“The Museum as a Constructed, Performative Space” – Mavi Irmak Karademirler
Sarah Bay Cheng’s talk “Everybody’s Historiography: History, Performance, and Playing the Digital in Museum” pointed out to several ways of approaching the digital history, which could be examined around a performance spectrum. Drawing mainly from her experience in the POLIN Museum in Warsaw, Bay-Cheng highlighted some of the critical issues arise with the digitisation of the museums and its broader implications on preserving and approaching the history, with paying attention to the dynamics and actors take part in the creation of a museum space.
One of the significant points which she elaborated on during the seminar was that museum visitors, considering the affordances of digital technologies, are becoming more than mere visitors. They are also turning into “co-creators” of the history. As the museum visitor wanders around and engages with the digital technologies: the screens, projections of images and various displays, their presence in the museum becomes very much productive and performative. The incorporation of these technologies within a museum space presents new roles, forms of relationships and new meanings open for exploration.
Michael Foucault in a 1967 lecture, later published as “Other Spaces, Heterotopias”, defined forms of social and cultural spaces with attributing certain characteristics to them. The existence of such spaces, which he referred to as heterotopias, occur outside the realms of everyday reality, in which “time accumulates indefinitely”, hence the heterotopic spaces are those which suspend our traditional relationship with time. Such places can be exemplified as cemeteries, theatres, prisons, mental institutes, as well as museums. Heterotopias, in our case the museum spaces, are critical when viewing the formation of the social life as they are a gathering space for groups of people present at time and space. The encounters within the museum space, whether it be the social interactions among the museum visitors or their interaction with new technologies, are managed, performed and directed just like any other sites of interaction.
Space is constructed, practised and produced as famously put forward by scholars de Certeau and Lefebvre. Considering the practices and the involvement of an extensive network of actors, the curators, visitors, designers and so on, it is possible to argue that the modes of spatial production in a museum space becomes multidirectional and intensified together with the employment of various digital technologies.
The production of a space, or the concept of heterotopia, cannot be examined independently from the social and political dynamics that constitute them. Having said that, this way of thinking brings me back to the Bay Cheng’s striking observation at the POLIN Museum. Despite the highly digitised and interactive collection of the museum, the Holocaust section was strictly separated from the rest of the collection. The visitors were not allowed to take pictures, compared to other parts of the museum, meaning that the Holocaust section remained less interactive. This instance could lead us to question the underlying power dynamics within the acquired museum space, as the involvement of different stakeholders with specific agendas profoundly influence how we approach and organize the history. Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias  Goffman in the Gallery: Interactive Art and Visitor Shyness
- Person. “Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias.” Michel Foucault, Info., Michel Foucault, Info., 22 Nov. 2018, foucault.info/documents/heterotopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en/.
- Scott, Susie, et al. “Goffman in the Gallery: Interactive Art and Visitor Shyness” Symbolic Interaction, vol. 36, no. 4, 2013, pp. 417–438., doi:10.1002/symb.74.