Museum – an artistic tech laboratory

When making my previous post about the Art Hack, I realized how arts and technology can be combined in a myriad of ways. I wanted to dig in deeper.

EMMA, the very same museum where I interviewed An, was chosen as the Museum of the Year 2018 in Finland. Congratulations! I think EMMA really deserves the prize. The museum has wide collections, and it exhibits Finnish and international modernism, contemporary art, and design in various exhibitions. To keep up the high level, the museum has to be innovative and open for new ideas all the time. As a visitor, I enjoy the installations and find something inspiring every time I go there. But what is it like to work in a museum these days?

So, here we are! I got a special permission from Iia Palovaara and Laura Kokkonen to eat ice cream at the museum, and to hear about the two insiders’ viewpoints about the relation of arts and technology.

“We both have kind of a traditional path to a museum” Iia laughs when I ask about their background. It appears that the two have studied art history at the same time! “But then I focused more on communication, and worked for different companies”, Iia continues. “Now I work here as a communications coordinator.”

“And I wrote my thesis about art and technology”, Laura adds for her part. “I started here as a curator for digital platforms, and now I am a curator of collections.” So, although they both have started from the history of arts, they are now very keen on their own time and what’s happening in the field today.

Innovators of the society

Artists have always experimented with new things. “They’re often ahead of their own time”, Iia points out. Of course arts and technology are tightly related. Artists reflect the society around them in their work. As high technologies are one of the core things on which today’s world is built, it would be impossible to do contemporary art without using technology!

“Some artists work almost only online, others use machine learning and artificial intelligence, or even virtual reality.” The list doesn’t end there. Iia says something that really sticks into my mind:

“Art is a laboratory.” There artists research and explore new ideas.

Museum 2.1

It is not only the way of doing arts that changes but behind the scenes the way of preserving and exhibiting arts, too! “We are continuously working on digitizing our collections”, Laura tells me. It is an increasingly important way to preserve art, and it also has its problems. “For example, some of the first video installations were made with VHS technology. Soon, we will no longer have the right devices to show them!” Then it is more important to preserve the contents in another format than to keep the old VHS tapes.

Certainly, we are no longer talking only about statues and paintings when considering arts! EMMA has a whole team of employees working on digitalization at the museum.

Opening hours 24/7, anywhere in the world!

A museum visit is also in a continuous transformation. There are screens and audios next to art works, and visitors can scroll through the digitized collections. The visit also becomes more and more interactive. At EMMA, you can for example play with shapes and colors like the beloved Finnish artist, Rut Bryk.

But could a future visit be a pure online visit from your couch? “Why not!” Laura and Iia laugh, nodding. “Of course, the installation is a big part of the experience, to be in the space. But on the other hand, it is a great opportunity to have all our collections available 24/7, for anyone, anywhere in the world!”

Expanding perspectives

So, new technologies cannot be ignored in a museum. It goes in two directions. Artists and workers at the museums have to know about technologies to be able to use them. “To know what is possible to do in a museum space” Laura specifies. But also the developers have to know about arts to create right kinds of platforms and tools for a museum’s needs. “Artists and developers can expand each other’s points of views.”

Screenshot (12)

Strange to admit, but I’m relieved. I’ve always been into arts, and to some extent worried about whether my current interests in technology will take over that part of me. But, on the contrary, both accounts can be inspired by each other!


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