Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum

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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

Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum

Omar J. Camarero Montesinos

Master Dissertation

MA Art Museum and Gallery Studies University of Leicester 2011

Affect and Relational Experiences in the MuseumOmar J. Camarero Montesinos

Word count: 14,452 Abstract: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 peoples 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. ......................................... 22Absolute-Objective Affect .................................................................................. 24 Relative-Objective Affect. .................................................................................. 24 Absolute-Subjective Affect................................................................................. 25 Relative-Subjective Affect.................................................................................. 26 Absolute-Relational Affect. ................................................................................ 27 Relative-Relational Affect. ................................................................................. 28

Managing visitors attention ............................................................................... 28 Chapter 3. RELATIONAL aesthetics, affect, and transformative experiences .. 31 'learning to inhabit the world in a better way .................................................... 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

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Set of equations for generating affect, emotions, feelings and transformative experiences. Agents involved in transformative experiences in museums. Formula of Transformative Experiences. Formula for Appendix I). Authentic transformative experience (see

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Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4

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Formula for Motivational transformative experience (see Appendix I). Table of Taxonomy of Affect in Museums. The First Emperor: Chinas Terracotta Army. The British Museum, London. Eleven Heavy Things by Miranda July. Felix Gonzalez-Torrex. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A), 1991 (left) and Untitled (Blue Mirror), 1990 (right). Caravaggio. St Matthew and The Angel (left - 1st version rejected for being undecorous) and St Mathew and The Angel (right - 2nd version more traditional). Repetitive cycle of relational transformative experiences (based on relational affect). Taxonomy and Social Steve.Museum project Tagging for Museums.

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Figure 6 Figure 7

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Figure 8 Figure 9

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Figure 10

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Figure 11

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Figure 12

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Learning to Love You More. By Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. LTLYM. A selection of assignments and reports by diverse authors.

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Figure 14

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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. (Learning to Love You More, Fletcher and July, 2002)

Breathing deeply in front of the ocean and stop thinking 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 6

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