Virtuality and the Art of Exhibition: Curatorial Design for the Multimedial Museum
by Vince Dziekan
Intellect Books, Bristol, UK, 2012
176 pp. Paper, £24.95
Reviewed by Dene Grigar
The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program
Washington State University Vancouver
There have been several excellent books published about curating media art in the last four years, including Christiane Paul’s New Media in the White Cube and Beyond (2008) and Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook’s Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (2010). Joining them, now, is Vince Dziekan’s Virtuality and the Art of Exhibition: Curatorial Design for the Multimedial Museum. While Dziekan, understandably, covers some of the same topics as the other books (e.g. materiality, space), he covers new ground in that his book focuses on the quality of virtuality and what it means for curatorial design in context of the museum.
Specifically, he suggests that virtual objects “compel [museums] to address the importance of multimedia, defined both a content delivery and technology infrastructure, towards its expository techniques.” Citing the work of Mieke Bal, he claims that that building upon the “‘multimedial’ aspect of the museum” may have “far-reaching implications about ‘what could happen if the mixed media nature of museums were to become a paradigm of cultural practice’” (63).
Anyone who has ever mounted an exhibit of virtual objects that visitors to the space can easily access themselves with their own computer or mobile device, knows instinctively what museums (and I would include galleries, as well) offer is an experience, which Dziekan suggests is one with a narrative that ultimately pulls works together in a way that compels visitors to think more deeply or differently about the work, the ideas put forth, and their own views and perspectives. Virtual objects provoke participation from visitors, who become part of the narrative experience that the curator sets in motion with his or her design.
The book is divided into two main sections. In the first, “Expositions,” Dziekan addresses theory in relation to virtuality, the art of exhibition, spatial practice, digital mediation, the multimedial museum, and curatorial design. In the second, “Exhibitions,” he provides concrete examples of theory into practice as it pertains to the curatorial philosophy, applied curatorial design, and artwork of exhibits (to name a few areas he addresses) in which he has himself curated. The fresh reminder that online objects are not necessarily always virtual ones, coupled with well-argued theory and its application to his practice, makes the book insightful and useful. Those coming from a practice involving multimedia sound installations will notice a focus on the visual and seeing. But Dziekan, who is digital media curator of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac, brings his deep experience to bear in this book and presents us with a very excellent material to consider.
Because each chapter begins with a synopsis and is kept at a brief length, the book seems aimed at the classroom. And, indeed, I am using it this semester in the curating course I am teaching to advanced undergraduates who seem to have little difficulty grasping the concepts Dziekan presents. But it is ideal for graduate students in digital media programs interested in curatorial design. Using it for teaching makes me hope that future editions of the book will include an Index, for the book does not currently offer one. Also useful for students new to curatorial design for multimedia art would be a glossary of terms.
The book is well written and thought out and, so, is highly recommended.