COMPARING EXHIBITIONS AND WEB SITES
By Ira Jacknis
ost museums now have Web sites of some sort,which they use for many purposes: listing practi-cal information such as hours, staff, access poli-cies, and current programs, or offering curated presenta-tions of their collections. As museum media, exhibits havea fairly stable technology and form, while Web sites keepevolving. As the technology changes, much of what oncecould not be done, or not done easily, is now common-place.There are many similarities between the two media. Likefilms and books, both combine images (standing in forobjects)and words. Unlike those, however, exhibits andWeb sites have a non-linear structure. While exhibits mayhave a suggested path, in most cases the viewer determineswhich units will be accessed first and in what order, just asone can do on-line.However, there can be many differences between exhibitsand Web sites. Perhaps the prime advantage of a Web siteis its greater accessibility for people who cannot come toan exhibit. Furthermore, because it is not bound by spatialconstraints, a Web site can hold much more content. It isalso easier to make cross-references in cyberspace. As withfootnotes in books, one can readily find linked bits of information—sometimes of only supplementary interest—in a non-linear way. Exhibits are much more limited intheir ability to do this. On the other hand, while virtualexhibits may include more content, sometimes, as in our
site, they have less. Label text is almost alwaysavailable, but good photographs of the exhibited objectsoften are not.The most decisive difference between the two, of course, isthat of dimensionality. As a two-dimensional medium, theWeb is better suited for flat objects such as photographs orpaintings. While the viewer can rarely touch an exhibitedobject, one can often walk around an object and movecloser or farther away. Good exhibits also make use of paths and vistas, allowing one to see what is coming upand look back at what one has seen, relating an object toan adjacent object within an architecturally-formed space.Early Web sites were poorly designed in this regard, butdesigners are finding ways to replicate such previews andreviews. A feeling for the third dimension in cyberspacecan be suggested by using multiple views, so that one canzoom in and out, or more recently, around, through digi-tized video. Still, these take more computer memory andbandwidth and so are not common. Another problem,inherent in publications as well, is the difficulty of indicat-ing size and scale, especially if one is dealing with astrange, foreign object. Not all pictures include rulers.Finally, and most mysteriously, there is the question of "aura," knowing that one is in the presence of an actualobject created by someone in a distant space or time. Wetend to perceive things with greater intensity when we usemultiple senses and our whole body, than through merevisual perception. These profound issues of being and exis-tence may be the most basic reasons we still have museumsof real objects instead of living in a complete world of vir-tual objects. As many of these limitations are not inherentin cyberspace, it will be interesting to see how museums of the future choose to present their collections.I
ra Jacknis is Research Anthropologist at the Phoebe A.Hearst Museum of Anthropology and recently curated
TheWorld in a Frame: Photographs from the Great Age of Exploration, 1865-1915
, on view at the Museum throughFebruary 2004. An online version of the exhibit can beviewed at: http://hearstmuseum.berkeley.edu.
THE HEARST MUSEUM GIFT STORE
carries a wide variety of items that reflect the museum collections and thediversity of world cultures. The store has extensive selections of jewelry, textiles, wooden and soapstonecarvings, musical instruments, puppets, and other beautiful gifts. Most are handcrafted by native artisansfrom different parts of the world. The store has a wide selection of books about cultural history andanthropology, as well as museum publications. The Hearst Museum Gift Store offers reasonable prices anda wonderfully unique shopping experience. Open Wednesday - Sunday, during regular Museum hours.(left: traditional Indonesian wooden puppet)
SAVE THE DATE FOR THE ANNUAL "SANTA FE CRAFTS" NATIVE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST JEWELRY AND FOLK ART SALE
COMING NOVEMBER 20, 2003.