Representing affect and affordancies

Game Affects stripped

Just a short post today, to share what I spent too much of yesterday doing. You may recall a previous post wherein I was struggling to represent all the different emotional models I’d been reading about in my literature review.

A presentation I’m writing for a conference in a couple of weeks gave me the opportunity to have another go, and (importantly for me) make it look a good deal prettier. By about 11.30 last night, I felt that at last I was getting somewhere. So this post simply shares my work in progress, in the picture above.

The central donut represents Panskepp’s work, then moving out from that Lazarro’s adaptation of Ekman, Sylvester’s “triggers”, and then floating around the outside, the motovational affordancies listed by Hamari et al.

It’s not “finished”. I want to return to Lazarro’s work and reassess that, because I found myself editing out a lot of her emotional responses when I was putting this together. I’m also painfully aware that a trigger like “Music” may elicit all sorts of emotional responses, and it sits possibly uncomfortably linked to Panskepp’s PLAY core emotion (though I justified my decision by saying to myself that surely that music IS play).

Now I better get back to my to-do list.

What I meant to say was…

Back at the University for the second day of PGRAS, the post-graduate archaeology symposium which I spoke at yesterday. My talk didn’t go brilliantly well. Despite my preparation last weekend, producing a script as well as my slide deck, I went off-script about a third of the way through, and didn’t get back on it, so I feel a lot of what I had meant to say went unsaid. I often find this when I a script myself, it’s seems I stick more to what I plan to say when I only use bullet points and ad-lib around those. When it’s a full script something in my mind rebels and I end up saying nothing in the script.

So, here’s what I meant to say:

  1. This is a session about storytelling. So I’m going to tell you a story, and like all good stories, its going to have a beginning, middle and an end. Given the audience I feel I must warn you – I can’t promise that this will have much archaeology in it. But I have included one piece, so keep an eye out for it
  2. Last time I was speaking in front of this forum, I explained that I was researching what cultural heritage interpretation might learn from digital games. Those of you that were here may remember that I’d was interested in eight “emotional triggers” (adapted from (Sylvester, 2013)) that engage players in games. You can ask me about these four afterwards. Right now I’m interested in these four, where I think cultural heritage may have more to learn from games.
    1. Generally we don’t like people Acquiring stuff from cultural heritage sites. But actually the “Can you spot ?” type sheets that heritage sites have for decades given to bored children, are using the acquisition trigger.
    2. Challenge is an interesting one, many games are at the best when the degree of challenge matches the player’s ability and they get into “flow”, but seriously how much challenge are cultural heritage visitors looking for, on a day out? We’ll briefly return to this in a while.
    3. Here’s a tip from me, of you have any musically minded mates looking for a PhD subject, then the world of music and cultural heritage interpretation is an open field. There is nothing published. Zero, Nada. Having done my literature review, its what I’d be studying, if I could play, or … er … tell the difference between notes, or even keep a rythym.
    4. But I can’t, so storytelling is the focus of my study.
  3. Before me move on to that, I’d like to pause for a small digression. Those of you who are still listening to me – take a moment to look around the audience. No I don’t want you to point anybody out. I don’t want to shame anybody. But just put your hand up if you can see anyone who isn’t looking at me, but rather looking at their mobile device.
    That’s OK. I know I can be boring. But it’s a demonstration of the secret power of mobile devices. They are teleportation machines, which can transport you away from the place you are physically in.
    And most cultural heritage visitors don’t want that. They have come to our places (they may even have used their phones to help transport them to this place – with on-line bookings or GPS route-finding) to be in the place.
    Of course, that doesn’t stop all sorts of people using mobile devices to “gamify” cultural heritage interpretation. This game at the National Maritime museum, is an example of one that adds new technology to the classic acquisition trigger. You co round the world, collecting crew and cargo from various ports. It adds the challenge trigger to the mix, because you can only SEE the ports if you look at the giant map through the screen’s interface.
  4. There’s a lot of research currently looking at interfaces for cultural heritage (Reunanen et al., 2015) considered for example, getting visitors to make swimming motions in front of a Kinect to navigate a simulated wreck site. But the more I read, and the longer I considered it, I’m more and more of the opinion that there is an interface for cultural heritage that technologists are ignoring: (click) Walking around, looking at stuff.
  5. Now, when it comes to storytelling, “walking around looking at stuff” is not without its problems. People like to choose their own routes around cultural heritage venues, avoid crowds, and look only at some of the objects.
  6. What that means, is that sites often tell their most emotionally engaging story, the beginning, (click)middle (click) and end ( click) towards the beginning of the visit, with a multimedia experience in the visitor centre, or if they can’t afford that, an introductory talk. Then, everything else (click). Which is what game designers call a branching narrative. And what Aylett (Aylett, 2000, Louchart, 2003) calls the “Narrative Paradox … how to reconcile the needs of the user who is now potentially a participant rather than a spectator with the idea of narrative coherence — that for an experience to count as a story it must have some kind of satisfying structure.” (Aylett, 2000). We can learn from our games address with paradox.
  7. Imagine then, a site where the visitor’s movements will be tracked around the site, and the interpretation will adapt to what they have experienced already. Museum and heritage sites consist of both physical and ephemeral narrative atoms (“natoms” after (Hargood, 2011)). Persistent natoms include the objects and the collection but also the spaces themselves, either because of their historic nature, or their configuration in relation to other spaces (Hillier, 1996). Ephemeral natoms are media that can be delivered to the visitor responsively including, but not exclusive to, lighting effects, sound and music, audiovisual material, and text.
    All of these natoms comprise the “curated content” of any exhibition or presentation. The physical natoms are “always on,” but the others need not be (hence the “ephemeral” designation). The idea of the responsive environment would be to eventually replace text panels and labels with e-Ink panels which can deliver text natoms specific to needs of the visitor. Similarly, loudspeakers need not play music or sound effects on a loop, but rather deliver the most appropriate piece of music for the majority of visitors within range.
    To reduce the impact of the narrative paradox (Louchart, 2003), the natoms will be tagged as either Satellites (which can be accessed in any order) or Kernels, which must be presented in a particular order (Shires and Cohan, 1988). Defining which natoms are satellites or kernels becomes the authorial role of the curator.
    Here’s comes the gratuitous piece of archaeology – does this diagram remind you of anything? (click) But in fact it seems somehow appropriate. Because, this is the Apotheosis moment. I want to make the visitor the “God” of his or her own story. Not quite putting them in the place of the protagonist, whose choices were made years ago, but both watching and controlling the story as it develops.
  8. I’m no technologist, so my plan is to “wizard of Oz” a trail run, using people following visitor groups around, rather than a fancy computer program. My intention is to test how people respond to being followed, and how such a responsive environment would negotiate the conflicting story needs of different visitor groups sharing the same space. I have a venue, the Director Chawton House has promised me a couple of weeks worth of visitors to play with, next year. This is where I am at so far, having spent a couple of weeks breaking down the place’s stories into Natoms.
    There’s a lot more to do, but next year I hope to tell you how Chawton’s visitors were able to explore the place entirely freely, (click) and still manage to be told an engaging story from (click) beginning, though (click click) middle (click) and end.


I dreary day to photograph a fine building, but the meeting made up for the weather!
A dreary day to photograph a fine building, but the meeting made up for the weather!

Just a quick note today to reflect on the meeting I had this morning with Gillian Dow, Executive Director of Chawton House Library. This place has been preying on my thoughts since I visited for the last Sound Heritage workshop. In fact, somebody (my friend Jane and her colleague Hilary) had suggested last year that it might be the perfect place to try out my Responsive Environment ideas. But my visit for Sound Heritage made me think more and more that they were right.

  • The place has many interesting stories but ones that can conflict with each other. Do people what to know about it’s centuries as a residence for the Knight family, its connections with Austen, and/or its modern day research into early female writers?
  • It’s a place that hasn’t been open to the public long (this year its its first full season welcoming days out visitors) and is still finding it’s voice.
  • Its relatively free of “stuff” and has modern display systems (vitrines and hanging rails), which means that creating the experience should not be too disruptive.
  • It has pervasive wi-fi (the library’s founding patron Sandy Lerner, co-founded Cisco systems) which will make the experiment a lot easier and cheaper to run, even though I’ve decided to Wizard of Oz it.

So today I explained my ideas to Gillian and, I’m pleased to say, she liked them. We’ve provisionally agreed to do something in the early part of 2017, before that year’s major exhibition is installed. I brought away a floor plan of the house, and I have just this moment received a copy of the draft guidebook, so I can start breaking the story into “natoms”. It looks very much like its all systems go!

I have to say I’m very excited.

(But right now, I’m meant to be taking the boy camping so, I’ll leave it there…

On gamification

The Walk, which uses game mechanics such as the acquisition of badges and and interactive story, in a (failed) attempt to get me to take more walking exercise.

It’s about time I addressed the issue of Gamification. It’s a word that gets bandied about a great deal, and one which has inspiring proponents like Jane McGonigal. But what does it actually mean?

Nick Pelling lays claim (in this 2011 blog post) to coining the word in 2002 when he “began to wonder whether the kind of games user-interface I had been developing for so long could be used to turbo-charge all manner of transactions and activities on commercial electronic devices [his emphasis]– in-flight video, ATM machines, vending machines, mobile phones, etc.  Unsurprisingly, this was the point when I coined the deliberately ugly word “gamification“, by which I meant applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast.” (I’m glad he calls it “deliberately ugly” – I was ready to rant on about it being a linguistically unnecessary Americanism when I first heard it. I’m over that now). Of passing interest is his 2003 consultancy web page (looking VERY Web 1.0) which announces gamification to the world. That consultancy shut up shop three years later because, broadly, no-one was interested.

Its interesting to note that what he was interested in doing was bringing game-like interfaces to electronic devices. Which, though I’m not sure he would agree, is not what gamification has come to mean. Towards the end of his post, he insists that “the underlying idea of gamification [is] making hard things easy, expressive, near-effortless to use.” Games (and computer games in particular, since this is what Pelling is talking about) may offer interfaces that are apparently easy to pick up and start playing, but they are (mostly) designed to get more difficult, that is part of the challenge of games, the challenge that contributes to (successful) games becoming intrinsically motivating.

And its motivation that is at the centre of the current use of the word. In their 2014 literature review Hamari, Koivisto and Sarsa say “gamification can be seen to have three main parts: 1) the implemented motivational affordances, 2) the resulting psychological outcomes, and 3) the further behavioral outcomes.” Their review covers 24 studies of gamification, and categorizes all the “motivational affordances” mentioned in those studies: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge.

These resonate with (but do not match) some of the emotional models I’ve been reading about elsewhere. Of course Points, Leaderboards, Achievements/Badges, Levels and Rewards can all be summed up with the Acquisition trigger that Sylvester mentions. Challenge exists in both models. Story and Progress fit with Sylvester’s character arc, and Theme (arguably) with his environment trigger. I’m a bit curious about “Feedback”, because, surely everything a system does in response to the user is “feedback” isn’t it?

Anyway, the Hamari et al’s thesis is that badges, a story etc (motivational affordances), should have psychological outcomes (engagement, enjoyment and yup, yer actual motivation) that change the user’s behavior, encouraging them to, for example, take more walking exercise (behavioral outcomes). Their meta-analysis of these 24 studies indicates that “gamification does produce positive effects and benefits.” But “some studies showed that the results of gamification may not be long-term, but instead could be caused due to a novelty effect.” The authors also point out that “As previous works on player motivations suggest, people in fact interact with game-like systems in different manners, and for different reasons. Thus, the experiences created by the gamifying motivational affordances are also likely to vary.”

My personal experience supports all these conclusions. Three years or so back, I took delivery of a new company car, that after a few hundred miles rewarded me with a “cup” to celebrate my fuel-efficient driving. I endeavored there-after not to lose any of the graphic flower petals each indicated things like keeping to legal speeds, not braking heavily etc which had contributed to my cup. You can chalk that up as a “positive benefit”. Other attempts have not been so successful – the insurance company Aviva have recently started to use gamification to sell and reduce the costs of car insurance. I downloaded the app out of curiosity and for the purposes of this study. It was infuriating, and lasted only a week on my phone. The novelty had obviously worn off. And about a year ago I downloaded another app, The Walk (illustrated above), I responded badly to its needless badges and dull story. I used it less and less and eventually deleted it from my phone. It was a recent bout of very high blood pressure and a stern warning from my doctor that worked better to motivate me towards a healthier lifestyle.

Bartle – and the power of You Tube.

For the last few days, my blog has been really popular.


I’ve been getting hundreds of hits on a post I wrote a couple of years back. Now, I don’t expect hundreds of hits. I’m lucky if I get a couple of thousand a month. so my first thought was that it was some sort of new spam bot, testing WordPress’ defenses. But I didn’t have any new spam comments to trash, so I checked out where these hits were coming from. – mostly search engines. But there was something interesting about the search terms. Nowadays, more and more people opt to keep their search terms private, but the vast majority of the known search terms were “Bartle Taxonomy.”

My post on Bartle has always attracted a steady stream of hits, but most of them come from searches for “the Bartle test” (which is what my post is called). This time, whilst there were still some people searching for “the Bartle test”, most were using the “taxonomy” word. Something, somewhere had caused a spike of interest in “the Bartle Taxonomy” but what?

I googled it. There was the wikipedia page on Bartle at the top of the list, a bunch of other preferences, and my own post about 6th from the top. (Not bad – but Goggle knows who I am, so I wouldn’t put it past their logarithm to place my own posts higher when I’m searching. So I tried a couple of other engines too, who wouldn’t now me, DuckDuckGo and Quant, and I’m still up there, sixth or seventh. With is cool.)i

But I couldn’t see anything in particular that had prompted the spike in my visitor numbers. Until today, when this YouTube video was brought to my attention:

Its a good video, with a simple history and explanation of Bartle’s four type taxonomy. Interestingly, it doesn’t cover his revised eight type version – but who does? Where it excels though, is looking through the gamer types to the world/player and acting/interacting axes. They are going to “delve even deeper into Bartle’s world next week.” Looks like I’m going to have to subscribe. 🙂

Which brings me to my final point. This video was uploaded on the 14th of October, co-relating exactly with my visitor spike. That the publication of such a video can have such an impact on my little back-water of the web, suggests to me that search engines like Google are losing their power to navigate (or uncover?) knowledge. Instead subscribed publishers like YouTubers are introducing a new generation of web-users to all sorts of concepts, effectively becoming “curators”. Digital music companies are all about curation  – but there’s a an opportunity for the traditional publishers, of all sorts of media, to leverage their own skillbase as curators, if they are not already too late.

Measuring engagement

Just a short post today with a couple of fun links. I chanced upon this TED talk from Roz Picard this morning:

Roz is a a professor of Affective Computing at MIT and runs the spin-out Affectiva, and uses technology to measure emotional engagement. Much of the video talks about measuring skin conductence, and she gives a number of example of using that, to measure her own perfomance giving TED talks, identify the most engaging beats of movie commercials, work with non-verbal people on the autistic spectrum and even to measure grief. But as she points out, this method doesn’t differentiate between “positive” affect such as  joy and “negative” ones like fear.

So they’ve also been working on computer algorithms that measure facial emotions. Much in the same way that Nicole Lazarro did. Affectiva is all about selling this technology to third parties, but they do have a free app on the iTunes store so you can give their emotion recognition engine a try:

I need to see if anyone has used either of these technologies on people  experiencing heritage sites.

Mapping four different emotional models

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this, or indeed if I’m going anywhere at all, but I wanted the give it a try.

Yesterday’s post, about Panksepp and the deep instinctive play emotion network in rats (and other mammals and maybe even birds), and taking my kids to see Inside Out a couple of weeks ago (if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it – not as strong as Toy Story, Wall-E or Up) made me want to cross reference his list with Paul Ekman’s list of universal expressions. On his commercial site, Ekman currently seems to be claiming credit for Inside Out, which I guess is why Disgust features as a character. (Damn, now I want to put little pictures of each character in the table as well – which is all the evidence that I must stop mucking about with it and tidy our dining room/study for our approaching guests.)

So I’ve spent most of the day re-reading bits of Panksepp, Ekman, Lazarro and Sylvester and seeing if each of the models lines up to tell me anything interesting. Along the way I’ve made some other notes. For example  – contentment, relief and satisfaction seem like pretty deepseated emotions that should figure, or have equivalents, in Panksepp’s schema. Where should they go? Are they simply Homeostatic? or are they part of the SEEKING network? Also, a number of things that Lazarro calls “emotions” seem really out of place in this table, are the emotions at all? Or are they behaviours? That said what she calls Schadenfreude, really does seem to fit in the Panksepp’s emotional model – though he doesn’t use that word, he does describe the affect as part of “the dark side of human laughter.” Oh, and I need to see in Panksepp has anything to say about flow.

In conclusion I’m not sure if all this work does tell me anything interesting, but you can see the results below and I’m going to sleep on it (after I’ve tidied the dining room).

A table mapping out different “emotion” models (work very much in progress)

Neuroscience >> Psychology >> Games Triggers
Panksepp Ekman Lazarro Sylvester Notes
SEEKING Excitement? Excitement (S, P)

Curiosity (E)

RAGE Anger Frustration (H)


CARE Love, Generosity(P) Character arc


PLAY Amusement Amusement (P)
Homeostatic affects Eg HUNGER THIRST
Sensory affects Disgust

Sensory pleasure

Visceral (S)? Eg DISGUST
Emotional control Mediate (S)?


Schadenfreude (P)? (Play)

Secondary process
Social emotions  




Pride in achievement


Social bonding (P)


Embarrass (P)


Fiero (H), Naches (P)

Gratitude (P)

Ridicule (P)

Learn (S)?

Envy (P)







Tertiary process



Pleasure from work(S) ?(flow)?

Boredom (H)

Wonder (E)


Relax (S)

Elevation (P)

Inspiration (P)





Tickling Rats

At the stage reached by the age of three, and after ages four, five and six, play will be necessary. These are games which nature herself suggests at that age; children readily invent these for themselves when  left in one another’s company.

Plato, The Laws VII, 794

When you tickle a rat, it makes 50-kHz ultrasonic sounds or “chirps”. We know this because scientist Jaak Panksepp has tickled a lot of rats. Panksepp is a neurobiologist who, with psychotherapist Lucy Biven, wrote my holiday reading, The Archaeology of Mind. Panksepp doesn’t just tickle rats for fun. He is engaged in serious research. He noticed that rats make the same 50-kHz noise when they play among themselves, especially when that play is characterised by “pins” (think wrestling-style pins) and dorsal contact – the rough-and-tumble play that Panskepp is careful not to call play-fighting. (He is concerned that people misinterpret play as a form of aggression, and that parents may be causing developmental harm when they discourage the more boisterous forms of rough -and-tumble play.) That said, even rats’ rough-and-tumble play can sometimes turn into fighting. When rats actually fight, they make a lower 22-kHz ultrasonic sound and “when this happens, playful signs-the frantic hopping, darting and pouncing – immediately stop.”

So, after two years of observation (and tickling) the team proved that the 50-kHz ultrasonic chirps are rat laughter, and the 22-kHz sounds are “complaints.” His thesis is that all mammals share seven instinctive emotions, even if different species’ higher brain  functions can be very different. He labels the seven core emotions thus:

  • RAGE
  • FEAR
  • LUST
  • CARE
  • PLAY

“It is hard to define play,” he says “but you know it when you see it. Perhaps the best general definition has recently (2005) been suggested by Gordon Burghardt, consisting of five criteria:

  1. The adaptive functions of play are not fully evident at the time play occurs;
  2. play is a spontaneous activity, done for its own sake, because it is fun (pleasurable);
  3. play is an exaggerated and incomplete form of adult activities;
  4. play exhibits many repetitive activities, done with abundant variations, unlike serious behaviors that are not as flexible; and
  5. animals must be well fed, comfortable, and healthy for play or occur, and all stressors reduce play.”

Panksepp illustrates this last point with a personal anecdote “if a laboratory researcher has a pet cat at home and he is not careful to change his clothes before going to work, we will have a difficult time studying the play of rats because the odor of cats intrinsically scares rats, and fearful rats simply do not play.”

But why do we and other mammals share this instinctive play emotion? Well, as he says in his TED talk (below) science doesn’t answer the question why, it only answers “how.” But he does have some ideas about how play helps “the young to learn nonsocial physical skills like hunting, foraging and so on. It is also surely important for acquiring many social capacities, especially nascent aggressive, courting, sexual and in some species competitive and perhaps even parenting skills. It may be an essential force for the construction of the many higher functions of our social brains. Playful activities may help young animals learn to identify individuals with whom they can develop cooperative relationships and know who to avoid […] In short, the brain’s PLAY networks may help stitch individuals into the stratified social fabric that will be the staging ground for their lives.”

Though he doesn’t spend much ink on the higher brain function aspects of adult, human, play (games, sports etc) he does draw a comparison between the rough-and-tumble play he studies and the teasing repartee or word-play that can be observed in older humans.

All in all its been a very satisfying read, and I want to read more, especially his chapter on learning and memory. But for this post I’ll leave you with his TED talk which is an effective summary his 50 year career, and benefits it may be producing in the treatment of depression.

Let’s talk about “affect” – part two

Maurizio Cattelan, HIM, 2001 installation view, Haus der Kunst, Munich.
Copyright: Maurizio Cattelan.

Last week, I introduced, from the essay by  Michelle Henning, Legibility and Affect: Museums as New Media in Exhibition Experiments, the concepts of remediation and affect. She quotes Brian Massumi‘s book Parables for the Virtual, which “describes affect as distinct from emotion and expression and in terms of intensity of sensations.” So, in the case of the introduction of spotlighting at the Gesellschafts-und Wirtschaftsmuseum in the 1930s, “it seems that the exhibition lighting increased the intensity of the viewing experience, without necessarily determining the exact emotional content or meaning of the charts and models.”

Now, this seems a little suspect to me. Here, she appears to be suggesting that “affective” lighting works as an amplifier of emotion response, having set it up, in her earlier discussion of theatre lighting, as a trigger of emotional expression. Admittedly she does also say that “other writers on affect see less distinction between affect and emotion.” But, continuing her theme of affect being more about intensity of emotion that the emotion itself, she goes on to talk about affective multimedia, describing the thrilling rides and technologies of the mid-twentieth century worlds fairs, and experiments in interaction at art exhibitions of the 1930s (apparently the use of peepholes at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery was mocked by critics as “a kind of artistic Coney Island”).

Another essay in the same book, Exhibition as Film by Mieke Bal also describes affect as an amplifier of emotion. She compares the 2001 artwork Him (pictured above) by Maurizio Cattelan as a cinematic close-up:

A close up immediately cancels the whole that precedes it, leaving us alone, thrown out of our linear time, alone with a relationship to the image that is pure affect.

In her definition of affect, Mieke Bal at least admits that she is understanding affect “without resorting to psychology”. She describes affective media (mostly images) as those which give us pause: “between a perception that troubles us and an action we hesitate about, affect emerges.”

All of which makes me think of the more prosaic “wow” moments or “anchor experiences” mentioned in my two recent posts on Interpretive Planning. So is that all affect is? A fancy “academic” word for “wow”? Maybe, in cultural theory it is. But, unlike Bal, I want to resort to psychology to see if I can understand it a little better.

I’m on holiday next week, but I’ve found a great book to take with me for a bit of light reading. It’s called The Archaeology of Mind, by Panksepp and Biven. It is, I hasten to add nothing to do with archaeology, but as I study in an archaeology department, I just had to give it a go. Lets see what they think “affect” is, or even if they mention it at all…



Let’s talk about “affect” – part one

An example of Otto Neurath’s Isotype system

I’ve been reading Exhibition Experiments edited by Sharon MacDonald and Paul Basu. It’s part of my effort to fill the gap in my literature review on modern museum interpretive planning. It hasn’t been brilliantly helpful in that regard. The editors point out “the exhibition experiments described in this volume are not experiments in didacticism. The purpose of their experimentation is not to innovate ever more effective ways of disseminating knowledge,” which is a bit of a slap on the wrist for me because, as one researches storytelling in cultural heritage spaces, one tends towards the didactic and the patronising or “perpetuating illusory securities” as they put it.

So most of the experiments described take place in contemporary art spaces, because as the editors’ introduction continues “exhibitions are generally expensive and this may make some  museum directors, managers and trustees reluctant to allow experimental exhibitions to go ahead.” These exhibitions are therefore temporary in nature, challenging and ideologically sensitive. They discomfort the visitor and expect visitors to “play and active role as navigators, way-finders and meaning makers; drawing their own observations and conclusions without the reassuring presence of an “authority” to defer to.” (p16)

That’s said there are two concepts that leap out of the book and are applicable to all exhibition design. The first is “Remediation“, from Bolter and Grusin’s eponymous book. They are cited by Michelle Henning in her essay Legibility and Affect: Museums as New Media (pp 25-46). She explains that “they outline various ways in which new media remediate other media, from being a supposedly transparent means of accessing other older media forms, through to absorbing older media so that they appear as their technically updated descendants.”

She goes on to describe how museums are remediated, most obviously through “virtual museums,” but also through the introduction of new media and computer technologies “in the form of new media art, information kiosks and touchscreens, and databases.” She also says that remediation might be found in exhibition design:

For instance, I have noted elsewhere now natural history exhibits relating to biodiversity seem to resemble networks, and “branching tree” structures. In their use of diverse exhibitionary techniques, many contemporary displays take on a a multimedia character similar to new media.

Her argument is that museums have been “remediating” since long before the term was coined. “In dioramas, for instance, realism and authenticity are underwritten by the use of the conventions of Romantic painting, combined with representational conventions drawn from photography and film. In other types of display, the authenticity of artefacts in enhanced by supplementing them with video footage or sound recordings.”

But her defining example of remediation is the introduction of spotlighting to the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in the 1930s. “It shed light not on artworks or artifacts in the strict sense, but on posters, charts photographs and models.” In a effort of communicate better with the museum’s intending clientelle, the working class population of Vienna, Otto Neurath, the director of the museum has worked with graphic designers  to create the Isotype system, a visual language for communicating statistical information around the museum. It was these framed black and red posters that were the exhibits of the museum, and the first items to be lit with what we now think of as museum lighting.

Neurath had a practical reason for this – the working classes only had leisure to visit the museum at night. But Henning argues that such lighting “was already understood as an expressive and dramatic medium” since its introduction in theatre fifty years earlier. Shining a spotlight on an actor or an object, bringing them out of the darkness, enhances the emotional content of Wagnerian opera, and even social statistics.

The use of spotlighting is, in other words affective.

In my next post I’ll look in more detail at affect, and whether or not it is distinct from emotion.