Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Physical.

Srinivasan's "Return to Babel: Emergent diversity, digital resources, and local knowledge" made me think about the importance of the physical. One of his first examples is the Inuit hunter who has carved a soapstone model of a kayak for a museum. He addresses the inherent restrictions in creating for a museum commission. The soapstone's dimensions will be compromised, some features will be accentuated - the physical will be flawed. The physical also restricts the "deeper sets of knowledge associated with the kayak -- the objects, thoughts, and memories." I hadn't given this idea too much thought, and I suddenly realize how incomplete museums are. Perhaps they are meant to be, for the sake of the casual visitor, but the object itself - the snapshot of the physical - isn't enough to describe the object in its historical context. To have the creator's thoughts on his creation would vastly enhance the outside observer's experience. However, with an exclusively digital representation of the culture, how is the outsider's experience affected? How much does the physical matter, and how much is lost if the physical isn't present? To an art student, the digital representation surely does not suffice. Even this coupled with the artist's own words on his or her inspiration wouldn't suffice - seeing the canvas is important. The same works with music. A recording of an aria or rock song is great, but it is a digital representation that cannot replace the physical. Is it because aspects of the performance are lost at the encoding?

In oral histories, a digital representation seems to suffice, but what can be said about an actual, live story telling from the Inuit who carved the stone? The museum collector should incorporate the oral history of the object to convey the thoughts and memories associated with the object. To abandon the physical altogether in favor of the digital representation of the oral history would slight the sense of genuine-ness in the observation of original material. The physical and intangible should be presented together. A museum of that type would be more rewarding.

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