Visitors, Viewers, Communities and Tibetan Art

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Information about Visitors, Viewers, Communities and Tibetan Art

Published on June 2, 2008

Author: s.mannion



Master's thesis presentation for the University of Lugano's program in cultural media. Details results of two studies about reception of Tibetan art in Western museums. These include: 1) An ethnographic study of visitors to 14 Dalai Lamas exhibition in Zurich; 2) Social tagging study of young Tibetans in Switzerland

Seeing Identities: Visitors, Viewers, Communities and Tibetan Art University of Lugano Master’s thesis Shelley Ann Mannion TEC-CH program September 28, 2007 Addition and Subtraction Benchung, 2006

Museum display of Tibetan art Two empirical research projects Western and Tibetan responses to exhibition Social tagging by Tibetans in Switzerland Main findings: “seeing identities” 1. Museum visitors are culturally diverse 2. Museum visit articulates identity 3. Identity determines what is seen 4. Viewing is a complex process for Tibetans 5. Tibetan images evoke diverse responses

Why is this work important? Growing audience for Tibetan art 140,000 Tibetans living outside Tibet Increased Western interest in Tibetan Buddhism Role of Western museums Inheritors of cultural treasures Can support cultural transmission Museums as Contact Zones (Clifford 1997)

Research questions 1. Perceptions of Tibetan art 2. Visitor reception in ethnographic museums 3. Museums and the Tibetan community

Research design: mixed methods Phase 1: Museum exhibition Phase 2: Social tagging Social tagging experiment with 6 works of Visitor study 14 Dalai Lamas exhibition Tibetan art 36 Western and Tibetan visitors 23 Tibetans and Swiss Tibetans Tag collection, demographic survey, Ethnographic interviews, observation ethnographic fieldwork Statistical analysis, interpretation with two Transcription and narrative analysis original models

14 Dalai Lamas in Zurich The exhibition August 2005 – April 2006 17,000 visitors Institution of Dalai Lamas Theoretical models User/Visitor Model (Tota) Encoding and decoding (Hall 1980) Perfomativity (Butler 1990) Museum as cultural ecology (Bell 2002)

How were visitors conceived? Similar to the curator Intellectually oriented Sufficient background Educational/visual agenda Quiet, solitary visitors

Media: printed catalogue and audio guide Printed catalogue Audio guide

Photo alcove

Visitor response: Itineraries of identity Itinerary Way identity How artworks expressed conceived 1) General interest Lifestyle connection Sites of shared interest 2) Emotionally connected Imagined citizenship Reminders of travel through travel experience 3) Buddhist experts Articulation of Buddhist Sacred objects faith 4) Intellectual experts Proud of being experts Means to increase knowledge 5) Tibetans Attempt to preserve Sites of cultural cultural knowledge transmission

Obstacles to visitors’ itineraries Attitudes Media Social & physical

Tibetan attitudes ‘Westerners know ‘Western display is more than us’ inauthentic’

Interpretive media “Vehicle” integrated into perception Audio guide & catalogue Created artificial art/culture split (Samis 2007) Did not allow personalization (Martinez 1992) Photo alcove Photographs “irrepressible” (Edwards 2001) Open to personalization

Seeing Tibetan art through social tags Methodology Corroborate and complement (Brannen 2005) Metropolitan Museum of Art (Trant 2006) Unique focus on perception Population Tibetans in Switzerland Young (19-40 years old) 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation Tashi Lhazom from Kham, East Tibet

Tagging venues

Selected artworks

Customized steve platform Tagging interface

Collected tags 440 valid tags (387 unique) German, English, Tibetan Tag volume influenced by: Venue/Session length Generation

Curators versus taggers Confirm Met Museum tests Translation competence of 2nd generation Chenresig Dalai Lama female deity/goddess compassion multi-tasking

Tag volume by image Total valid tags by image Brief History 86 Padmasambhava 77 Avalokitesvara 71 Shri Devi 70 Wheel of Life 70 Chakrasamvara 66 Brief History of Tibet (Tenzing Rigdol, 2003)

Correct identification Correct identification by image Wheel of Life 14 Padmasambhava 6 Avalokitesvara 5 Shri Devi 3 Chakrasamvara 2 3 levels of recognition Symbolic Wheel of Life (Eastern Tibet, 1700 – 1799) Familiar Unknown

Word type classification Word type Example Proper name Avalokitesvara (Tibetan or Sanskrit term) Buddhist concept compassion, enlightenment Semantic analysis Buddhist noun deity, buddha Counts multiple words Verb or action watches over, protects Feeling or concept equality, fertility, heaven, horror Adjective scary, pretty, colorful Noun hand, horse, man, flower

Word types by image Word types by image Padmasambhava Brief History Proper name Buddhist concept Avalokitesvara Buddhist noun Verb or action Chakrasamvara Feeling or concept Adjective Shri Devi Noun Wheel of Life 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%

Word type conclusions Confirms 3 levels of recognition Mitigated by aesthetic qualities (Padmasambhava) Culturally-defined language for symbolic and familiar works Padmasambhava Tibet, 1800 - 1899

Engagement classification Type Definition Example Subjective Personal or emotional response beautiful colors silky material Buddha watches over us fertility connection/union subjugation framework Data derived Objective Culturally or intellectually Father-Mother Uses groups of tags defined response yab-yum Wang (Empowerment) No value judgement Kalachakra Meditation Tantra Non specific No connection or extremely good weak connection with artwork old valuable authentic real Non tag General comment Never seen image like this I don’t know What is this?

Engagement by image Engagement tag types by image Brief History Shri Devi Subjective Padmasambhava Objective Nonspecific Chakrasamvara Nontag Avalokitesvara Wheel of Life 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%

Factors influencing engagement Cultural interest in art and architecture Level of education Number of museums visited Average tags per user by cultural interest 35.0 30.0 29.6 Number of tags 25.0 25.6 20.0 19.0 Valid tags 17.8 15.0 14.2 Engaged tags 13.2 10.0 10.5 10.8 5.0 0.0 Music and History and Religion Art and dance exile (Buddhism) architecture Folk dancers Bülach, July 2007

Engagement conclusions Taggers have distinctive orientations Different kinds of engagement Symbolic = objective engagement (stock phrases) Unknown/contemporary = subjective engagement (personalization) Personal identity influences engagement

Primary insights of this research 1. Complexities on the Tibetan side of the Contact Zone Challenge maintaining culture in exile Self-deprecating attitudes Translation competence of 2nd generation How different images engage viewers Tsewang Flawil, Switzerland

Primary insights of this research 2. New conception of ethnographic museum visitors Culturally diverse Perform identity Highly active, but constrained by ecology Visit linked to travel experiences

Primary insights of this research 3. Insights for effective interpretation Enlarging spaces through open texts Balanced use of media

Primary insights of this research 4. Success of mixed methods research Qualitative and quantitative data Social tagging and perception

Thank you to… All the participants Dekyi, Kyimo, Tenzin Küsang Thupten, Tashi Lhazom My advisors Prof. Anna Lisa Tota Helen Abbott Susan Chun Sponsors Rubin Foundation Rubin Museum of Art

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