Image Credits: Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
Image Credits: Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

“Powering the Cooper Hewitt” project will investigate a sustainable framework for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It will explore a participatory relationship between design collections, color search, user- communities and energy use of the museum. It will examine the links between energy & social metrics of museum’s user communities, analyzes carbon footprints and behavior of accessing digital artifacts by community from the museum’s collections. Finally, it aims to implement a participatory museum installation wherein the museum’s saved energy fosters a collection of its community’s design objects and energy stories matched to the museum’s own cloud collections.

When I met Seb Chan, the Director of Digital & Emerging Media of the Smithsonian Cooper- Hewitt Labs, National Design Museum, New York, on the sidelines of MuseumNext Amsterdam in May 2013, we talked about how to make collections more visible to museum visitors and engage the community. How we could transform the digital repository into a tangible being, how to place the museum building on the internet and make it participatory. How to weave issues of energy and sustainability into the daily practices of a museum. After some research and consultation with artist colleagues, curator friends and computer programmers, I started thinking of how one would explore a participatory relationship between online digital collections, color search, user-communities and energy use of the museum. This is a research in process and the outcomes are open ended.

I will be conducting an on-site research between May 27 & June 13, 2014 into the nature of Cooper-Hewitt’s digitized collections, energy use of the museum and its base community. The end result hopefully being a pilot participatory energy project at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York in early 2015.

Since 2007, I have explored through art installations, architecture and prototypes how community can engage with museums, art and heritage. How our tax-payer funded institutions could have a broader base of participants and users. How citizens could participate in the discourse of art and heritage collections of museums and archives. Whether the internet allows for a broader and open access to heritage and whether it could be blended with tangible artifacts and physical urban spaces. My creative works and research have tried to explore and answer the above questions.

In the process, I have designed and built several installations and prototypes that try to ascertain the viability of physical cultural spaces, participatory models for museums and the use of emerging media technologies. The first in a trilogy of museum installation projects was a participatory museum installation “Light is History” in Hakaniemi Market Square, Helsinki in 2012, where 16 families from Kallio, Helsinki shared their artifacts, energy and stories for the general wellbeing. The second, that is ongoing, is the “Haloo Akseli” project with Gallen-Kallela Museum, Espoo which is about building a community-participated public domain digital archive for Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela and his artist friends and acquaintances with the help of an open source digitizing robot. I have also designed and built a Community Art Cafe “Olotila” in Tikkurila, Vantaa, Finland between 2007-09 where local residents come and share their art and stories over coffee and sandwiches and a Public Art Installation at the Ateneum Museum, Helsinki in 2011 that explored politics and the civic behavior of urban residents. 

My research project at the Cooper Hewitt Labs is the final part of this trilogy and a component of my Doctoral Dissertation due in the Summer of 2015 at the Media Lab of the Aalto University, Finland. I hope to contribute back my research outcomes to the Cooper-Hewitt especially of what I learn about the mechanism of participation in digital art collections of museums and archives, how sustainable use of energy and technology can mediate the above phenomena into participatory energy projects and exhibitions . My aim is eventually to apply the methodology, outcomes and results of this project to digital repositories of GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums) in the US and in Finland, and start thinking of how global-local communities could participate, contribute, take ownership of their own heritage and derive wellbeing from it.