority of the under-30 aged museum professionals are on Facebook
    • Similarly to what happens in the M.O., the Maghreb, in Egypt, or Iran, in Kabul, too, e-mails and social networks do “run” on mobile phones
  • 18. Documentation and Communication (1)
    • We have to make best use of this generally available tool, adapting our internal documentation procedures, in order to set up a first, basic, rather inexpensive documentation campaign of museum artefacts and events.
  • 19. Documentation and Communication (2)
    • Beyond the use of photographic documentation for single artefacts or contexts (left, Durga head from Ghazni; right, Indo-Greek sculpture in Tepe Naranj), smartphones can be used for many other purposes…
  • 20. Documentation and Communication (3)
    • … for instance, preparing audiovisual documentation of an exhibition, or a restoration (here, the preparation of a 1:10 model of the Ghaznevid Lashkari Bazar arch at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul).
  • 21. Documentation and Communication (4)
    • Discussing about an early 20th century necklace from Afghanistan, kept at the Ethnographic department of the National Museum in Kabul, at a UNESCO workshop. The director of the museum in Khost, Habib Mohammad Mandozai talks to conservator and curator.
    • Kabul, National Museum of Afghanistan (15 May 2010).
  • 22. Documentation and Communication (5)
    • At the same time, much older technologies can easily be integrated with new ones – a potter’s wheel, for instance, to obtain series of images or videos of not too bulky artefacts.
    • From sharing pictures on Facebook to the dissemination of images about a museum’s collections there is but a short way to go.
  • 23. Documentation and Communication (6)
    • Duplication (on-site / off-site) such a visual archive – carrying both pictures and videos – has very contained costs.
    • Moreover, next to limiting the risk of losing data, or seeing them deteriorated by time, it will eventually make migration to different platforms and standards easier.
  • 24. Documentation and Communication (7)
    • There will of course be some culturally specific issues:
    • Women voices will be more likely on audio than on audiovisual documentation.
    • Background voices commenting slide presentations or videos will be more frequent than in some other cultures.
    • However, the inherent difficulties notwithstanding, and in a different cultural frame, there is no reason why we shouldn’t think a quick development of adequate and satisfactory documentation and communication strategies to be perfectly possible also in Afghanistan.
  • 25. ...Tashakor! Thank you.
    • “ A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive” – Kabul, Nazional Museum of Afghanistan (2010)