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Sit with Me: Creating dialogical encounters in the museum

Posted on 18 May 2016

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A new interactive exhibit that I have co-designed, entitled Sit with Me, has been installed in the Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne, in the Destination Tyneside gallery. This permanent gallery tells a story of migration into the city over the last 150 years and pulls focus on individuals’ lives and experiences across history up to the present day.

The new piece invites gallery visitors to sit down in front of an interactive (two-way) mirror.  As the visitor looks at their reflection, a photographic image of another person appears ‘inside’, and the visitor’s eyes meet and merge with those of the photographic referent. After this moment of physical connection, text also appears in the mirror — words that say something about the life and identity of the person in the portrait.  Eight historic portraits are displayed in total, each sourced from a local archive.

Using the same 3D camera technology as an Xbox Kinect, the installation reacts to the visitor’s presence, locating where they are sitting and then configuring the display so that they can make eye contact with the person in the photograph.

Sit with Me aims to make a poetic and reflective contribution to a gallery that shows migration as part of the fabric and history of the area. The piece highlights the roles that long term Tyneside residents have played in the development of the region’s identity and economy, inviting connection with those individuals.

Sit with Me was devised in collaboration with Areti Galani, David Chatting and Rhiannon Mason at Newcastle University, and with Kylea Little and John Coburn at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM).

The installation creates an interesting ‘research through design’ context for exploring the nature of dialogical encounters in museums, and how these may be supported or disrupted by technology.  By dialogical encounter, we mean a meaningful exchange between oneself and another that develops new and potentially empathetic understanding, for example between gallery visitors and people represented in the exhibit.  We are currently studying visitor interactions with Sit with Me in conjunction with the the Destination Tyneside gallery space and the other exhibited materials.

The project was funded by the Newcastle University Institute for Creative Arts Practice (NICAP), with support from Open Lab though David Kirk and Culture Lab through Tom Schofield.