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Are the historical objects in V&A not entertaining enough for us?

March 1, 2017

I was walking around in the basement where the 1700-1800 collection was when I notice a big Indian family dancing in front of a screen. It caught my attention and I decided to observe it more. Behind them, it was a bench so I could watch them discreetly. The people on the screen were dressed up in 1800 ball gowns and they had invited the family to dance with them at the ball. There was a circle with footprints marked on the floor in front of the screen. The person standing inside the circle had to copy the movements the dancers asked him/her to execute. The whole family were engaged and all the kids wanted to try. Even the grandma had a try. When they left it was empty for a while. But after few minute an older man arrived and was intrigued by the interaction with the screen. He stood there alone for a while trying the movement. When the man left I didn’t see anyone for 15 min. The collection I visited was really empty considering it was a rainy Saturday. It seemed it was not popular at all. Not only because the interactive screen was almost hidden in a dark corner, but also considering it was in the basement. Most people don’t start with the basement when they arrive. I believe it is because it is darker than other parts of the museum. Also since V&A are not guiding people there directly. When people come in the main entrance they go straight towards the information desk and then decide where to go. They have already passed the steps to the basement when they have reached the information desk. Overall I observed 8 people within an hour engaging with the screen. Does this mean it is a bad design considering I my observation was during prime time for the museum? The room had no description about the screen and what its intentions were for the museum. At the same time, one has to interfere with the sensor to make the doors on the screen open. This is only possible within the circle on the floor.

I assume the intentions for putting up this screen is for visitors to engage and interact with the collections, not only observe objects and read about them. This question if the objects on display are not interesting by themselves anymore. The curator believes it needs to be more to the collections to attract old and new visitors. Having this modern technology between old objects shows that the museum wishes to be contemporary even though they are telling a story about the past.

– Louise

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