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brief notes on Interpretation in Museums

Ricardo Rubiales | www.educacionenmuseos.com

Interpretation in the Museum

Visitors build a meaning inside museums by using a wide range of thought strategies. This construction of meaning is rstly personal, related to the existent mental constructs and the ideas pattern and beliefs, in which the person interprets his experience within the contact with his surroundings. On another hand, the said construction is socially shaped both by the cultural context and by other people 1. It is in this manner that we comprehend interpretation as a series of processes both cognitive and affective, which take place in each when encountering inside the museum space. These human processes not only occur in the museum context, but also in a wide range of experiences that occur throughout life 2. A trip, places, people and unknown information place us in a process of search for a sense. To be conscious of these processes and shaping the museum into an institution focused on the publics will be the approach of the interpretation programs. It is evident in recent research that museums have the capacity to create memorable, signicative and highly contextualized experiences; and it is in these experiences where learning processes are detonated, which allow the cultural heritage to be re-signicated, valued and appropriated by the users 3.

What is the impact of the Museum experience?

By dissecting the museistic task we nd an absolute clearness in the collaborators team regarding to proper processes in the development of an exhibition: such as museographic design, the collections research and the conformation of environments proper for the objects conservation. On the contrary, the analysis of publics experiences, the questions and the answers, the impact and extension of the museum space in the users, are gray situations that we have to explore to a deepest level.

1 There

are several authors who explore the concept of construction of meaning specially the constructivist scholars: Piaget, Bruner, Luria, Ausebel. As for the importance of the sociocultural context: Vigotsky, Feurstein 2 We underline that learning can happen every time and in any place, observed as a human process that happens along the whole life. 3 In reference to the work of Falk & Dierking: The Museum Experience (1992) and Learning from Museums: Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning (2000)

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It is necessary to look at the museum again and again as a dynamic body of two dimensions: One, in the museographic design, the conformation of the curatorial discourse and the generation of messages; the internal metamorphosis of the museums physical and communicative space; therefore, a different dynamic takes place. A construction and de-construction of sense made by the users. The resignication of messages, the social and cultural approximations to the museums proposals, the digestions of the museum space by the audiences. Our proposal has direct implications; on one hand we do not think that the museistic labor ends when we cut the inauguration ribbon of an exhibition. We comprehend the successes that derive from the opening, we recognize the use of the space by the publics, and we facilitate learning, the coexistence, the game, the reection and the dialogue. Consequently, the users interpretation is one of the most important processes in the museistic dynamics; the reactions, emotions and feelings derived from lived experiences in the public, mark and build the museum space.

The users reading process is as impor tant as the creation moment. For a successful exhibition, the effect on the interpreter is equivalent to the design and staging work.

Bibliography Bruner, Jerome. Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1990 Wertsch, James. Vigotsky and the social formation of mind, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1998 Falk, John & Dierking, Lynn. Learning in Museums, Altamira Press, 2000 Beck, Larry & Cable, Ted. Interpretation for the 21st Century, Sagamore Publishing, 2002 Smith-Shank, Deborah. Semiotics and Visual Culture: Sights, Signs and Signicance, NAEA, 2004

Construction of Meaning and Museum Experience Falk & Dierking 4 point out that the construction of meaning inside the museum is a byproduct of the interaction among three contexts: the visitors personal context, the sociocultural context and the physical context, where the experience takes place. The personal context refers to all that which visitors bring to the experience; their interests, motivations, and beliefs; the preferences so as to learning forms and styles, as also their previous knowledge. Some necessary considerations when we consider the visitors personal context would be: The construction of meaning; the formation of an interpretation ows in accordance to motivations and emotional elements; The personal interest facilitates it; It is always built on a basis of previous experiences and previous knowledge. The sociocultural context, considers learning as an individual, but also, group experience. What one person can learn is intrinsically linked to the historic and cultural context in which it occurs. In a certain level, learning and the creation of meanings are consolidated inside the individuals sphere;

knowledge is a shared process where learning and the search for meaning take place within specic communities of apprentices, dened by the limits of knowledge and shared experiences. The physical context appeals to the fact that interpretation does not occur isolated from objects and the existence in the physical space; but it includes sounds, odors, images and tactile perceptions, which have a direct inuence on the lived experience. Lets analyze the implications of contexts in the museum, if the personal context is dened from the visitor and not from the curatorial discourse; then no one is a tabula rasa when he enters the museum; it is absurd to think that all people are interested in letting themselves go by the exhibition proposal, on the contrary, their approach is molded and interrupted by their previous knowledge, experiences and interests. The dialogue in the museum space is real, to the extent in which we can appeal to the personal context recognizing the intellectual and emotional bonds of the audiences with the exhibit proposal.
4 in

their work about the Contextual Model of Learning (2000)

Therefore in the context of interpretation, the supposition that every curatorial discourse (or every artistic proposal) is universal of meaning in each human community reveals short comprehensions regarding the reading of publics. Is it true that an exhibition is read and comprehended (in the way of giving a meaning) in the same manner in an urban university space than in a community museum of the Oaxacas sierra? The museums responsibility, every museums, refers to the cultural heritage and its relationship with the publics, its appraisal, appropriation and re-signication. The design and messages of the exhibition necessarily must include links that promote the relations between the local contexts and the exhibit; to indicate cultural shared meanings and to reconsider readings or prejudices in the curatorial proposal. These actions will enrich in a signicant way the experience of the public ones. It is common to listen the term interruption used in a negative way refering to the use of educational tools or strategies to the public inside the space of exhibition (which sadly is more common in Contemporary Art Museums). The reality is that in the immaculate space, where the solitary visitor and the pure work meet, is an intellectual fallacy; everyone brings to his experience a previous knowledge (both intellectual and artistic), even more, a socio-cultural context that denes readings and approaches.

Without forgetting that this dialogue does not only comprehend a load of meanings from the public, the museum also contributes with an important charge of meanings, readings and intentions.

To recognize the publics interpretation processes points at the audiences in the centre of the museistic labor. The success of spreading, communication and exhibition of the tangible and intangible goods depends directly of our comprehension of the interests and motivations, learning styles and preferences, and the audiences expectations

The experience of the physical space, denes meanings as well; even if for some, the public only lives the experience in the museum when it enters the exhibition hall, it is a debatable posture; the cafeteria, the toilets, the entrance square, the ticket ofce, everything marks and molds the nal experience. To conceive the visit in a holistic manner points at the museum as the medium where meanings impact the museums extension and the public participates as a traveler in all the territory.

Ricardo Rubiales Garca-Jurado

He started his work on the museum eld in 1994, in the design of hands-on exhibits. He has worked in Papalote Childrens Museum, Science and Technology Museum, the National Art Museum (MUNAL) among other s. He participates in the design of ve new museums including Papalote Cuernavaca (a Childrens Museum focused on art) and MUAC (University Museum of Contemporary Art) His research on the relationship between museum education and space design produces learning physical environments and interpretation strategies that enrich in a signicant way the approach from the public to the exhibit and collections, considering the museum as a social environment.

ricrubiales@gmail.com www.educacionenmuseos.com