Space, Disruption, and Interactive Design at NODEM 2013

February 24, 2014

Public humanities MA student Robin Ness recently attended the  Nordic Digital Excellence in Museums conference. She reports here on the some of what she learned. 

The Nordic Digital Excellence in Museums (NODEM) Annual Conference focuses on “building multidisciplinary arenas related to digital cultural heritage, and connecting its various disciplines and professions.”  NODEM 2013 Beyond Control: The Collaborative Museum and its Challenges (Dec. 1-3, Stockholm, Sweden) concerned the challenges that cultural heritage institutions face in locating expanding modes of engagement in a digitally saturated landscape. The program was an enticing mash-up of sessions on museum innovation, digital curation and experience design, beginning with a full day of keynotes all richly interesting to a student of Public Humanities working in the realm of Digital Technologies. Highlights included Synchronistic Discovery, Subversion of Technologies, Ontology of Images, and Dramaturgy in Interaction.

 Day two of the conference focused on interconnected themes of vanishing spaces, soundscapes, creative practice, heritage sites, interactive design, and fragmentation. I traveled by tunnelbana to Slussen, and walked across the plaza towards the Hilton. It was rush hour on a December morning, but there were more bicycles whizzing by than cars. In front of an outdoor market selling wreaths and wooden Dala horses, a saxophonist mournfully played “Christmas Time is Here.”.

It was an uncanny segue to Jacek Smoliki’s session on“Slussen Project – Archiving the Ephemeral, Field recording as an Archival Practice. Slussen Project asks if the realm of sound can offer a space for transmitting memories across time. Slussen is a waterfront space, historical dock, and transportation hub located between the urban islands of Gamla Stan and Södermalm; it is an in-between space, a sea lock, a space of constant motion, an important landmark for the people of Stockholm, and the very space in which were occupying – soon to be paved over with a highway as part of a highly contested redevelopment plan. Smoliki’s work on the Slussen Project is of particular interest to me, not only because it concerns the preservation of traces of a doomed space and it uses sound as a “means of engagement with unknown and invisible dimensions of a place’s past”, but also because I have a history of youthful adventuring in Slussen during the early 1980s. Smoliki conducted investigations into the underground spaces of Slussen and its history, and presented the project as a case study in archiving the social, cultural, and historical aura of a space that is about to disappear. 

Slussen in the 1940sSlussen in the 1940sSlussen from Stadsmuseet, Dec. 2013Slussen from Stadsmuseet, Dec. 2013   [Visit the Stadsmuseet digital collection]


John Coburn (Tyne and Wear) spoke on the Value in Creatively Repurposing the Past and introduced Half Memory, a project that invites sound and musical works that disrupts an understanding of the past. Coburn looks to repurposing Museums and Archives as spaces in which to develop Creative Practice, viewing the Museum as “Ideas Enabler.” Coburn showed examples of playing with “poetic gaps” in an object’s narrative, and isolating one shred of information in an archival document to frame an entire narrative.

 In Ballade of Women: Embodiment to Trigger Active Knowledge, Nigel Papworth and Jeroen Peeters (Interactive Institute Swedish ICT) presented their highly evocative installation design dealing with women’s rights, with a focus on fragmentation and marginalization of women throughout history. Video of the project can be viewed here.

Exploring historical, social and natural heritage: Challenges for tangible interaction design at Sheffield General Cemetery” was of special interest, as the focus of my academic work during this past autumn has been on using digital methods to examine regional and iconographic differences of ancestral New England gravestones. Daniela Petrelli presented the ongoing work of meSch (material EncounterS with cultural heritage) at the historic Sheffield General Cemetery. MeSch works to integrate digital interactive designs (like the Companion Novel) into material objects and spaces to provide immersive and engaging experiences at heritage sites. MeSch will be developing tangible interactive designs for the cemetery until 2017, and I will be following the projects are they are developed.

NODEM 2013 has left me with thoughts and inspiration surrounding disruption and engagement, the use/re-use of museums, libraries, and archives as spaces for creative practice and the local possibilities in building narratives from shreds of evidence (or even absences in an objects history), and the use of sound as a method of engagement within Cultural Heritage sites and in the preservation of vanishing or vanished spaces. The integrative interactive design work that meSch is doing at Sheffield has me considering how I might combine my interests in creative practice, digital scholarship, material culture, and burial grounds. New England’s graveyards have enormous potential as places for public engagement with regional cultural heritage.

In Stockholm, within NODEM’s Network of Design and Digital Heritage, I made many valuable connections to professionals working in Cultural Heritage fields, and see the network as an important resource for students of Public Humanities. The organization has been growing beyond its Nordic roots and is broadening into a larger networking conference platform called NODEM INTERNATIONAL. NODEM 2014 will take place in Warsaw, Poland.

Videos of keynotes and sessions from Stockholm can be viewed here


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