Smoke and mirrors, magic and modernity
Thank you so much for your highly interesting and very entertaining presentation! Thinking about the often very technical side of the used props and tricks, I wonder if the aspects of magic and miracle that seemed to have dominated in the earliest, rather theatrical examples might at some point have transformed into something to do with modernity and technical progress. I thought about the Tate's Ochre Atelier, where Modiglianis atelier can be visited with the help of VR goggles. Isn't this also about showing, what an up to date and well equipped exhibition could do? I was also thinking about the electrical light, that completely changed the visitor's expierience in the 19th and early 20th century. Here, modernity was most certainly an imporant incentive to lure visitors into the museums.
I was really inspired by your talk, so thank you very much again!
Dear Timothy, I also really enjoyed your talk, and the way you highlighted the intersection between the desire for authentic experiences as encountered through the senses and the importance of deception and illusion in enabling those experiences. Your discussion of the entertainment value of deception as experienced in Barnum's museum also reminded me of Michael Leja's discussion of trompe l'oeil in Looking Askance, where he's basically arguing that the pleasure of these paintings came from not only the technical skill required to potentially fool audiences, but in the viewer ultimately discovering the deception itself. I was also interested in your discussion of automata, AI, and humanity, as when you mentioned the clarinetist automaton and the spectacle/performance of exposing its status as a machine. That idea of exposing the machine behind the deception seems to be a recurrent one that underscores ongoing anxiety about technology, humanity, and their interdependence. It's an especially interesting tension to occur in places like museums, which have often been ascribed with attributes of authenticity or truthfulness in some capacity (though those attributes have been under scrutiny). Do you discuss these ideas further in your book manuscript, or do you delve into other aspects of exhibition design and sensory deception?
Again, thank you very much for your engaging video!
Hi Sandra - thank you for your comments - really helpful and insightful. Great point about the advent of electricity as a light source - a huge technological shift allowing new and more sustained exhibition experiences - we can liken it the advent of the digital age in terms of its transformative nature. I was wrestling with VR and where it belongs in my discussion and Modigliani's atelier is an excellent example. Is VR an extension of projection in so much as it's about the activation of pixels to form an image? I definitely see it as an immersive experience - is VR being used to deceive audiences in museum applications - probably so in the gaming industry? And how much of feeling like you've been thoroughly deceived is collaborative and social as we seek confirmation from those around us in a shared experience (as in early theater as you reference) - certainly multi-user VR headsets where we interact with each other in a virtual space has this potential. It's got me thinking - thank you.
Hi Sara - thank you for your feedback. I'm pleased you enjoyed the talk. The reference to Michael Leja and "Looking Askance" is a great one and I will delve into this work further. Regarding authenticity in museums - I started at one point to go down this path for the talk but cut it out because of time. I also shelved a whole section about the relationship between anamorphosis, twist-and-reveal games and hands-on exhibits. I do intend to continue with this delicate interplay between museums as trusted institutions and deception as a method of audience engagement - the topic could however begin to get a little dicey if it veers off into object authenticity and provenance! Also, museum object facsimiles intrigued me - reproductions of objects made to look like the real thing (often for a good reason) but with fairly discrete disclaimers on the label are certainly in the business of deceiving museum audiences who I've found want to know above all else that what they are looking at (and expect) in a museum is the actual object. I also started to pursue museums in a time of deep fakes and distorted media coverage not to mention political leaders (now that could be really dicey). The communication of science in the museum environment is grappling with that one more than ever – Thanks again.
@tjmcneil as with any great project there are lots of potential directions to take it (that's always the challenge, isn't it?), and that sounds especially so with your research. Certainly there's plenty of relevance in terms of authenticity, fake news, etc. I'll look forward to learning more about your work as it continues to develop, whether through conferences, articles, and the book manuscript!
@tjmcneil Dear Timothy, thank you for your reply. I hadn't thought about the shared museum experience yet. Very good point! Also the 360 degree view of the VR room reminded me of panorama paintings, which were - and still are - a great success with the audience. I can't wait for you book to be published!
Thank you, Timothy, for this fascinating presentation. I have a question that you touch on in your second response in this thread, so I wondered if I might draw you further? Does this dazzling use of spectacle make you uneasy at all - or have you come across instances where you felt it was inappropriately used? As you suggest, it can tend to transform the museum experience into entertainment - how does, for example, the brilliant use of animation in the Leonardo exhibition shape the viewer's artistic response to the work itself? Are we in danger of being seduced by all this technical wizardry?