Museum Studies - Virtual Exhibiting

Museum Studies - Virtual Exhibiting

In this time of worldwide upheaval, many aspects of life are shifting. Museum Studies students this year faced a hasty change of direction from the planning of a physical exhibition to a digital exhibition. While the museum sector had been moving toward online accessibility and interaction before this situation came to the forefront of considerations, national lockdowns fast-tracked many digitisation efforts in order to keep museums and other public institutions afloat and relevant. The decision to change our exhibition to one which would be hosted on the new museum site by the University proved an interesting challenge. We were the first group of students to attempt such a conversion, and the changes in some ways were much easier than previously expected. 

If you have had the chance to check out our exhibition, ‘Safekeeping: Protecting what is valued’ (available here) you will have seen a very small representation of some of our favourite objects from the Marischal Museum collection held by the University. It may be surprising, but that number would likely have been even smaller had our exhibition continued as a purely physical one. To the right is a picture of the Shoki statue (ABDUA:56908) as featured in our exhibition. This beautiful statue was too large to fit into any of the cases available in the student exhibition and would have been cut from the object list had it been installed at Sir Duncan Rice Library as originally planned. Other objects that would have been cut or replaced include the mortsafe model (ABDAN:6003), more information about which can be found on Instagram here, which was both too large and too heavy to be moved to the exhibition space, and the gau box (ABDUA:61947) which would have required enhanced security in the proposed exhibition space. In the cases of these objects, the switch to digital meant that they could be displayed without worry for their safety or the safety of those who handled them. 

The switch to digital was not without difficulties. Our student meetings had to be held virtually, which made discussions and disagreements very difficult to solve. These meetings also had to change due to the return home of some students, resulting in time differences. A digital exhibition also meant that the previous expectation for an opening event to be held at the exhibition space was no longer possible. Quick thinking and the availability of meeting-hosting technology meant that we were able to organise what I called the Zoom Gala. In a way, I believe that the Zoom Gala was a better opening event than we could have hoped for, as it allowed for attendees from anywhere in the world. As an international student myself, my parents were able to join the online event whereas they never would have been able to attend the physical gallery had it opened on schedule. I was not the only international student whose family was able to join the Zoom event, and I imagine that all parties were excited for the ability to attend.

One of the things that did not actually change very much was the social media plan that we had originally drafted in hopes of marketing to a larger audience about our exhibition. Our marketing team worked very hard to create funny and engaging posts, and even more so when the exhibition changed. The same tactic was employed in making our introductory video, and an as-yet unreleased blooper reel. Taking a page from the Museum of English Rural Life’s social media posts which sparked a meme trend in 2018 on Twitter (original tweet here), we hoped that the levity would be much needed and appreciated in the current worldly situation, providing information and appealing to the general public. 

At the beginning of this programme I never imagined that any of this would be happening and that I would be part of creating an online student-led exhibition, but am glad of all of the experience I took from it, and the skills I sharpened in the process. My hope for this exhibition is that our hard work and deep interest and passion is reflected in every aspect of it, and that a wider audience might learn and benefit from it now that it is available online. 

Rebecca Palomino ’20 is part of the #PandemicPostgrads from the University of Aberdeen’s Museum Studies MLitt programme. She was part of the Curating an Exhibition course and worked on the objects team during the planning of ‘Safekeeping’. She holds degrees in English and Latin literatures, and a Master’s degree in Ethnology in Folklore. Her writing style has been referred to as ‘whimsy’ and ‘quirky’ and she hopes to use that power for good in generating interesting and accessible academic writing. In her free time she roams Aberdeen in search of interesting street art, a good coffee and a peaceful place to knit.