MCN 2: Electric Boogaloo


Hey all!

It was MCN again this past week, and in Pittsburgh to boot! I had a great week, visiting several museums and networking with plenty of people in the museum field. The conference was invigorating – I feel truly motivated for the first time in a while and I hope to carry that through, first through here on my blog but also in other aspects as well.

One of the most interesting experiences of the week was the networking event at the Andy Warhol Museum. The museum itself is designed for the visitor to start at the top floor, at the beginning of his life, and then follow it down each floor to his death (on the third floor) and the response to his legacy in the remaining two. However, I was not aware of this myself and so went up the opposite direction, up the stairs. It made for a surprising inversion of the content – the colleague I was with and I commented on that as we walked through, initially through our mutual confusion and later as we began to realize the mistake we had made.  Also, the couch and silver balloon installations were super-neat.

Conference networking can take many forms…

– with Megan Brett

Additionally, a colleague I met at the conference and I decided to trek out to The Mattress Factory (which, despite its name, is not in fact a mattress factory, but rather a contemporary art museum which prides itself on working with artists to create site-specific art installations).  The artwork was fascinating…and not just a little bit creepy, as the below photos from the secondary buildings’ intallations demonstrate.  From imposing structures impossibly built inside rooms, to intricately laid-out facades of tiny scenes haphazardly placed for one to navigate through – and even to barren rooms with a lone chair facing a recurring screen of a dying plant, all serving to make one re-evaluate what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing, and even what is real:

Not to be outdone, the main building also offered its fair share of uncomfortable moments, as indicated by “It’s All About ME, Not You” – a permanent exhibition by Greer Lankton on sex, sexuality, violence, and addiction.

The show itself, which is autobiographical in nature, was initially exhibited in 1996.  Alas, Lankton died on the opening night, so her family donated the work to the museum in her name to have it displayed in perpetuity.  The work itself, as the above photo illustrates, is not for the faint of heart.  Even in this glimpse one sees the individual laid in her bed, a veritable mountain of pill bottles strewn around her; a victim of self-medication gone too far perhaps?  Additional symbols of female suffering abound as well; paraplegic women bleeding from their torsos, anorexic sufferers, and also a series of Christian symbolism – perhaps a reference to her self-condemnation?

Of course, this past week wasn’t all about museum visits and drinking with colleagues; I also got to listen to some great speech sessions throughout the week.  One in particular of note was a panel headlined by a colleague and friend of mine from the Peabody Essex Museum, Ed Rodley, who had a lot to say on exhibit development and innovation – namely, that we just don’t innovate enough.  Innovation, he argues, is more than tweaking the status quo, but rather engaging the material and, even more so, the process at every stage of development.  Transition is a series of questions following a trial-by-error methodology where we iterate, then adjust based on results, and iterate again.  Nothing, he argues, is ever complete, and we should be aware of that.


More so than that, innovation is also about questioning one’s mindset: if we always start from the same point of addressing a problem, then we are only ever going to get the same result, so we need to change the mindset.  Our brains like patterns, and in fact we go out of our way to make them, even when they don’t really exist.  But if we change our initial input, then that small change (or innovation) can lead us down a completely different path.  Put another way (as Mark Rosewater of Magic: the Gathering is found of saying): “Limitations breed creativity.”  By giving ourselves a rule that we must adhere to, we force our brains to change the outcome, giving us a fresh new perspective to work from.  Of course, as one of Ed’s co-panelists pointed out, we don’t want to continually be completely transforming every element of everything all the time – there’s a point where ‘transformative’ becomes ‘disruptive turbulence.’  The goal is to work on knowing when to throw the baby out, and when to simply change the temperature, so to speak.

And with that, I must bid you all adieu.  As I said at the beginning, though, I do promise to update more regularly, probably on Sundays or Mondays, based on when I can expect to have downtime on the computer at work, but we shall see.

So, until next week, bye!



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