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Smile to the Invaders

Transcription of my talk during the “Invasioni digitali” panel at Digital Heritage 2013 in Marseille

I spoke after @MariannMarcucci @CurlyBB and @sergiocagol, with @fabriziotodisco quietly smoking and nodding in a side row

The Mart is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto. Online you can find us at and at @mart_museum It is located in northern Italy, on three venues. This is the main one, in Rovereto. It has been designed by the swiss architect Mario Botta. Rovereto is a small town with a huge artistic and intellectual heritage, as is often the case in Italy. In particular, the collections of the museum, its research and exhibition activities and the whole idea behind the project stem from the presence in Rovereto during the first decades of the last century of Fortunato Depero, a futurist artist

Casa Depero, Rovereto

Casa Depero, Rovereto

These are some of his works, they are tapestries, hung in Casa Depero, the former laboratory of Depero and now second venue of the Mart. The director of the Mart, Cristiana Collu, in her mission statement, writes that we should be “visionaries and Futurists”. Personally, what I get from this advice is that we should reconsider one central aspect of Futurist practice, which unfortunately has never been discussed enough. My view is that it’s all fault of Guillame Apollinaire, but that’s another story. Anyway, the idea of Futurism that I like so much is that when the futurists realized they needed instruments and tools that were not available, they invented them. They were not supposed to do that. They were not ready to do that. They were not equipped to do that. They were taking risks at doing that. But they did it all the same.

Like Luigi Russolo, who wanted to include noises inside the definition of music, or rather, of the kind of raw materials that can be processed in order to make music. And what did he do? He built machines to make noises. They are here, and you might be interested to know that the american singer Mike Patton does like them.

Luigi Russolo - Intonarumori

Luigi Russolo – Intonarumori

In practice, all this means allowing reality in. It’s a reality check. We want to let the world come inside the museum. This is the “Magnificent obsession” exhibition, with 1200 works from our collection. They are being displayed with a layout that is a challenge to established museum standards.

The Magnificent Obsession

The Magnificent Obsession

There are other cases in which we respect museum standards, of course, but in this case we wanted to do something else. We wanted to show the works of art not in the way curators do it, but in the way artlovers, collectors and artists themselves do it. Lots of works on the walls, masterpieces alongside minor painters, and lots of emotions. You’ve got to see it. Hans Ulrich Obrist said that it calls for repeated viewings. I like that a lot. Sometimes in museums I feel forced to repeated self-analysis. In this exhibition I can concentrate on external reality

Finally, reaching out for the real thing is not only written in our mission, but also in the architectural project of the Mart. In the word of Mario Botta:

Architecture that does not take into consideration the relationship with the town and surroundings is rejecting the most considerable part of its mandate.

At Rovereto, we started with a critical survey of what was already there – the corso, the buildings on it, the backdrop of mountains – attributing a relational role to our proposal. More on

These are the reasons why we welcomed the participants of the “Digital invasion” project.

After all, what they were doing was to give us money. If a group of people comes to the museum, takes photos, shares them on the web commenting “hey look at this great place”, and hundreds of people read those comments, what is really happening is that the museum is receiving money. Because the invaders are influencers – what that means is that these people are building a community for the museum, and they are doing it for free. Building communities means money, among other things, because you cannot move casual audiences to the “returning visitors” stage if you don’t involve the communities they’re part of.

So we welcomed the invaders with an invaders’ kit. A map, museum info, a local product, an alien printout. Simple stuff. Later, I invaded the invaders’ privacy with a video camera.


Just a couple of  things about photos in museums.  We are now from this very week allowing photos inside the collections. Why should we do it? Among many reasons, one is very thought provoking to me. Digital photos make the visit experience more real. Once you are out of the exhibition, you have your memories, but the exhibition is no longer there. If it is on tools like Google art project, at least you can watch a version of it again. But if it’s not, there are no perceptions anymore other than your memories. Which are to be cherished, sure, but we want to act now. Exhibitions in the museums, in this sense are very virtual. Very very virtual, as soon as you leave the museum they vanish. Unless you buy the catalogue. But that is for rich people. I cannot affor catalogues, for instance. Or you could take a photo. With a photo, you make sense of what you’ve seen and experienced. You get back home and you show it to your partner. You share it on twitter, and you make mistakes, sure you make mistakes all the time in the social web. Making sense of experience through mistakes. Wait – isn’t that a definition of learning? In the end, taking photos is a way of learning, and that is the point that many critics of anything digital fail to understand

Wifi without login
We’re not there yet. We have a wifi connection, but there is a login requirement. But we want to extend access. Just two arguments in favour of this choice: with a serious wifi network in place, the staff can join the net and engage on topics which are relevant to their job. They can do it while events take place, like in this photo.

With an open wifi connection, more people will log in and learn. Even people without a valid ID Card. As museums professionals, our main concern should be that of extending entry points to our cultural heritage. All concerns about security, copyright infringements and cooperation with law enforcements agencies are fine of course, but they come after we’ve made everything we could to reach our mission: to make culture more accessible.


Julian Beck – Living Theater

Finally, in 2014 we will have a Wikipedia editor in residence. On the one hand, it will be a great chance for this person to learn about museum standards and practices. On the other, it will be an invaluable chance for our team to learn the basics of how to contribute content to Wikipedia.

As museums, we preserve quality content AND we advance learning. Unaccessible quality content does not advance learning, so our contents should also be where thremajority of people are. Not exclusively, but also. On Wikipedia there are mistakes. This is all very fine, as I told you I adore mistakes (as long as it’s not out of carelessness). As museums, our duty is to raise the quality of the content that’s there on the web, and that matters for us. it doesn’t matter if the source where it is being shown can be directly related to ourselves or not. Extending access to our content and promoting quality is more important.


Thanks, you can reach me at @lmelk