Nina Simon: “The Participatory Museum” TED Talk 2010

The TED Talk by Simon provoked several thoughts, but the overarching theme of her talk and also the opening of it was what drew me into art in the first place, and that is: we go to museums for the sake of connection. It is not only a mere visual process whereby the retina senses the light and the visual cortex percept the object, but it is also the way we connect with the object at the museum. The ability to stitch two or more things together in ways that the brain couldn’t have thought of before is alluring, inspiring, and in and of itself knowledge-producing. However, as Simon posited, most people (including many in my close circle) regard museums as prestigious spaces, where only certain types of people with specific characteristics are welcomed into these places, perhaps wearing haute couture, speaking the art language, or having assumed abilities in reading art and interpreting it. I’m curious to know where that stemmed from. The media has certainly played a pivotal role in portraying this image and projecting it to the general public.

Museums should be for anyone with two cerebral hemispheres; this is the only requirement for museums. They do not require a certain background class, knowledge, status, or abilities. They are one of the safest places in the world to learn in and from, there is no right or wrong, only a connection with our inner selves, our humanness. Simon mentioned that museums allow people to connect with cultures so that they can connect on a deeper level with other human beings insofar as to enrich society on many fronts. This holds true, as the body of the literature shows that art increases empathy. It is through art that we learn about ourselves, others, and the world, then establish intricate and deep connections. Museums can offer all of that and more. I liked the various initiatives Simon elucidated to engage people at museums that excite all the senses, such as coffee beans, Posted, bottled craft materials, love letters, and many other absorbing activities that allow the visitor to embody the experience and be part of it instead of being a mere watcher. What I would like to investigate further are the reasons for the prevalent perception that museums exist to impose inclusion criteria, instill a sense of intimidation and unwelcomeness, and discourage people from using museums as a common space for gathering and cultivating themselves.

At The Foot of The Hill: Museum Lascaux IV in France

Caves possess a vital historicity, and the fact that Museum Lascaux IV integrated technology (part of the cave presented virtually, The Chamber of the Felines) in a place that has archaeological traces that date back to the Stone Age, for example, is tantalizing. From the Stone Age to the Tech Age, this is an allegory of human evolution and life in action.

It was also remarkable to learn about the obstacles faced that led to conceiving Lascaux IV, such as the interpretation and deciphering of engravings. The Atelier of Lascaux has a fascinating concept whereby it ignites human curiosity, provides tools to inform the learning process, and at the same time solves the time constraint obstacle that in the first place led to the envisage and birth of this Atelier.

Lastly, because caves are typically in a remote area (and in this case, it was “located at the foot of the hill,” as the article illustrated), I wonder whether this would be a factor that precludes locals from commuting to gather. Because caves are excellent for explorers, travelers, backpackers, and yes, even locals. If the museum is to be a social place, as Simon suggested, and replace bars or other gathering places, then this space has to be conveniently located for the locals, not just the one-time visitor or traveler.