morning, thoughts, v5

Army Marching Styles

It would be facetious for me to call this a museum.

Donald Trump dropped the “Mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan on April 14, 2017.  The next day, April 15, 2017, North Korea made a show of force in an incredible parade of thousands, weapons a long way from akimbo. I was struck by the soldiers marching.

On February 9, 2017, the World Atlas tells us that these are the largest armies in the world.

Largest Armies In The World

Rank Country Active Military
1 China 2,333,000
2 United States 1,492,200
3 India 1,325,000
4 North Korea 1,190,000
5 Russia 845,000
6 Pakistan 643,800
7 South Korea 630,000
8 Iran 523,000
9 Turkey 510,600
10 Vietnam 482,000
11 Colombia 466,713
12 Egypt 438,500
13 Myanmar 406,000
14 Indonesia 395,500
15 Thailand 360,850
16 Brazil 318,480
17 Taiwan 290,000
18 Iraq 271,500
19 Mexico 270,250
20 Ukraine 250,000
21 Japan 247,150
22 Sudan 244,300
23 Saudi Arabia 233,500
24 France 222,200
25 South Sudan 210,000
26 Eritrea 201,750
27 Morocco 195,800
28 Germany 186,450
29 Afghanistan 185,800

I’ve gathered footage of marching, discovering the term “hell march” which apparently means these enormous parades of military might and discipline. Often accompanied by heavy metal. I’ll keep adding to the list as I find footage. (The countries listed in bold above have footage below.)

afternoon, thoughts

The Small Museum V2

Last weekend, I joined in the fun at the BBC HomeLab Kitchen held at the MozFest 2015 event at Ravensbourne in Greenwich. I was invited by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, who was programming the kitchen. She asked if I would construct a “last minute museum” to reflect what had happened in the preceding two days, where last minute was just that, revealing the museum display (and its ideas) to a group at around 5pm on the Sunday to whoever was there, and with prosecco. (Prosecco is excellent presentation bait, by the way.)

All in all, I found the experience of attending and participating in an event to record and report on it good fun and a bit odd. I participated in a couple of the workshops on the Saturday, and listened to what I think was the best session on Sunday – a panel with an architect, a professor and a designer discussing kitchen design and its place in constructing female reality.

Here’s what the space looked like:

Mozfest Homelab Kitchen

Mozfest Homelab Kitchen

Themes for the Last Minute Good Home Kitchen Museum

1. Technology vs Reality

It was especially clear from a couple of the workshops that what’s technically possible with an arduino, a pliable api and a willing participant is often a long way from the reality of the kitchen as a space.

Mozfest Homelab Kitchen

The kitchens I know and love are often a bit of a mess, full of steam and delicious smells, covered in dishes at their cooking heights, and perhaps most importantly, where people congregate, especially at parties. Yet the kitchens we see in work like Corning’s A Day Made of Glass shows a pristine environment that evokes a similar sense as a building that’s designed to never be lived in. The glass/chrome/clean/clinical tech thing just doesn’t gel with a real kitchen. For me, at least.

It was here that I invoked the power of Julia Child, as my talisman of woman expert, a powerful cook, and fully in charge of her domain. I drew upon her kitchen design, now part of the Smithsonian’s collection, as a direct and deliberate design made literally just to fit her. The distance from there to a day made of glass is great.

Anab Jain, a designer and panellist on day two, suggested to the group that we need to look across cultures and families to understand the flow and rhythms of a kitchen and design for it accordingly. She spoke of the dearth of communal food preparation, and its replacement by fast food and isolation.

It also struck me that this XYZ vs. Reality theme is echoed in the work we did at The Small Museum V1, on our day working with Nandi, the lonely steed of Shiva. We made an installation to try to reveal how Nandi lives in the real world (surrounded by people, food, smoke, prayers, colour, flowers, food), and contrast that with his position in the British Museum, in a stark cold blue room off The Great Court.

2. Woman as audience of kitchen

Active male, passive female

Active male, passive female

I knew as soon as Alex approached me that I wanted to incorporate kitchen infomercials somehow. You know the ones, where women are struggling at the start of the commercial with some simple or mundane task like putting utensils away, only to be saved by characters like Chef Tony and his amazing widget. Every infomerical I watched has a woman “host” quite passively listening to a male chef or other saviour who’s here to rescue here from her inability to operate her kitchen.

Julia Child’s strength and excellence was also a useful contrast to this dynamic, and I found this excellent picture of her holding a huge fish and smiling.

Julia Child and Fish

There’s a lot more to this than just that. This idea that women are often the audience to technological wizardry bears further thought.

And now, The Small Museum V2 lives in a single manila folder, this blog post, and two separate Flickr accounts (mine and Peter’s). There may also be other photographs of it (because I saw people take some), but I have no idea where they might be. I incorporated some quotes I gathered as I witnessed the event, and I had collected lots of workshop detritus, including the “Buddhist Carpenter’s Co-operative” emblem. I also kept back a plate and fork (and a bit of cake) from Saturday’s afternoon tea. I’d stashed it away, and popped a sign up that asked it not be removed, but on Sunday, it was gone! (Either that’s my first museum theft, or someone just did a good job of cleaning up overnight.)

Here’s what the display ended up being, a lot of paper and printouts and sticky tape and post-its and sharpie labels, laid out on a table in the space:


The final museum display

Along with Alexandra, the event was hosted by Peter Bihr and we were also joined by Marcel and Harm from The Incredible Machine, who co-wrote the new IoT Design Manifesto. The museum more or less culminated in a point of view, which was to suggest one addition to the manifesto, given the thinking and absorbing of the ethically centered conversations from the previous two days: to keep liberating women as we continue to develop IoT and other technologies.

Upon reflection, making this last minute museum was a lot like the early stages of designing something. It was a bunch of listening and collecting, and then re-presenting what I’d heard synthesised into some strong concepts. Roll on, V3!

museuminabox, start, thoughts

Super Rough Draft / V1 Planning

Harriet has laid out a useful overview of the sorts of things we’re thinking about as we embark into the unknown of The Small Museum Version 1 – you can see them photographed below. A very basic point of focus is that perhaps our central element should be the people who come into the room, and not the (very small) objects.

Long shortlist of ideas:

  • We’ll have 10 objects. We have about 10 days. Perhaps we focus on one object per day.
  • We want to explore context around each object. It’s not about showing tombstone metadata, but giving visitors a sense of what the object is and where it normally lives. Object as witness.
  • The space needs to be really dynamic. One thought is to use brown paper as our surface on the table and draw ideas all over it. We could add dates/times to paper to log their creation date/time (and potentially reproduce or replay).
  • We’re going to have a printer and a projector.
  • Use the BERG-tough technique of design-by-video during or after the event to expand on ideas.
  • Keep a count of how many people enter the room. (In a non-creepy way, or maybe in a really obvious, large, public way.)
  • Design at least two different boxes/housings for the museum in a box. Today we have a nice round Royal Doulton box that is fine for starters.
  • Design at least one RFID/NFC style interaction with one object. You place an object on a spot and something happens.
  • Tiptoe along the line of lo-fi, minimum viable museum and something that looks a bit designed, or thoughtful.

Here are Harriet’s guides for the things we’ll be thinking about.

5_other_content 4_capturing_user_action 3_interactions 2_the_space_other_stuff 1_object_content

Also, yesterday I discovered the fantastic Pop-Up Museum, out of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Of course it already exists! There’s a fantastic How-To Kit available there to help think through other stuff we’ll undoubtedly miss.

I must admit though, while I don’t necessarily want to reinvent every wheel, it feels important to stumble around a bit and find our way through doing stuff and talking to people. That’s half the fun anyway. Not knowing what the hell is going to happen on any one day, but working to a basic plan is… invigorating!


What is it a museum of?

As I chat with people about the general idea, the first question I get in response is usually what is it a museum of? Given that, it’s useful for me to write down the answer, roughly anyway.

In some ways, the collection is irrelevant. What I’m interested in exploring is the mechanics of a small cultural institution, the thing itself. Yes, that means exhibitions and caring for a collection (or else is it even a museum?), but it seems to me that a lot of the tools specific to the sector are about collections management, digital asset management, and customer relationship management. By us not focussing directly on the collection, it might allow us to ask new questions and develop new tools for the more prosaic operations that small institutions perform. The research challenge here is to try to help keep small institutions alive, and an expensive piece of software that only looks after their collection isn’t the way to do that.

One friend referred me to the IMLS definition list: “Museums include, but are not limited to, aquariums, arboretums, art museums, botanical gardens, children’s/youth museums, general museums (those having two or more significant disciplines), historic houses/sites, history museums, natural history/anthropology museums, nature centers, planetariums, science/technology centers, specialized museums (limited to a single distinct subject), and zoological parks.”

To try avoid getting stuck in the collection diversity question, or perhaps at least delay attention to it, my current plan is to perhaps only have a single object in the museum, perhaps even for as long as a year. So, a collection, to be sure, but a very small one. This is for various reasons:

  1. To think long and deep about how practice can start changing to gather and collate and keep multiple descriptions and perspectives on objects, with rigour. I bet we won’t be able to resist collecting other bits and pieces along the way to help describe the First Object, but would try to keep that to a minimum.
  2. To constrain research and exploration to the set of infrastructural things small institutions need to be able to run. I’m thinking mundane things, and I want to understand all (other) aspects of small institutions, not just their collections. My hope is that the R&D we do to create the small institution and have it run well and smoothly will not be about collection stuff, but about infrastructural support with things like volunteer management and transaction management. In time, the tools we might design and build to help run our small museum might be able to be generalized for these other types of institutions. It’s almost as if the collection is irrelevant. There’s a ton of interesting work to do exploring that One Object concept.
  3. The one object is going to be something mundane. A modern day amphora, if you will. Something full of stories that lots of people are familiar with and possible even have.

As I’ve chatted to friends about the idea, more than one of them have responded with “It’s a museum of museums,” and I really like that. Another description is “a museum of metadata,” which is also growing on me.

I’ve also been really inspired by the UNESCO Handbook for Running a Museum. It was published in 2004, I think, and basically intended to be distributed around the Middle East as the war raged around it. You can see from the list of subjects that there’s a bunch of other stuff that museums need to do apart from looking after their collections:

  • The Role of Museums and the Professional Code of Ethics
  • Collections Management
  • Inventories and Documentation
  • Care and Preservation of Collections
  • Display, Exhibits and Exhibitions
  • Caring for the Visitor
  • Museum Education
  • Museum Management
  • Managing People
  • Marketing
  • Museum Security, including Disaster Preparedness
  • Illicit Traffic issues

I’ve copied the chapter headings on to my notebook so I can drill them into my brain.

Chapter Headings

So, what’s it a museum of? We’ll find out.

(I’m keeping people anonymous for now, since this site is a bit new and I haven’t asked permission to identify anyone.)

You may also be interested to listen to the Gin and Innovation #005 podcast from Strange Telemetry (George Voss and Justin Pickard talking to James Bridle about copper and museums) that I’m listening to right now, as I write this post.