Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum

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Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum Omar J. Camarero Montesinos Master Dissertation MA Art Museum and Gallery Studies University of Leicester · 2011

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Master Dissertation, MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies, University of Leicester, UK.

Transcript of Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum

Page 1: Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum

Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum

Omar J. Camarero Montesinos

Master Dissertation

MA Art Museum and Gallery Studies

University of Leicester · 2011

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Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum

Omar J. Camarero Montesinos

Word count: 14,452


This dissertation addresses the topic of affect in museums in an attempt to shape a valid theoretical framework to approach the spectrum of these affective responses within the exhibitions. The work is extensively dedicated to outline a definition of affect and a description of the circumstances, effects and contexts that may condition its emergence within museums and galleries. Additionally, focusing on the result of those affective reactions, this paper analyses the production of transformative experiences and the different agents involved in these processes. The research on affect is culminated with the design of a brief taxonomy of affect in museums. The second part of this research is focused on one of the types of affect previously defined, the relational affect. This affect has been extracted from a series of artistic practices that Nicolas Bourriaud explored in his Relational Aesthetics (2002). Consequently, in order to focus on what seems to be the state-of-the-art of affective responses in museums, this dissertation discusses and describes relational affect and relational transformative experiences. A profound discussion of the circumstances of relational aesthetics is supported by a few examples. Apparently, the relational transformative experiences are generated by the inter-connexion of two events, on the one hand, the momentary formation of micro-communities, which leads to a process of collective generation of knowledge and affect. On the other hand, there is a continuous connexion between this cloud of collective affect and the quotidian reality of peopleʼs everyday life. These phenomena are explored independently in order to elucidate their details and precise causes. The conclusion of the research points at the concept of the relational museum, an institution that includes within its practices the implications and contexts of the relational affect in order to enhance the experience of its visitors and the impact of the museum in their lives.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ........................................................................................................ 4

Chapter 1. Introduction .............................................................................................. 5

Chapter 2. Affect .......................................................................................................... 9

Experiencing transformation .............................................................................. 15

Managing affect in museums: a taxonomy of affect. ......................................... 22

Absolute-Objective Affect .................................................................................. 24

Relative-Objective Affect. .................................................................................. 24

Absolute-Subjective Affect. ................................................................................ 25

Relative-Subjective Affect. ................................................................................. 26

Absolute-Relational Affect. ................................................................................ 27

Relative-Relational Affect. ................................................................................. 28

Managing visitorʼs attention ............................................................................... 28

Chapter 3. RELATIONAL aesthetics, affect, and transformative experiences .. 31

'learning to inhabit the world in a better wayʼ .................................................... 31

Folksonomy, the power of community producing meanings. ............................ 37

The continuum of connections with the everyday life. ....................................... 41

Chapter 4. The Relational Museum ...................................................................... 48

Learning to Love You More ............................................................................... 48

Personal Change for Social Change ................................................................. 52

Learning to Love You More in the Museum: The Relational Museum ............... 54

Chapter 5. Conclusion .............................................................................................. 58

Appendix 1. Triggers for Transformational Experiences ....................................... 62

Bibliography ................................................................................................................ 64

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List of Illustrations

Figure 1

Set of equations for generating affect, emotions, feelings and transformative experiences.

p. 14

Figure 2 Agents involved in transformative experiences in museums.

p. 18

Figure 3

Formula of Transformative Experiences. p. 19

Figure 4 Formula for Authentic transformative experience (see Appendix I).

p. 20

Figure 5

Formula for Motivational transformative experience (see Appendix I).

p. 21

Figure 6 Table of Taxonomy of Affect in Museums.

p. 23

Figure 7

The First Emperor: Chinaʼs Terracotta Army. The British Museum, London.

p. 26

Figure 8 Eleven Heavy Things by Miranda July.

p. 32

Figure 9

Felix Gonzalez-Torrex. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A), 1991 (left) and Untitled (Blue Mirror), 1990 (right).

p. 34

Figure 10 Caravaggio. St Matthew and The Angel (left - 1st version rejected for being undecorous) and St Mathew and The Angel (right - 2nd version – more traditional).

p. 35

Figure 11

Repetitive cycle of relational transformative experiences (based on relational affect).

p. 36

Figure 12 Taxonomy and Social Tagging for Museums. Steve.Museum project

p. 39

Figure 13 Learning to Love You More. By Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher.

p. 49

Figure 14 LTLYM. A selection of assignments and reports by diverse authors.

p. 51

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1. Introduction

The best art and writing is almost like an assignment; it is so vibrant that

you feel compelled to make something in response. Suddenly it is clear

what you have to do. For a brief moment it seems wonderfully easy to

live and love and create breathtaking things. … In a sense, these are

assignments – in the same way that the ocean gives the assignment of

breathing deeply, and kissing instructs us to stop thinking. (ʻLearning to

Love You Moreʼ, Fletcher and July, 2002)

ʻBreathing deeplyʼ in front of the ocean and ʻstop thinkingʼ when kissing are

examples of intimate affective states. No rational interferences. No cognitive

aspects. It is just that groundless sensation so difficult to fit. Thinking about

affect brings up a lovely mood, a sense of beauty, deepness and transcendence

that, although very far for being unfamiliar, seems impossible to find a gap for it

in the scope of human mind, a proper definition to determinate its boundaries

and possibilities. It is probable for someone to remind easily that so dramatic

exhibition that s/he went to and transmitted an indescribable sense of fear at the

beginning and compassion when leaving. Everyone has had the feeling of being

immersed in a place where before being able to consciously realise of and

perceive any rational meaning s/he feels a shiver down the spine, an

involuntary and unconscious response. After that, one analyses the context and

approaches things consciously, but, to some extent, everything will be already

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conditioned to that primary response. This affective world, which appears

wonderful and incontrollable at the same time, is the heart of this dissertation, a

magnificent door to explore the human experience.

The field of human experience has been in the spotlight of museums since the

last decade. A lot of research has been dedicated to improve the ways to

engage people and enhance their encounters within exhibitions. Exhibition

designers, curators, and sometimes artists have been combining efforts and

bringing their skills together in order to place the museum in a competent

position considering the blast of new media, captivating theme parks and the

spectacular industry of entertainment today. Among this existent scholarship

focused on what people experience within the museum, little research has been

undertaken regarding the affective responses that occur at the very beginning of

such experiences.

This dissertation has mainly two purposes. Initially it is outlined a theoretical

ground for starting to consider the role of affect in museums. With this purpose

the second chapter is entirely dedicated to develop in detail the concepts to be

used in the next sections, such as affect, experience and transformative

experiences. It will be followed a deductive reasoning approach along the

chapter, starting with some metaphysical and general conceptions by Henri

Bergson (1912) to later deepening more into the Theory of Affect by Silvan

Tomkins (2008) and the interesting notes of Parables for the Virtual by Brian

Massumi (2002) to differentiate between emotions, feelings and affect. Coming

closer to the particular purpose of this chapter, Andrea Witcomb (2010) will give

the necessary theoretical support to complement the aimed definition of affect.

Subsequently, John Dewey, in Art as Experience, (1980) and Barbara Soren

(2009) will help to outline the basis of transformative experiences based on

affect. As a result, the second chapter encloses a series of definitions,

applicable to museums, from affective responses to their resultant

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transformative experiences. It must be noticed that a number of concepts and

neologisms will be mentioned related with each other and appearing gradually

arranged from the more general to the more specific regarding the purpose of

this work. The chapter will conclude with two main contributions. Firstly, it will be

suggested a formula to consider those transformative experiences and the

agents that may be involved during the process. Finally, a taxonomy of affect in

museums will be outlined in order to foresee, to some extent, the potential

affective phenomena which might happen in an exhibition.

Once the different types of affect have been defined, as there is not room in this

research to explore the whole spectrum of affective experiences, it seems

appropriate to focus on the kind of affect that will probably condition more the

direction of museum practices in the future. This is the second main purpose of

this work and the core of the third chapter, dedicated to develop the term of

relational affect, pointed out in the previous chapter, and to mention the artistic

practices, from which it has been deduced, discussed by Nicolas Bourriaud in

his Relational Aesthetics (2002). The terms relational affect, as an affect based

on peopleʼs interactions connected with their everyday lives, and relational

transformative experiences will be explored along their circumstances, causes

and results. Consequently, the third chapter undertakes a deep exploration

along the two determining axes of relational transformative experiences: the

idea of collective intelligence and collaborative creation of affect, supported by

the example of the application of ʻfolksonomyʼ in museums (Trant, 2006); and,

on the other hand, the conception of the everyday life and its impact on the

individualʼs experiences, guided mainly by philosophers David Novitz (2001)

and Leddy (2005). Interestingly, this link with the everyday life is what will

empower the relational affective response and, at the same time, will provoke

certain changes in peopleʼs sense of their daily life. With this fundamental idea,

this dissertation closes its theoretical framework.

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The fourth chapter, in an attempt to materialise what has theoretically been

discussed in previous chapters, will provide some examples of relational

affective experiences, such as the project Learning to Love You More by

Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher (2002). To complement the academic support

of this chapter the critiques to Bourriaudʼs work by Claire Bishop (2004) and

Svetlichnaja (2005) will be very valuable. For the very last purpose of this

dissertation, the theory on relational affect will be applied to museums by

embodying it in the concept of the relational museum. At this point, they will be

brought the theories of new institutionalism and performative curating by Claire

Doherty (2004).

This work is eminently based on concepts. Although some examples are

provided to illustrate and support the theory, most of the paper attempts to

analyse thoroughly those concepts. Different studies of humanities, sociology,

psychology, philosophy, and museum studies have been combined in order to

shape the most accurate ground for a further work on the topic of affect in

museums. However, it must be noticed that this work is far away from any

scientific intention and accurateness, and, as it stays in the realm of humanities,

every definition, formula, and statement must be considered as flexible and

lexically expandable. As the scope of this dissertation is limited, among the

three pairs of types of affect suggested in the second chapter, it has been

decided to focus, for further analysis, on the relational, as they might be

considered those that enclose the most complex circumstances and reactions.

Nonetheless, much more research might be undertaken from the basis outlined

in the second chapter, indeed, this is the reason because half of the entire work

is dedicated to this part. On the other hand, relational affect has been chosen

because it is eventually what better defines the trend toward which museums

strategies and practices are evolving today.

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2. Affect

… the spark that makes your hair stand on end…

To address the challenge of finding a definition for affect, it is necessary to

previously come down to the basis of metaphysics guided by Henri Bergson

and his exploration of the different ways of ʻknowing a thingʼ. According to

Bergson (1912), an object can be accessed by analysis or by intuition. The

former involves the process of moving round the object, the latter that the

beholder enters into it. Analysis consists in obtaining different images

depending on the point of view at which the subject is situated and ʻon the

symbols by which we express ourselvesʼ (Bergson, 1912: 1), reducing the

object to other elements already known, other than the object itself. Intuition, by

contrast, ʻneither depends on a point of view nor rely on any symbolʼ (Bergson,

1912:1). Therefore, ʻanalysis multiplies without end the number of its points of

view in order to complete its always incomplete representationʼ (Bergson,

1912:8). Thus, accessing an object through analysis supposes to stop at the

relative, whereas intuition involves an approach to the absolute. For example,

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positive sciences use analysis when accessing an object by comparing it with

others. On the other hand, by using intuition, Bergson meant that beholders

must place themselves within the object applying a sort of ʻintellectual sympathyʼ

and through this ʻcoincide with what is unique in it and consequently

inexpressibleʼ (Bergson, 1912:7). For Bergson, it is through intuition that the

individual accesses entirely the object and the absolute. In order to illustrate this,

the author mentions how readers might identify themselves with some

characters in a novel, empathising with them and recognising features of their

own personality (Bergson, 1912).

The connexion produced by Bergsonʼs intuition will be the starting point for

defining affect. Beyond this metaphysical explanation, it must be remarked, so

far, that the fact of bonding with the absolute essence of an object would imply

to bring into play this sympathetic intuition in contrast with a scientific or positive

analysis, which would require external observation and an infinite number of

references to other objects. Thus, it is clearly differentiated that retrieving the

pure and absolute essence of an object will require a process based on

concepts such as empathy, sympathy, and intuition, in opposition to the external

and relative observation on which is based the scientific approach, completely

dependent on an infinite number of references.

Moving one step forward, it must be considered the first psychologist that

dedicated extensively to theorise on affect, Silvan Tomkins, and how he

criticised the underestimation of its role given by Psychoanalysis, where

supposedly affect was subordinated to drive systems, the Freudian

physiological needs (see drive reduction theory in Freud, 1961). However,

Tomkins postulates that ʻthe case is exactly the oppositeʼ and, indeed, affect

works as an amplifier or attenuator of such drive systems conditioning their

ʻmotivational impactʼ (Tomkins, 2008). An example is given in his text about the

need of eating: one does not need to feel and then learn the pain of hunger

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(drive system) in order to get used to eat, ʻ[t]he organism is so constructed that

the pleasure of eating [affective system] is more acceptable that the pain of

hungerʼ (Tomkins, 2008: 12), and consequently the motivation comes primarily

from the affective system.

Additionally, he remarkably links the issues of attention and consciousness of

peopleʼs everyday life with the affective systems. This dissertation will come

back to these concepts later as they are very relevant to the aim of this

research. Nevertheless, Tomkinsʼ theory of affect resulted finally in a very

reductionist position when structuring affect in nine and only nine groups of

pairs of concepts. On the contrary, this dissertation will support that affect

involves an infinite spectrum that could be merged and combined producing

unlimited manifestations.

The mentioned purely metaphysical and purely scientific approaches stay round

the definition aimed by this work and thus, in order to move closer to the

peculiarities of affect, it must be brought up Massumiʼs work (Massumi, 2002).

Brian Massumi explored, in Parables for the Virtual (2002), the variety of

registers of sensations appearing in different media. His approach results very

appropriate for the purpose of this work as he combines a psychological theory

with a more humanistic method. He discovered that in the process of watching

an image or sequence there was a gap between the content and the effect

produced. Similarly to what was stated by Tomkins, Massumi advocated the

primacy of the affective in image reception. Affect, therefore, would fill the gap

between the content and the consequent effect. In order to examine this gap

and Massumiʼs work this dissertation outlines the equation

Qualifications + Intensity = Emotion.

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Intensity, later equated with affect, according to Massumi (2002), is an

unconscious reaction, unexpected and outside adaptation, delocalised from vital

function and any meaningful narration. Therefore, intensity is

a state of suspense, potentially of disruption. It is like a temporal sink, a hole in

time, as we conceive of it and narrativize it. It is not exactly passivity, because it

is filled with motion, vibratory motion, resonation. And it is not yet activity,

because the motion is not of the kind that can be directed … toward practical

ends in a world of constituted objects and aims (Massumi, 2002:26).

On the other hand, qualities are depth reactions, belonging exclusively to the

form/content level and they are a mix of consciousness and autonomy,

ʻnarrative elements that move the action ahead, taking its place in socially

recognized lines of action and reactionʼ (Massumi, 2002: 26). While qualities

establish a loop of consciousness, affect signifies a ʻnever-to-be-conscious

autonomic remainderʼ (Massumi, 2002: 25).

Interestingly, Massumi remarks the manifestations of affect and qualities in the

body and the relationship of them with their implicit meanings. Whereas

qualification is manifested in more autonomic functions such as heartbeat and

breathing, affect is revealed spontaneously in the skin, bristling it, as it is the

surface of the body and the first interface with things. Hence, affect is the first

stage appearing in the experience, even before reaching the consciousness

and it is spread ʻover the generalized body surface like a lateral backwash from

the function-meaning interloops that travel the vertical path between head and

heartʼ (Massumi, 2002: 25).

With all the above it is clear that the human experience is based on a first

spontaneous unexpected reaction which interrupts the loop of automatic

consciousness generating eventually a processed response, which it will be

called emotion, to complete the previous equation.

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Although affect and emotion have frequently been confounded, the latter is a

personal experience defined by Massumi as ʻqualified intensity, the … point of

insertion of intensity into semantically and semiotically formed progressions, …

into function and meaningʼ (2002: 28). Emotion is the result of both,

unconscious affective reaction plus its qualification through the rational

autonomous loop. Surprisingly, the equation is not just an addition. The

relationship between affect and qualification is one of ʻresonation or interference,

amplification or dampeningʼ (Massumi, 2002: 25). This interaction is what

makes affect to be owned and recognized and, consequently, very useful and

significant for the aim of this work.

After understanding the emotional stage, it is necessary to complement the

definition of affect with some of the points stressed by Andrea Witcomb (2010).

She retrieved the work of Susan Best (2001 quoted on Witcomb, 2010) and

Silvan Tomkins again to complete the previously stated equation adding that

affect, though being involuntary, might mean at the same time to be productive

and generate feelings ʻwhich, when processed, can turn into emotional and

eventually cognitive insightsʼ (2010: 41). Processing feelings might be

understood as a combination of those with either already existent feelings

and/or rational and intellectual materials. For the first time and very importantly,

the cognitive aspect, as a resulting process, is brought up.

To recapitulate what have been mentioned so far, the following equations

(Figure 1), far from scientific accurateness, pretend to summarize the processes

of human experience, which may make affect becomes eventually

transformative experiences.

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Figure 1. Set of equations for generating affect, emotions, feelings and transformative


1. Stimuli = Intuition + Sensorial Experience

2. Affect = Spontaneous and unconscious irruption of Stimuli

3. Emotion = (Qualified Affect) or (Affect + process of consciousness)

4. Feelings = Emotions + Emotions/Intellectual materials

5. Transformative Experiences = Feelings + Feelings/Thoughts

However, as this paper will support below, it is necessary to modify the first

point in these equations (Figure 1) of affect by adding something that makes it

going beyond the sensorial experiences as potential initiators. So far, it has

been implicitly argued that affect is produced as a result of a passive

expectancy to external stimuli. But this dissertation will complement this first

generative stimulus with two new factors: social relationships and intellectual

material, which did not appear until a further stage in the experience (point 4 in

the equations). It is understood here that, even though the subject stays still in

the realm of the unconscious, potentially, social relationships occurring at a

given moment might interact with existent intellectual material and complement

the set of equations above. Thus, during an experience based on a social

interaction is likely to happen that this contributes to the generation of affect by

supplementing it with unconscious material coming from this interaction.

Additionally, this material could have been merged, still unconsciously, with

other intellectual material previously shared in the memory. Consequently,

without abandoning the realm of the unconsciousness, it is worth remarking

how social interactions might especially contribute to the generation of affect,

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producing what it will be coined later as relational affect. Hence, the first point in

the equation would be modified as following:

1. Stimuli = Intuition + Sensorial Experience + Social Interactions + Existent

Intellectual Material

Moving forward, discussing about affect would make no sense if the

transformative consequences that it involves, represented in the last equation

above (Figure 1), are not argued.

Experiencing transformation

Before thinking about transformative experiences, they should be briefly pointed

out some qualities of the human experience itself. With this aim, it seems

essential to bring John Deweyʼs work (1980) to the discussion. He profoundly

explored the concept of experience applied to art from the basis of its original

link with life-experiences. Although, primarily focused on art, Deweyʼs approach

is a very wide one, including artefacts and every manifestation of human daily

life. The essential point to remark in Deweyʼs work is the critique he develops

about the isolation of art products ʻfrom the human conditions under which …

[they were] brought into being and from the human consequences [they

engender]ʼ (1980:1). This return to peopleʼs daily life is indispensable to

understand what mostly determines human experiences and will be crucial for

the argument in subsequent sections.

On the other hand, it is worth stressing the difference between to experience

things and to have an experience. According to Dewey, it is the closeness

character what makes clear this distinction; ʻwe have an experience when the

material experienced runs its course to fulfillment [sic.]ʼ (1980: 36). When

considering transformative experiences, this fulfilment will be identified with the

implicit transformation, which will be the consequent result. Thus, the potential

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outcome derived from this transformation might suppose ʻthe reframing of

oneself in relation to an object … [and/or] leaving with a vivid impression or

memory that will last beyondʼ (Soren, 2009).

At this point, with a detailed definition of affect and the process that leads to an

experience, it seems appropriate to deepening further into the elements that

settle the transformational aspect of those experiences and then finally, think

about them into the museum.

Barbara Soren has gathered together a number of definitions and discussions

about the nature of transformative experiences in her article Museum

experiences that change visitors (2009). Among them, for instance, Gardner

(1991 quoted in Soren, 2009: 234) focuses on the character of inventing

knowledge and transforming past experiences as essential aspects of the

process; whereas Mezirow addresses the definition to the transformation of

peopleʼs ʻtaken-for-granted frames of referenceʼ by making them ʻmore inclusive,

… open, emotionally capable of changeʼ and consequently guiding to action

(Mezirow 2000 quoted in Soren, 2009: 234). With these opinions, according to


transformational experiences seem to happen if we discard old ways of thinking

and provide new opportunities for individual to invent personal knowledge and

explore new ideas and concepts … [creating] challenges in which people can

discover the interconnectedness of ideas (2009: 234).

Regarding the museum, it must be considered the variety of implications and

connotations that it involves as a space separated from daily life, isolated in a

range of historical and cultural meanings. It seems so, that such a space might

facilitate the reframing of subjects and consequent transformative experiences.

Hooper-Greenhill (2007), indeed, remarks the relationship between the

transformational aspect of museums and the novelty of the situation, the place.

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Curiously, in order to achieve these transformations, museums must also

reframe themselves and become what Gurian calls the ʻessential museumʼ

(2007, quoted in Soren, 2009:235), a museum aimed ʻin transforming how users

think of museum visits – from an “occasional day-out” to a “drop-in service”ʼ.

However, apart from the unique character of the museum as a place, what

spark is really producing those transformative experiences? What factors are

involved during the process? In order to answer these questions two

approaches will be combined. Firstly, the ʻtriggers for transformational museum

experiencesʼ (see Appendix 1) defined by Barbara Soren (2009) and secondly,

the equations from the previous section (Figure 1) will be brought back.

Soren describes ten triggers, for generating transformative experiences, based

on interviews with her students at the University of Toronto (see Appendix I).

However, instead of considering them as triggers, this work will think about

them as a few examples of types of transformative experiences. Therefore,

ʻunexpected, ʻtraumaticʼ, ʻculturalʼ or ʻbehaviouralʼ will be terms to refer these

experiences in museums depending on the factors and actual triggers that

originated them. Some of these experiences, for instance, are due to the exhibit

content, the combination with personal experiences or the historical context.

Thus, in order to develop up to detail each of these experiences, these

determining factors must be established. So far, it has been argued that the

progression runs from affect to the transformative experience but the elements

that condition such progression are still unknown; the framework and the

gameʼs rules (Figure 1) are clear, but the players must be still defined. These

players will be called agents, and they are involved in every stage of

transformative experiences. These agents may vary in number, quality, or

intensity depending on the museum, the exhibition, the museumʼs staff and

visitorʼs personality among other factors. Nevertheless, this work illustrates

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some of them providing a brief list (Figure 2) with a description and some


Figure 2. Agents involved in transformative experiences in museums.

Name Description

Ambience and Atmosphere

Dramatic and theatrical features created through sensorial qualities such as design, lighting, smell, touch, or colour.

Art and Aesthetics Related with the range from pleasantness to rejection produced by a sense of beauty

Contexts Historical, cultural, geographical or any other background implicated in the configuration of meanings

Past Experiences Visitor memories. Experiences, related or not with the exhibitionʼs subject, that bring some kind of link to memory.

People Interactions Referring to those connections between two or more people, the result of connections between people and the exhibition itself, or even between people and other peopleʼs interactions.

Objects Museological definition. Pieces of the material or intangible world displayed in the exhibition.

Stories and Narratives Arrangement of objects under a relevant meaningful sequence.

Consequently, the definitive transformative experience responds to a formula

(Figure 3) that combines a permutation of those agents (Figure 2) with the

previous equations (Figure 1) generating diverse types of experiences, such as

those described by Soren (see Appendix I).

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Figure 3. Formula of Transformative Experiences.

Therefore, according to the formula in figure 3, transformative experiences are

caused by the addition of affect, generated by a permutation of agents, to a new

blend of agents, which generates emotions, which are finally added to a new

combination of agents producing the resultant thoughts and consequently the

transformative experience. Every stage is called, according to the progress from

unconscious to cognition: affective, emotional and cognitive stages respectively.

Hence, any pre-determined transformative experience, as those seen in

Appendix I is likely to be produced with this formula. For instance, the ʻauthenticʼ

transformative experience is explained through a visit to Hagia Sophia in


At the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, now a museum, a visitor felt completely immersed in

the history because of the reality of the building, and the authenticity of the objects and

the mosaics. The experience was a culmination of everything she had learned and seen

related to this masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. (Soren 2009, see Appendix I)

This example shows very clearly the agents involved in every stage, and the

transformative experience could be developed as following: the atmosphere of

the place, merged with the authenticity of the objects and the building, would

produce the first affective impression. Then, this affect would be combined with

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the knowledge than the visitor had learned about the history of the place (past

experiences) producing emotions. Finally, thinking about the place and the

emotions caused combined with the fact of being in a moment of history

(contexts) produce the actual transformative experience. The formula in figure 4

summarizes the entire process.

Figure 4. Formula for Authentic transformative experience (see Appendix I).

Objects (building and mosaics) + Atmosphere à Affect + Past Experiences (learned

knowledge) à Emotions + Contexts (current and past history) à Thoughts à

ʻAuthenticʼ Transformative Experience.

Another example might be the ʻmotivationalʼ transformative experience (see

Appendix I), showed through the example of a young visitor going to Colonial


A 16-year-old who visited Colonial Williamsburg found it a place to literally walk into the

middle of history and feel a part of the history. During the visit a costumed interpreter

who found him ʻsmart-mouthedʼ called him historical names in the context of Colonial

America, and invited him to sit on a jury at a trial to see how law breakers were dealt

with. The outcome was a realization that through studying history and museum studies

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it was possible to re-create for teens the experience at Colonial Williamsburg. (Soren

2009, see Appendix I)

Here the agents could be extracted as well. In this case, it is history (contexts)

what triggers the affective response. But then, the emotions are generated

entirely by merging the play of the costumed interpreters (people interactions)

with the narrative of their stories. These emotions and the past and current

experiences of the visitor produced at the end a deep reflection about the

visitorʼs future and museumsʼ function in general. Again the transformative

experience could be summarized in a formula (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Formula for Motivational transformative experience (see Appendix I).

Contexts (history) + Objects (the place) à Affect + People Interactions (interpreters)

+ Narratives (their stories) à Emotions + Contexts (current and past history) + Past

Experiences à Thoughts à ʻMotivationalʼ Transformative Experience.

Once this work has explored deeply the theoretical process of developing

transformative experiences in the museums, the focus will be brought back

again onto affect, which is considered by this paper as the most important stage

in the configuration of these experiences. The main issue when researching on

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this subject is the subjectivity implied in these processes. The task of defining

the exact desired experience for every people is almost impossible, as most of

the agents will depend mostly on the visitorsʼ perception and their unconscious

response. Nevertheless, an exhaustive analysis of the types of affect in the

museum might lead to closer interpretation and consideration of affective

reactions occurring within the place.

Managing affect in museums: a taxonomy of affect.

Although museums can barely decide with accuracy the thoughts and

experiences they want to produce, namely ʻthose experiential zonesʼ, as Fisher

describes, ʻof the mysterious, the auratic and the ritualisticʼ (2006:27), it is

possible to discuss how they can work toward an effective management of

affect within the institution and their exhibitions. This section outlines a potential

taxonomy of affect and explores the management of attention in museums, as

starting points to reflect on visitorsʼ affective response.

Following with the systematic approach exposed in previous sections, defining

now a taxonomy of affect in museums seems a proper way to start reflecting on

how these institutions may consider affect within their exhibits.

As mentioned above, affective responses belong not only to the deepest

internal subjective part of visitorsʼ mind, but also to the spectrum of involuntary

reactions of the unconscious. This fact makes particularly challenging the work

to foresee and planning affective responses in museums. Nevertheless, the

more accurate and sophisticated is the research about classification and

understanding of affect and its effects, the more probable is the anticipation of

potential affective outcomes, which is one of the purposes of the present work.

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Considering the results of previous sections, and particularly the agents that

produce affect in museums, it is possible to make some assumptions and to

outline a certain taxonomy of affect in museums. This taxonomy would be

structured in two axes: a) Object-Subject-Relations and b) Absolute - Relative.

In the axe ʻaʼ, when mentioning ʻobjectsʼ, this means the individualʼs external

world, including not only material objects, but also the range of physical and

environmental manifestations of the exhibition. By contrast, ʻsubjectʼ refers to

the individuals and their subjective circumstances. ʻRelationʼ is an element,

based on interactions, that points at different subjects and their interactions


ʻAbsoluteʼ and ʻrelativeʼ, in the axe ʻbʼ, are attributes to indicate the character of

the relationship between the elements and the subsequent affective reaction.

Understandably, the aim of this paper is clearly far away from discrete and

precise scientific descriptions and conversely is more in the realm of social

sciences and humanities, so the scope of every type of affect and the range of

determinants and consequences must be understood according to this

statement. The boundaries between some affect and another are flexible and so

the interpretation of their definitions. This work must be considered as a guide

to focus on certain peculiarities that are repeatedly more visible in museums

when thinking about affect. Therefore, the matrix of taxonomy of affect in

museums is illustrated in figure 6 and developed below. Every section,

dedicated to each type will follow the same scheme: description, example, and

the viability of managing this specific affect in the museum.

Figure 6. Table of Taxonomy of Affect in Museums.

Object Subject Relations

Absolute Absolute-Objective Affect Absolute-Subjective Affect Absolute-Relational Affect

Relative Relative-Objective Affect Relative-Subjective Affect Relative-Relational Affect

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Absolute-­‐Objective  Affect  

This affect is implicitly and evidently generated because of the object/materiality

of the exhibition. Its ʻabsoluteʼ character and main feature is that it is accessible

for a general public and understanding. The effect of this affect is derived from a

matter of general culture, universal knowledge, etc. Normally, this consideration

of ʻuniversalityʼ is relatively flexible and concerns the use of boundaries such as,

for example Western culture or any specific country. The essential quality of this

affect concerns the cognitive and objective side in opposition with the aural and

environmental peculiarity that determinates the group of subjective categories.

The reason of this is mainly because it is based on ʻknowledgeʼ.

As an example of this category, a topic such as the Holocaust in a Western

museum would be surrounded by this affect. A large majority of people within

this context are supposed to have a general understanding of the theme with all

the connotations, meanings, stories, and feelings that involve it.

Managing this kind of affect is relatively easy for museums and definitely the

easiest in comparison with the others. The museumʼs staff, applying the

statistical data of the visitors, will have an idea of the communities visiting the

place and what it could be understood as general culture for each of them

according to their background. Accordingly, the museum might simply make an

approximation of when and how this affect is being generated.


Relative-­‐Objective  Affect.  

This affect is just a derivation of the absolute objective affect but, in this case,

the affect results ʻobjectiveʼ just for a specific community or group of people,

determining thus the ʻrelativeʼ feature of this category. The concept points to

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specific minority groups visiting the museum that share a common knowledge

relating again to the museumʼs materiality and contents.

An example of this type might be the National Gas Museum in Leicester, where

the community of engineers, workers and experts in gas industry, when visiting

the museum, will share exclusive knowledge about the themes and

consequently they will have access to this kind of affect.

In the same way that in the previous category, visitorʼs attendance data will

show the museum in what cases and proportion this kind of affect is occurring.

Absolute-­‐Subjective  Affect.  

In opposition with the previous group, this affect is generated by factors and

agents outside cognitive and material aspects of objects. The causes are

especially those referring to the atmosphere, drama and aura of the exhibition.

Even though these features are derived eventually from objects and material

sources, their essence and significance are purely intangible and they make

sense when are perceived by the subject. The ʻabsoluteʼ attribute of this

category indicates that this affect is based on general and universal patterns of

emotions, which might be pre-determined to some extent. Thus, for instance,

sad music is likely to suggest sadness and a colourful lighting ambience would

probably provoke a mood of happiness.

Examples of this type are found in all kind of exhibits based on design, lighting,

sound, smell and any other sensorial combination. For instance, the Chinaʼs

Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum in London was based primarily

on dramatic and theatrical qualities.

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Figure 7. The First Emperor: Chinaʼs Terracotta Army. The British Museum, London. Photographs taken from the design company website, Metaphor. ( (18/05/11)

Regarding the management of this affect, museumsʼ staff can carefully work on

these aspects in order to control and determine when and how it is generated.

Providing the ʻuniversalʼ quality of these patterns of emotional reactions and the

triggers that produce them, the configuration of a desired mood would be

possible. The largest research undertaken so far about affect has addressed so

far this specific type; therefore, curators and exhibit designers know today

countless techniques to shape it.

Relative-­‐Subjective  Affect.  

It is caused by the affective contents embodied by an exhibition or pieces of the

exhibition (objects, aura, narratives…) but exclusively for a given individual,

depending on the history, experiences, and contexts of this precise individual

among other factors. This affect is restricted for every subject and it is triggered

depending on the unconscious connections between the particular subject and

the surrounding material world within the museum.

There are as many examples of this affect as people in the world. It might be an

object that reminds someone a toy from his/her childhood or the particular

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atmosphere of an exhibit that produces a feeling of fear in a subject because of

past experiences and remembrances.

The prediction and consequent management of this kind of affect is practically

unachievable in the museum due to the impossibility of knowing everyoneʼs

personal and past experiences; albeit certain connections may be expected for

particular groups, such as darkness is likely to produce fright in young children.

Nevertheless, starting to reflect on such groups would bring us to the realm of

the absolute-subjective affect.

Absolute-­‐Relational  Affect.  

This affect is generated by social interactions occurring within the museum or

as a result of it, for example, after visiting the museum. In this group are

included interactions within the audiences, one person with each other, and

between the public and the exhibition or pieces of the exhibition.

Nicolas Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics (2002) explores a number of artistic

performances developed upon the idea of generating this affect. The range of

affective responses and circumstances surrounding this group are the heart of

this work and the following chapter will treat in detail on them.

In order to provoke or manage this affect, museums only can provide

frameworks for the development of these kinds of interactions, and probably,

depending on the framework, some specific interactions and links might be

anticipated. Indeed, the ʻabsoluteʼ of this category denotes this unique umbrella,

which embody all the interactions. However, once these interactions are

happening the final results will be unexpected due to the character of recurrent

and spontaneous self-construction based on people-generated contents.

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Relative-­‐Relational  Affect.  

In this case, the affect appears when an individual experiments an encounter

with other peopleʼs interactions, such as those stated in the previous type. The

subject would be outside the framework that determines those relationships,

meaning not participating. The existence of both relative and absolute relational

affects implies the involvement of two different communities, one the temporal

community created by the interaction with the artwork and two, the general

audience that watches these interactions. Normally, both groups are

intermingled and move from one group to each other, changing their role.

A very illustrative instance of this kind of affect is clearly visible in the example

given for the ʻemotionalʼ type of transformative experiences (see Appendix I)

where a person feels certain emotions when reading a comment book by

visitors in a museum. A comment book supposes a framework to foster

relationships between visitors and the exhibition. Although, this method is

unidirectional and there is no interaction and feedback for the visitor, the

relationship is established according to the previous type of affect, absolute-

relational. Now, the visitor, acting as a reader and not as a writer and thus, from

outside the relational framework, might experience a relative-relational affect.

As with absolute-relational affect, although museums might foster these

reactions, their results are unmanageable.

Managing visitorʼs attention

Obviously, these manifestations of affect are related one with each other and

many of them can occur at the same time. In fact, in the museum there is a

large background of possible agents and stimuli due to the infinite

circumstances surrounding the premises, objects, aura and people involved. In

spite of the fact that some of them could be measured or expected to some

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extent, the environment is eventually extensively complex. Obviously, the

individual will always be likely to perceive just a tiny selection of this available

range. According to Jonathan Crary (2001), this selection is isolated from the

other options configuring what has historically been considered as attention.

The way in which people have experimented attention, selecting external stimuli

and focusing in some of them, has evolved along history influenced by the

continuum of causality implied in a number of revolutionary changes, such as,

for instance, industrial revolution and capitalism. Crary develops along his work

(2001) a historical analysis of changes in peopleʼs attention, especially from the

1800s until today. Since the late nineteenth century, ʻthe problem of attention

becomes a fundamental issue. …[It was] directly relate to the emergence of a

social, urban, psychic, and industrial field increasingly saturated with sensory

input.ʼ (Crary, 2001: 13). In fact, was then when inattention started to be

understood as a serious problem and danger. Crary remarks how during the

World War II issues of ʻvigilanceʼ in radar screens, for example, brought a new

trend of research into attention (Crary, 2001: 34). Regarding the museums,

Henning explores how visitorʼs attention has evolved in museums along history,

largely influenced by rapid changes in social life, communication and

technology (Henning, 2006). Their form of spectatorship has been shaped ʻin

response to other modern experiences and attractionsʼ (Sandberg 1995, quoted

in Henning 2006). Today, the rise of new technologies, Internet and social

networks are producing entirely new patterns of attention conceived under the

concepts of multi-task, interconnectivity, and real time connexions.

This rapid and impulsive stream of change in attention and the need of holding

it are the most important challenges for twentieth-century curators and exhibit

designers. For them the production of new forms of spectatorship and habits of

attention are currently in the spotlight. The management of oneʼs attention, as

stated by Crary, ʻdepends on the capacity of an observer to adjust to continual

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repatternings of the ways in which a sensory world can be consumedʼ (2001:

33). This view considers the individualʼs point of view although the institutionʼs

one might be inferred from it. Thus, the museum might manage its visitorsʼ

attention through detailed analysis and study of the affective world available to

these visitors and the possible way they have to consume it. After having

analysed above the dimension of this affective spectrum in museums, its

categories and its triggers, configuring certain management of attention might

be somewhat feasible.

However, the aim of this dissertation is focusing just on some of these affective

systems, the relational, and exploring profoundly how they are produced and

what kind of connections created in social environments and, more specifically,

museums. The next chapter is dedicated exclusively to this purpose.

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3. RELATIONAL aesthetics, affect, and transformative experiences

ʻlearning to inhabit the world in a better wayʼ (Bourriaud, 2002: 13)

A series of eleven sculptural works were made by the filmmaker, writer and

artist, Miranda July for the 53rd International Art Exhibition at the Venice

Biennale and installed in a garden at the Giardino delle Vergini. These

sculptures, however, are not exactly art; they configure a framework for art to be

developed within. Because these cast fiberglass pieces are designed for

interaction: ʻpedestals to stand on, tablets with holes for body parts, and free-

standing abstract headdresses. … A wider pedestal for two people to hug on

reads, “We donʼt know each other, weʼre just hugging for the picture”ʼ (July,

2010) (Figure 8). But, it does not finish here. Miranda July, through her work

Eleven Heavy Things, invites people to take pictures of their “interactions” and

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upload them to the Internet and by doing so, the result, the artwork itself, is

being generated by the people.

Though the work begins as sculpture, it becomes a performance that is only

complete when these tourist photos are uploaded onto personal blogs and sent

in emails – at which point the audience changes, and the subject clearly

becomes the participants, revealing themselves through the work (July, 2010).

Figure 8. Eleven Heavy Things by Miranda July. Photographs taken from the artistʼs website ( (18/06/11)

Eleven Heavy Things is an example of a number of artistic practices today

acknowledged under the term of relational art. The French critic and curator,

Nicolas Bourriaud, coined the term in his work Relational Aesthetics (2002), a

collection of essays analysing and discussing the last artistic movements arose

in the 1990s. This theoretical work, according to some authors (Bishop, 2004

and Farquharson, 2003 among many others) has probably been the most

precise and thoughtful exploration of the direction art has been assuming since

the late twentieth century, ʻan art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of

human interactions and its social contextʼ (Bourriaud, 2002:14).

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Following a historical approach, Bourriaud explores how artworks, at the very

beginning, functioned as interfaces to allow human society to communicate with

the ʻdeityʼ and therefore, they were ʻfirst situated in a transcendent worldʼ (2002:

27). At a later date, according to the author, from the Renaissance on, art

ʻgradually abandoned this goal, and explored the relations existing between

Man and the worldʼ (2002: 27). Then, Cubism supposed a radical challenge for

the artworkʼs purpose, in an attempt to ʻanalyse our visual links with the worldʼ

using objects of peopleʼs everyday life (Bourriaud, 2002: 28). However,

Bourriaud writes, today ʻthis history seems to have taken a new turn … artistic

practice is now focused upon the sphere of inter-human relationsʼ (2002: 28).

Thus, for instance, when Felix Gonzalez-Torres makes exhibitions based on

piles of sweets1 or piles of sheets of paper2 (Figure 9) and invites the public to

freely take one of them, he is not just adding an interactive feature to the work,

but he is particularly making of this act the artwork itself while doing a reflection

on the publicʼs responsibility. People understand that they compromise the

artwork when participating by exercising their right of taking a piece. And it is

definitely this aura, this shared sense of freedom and concern, what triggers the

relational affect in this kind of experiences. The museum today is accordingly

transformed in an experimental ʻlaboratoryʼ, reconceptualising the traditional

ʻwhite cubeʼ (Bishop, 2004: 51) in which individuals get involved in dynamic and

participative activities that make them reframe their links with the world and, at

the same time, with their personal life. The relational affects, absolute and

relative, as seen in the previous chapter are the main responsible pieces in this

context. The result of these experiences, based on relational affect, and the

subsequent transformations in the beholder will be termed from here as

relational transformative experiences. This is what concerns to this chapter,

1 Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991. 2 Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Blue Mirror), 1990.

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how they happen and what are the factors involved in them and the process

that produces changes through relational affect.

Figure 9. Felix Gonzalez-Torrex. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A), 1991 (left) and Untitled (Blue Mirror), 1990 (right). Photographs taken from open sources in the Internet.

Initially, is worth mentioning that these relational practices are not precisely new.

To some extent, ʻart has always been relationalʼ (Bourriaud, 2002: 15) since it

has fostered reactions and dialogue among people. For instance, when

Caravaggio interpreted religious motifs, such as St Matthew and The Angel

(Figure 10), whose iconography and representations had always been fixed to

certain conventions and rules, in a completely new way, understood as

indecorous and out of the conventions, the reaction and impressions of people

were of astonishment in that time; especially when the work was usually

rejected and the artist commissioned a new one (Langdon, 1999). The dialogue,

impressions, and reflections produced around this fact might be accepted today

as some kind of relational response and, to some extent, were these reactions

what added a different meaning and public approach to the artwork, in

opposition to other more conventional pieces.

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Figure 10. Caravaggio. St Matthew and The Angel (left - 1st version rejected for being undecorous) and St Mathew and The Angel (right - 2nd version – more traditional). Photographs taken from Langdon, 1999.

With all the above, what is now a real novelty is the matter of doing of those

reactions the central core and target of the artwork. A few recent movements,

for instance, such as those of Situationist International or Minimal Art, the latter

which ʻspeculated on the presence of viewer as an intrinsic part of the workʼ

(Bourriaud, 2002: 59), have already been basing their practices onto the social

arena. However, relational art would add to this ʻphysical presenceʼ the artistʼs

work ʻin inter-subjectivity, in the emotional, behavioural and historical response,

given by the beholder to the experience proposedʼ (Bourriaud, 2002: 59). This

spectrum of responses is what eventually constitutes, as seen above, the

relational affect. Understandably, it is evident that those practices with a special

attention to promote social interactions, if not the only ones, are more likely

capable to produce this kind of affect, though, as it has already been mentioned,

the entire affective response must be understood considering the combination

of different categories of affect. In any case, the relational aesthetics, by being

based on principles of collaborative elaboration of meanings and collective

intelligence, is apparently able to produce more intense responses than those in

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a lone individual. Nonetheless, this statement will be analysed thoroughly in the

following sections.

Understanding that there is a connection between relational aesthetics and

relational affect, now it is necessary to explore further the details of what

happens next. As seen above, the desired result of any experience in a

museum or artistic environment, whether it is based on affective responses or

not, would be some sort of transformation. In the case of relational

transformative experiences, the main peculiarity of their process is that it is

constituted in a closed repetitive cycle, as it will be subsequently showed.

Similarly to what it has been exposed in the first chapter, there are certain

triggers that enclose such process (Figure 11).

Figure 11. Repetitive cycle of relational transformative experiences (based on relational affect).

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As seen in figure 11, the individualʼs relational transformative experience occurs

when there is a recurring connection between his/her personal life experiences

and environment and the collectively constructed affective system within the

framework of the exhibition, if referring to museums or galleries. Thus, the

individuality becomes connected with the collaboratively created cloud of

relational affect generated within what is understood now as a ʻlaboratoryʼ

(Bishop, 2004): the exhibition venue. Therefore, the relational experience is

constituted in a bipolar cycle where the individual, after connecting with and

participating in the collective affect, returns to a self-reflection based on terms of

his/her everyday life producing eventually an effective relational transformative

experience. But, why this cyclical circuit of peopleʼs relations and interactions

produce such transformative experiences? What are the key features to bring

into being successful relational affective experiences?

The answer swing between two fundamental poles, which deserve especial

attention: in one side, the configuration of purpose-based temporal communities,

responsible of the collaborative elaboration of affect; and on the other side, the

strong link to situations of the everyday life (Figure 11).

Folksonomy, the power of community producing meanings.

When in 1994 Jens Haaning installed a megaphone in the Osloʼs Turk district to

broadcast jokes in Turkish (Haaning, 2003) something extraordinary happened.

Automatically, a micro-community of just those people able to understand

Turkish were gathered in that place creating a ʻmomentary groupingʼ that gave

rise to an ʻspecific arena of exchangeʼ (Bourriaud, 2002: 17). This sense of

group or community produced among the participants a unique attitude in the

place. In order to illustrate how a collaborative process between these

momentary groups of people may lead to the creation of affect, contents and

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knowledge, this section comes down to the basis of the conceptual frame of

collective intelligence by introducing an example, now in a more practical way,

about this shared elaboration of meanings and interpretations. This process is

clearly discernible in the recent use of ʻfolksonomyʼ or social tagging in

museums (see Trant, 2006). This concept was extracted from the Internet and

originated by the combination of the words ʻfolkʼ and ʻtaxonomyʼ (Quintarelli,

2005). The term defines a collaborative categorisation of contents through the

aggregation of tags or keywords by the general public. The classification of the

contents depends on the repetition of keywords added by people, obtaining thus

a gradually more refined classification when a larger group of people

participates. This feature, representing an interesting common elaboration of

knowledge, was first introduced by websites like Del.icio.us3 and Flickr4, and

today is widely spread in the Internet by graphic representations consisting in

words clouds. Social tagging, applied to museums, was first developed in the

ʻsteve.museumʼ project5 (see Trant, 2006). A number of professionals and

academics from the museum sector worked out to improve the interpretation of

artworks and artefacts in museums and the access to them in museum records.

According to Trant, it was required ʻbridging the semantic gap between the

professional, curatorial language of art history and the public perceptions of its

visual evidenceʼ (2006: 3). Through the addition of non-expert and more

emotional and affective tags to certain contents, museums might apparently

broaden their perspectives and adapt to better meet their missions (Figure 12).

Thus, as a result of this method, people were able to approach and find more

easily artefacts and objects in the accessioning records of certain museums.

3 4 5

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Figure 12. Taxonomy and Social Tagging for Museums. Steve.Museum project Photographs taken from the project website (


The example of ʻsteve.museumʼ project, albeit not really illustrative of the

affective sense of social interactions, shows very clearly how meanings or

knowledge elaborated by collaborative methodologies are reasonably more

effective to be transmitted to the general public, as it was there, in the people,

where they had their origin. Nowadays, the revolutionary possibilities of social

networks in the Internet, as well as the sharing of opinions, information and

contents in real time, are allowing the emergence of new concepts in social

interactions and common generation of contents, which are being mirrored not

only in the Internet but also offline. This ʻarena of exchangeʼ (Bourriaud, 2002)

is logically interconnected with most contemporary artistic practices and might

be extrapolated as well to many other sectors and more specifically, museum


Consequently, providing that a larger group of people is likely to produce more

improved and accurate meanings, when talking about affect, it is derived that

such groups would produce more intense emotional and affective situations. In

the same way that in social tagging every individual makes a contribution of

personal knowledge with a common purpose, to some extent, the relational

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affect represents a shared elaboration of a mood, an unconscious individual

collaboration to the configuration of the collective aura in the exhibition. In words

of Jennifer Fisher,

[the] use of the term affect must be understood as distinct from individually felt

emotions. Instead, affect consolidates collectively sensed singularities of feeling,

for instance the social climates of urgency, love, evil, shock, joy, shame, awe,

conviviality or even terror (Fisher, 2006: 28).

Referring to Felix Guattariʼs theory, Bourriaud claims that

subjectivity is the network of relations between the individuals and other models

of subjectivity, which construction process proceed wherever the social prevails.

Hence, subjectivity is random as it splits, connects, re-connects and re-

distributes; it never is subsumed under a homogenic [sic.] self (Bourriaud 2002

quoted in Svetlichnaja, 2005: 5).

Accordingly, Svetlichnaja, stressing the unexpected property of relational affect,

states that ʻthe aura is created by accidental connection between the situation

and the participants, - this aura is one of random subjectivityʼ (2005: 5). These

aspects of randomness and spontaneity are symptomatic of the concept of

affect, in opposition to concepts such as feelings or emotions as were defined in

the first chapter. Thus, it seems evident that, providing a favourable framework

for that, certain momentary groups of people may produce spontaneously and

through the projection of their subjectivity a common affective aura.

However, how does this peopleʼs subjectivity refer back to material from the

everyday world within such unexpected and subjective aura? How is the

transformative affective cycle closed?

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The continuum of connections with the everyday life.

Albeit this sense of community and collective feeling empowers the resultant

experiences, as well as produces feedback reactions that are added to the

communal work and shared with future public, the second key fact that makes

relational affect to emerge and produce transformative experiences and change

is the intrinsic connection with daily-life situations. This is what results in a

thoughtful reflection and eventually leads to some personal change.

In Untitled (Tomorrow Is Another Day)6 at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Tiravanija

erected a reconstruction of his New York apartment and made it open to the

public (Bishop, 2004: 57). Inside the artwork ʻ[p]eople could use the kitchen to

make food, wash themselves in his bathroom, sleep in the bedroom, or hang

out and chat in the living roomʼ (Bishop, 2004: 57). According to Kittelmann,

ʻthis unique combination of art and life offered and impressive experience of

togetherness to everybodyʼ (1996 quoted in Bishop, 2004: 57). It not only

formed that momentary grouping mentioned before, but also connected their

experiences with a sense of personal daily life. Similarly, encounters and

performances such as Christine Hillʼs ʻangelic programmeʼ, involved in ʻgiving

massages, shining shoes, … organising group meetings etc.ʼ (Bourriaud, 2002:

36) or Tiravanijaʼs cooking performances in museums and galleries, are

examples of the fundamental connection with feelings and memories of daily life

occurred in relational practices.

It is evident that the choice of particular topics and the approach in which they

are presented in relational art are essential pieces directly founded on the

creation of links with the everyday life of the individual. Curiously, this is a

shared quality in relational art and will be found in every artwork under the

relational umbrella.

6 Exhibition by Rirkrit Tiravanija held in Cologne at the Salon Verlag and Kölnischer Kunstverein, 1996.

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In order to understand this point and why those artists use it, exploring how the

everyday life affects these experiences appears necessary. John Dewey,

already mentioned, is practically the founder of the philosophy branch aimed to

recover ʻthe continuity of esthetic experience with normal processes of livingʼ

(Dewey, 1980: 9). It seems evident that there has always been an intrinsic need

of returning to the basic experience of human being where art had initially its

origin. According to Dewey, most of ancient arts and artefacts displayed today

in museums ʻflourished as part of religious rites and [popular] celebrationsʼ

(1980:5). Precisely, first theories about aesthetics and art, conceived in ancient

Greece, were based on the idea of imitation of nature, an act of reproduction.

Philosopher David Novitz points out how the separation between ʻhigh artʼ and

ʻpopular artʼ originated the break between the idea of aesthetics and the

everyday life (2001). According to him, this rupture occurred since the

Renaissance, when it grew a tendency ʻto distinguish the fine arts from other

arts or skills … [with] no bearing on, or relation to, the issues of everyday lifeʼ

(2001: 14). But, what does it mean exactly to talk about ʻeveryday lifeʼ? At this

point, Henri Lefebvreʼs definition is worthwhile:

Everyday life is profoundly related to all activities … it is their meeting place,

their bond and their common ground. It is in everyday life that the sum total of

relations that are expressed and fulfilled those relations that bring into play the

totality of the real: friendship, love, the need to communicate, play, etc.

(Lefebvre, 1991: 97, quoted in Tuomi-Gröhn, 2008: 8).

Then, according to Lefebvre everyday life would be closely connected with a

sort of basic relations and a link of this basis with ʻall activitiesʼ. Evidently, apart

from this broad definition, what everyday life most frequently recalls is a homely

sense of familiarity, safeness, and comforting stability. This idea of familiarity,

contrasted with the notion of strangeness, is the core of Haapalaʼs examination

into the aesthetics of the everyday life (2005). According to him, the typical

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understanding of aesthetics, especially in art, would be linked to the concept of

strangeness, as peopleʼs sensitiveness is higher in unfamiliar environments,

paying more especial attention to details and to the ʻmost trivial-looking thingsʼ

(Haapala, 2005: 44), for example, when visiting a new city. Familiarity,

conversely, implies ʻsomething that is looked through rather than looked atʼ

(Haapala, 2005: 45), the beholder is in a kind of passive state surrounded by

his/her routine. Thus, strangeness points to the status that art has acquired

along history, an ʻepiphenomenonʼ physically and intellectually placed in a

remote position, the museum, only accessible to certain cultured elite (Novitz,


However, scholars such as Novitz would not claim just the return and

connection of art to the everyday life, what he advocates is the idea that ʻarts

are a fundamental and altogether indispensable part of our lives since they are

the skills by which we liveʼ (2001: 19). He finds in different situations of daily life,

such as clothes, designs, flower arrangements, bathroom decoration, or even

the arts of seduction, a high sense of aesthetics (Novitz, 2001). Under this idea,

relational art constructs its arena, its framework for social interactions. Gillick

stated that the relational artwork become ʻa constantly changing portrait of the

heterogeneity of everyday lifeʼ (Troncy, 1992: 89). According to Bourriaud, ʻthe

everyday now turns out to be a much more fertile terrain than “pop culture” – a

form that only exist in contrast to “high culture”, through it and for itʼ (1995: 47).

Similarly to Novitz, Leddy brings up the term, coined by philosopher Arnold

Berleand, ʻenvironmental aestheticsʼ (Berleant 1997, quoted in Leddy, 2005)

recalling this aesthetics present in lived experiences, such a ʻwalk in the woodsʼ

(Leddy, 2005:4).

My own daily walk to work is an example of a fairly complex experiential whole

that may be analyzed along the lines of environmental aesthetics. I may

appreciate the nature of the day (sunny and fresh), the seasonal variations of

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the plant life (spring has arrived!), the flowery smells of plant-clippings (brought

out by a recent rain), … the physical pleasure of my own bodily movement, …

and the fashion statements of students as I enter the campus. All of the senses

are involved (Leddy, 2005: 4).

Also recalling the importance of the senses, especially smell and taste, when

considering the aesthetics of the everyday life, David W. Prall observed how

certain combinations in nature of such senses can ʻmake up a rare beautyʼ

(Prall 1929, quoted in Leddy, 2005: 11). He mentioned this feeling in an

exquisite way worth quoting here:

If there is a beauty of August nights … or the fresh loveliness after rain, if there

is ripe and languorous beauty in the mist and mellow fruitfulness of autumn, or a

hard, cold beauty of glittering winter frosts, such beauty is not all for the eye and

ear, and if we do not ourselves know how to blend smells and tastes with sound

and form and color to compose such beauties, we need not foist our limitation

upon nature … If we know no modes of arranging smells or tastes or vital

feelings or even noises in works of art, nature does not hesitate to combine the

soughing of pines, the fragrance of mountain air, and the taste of mountain

water … to make a beauty intense and thrilling in an unexpected purity and

elevation, almost ascetic in its very complexity and richness (Prall, 1929, quoted

in Leddy, 2005: 11).

This remembrance of taste and smell is just one point more to stress the

aesthetic capacity inherent in the everyday experience. Likewise, Zen Buddhist

monks, Schopenhauerian artists and Japanese culture, have traditionally been

capable to transform ʻeveryday aesthetic experiences into something

extraordinaryʼ (Leddy, 2005: 17). According to Leddy, for them ʻthere is such a

thing as “the aesthetic attitude” … [and] anything can be appreciated under the

aesthetic attitude, and hence become aestheticʼ (2005: 17).

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In the same way, Yuriko Saito in The Aesthetics of Weather (2005), criticizes

the Westernized vision of aesthetic practices while claiming that the aesthetic

experiences of peopleʼs everyday life ʻare universally shared, unlike art

appreciation, which is limited to those cultures with institutionalized artworld and,

even within that culture, only to those who have some access to and knowledge

about the artworldʼ (Saito, 2005: 156). She mentions how philosophers Melvin

Rader and Bertram Jessup

call attention to the fact that the majority of non-Western cultures lack the

equivalent notions of art, artist and artworld … The Balinese, for example is said

to have a saying: “We have no art, we do everything the best way we can”

(Rader, M. and Jessup, B. 1976 quoted in Saito, 2005: 157).

This vision of art and aesthetics, as something implicit in everyday life and

human condition, is essential to understand the effect of relational

transformative experiences. When Saito chooses the topic of weather to

research on everyday aesthetics, she does so because it is not an object, ʻaffect

us through many senses … is intimately bound up with our various practical

interests … is changing … [and is] experienced by every human beingʼ (Saito,

2005: 157). These are accordingly, incredibly relevant points to exemplify, in

parallel, the main attributes that relational art should match: subjective, affective,

practical (linked with sense of everydayness), unexpected, and universal,


Interestingly, according to these theories it seems that a museum or art venue

today would probably imply strangeness, as being still an unfamiliar and

institutionalised environment. However, this should not be a completely

negative aspect, as this sense of strangeness is needed to some extent to

provoke an attitude of sensitiveness and especial attention, because, according

to Hapaala (2005), familiar environments would foster submission and the

absence of awareness. Apparently, this would seem contradictory with what this

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dissertation attempts to infer: relational art as an experience based on links with

the everyday life. Nonetheless, on the contrary, this contradiction is the key

factor in this paperʼs argument. So far, it is clear that relational art is developed

in a context primarily surrounded by strangeness and completely unfamiliar for

the audiences. Initially, this would incite people to be sensitive and expectant,

as seen above. However, as seen, relational art takes advantage of Novitzʼs

notion of merging art and aesthetics experiences with the everyday life to the

extent of fusing them completely. Thus, when this relational art, placed in a

strange site, generates an aesthetic situation, which unexpectedly connects the

people with a sense of their everyday life, the contradictory peculiarity of the

experience produces an extraordinary shocking impact. Finding an image with

an aura of familiarity in a strange unacquainted context supposes a rupture with

the usual understanding of how art must be surrounded by strangeness and

thus completely separate from their daily life. This paradox results in an effect of

vibration in peopleʼs consciousness, and consequently, a break in such

consciousness is what will give entrance to the relational affect, which, as

examined in the first chapter, needs of an unconscious environment to be


This is the actual and essential trigger of relational affect and what move down

the individual from the pole of collective affect and get him/her ready to gather

personal reflections and emotions that subsequently will be added, back again,

to that affect in the next iteration of the cycle of the emerging relational

transformative experience (Figure 11). The interesting point in these

experiences is that when happening those iterations between the common

affective sphere and the sense of everyday life, every repetition in the cycle

produces an influence from one pole to another. In other words, the sense of

everyday life that an individual is invited to recall in the place will contribute to

the collective relational affect. But, on the other hand, this relational affect

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experienced will produce a reflection on the basis of the individualʼs everyday

life. This is the real powerful key point of relational transformative experiences,

the resulting reflection and consequently ʻchangeʼ that is eventually produced in

an individual regarding his/her daily life, based on contributions from an

affective aura collaboratively created. Thus, eventually the change will be

assumed on the basis of the individualʼs everyday life.

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4. The Relational Museum

Generosity exists in exchanges, like conversations, and within

temporal experiences shared by a social or communal body,

which are conceived as art, crafted by artists, though these

generous acts might not look like art, or in fact be art but become

art-like moments. (Jacob, 2005: 7)

Learning to Love You More

These ʻart-like momentsʼ is what relational artists Miranda July and Harrell

Fletcher considered as their basic pieces for creating the web-based project

Learning to Love You More (LTLYM) (Fletcher and July, 2002). Some of the

concepts discussed in this dissertation about affect, relational affect and their

corresponding transformative experiences are illustrated in this section through

the example of LTLYM. The relational art project consisted in a series of

assignments or tasks published periodically and offered freely to the general

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public. These assignments included things such as ʻTake a picture of strangers

holding handsʼ, ʻMake a paper replica of your bedʼ, or ʻWrite your life story in

less than a dayʼ (Fletcher and July, 2002). People were given short instructions

for each task, invited to complete these assignments and submit the

consequent photographs, audio, video files, or texts to the website. The artistsʼ

function was primarily the invention of every assignment and secondly a sort of

filtering task when publishing the reports, submitted by the public, in the web.

Therefore, the role of the artist as a designer of a framework for people

interactions is quite clear in this case.

Figure 13. Learning to Love You More. By Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. Photographs taken from projectʼs official website (


The fact that the format chosen for the project is a website permits to highlight

more easily the features aimed for examining, as due to its intangible peculiarity,

the affective aspects remain isolated from material influence and so clearer for

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analysis. Therefore, among the types of affect described in the first chapter, this

project brings up those concerning the subject and the relations.

Albeit the contents and, consequently, the artwork itself are generated by

peopleʼs contributions, the role of the artist is remarkably significant as the very

first aesthetic quality is visible in the headings of the assignments: lovely and

inspiring frameworks that engage people since the beginning. Interestingly, in

this example the separateness and peculiarities of every group, curators, artists

and audiences, are very clear. Artists are those who design the framework

where later audiences will participate through sending contents and fulfilling

assignments. But then curators will have to select the material sent. As Cook

and Graham point out regarding this project and comparing it with similar open

forms such as YouTube, in LTLYM ʻthere are levels of control within these

models concerning whether the “open submissions” are selected, filtered, or

curated in any wayʼ (2010: 113). Actually, the artists invited people to curate

their own online exhibitions by selecting their favourite reports (Fletcher and

July, 2002) and additionally, after the period in which the project was running,

from 2002 to 2009, it has been displayed, apart from the web, in a series of

exhibitions ʻin museums, galleries, schools, senior citizens centersʼ (Fletcher

and July, 2002), etc. Finally, the role of the audience is visiting other peopleʼs

report and adding contents and answer to the proposed tasks. The layout of the

website results very illustrative for this set of functions (Figure 13), three

columns separate the assignments established by the artists, the list of reports

sent by the public and the selected piece of work from those reports.

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Figure 14. LTLYM. A selection of assignments and reports by diverse authors. Photographs taken from the projectʼs official website ( (18/04/11)

Considering the affect that this art project might evoke, it seems evident that the

absolute-relational affect will emerge after people read the assignments and

decide to undertake them. Sometimes the assignments give a chance to further

interactions due to their own nature, such as ʻ#59 Interview someone who has

experienced warʼ (Fletcher and July, 2002), but in general they always will

foster an interaction between people and the artwork-framework. However, on

the other hand, is the subjective-relational affect that arises in everyone just

when loading the website and watching other peopleʼs interactions in the form

of the reports sent. Thus, the combination of both types of affect in one person

is what might suppose the integral affective experience and eventually the

consequent transformative experience. This would happen when some person

participates of an assignment and also watches other peopleʼs reports, no

matter the order.

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In regard of the relation with the everyday life, it is quite clear. As Cook and

Graham stresses,

[b]y using the term assignments, the artists are explicitly referring to the

familiarity of school homework assignments and playing with the domestic

context of Internet use – participants are often carrying out their assignments in

their homes (2010: 121)

Interestingly, the nature of the assignments implies a new way to approach the

individualʼs everyday life. This is, actually, the key point to make people reflect

on their daily life. Through these assignments, they learn a new way to behave

and to face their everyday lives and the result is, to some extent, a re-framing of

themselves in their quotidian contexts. These isolated and tiny reflections

inspire people producing probably not big changes, but, as the quote at the

beginning states, they are ʻbreathtakingʼ and wonderful moments.

Personal Change for Social Change

These small changes in the individualʼs everyday life suppose what Nicolas

Bourriaud referred to as ʻmicro-utopiasʼ, in opposition to the more general and

traditional concept of ʻsocial utopiasʼ. For him, ʻ[s]ocial utopias and revolutionary

hopes have given way to everyday micro-utopias and imitative strategiesʼ

(1995: 31). With the same sense, Bourriaud states that ʻ[t]hese days, utopia is

being lived on a subjective, everyday basis, in the real time of concrete and

intentionally fragmentary experimentsʼ (1995: 45). However, what has been

most criticised by some scholars (Bishop, 2004 and Svetlichnaja, 2005)

regarding the concept of social change in Bourriaudʼs observations of

contemporary art is the unclearness and incoherence of such changes and their

lack of political purpose. Especially Svetlichnaja, in Relational Paradise as a

Delusional Democracy (2005), strongly criticises Bourriaudʼs theory stating that

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it ʻappear[s] promoting … the core ideology of the third spirit capitalismʼ (2005:

19). According to her, ʻBourriaudʼs idea of the self as a network implies that any

judgement is dissolved in random subjectivity of allʼ (2005: 19). Likewise,

Bourriaudʼs statement of focusing on the present rather than on futureʼs

promises is interpreted by Svetlichnaja as ʻan anxiety associated with the

difficulty of identifying the origin of the problem and impossibility of projecting

oneself into the futureʼs possibilitiesʼ (2005: 20). In short, what Svetlichnaja

remarks in relational aesthetics is an effect contrary to any democratic attempt.

Similarly but with different approach, Bishop addresses relational aesthetic as a

set of ambitious and selective ʻsemifunctional [sic.] art worksʼ that ultimately

seek to ʻenhance the status of the curatorʼ (Bishop, 2004), meaning a group of

few favourite curators such as Tiravanija and Gillick (Bishop, 2004). She

critically claims the lack of a clear political agenda of relational art, and

associates its contradictory beliefs with the term ʻantagonismʼ extracted from

Laclau and Mouffe, by which, senses of identity and of the self are diminished

into the whole temporal community (Bishop, 2004: 65), According to Bishop,

albeit it is true that relational aesthetics promotes networking and interactions

among the participants, there is not a clear end and a long-term change in the


The problem with both critiques is that, although they point out some well-

argued issues of relational art, they do not consider the possibilities of a long-

term effect as a result of certain changes in the individual. What this paper

defends is that a relational transformative experience would foster a slight

change in the individual, grounded in the everyday life of the subject, which

eventually would have a larger impact in scope and time, from personal change

to social change. The real social change would consequently derive from these

microutopian transformations in every individual. In LTLYM, people get involved

in small tasks, but these, somehow, make them approach their life and their

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surrounding people in a different way and create a break in the routine. When

Bourriaud claims an attention to the present and instead of constructing new

worlds, ʻlearning to inhabitʼ our in a better way (Bourriaud, 2002), this fact does

not mean that relational aesthetics does not have an effect in the future. They

do not have a purpose of future, but certainly the idea of peopleʼs change based

on social interactions and reflections on their everyday life will probably result to

some extent in a different, if not utopian, conception of the future.

Learning to Love You More in the Museum: The Relational Museum

The question after analysing the range of experiences, circumstances and

consequences of affect and relational practices seems to be: what is the role of

the museum or institution in such context? With projects such as LTLYM the

role is quite clear, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art acquired the work in

2010 and they keep it exhibited in their fifth floor, accessed in their records as

one work more. In experimental museums and galleries such as the Palais de

Tokio, Whitechapel, FACT and INIVA (Bishop, 2004; Doherty, 2004), the role is

also evident, working as studios or ʻlaboratoriesʼ of contemporary art (Bishop,

2004). But, it is possible to think in extrapolating relational practices to a

sciences or history museum? The answer lies in what Doherty calls new

institutionalism applied to museums and the ʻperformative practicesʼ of curators

(Doherty, 2004). All these practices and methodologies are being applied since

more than ten years in regard to contemporary art, but they are also being

gradually introduced in all kind of museums, and this might be the future of a

really improved experience for visitors, a relational museum.

The incorporation of relational affect into the institutions beyond artistic

practices is embodied in this new institutionalism, a sociological theory applied

to institutions, which in the case of museums, ʻclassifies effectively a field of

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curatorial practice, institutional reform and critical debate concerned the

transformation of art institutions from withinʼ (Doherty, 2004: 1). Quoting Charles

Esche (Director of Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven) when he re-launched the

Malmö institution in 2001 suggested:

Now, the term 'art' might be starting to describe that space in society for

experimentation, questioning and discovery that religion, science and

philosophy have occupied sporadically in former times. It has become an active

space rather than one of passive observation. Therefore the institutions to foster

it have to be part-community centre, part-laboratory and part-academy, with

less need for the established showroom function (Doherty, 2004: 2).

Obviously, apart from changes within the institution, programmes and curatorial

practices, the relational museum ʻdemands shifts in visitor behaviour back and

forth between reception and participationʼ (Doherty, 2004: 2). The new Darwin

Centre in the Natural History Museum of London7 is an example of a state-of-

the-art exhibition based on relational practices, which are founded

simultaneously on offline and online interactions. People are invited to

intermingle with scientists and discuss about the collection, scientific methods

and other issues but at the same time they are given a called ʻNaturePlusʼ card8

in the entrance that allows them to select contents of the exhibition and share

them in an online platform with other users, discussing about them and

interpreting them. These interactions happening during the exhibition and, at the

same time, allowing them the opportunity to bring the experience back home

and re-interpret it there creates a powerful connection with their daily life,

making the personalised museum experience to transcend upon their homes.

7 Darwin Centre Website: 8 NaturePlus Cards Website:

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Another example, very simple and effective, of relational practices embedded in

the museum experience, is the Liverpool Tate Gallery. Artists and curators from

the museum recorded videos of groups of people giving opinions, debating and

commenting the artworks, interacting with the artists and curators and between

them. Up to here, there is nothing really original in that. But the actual inclusion

in the exhibition of the video, besides the artwork being commented, is what

completes the relational experience making people bridging the gap between

their world and contemporary art, which has traditionally been isolated and

separated of the real world. The subjective-relational affect, emerging when a

visitor watches what other non-expert people comment about the artwork,

makes him/her to assume a more open disposition to approach the work and to

an enhanced experience.

Consequently, although relational affect is evidently manifested when

considering relational artistic practices, what this dissertation advocates is the

broadening of the field of application of those relational practices beyond the

artworld in which they were conceived. This does not necessarily mean to

exhibit artefacts in museum as if they were contemporary art, which is

something positive, as discussed by Marshall on his article (2005). Conversely,

here is being claimed the use of the mechanisms intrinsic in relational

aesthetics and their extrapolation to enhance museum exhibitions and visitorsʼ

experiences. Once those mechanisms and circumstances, constituted by

different triggers, agents, and connections with the everyday life, are

understood, the museum might mirrors them and improve the experiences of its

visitors and consequently the long-term impact of the institution. To some extent,

obviously, the relational affect has always been produced in museums by

different means. Traditionally, comments books and interactions between

people in the venue have existed. According to McAuliffe when referring to art


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[t]his shift in the workings of the contemporary art museum continues the work

of institutional critique initiated in the 60ʼs and 70ʼs but instead of working from

outside … it is … coming from within the actual structure of the institution

(McAuliffe, 2010).

More recently, with the incorporation of high tech devices and the Internet,

people can enjoy of new platforms and environments where they can easily

share knowledge and exchange opinions. However, a museum dedicated to

relational transformative experiences goes beyond mere interactions and digital

phenomena and focus on the aspects explored along this dissertation: affective

systems fostering people-generated contents linked with their everyday life. The

relational museum, no matter its contentʼs nature, should create frameworks

that engage people and allow them to contribute in some way, producing a

cloud of knowledge and feelings that will be later accessible to next visitors.

Greenberg, who finds in contemporary theatre a referent for museums, states

that ʻeven though a theatre audience is not a museum audience, … a museum

space is primarily a performance spaceʼ (2005: 228). Similarly, when McAuliffe

refers to performative curating, she points out that ʻit is not the content of the

exhibitions that is being greatly debated but the mode in which they are

producedʼ (2010).

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5. Conclusion

The attention to affect is gradually becoming a constant in the scholarship and

work dedicated to museums practices. The work developed by companies such

as Metaphor, leaded by Stephen Greenberg (Greenberg, 2005), is already

mostly focused on the affective elements of the exhibition, and so their work on

projects such as the Holocaust Exhibition in the Imperial War Museum in

London are primarily based on a collection of affective reactions and its

management. However, despite the fact that affect is concerning an important

part of the academic world, finding specific definitions and explorations of its

effects, consequences and typologies applied to museums, is still a hard task.

This dissertation pretended to establish, to some extent, a theoretical basis

where different theories and studies related to the affect were gathered and

combined in order to eventually successfully delimit better the fascinating world

of affect.

On the other hand, it seems appropriate to link closely any study about affect

with contemporary artistic practices. Although the museums sector consists in a

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world largely beyond art, it is necessary, when thinking about aesthetics and

affect, to focus with especial attention on art. It is evident, that among every

type of museum, the art gallery is the only one that does not necessarily need to

transmit any specific knowledge for the sake of its contents. Thus, it might be

argued that the art museum or gallery is primarily focused on the aesthetic

experience and the affective responses. Christopher Marshall critically

compares in his article (2005) the way museums and art galleries can learn

from each other to improve their displays and visitorsʼ experiences. The

example of the Primates Gallery of the Natural History Museum in London is

very illustrative as it calls the attention on how objects are exhibited as

contemporary art creating an ʻeye-catching and evocativeʼ effect (Marshall,

2005: 172). Consequently, it seemed evident that the state-of-the-art in affective

work would be enclosed in some form of contemporary art. This dissertation has

chosen the range of practices described by Bourriaud (2002) in Relational

Aesthetics as the tip of the iceberg of the affective world. This is mainly the

reason because this dissertation dedicated a chapter to analyse those

contemporary artistic practices that are highly charged with affect, specifically

with relational affect. Once the sense of this affect, inherent in artistic practices,

is clarified and understood, it would be feasible to isolate it and apply it in every

kind of museum. Therefore, the relational museum would be the result of

embedding relational affective stimuli and practices in any kind of museum in

order to improve its exhibitions. The relational museum would foster their

visitors to generate some kind of content attached to the exhibition and, at the

same time, bring some link to their everyday life, what eventually would make

them feel closer to the exhibition and to the museum.

It is evident that many relational practices, such as the project Learning to Love

You More (Fletcher and July, 2002), are being based on the Internet and social

networks, as these are paradigms of the relational world today. Artists and

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curators, reluctant to the traditional role of the museum, seek in the Internet a

new medium to develop their works and avoid the traditional separation of

white-cube style venues. Nevertheless, as demonstrated with LTLYM,

museums might perfectly integrate their practices within the web with the

purpose of eventually empower their visitorsʼ interactions. On the other hand,

museums must be aware of these conversions and open their galleries to the

people, allowing them to interact within and better connect with their contents.

Albeit museums are changing today from object-oriented to people-oriented

(see Sandell, 2002), perhaps a step beyond is already needed. It is evident the

remarkable stress that has been pointed at pedagogical theories and learning

purposes in museums in order to fulfil the political agendas of governments,

which ultimately seek to make of museums useful tools for the general public.

The problem is that if museums do not depend on their objects anymore and

have as their primary purpose the education of people, then they are at the risk

of becoming a sort of public learning centres, where what was understood at the

beginning as informal learning becomes some kind of non-official but regular

and tedious learning. Far from suggesting a separation between museums and

a learning purpose, what this dissertation advocates is bringing together people

and museums, through experiencing affect, and bringing any desired

transformative experience, even those based on learning, to the ground of their

everyday life. Therefore, the work on affect construction in museums should be

a constant supplement to the institutional strategies, no matter which one was

the mission of the museum. According to this dissertation, apparently, those

transformations based on relational affect are likely to produce the most intense

effects and a real influence on people, rooted on their daily life and with a long-

term impact. If the museum has a pedagogical purpose, it is worth considering

attracting visitorsʼ attention through affect and then focusing, more effectively,

on their learning. Furthermore, besides the effectiveness of those experiences,

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museums would be eventually considered as even more familiar places, and

more importantly, not only the museums but also their contents.

However, according to Haapalaʼs work (2005), it has been deduced that what

triggers the relational affect is the combination of a sense of strangeness, and

consequent awareness, present in museums, and the connection of the

contents and experiences with visitorsʼ daily lives. Paradoxically, to recreate

these relational transformative experiences it is needed a separation and

isolation of the museum to maintain this image of strangeness, in other words,

the emergence of an effective relational affect requests an unfamiliar place. But,

at the same time it is being promoted a reconciliation of people and museums

and galleries. Thus, it seems that this rapprochement of museums and people

would remove an important part of the equation and make gradually more

difficult for them to experiment those relational transformative experiences. But

the essential point is that perhaps the relational affect is then not required

anymore. Perhaps the relational affect, as dependent of the museumʼs

strangeness, is just a means, and not an end itself, and maybe after all

relational aesthetics and the relational museum would be uniquely a mere step

toward achieving a museum completely merged with peopleʼs daily lives.

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Appendix 1 Triggers for Transformational Experiences (Soren, 2009)

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London and New York: G.P. Putnamʼs sons.

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Bourriaud, N. (2002) Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Les Presses du Réel.

Bourriaud, N. (1995) ʻCorrespondence: Nicolas Bourriaud/Philippe Parrenoʼ,

Paletten 4/95, No. 223, Vol. 56.

Cook, S. and Graham, B. (2010) Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media.

Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Crary, J. (2001) Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern

Culture. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Dewey, J. (1980) Art as Experience. New York: Perigee Books.

Doherty, C. (2004) ʻThe Institution is dead! Long Live the Institution!

Contemporary Art and New Institutionalismʼ, Engage. Issue 15,



Farquharson, A. (2003) ʻCurator and Artist.ʼ Art Monthly. Issue 270, October:

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