Affect and Relational Experiences in the Museum
Omar J. Camarero Montesinos
MA Art Museum and Gallery Studies
University of Leicester · 2011
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.
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
List of Illustrations
Set of equations for generating affect, emotions, feelings and transformative experiences.
Figure 2 Agents involved in transformative experiences in museums.
Formula of Transformative Experiences. p. 19
Figure 4 Formula for Authentic transformative experience (see Appendix I).
Formula for Motivational transformative experience (see Appendix I).
Figure 6 Table of Taxonomy of Affect in Museums.
The First Emperor: Chinaʼs Terracotta Army. The British Museum, London.
Figure 8 Eleven Heavy Things by Miranda July.
Felix Gonzalez-Torrex. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A), 1991 (left) and Untitled (Blue Mirror), 1990 (right).
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).
Repetitive cycle of relational transformative experiences (based on relational affect).
Figure 12 Taxonomy and Social Tagging for Museums. Steve.Museum project
Figure 13 Learning to Love You More. By Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher.
Figure 14 LTLYM. A selection of assignments and reports by diverse authors.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
… 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,
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
(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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
some of them providing a brief list (Figure 2) with a description and some
Figure 2. Agents involved in transformative experiences in museums.
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).
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Figure 7. The First Emperor: Chinaʼs Terracotta Army. The British Museum, London. Photographs taken from the design company website, Metaphor. (www.metaphor.eu) (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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 (www.mirandajuly.com) (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).
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.
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.
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
a lone individual. Nonetheless, this statement will be analysed thoroughly in the
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).
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
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 http://del.icio.us 4 http://www.flikr.com 5 http://www.steve.museum
Figure 12. Taxonomy and Social Tagging for Museums. Steve.Museum project Photographs taken from the steve.museum project website (http://www.steve.museum)
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
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?
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
6 Exhibition by Rirkrit Tiravanija held in Cologne at the Salon Verlag and Kölnischer Kunstverein, 1996.
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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.
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
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 (http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com)
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
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.
Figure 14. LTLYM. A selection of assignments and reports by diverse authors. Photographs taken from the projectʼs official website (http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com) (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.
In regard of the relation with the everyday life, it is quite clear. As Cook and
[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
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
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
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: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/darwin-centre-visitors/index.html 8 NaturePlus Cards Website: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/darwin-centre-visitors/natureplus-visitors/index.html
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
[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
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
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
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
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
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,
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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