In his article for Curator: The Museum Journal, (2013) US academic Steven Lubar argues that although timelines seem like a ‘natural’ approach to museum display, they present an over deterministic narrative structure. He warns that the timeline should be ‘used with care’ (p.169). For Lubar a new approach is needed that retains the usefulness and accessibility of the timeline but which opens it up to more visitor interaction and personalisation. In the article he makes six suggestions for how the timeline format might be expanded upon (p.185):
- use it to highlight key ‘decision points’ and pivotal moments;
- complicate it historically by intersecting with other topic timelines;
- make it ‘lumpy’ by focusing on defined periods;
- use it to connect events across the world, rather than in one place;
- focus it on geography, rather than on time;
- invite visitors to remix it to fit their own stories and personal interests.
Prompted by Lubar’s article, I’ve started to use the content curation platform Scoop.it to compile a collection of museum based timelines. This is to help develop my own thinking about how a timeline architecture and Lubar’s ‘six suggestions’ might be applied to my research into the public art ‘collection’ in Newcastle-Gateshead. Interestingly, as Tate is one of the timeline rejectionists of the 1990s/2000s that Lubar discusses in his article, a lot of these examples actually come from Tate. Here the timeline is fully present again, as artist designed gallery souvenirs, as in-and off-galley interpretation and as exhibition design – the new ‘Walk Through British Art’ display at Tate Britain.
Following my own initial data collection work in Newcastle-Gateshead I’ve been visually grouping individual artworks into a rough chronology using the free visualisation software Easy Timeline. I’ve also been researching other web-based ‘timeline’ applications. Some of these have the capacity to link time and place through image geo-tagging. In visiting other public art ‘collections’ (online or physically), it seems that it is through this frame of place and location that public artworks are more usually interpreted rather than through the lens of ‘art history’. It is the map, rather than the timeline, that is the ubiquitous form of presentation for a public art ‘collection’.
References and links:
Lubar, S. (2013). Timelines in Exhibitions. Curator: The Museum Journal, 56(2), 169–188. doi:10.1111/cura.12018 [Online. Accessed: 25 October 2013].
Note: the title for this post is taken from Nicholas Serota’s (1996 statement) quoted by Lubar in his (2013) article.