In a time when historical revisionism is rampant when fake news and lies cloud the judgments of some, museums serve as anchors of truth.
With meticulous documentation of artefacts, careful preservation of historical evidence, and factual presentation of social records, museums have never been so relevant today.
Next to traditional markets, I always make it a point to visit museums wherever I travel. I enjoy looking at a fossil, a piece of ornament, or a fragment of a historical object, while reading the explanations about them and eventually realizing why they are important.
And for every visit, I always discover something new, something interesting that I didn’t catch on the previous visit.
While museums preserve the history and culture of a nation and reflect our society, they don’t have to remain antiquated and archaic.
In order to survive globalization and keep up with the changing times, museums need to keep up with their strategies or they might lose their audience.
Modernizing our past, broadening our cultural narratives, and breaking the mold should be how museums approach the new normal.
More than building new structures, museums should incorporate diverse methods of presenting their collections and capitalize on new technologies.
In a contemporary time when people are always in cyberspace 24/7, you give them better access. If they can’t go to the museum, then bring the museum to them.
The key? Digitalization.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) recently launched its digital museum called 21AM, or the 21st Century Art Museum.
Its name, 21AM, recalls the Art Museum, CCP’s original visual arts department circa 1969. The original CCP Art Museum was known during its early decades for germinating the mid-20th century visual arts avant-garde. Conceptualism and Installation Art found their first avatars in the first directors of the Art Museum.
The new museum was conceptualized in 2018 as part of the 50th anniversary of the cultural center. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took three years to make it into fruition.
As its name implies, the new museum is intended as a dedicated space of critical inquiry and artmaking that confronts the 21st century.
An online museum built to present contemporary art exhibitions that probe cyberspace and interrogate its capacities to alter human reality, 21AM opens the domain of art to the global arena where complex ethical issues surface in light of massive, technologically-driven shifts in the contests over truth.
To be managed by the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division (CCP VAMD), the new museum will present exhibitions of artworks created to investigate how the character of cybernetic space facilitates the manipulation of truth; but also how such manipulations can be understood, arrested, engaged by the imagination.
21AM will operate exhibitions, run public programs and a 24/7 chat room, and a Digital Human Rights Hub.
As it launches itself into cybernetic futures, 21AM also sets itself up as an entity with a vast memory. The entire CCP Collection of Modern, Contemporary, ethnographic, and ethnomusicological art and cultural materials will be accessible in the near future through 21AM. In the immediate term, access will be available to a number of data fields.
The work to establish the museum importantly included the custom-built design of this new Accession Record System that consolidates the CCP Collection. The design updates museum databasing conventions that hardened, for the world, during the colonial period. Old and now untenable hierarchies (notably, the art/craft divide) are absent from the new software design.
Aiming to facilitate the entry of contemporary artists into the intensifying ways digital technology is re-shaping reality, it was conceptualized for the CCP by independent curator and cultural critic Marian Pastor Roces, who worked with the CCP’s Visual Arts and Museum Division and Chris Millado, CCP Artistic Director.
TAOINC designed the accession system based on Roces’ curatorial guidance and undertook a preliminary conservation assessment of part of the CCP Collection.
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To communicate the new museum’s mission of participating in the character and arcs of contests for truth, 21AM opened on February 25, an important day in Philippine history. It is the day of commemoration of the EDSA People Power.
And it is only apt to launch with an inaugural exhibit that probes and exposes the excesses of the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos regime.
In “The Jane Ryan and William Saunders Jewelry Collection: Augmented Reality,” artist couple Pio Abad and Frances Wadsworth Jones produced and distributed digital replicas of Imelda Marcos’s contested jewelry collection using 3D scanning and AR technologies.
For those who don’t know, Jane Ryan and William Saunders were the pseudonyms the Marcoses used to open their accounts in Credit Suisse Zurich in 1968, where they siphoned off money from the national treasury to their private accounts.
Curated by Kenneth Paranada, the exhibit is a radical act of digital restitution. Artist Abad and designer Wadsworth Jones enact a moment of return that raises the calcified but under-acknowledged ghosts of the Philippine past towards more conscious futurism.
As artist Abad puts it, let’s make the past our future.