The idea of visualizing museum collections is problematic at best. As Manovich describes in Database as Symbolic Form the collection is a database, its visualization is simply a window into this database. The interface through which we experience this is a way of interacting with the database. The objects or artefacts are classified by the curator, which is the way the museum has functioned for centuries. We have been as Foucault puts it, set upon “an exhaustive ordering of the world” (74). But we do so within our own social constructs and expertise, in an inherently subjective process. This, I think may have something to do with the difficulty in establishing consistent databases (aside from grammar, spelling and nomenclature issues), which as we witness in Mia Ridge’s exploration of the Cooper-Hewitt Collections can be limiting and frustrating.
In providing an interface to museum collections we are undertaking a second process of interpretation, making connections between certain objects and placing some in particular locations. The interface can direct users and confine their movements through the collection or allow a certain degree of control.
Any visualization of a collection is built from individual records, or blocks, the wall is the complete collection. Thinking about ‘walls’ brings to mind Manovich’s article Data stream, database, timeline where he mentions that social networking has created a new way of experiencing data – the stream. This is an interesting concept which I somewhat agree with. The ‘stream’ has also offered new opportunities for data capture and analysis. However can the museum collection be part of this?