GLAM Blog Club: Play

I am finally feeling ready to delve into some more blogging. When I saw the theme for this month’s GLAM Blog Club is ‘Play’, so many ideas ran through my mind. I settled on writing about something cheerful and reflecting on some experiences I have had in museums. When you Google definitions for the word play, my goodness a lot of different meanings appear. Everything from ‘something that is purely for enjoyment with no other objective’ to ‘to engage in an activity’. For this reason, I’m going to start by defining what the word play means to me in a museum context. For me, play in a museum context immediately conjures up images of interactives. Not just touch screen interactives, but activities/games/experiments/etc. Learning through play is not only something that children can benefit from, but also adults. I have quite a short attention span so reading copious amounts of text in a museum isn’t for me. If I can break up reading labels and thematic panels with some fun interactives, then why not! And I know I’m not alone. I’ve seen so many adults in museums with the biggest smiles on their faces as they try out interactives either by themselves or with a group. The power of play in a museum context should never be overlooked. Whether it be play to learn or play to break up learning experiences, both, to me, are equally important in a museum.

The rest of this blog post will look at a few examples of play in a museum that I thought are or were done exceptionally well. If you have any experiences you would like to share, please leave a comment!

I have blogged about these exhibitions before so if you want further information please click on the title that will link you through to the original blog post. Also, I’ve noticed that there are two examples from Melbourne and two examples from Chicago.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image – Wonderland

Where to even begin with this exhibition. From the moment I went down the escalator (or down the rabbit hole) to the moment I exited the gift shop, I felt as if I had been on an absolute playful adventure. The following quote from ACMI’s website about the exhibition is 100% true, ‘the more curious you are, the more you’ll discover’. Here is a brief summary.

The exhibition perfectly encapsulated the awe and wonder experienced by Alice in Alice in Wonderland. It wasn’t just an exhibition of texts, costumes and images, it was a space to play. Before even entering the exhibition, you were handed an interactive map and could choose from a very large door or a very small door to enter the exhibition space. I’ve never crawled into an exhibition since.

Once inside, there were so many interactive elements. There are two highlights worth mentioning. The first was the Mad Hatter Tea Party. When you entered the room and took a seat at the table, it looked pretty uneventful with only white plates and cutlery in front of you. When the digital show started, however, you were literally taken on a journey through a history of representations of the tea party.

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The second highlight was the design your own Queen of Hearts card on the back of your map using stickers and craft supplies. It felt like an activity that wasn’t targeted to one particular group, but could be enjoyed by all. This is supported by the fact that there was a mixture of adults and children in the room completely engaged. Once you had finished your card, you could have your face photographed and added to this huge interactive screen of little card people watering and painting the roses.

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To me, this exhibition is what I would consider a great example of a playful exhibition that incorporated learning through interactives for all age groups. Plus, I had a smile on my face from the moment I entered to the moment I left!

Museum of Science and Industry – Chicago

If you are looking to incoporate play into your museum experience, then a science museum is probably your best bet. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has so many interactive stations. My favourite is called ‘mindball’. Aim of the game, relax to win. It’s you against someone in the ultimate game of relaxation. How it works is you put on a headband that tracks brain waves. Then, after pressing the start button, a little metal ball slowly begins moving towards the person who is the least relaxed.

The other interactive or playful element I want to mention is the ‘create your own mini tornado’ table. The first thing you’ll notice walking into the exhibition called Science Storms is the giant tornado. Next to this is a station where you can make your own miniature version using panels of plastic to shape and design your own tornado. Similar to the Wonderland activity, I saw an equal number of adults and children interact.

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Warhol and Wei Wei – National Gallery of Victoria

Although this exhibition had a specific area with photobooths and heaps of cat-themed interactives, I want to focus on another playful element in the exhibition.

There were quite a few rooms to this exhibition and about half-way through there was an installation by Wei Wei called ‘Twitter Birds and Caonimas”. Caonima is a fictitious Chinese animal – a breed of alpaca that is used on the internet to show disapporval about government censorhip. This artwork was definitely one you could interact and play with as you were encouraged to pick up the balloons and really become a part of the installation.

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American Writers Museum – Chicago

Finishing off the Melbourne, Chicago, Melbourne, Chicago pattern I have developed here, we have the American Writers Museum. Here, there are interactives in the main exhibition space allowing visitors to play games to guess authors, themes, and historical information. But, I want to focus on the specific interactive space that is separate.

All the interactives in this area titled ‘Mind of a Writer’ teach visitors the skills that go into creating a story. Playful interactives include typewriters where you write one sentence to add to a pre-existing story, a buid a routine wall, and a dialogue generator. By the end of this exhibition, you leave more aware of literary processes and writing practices.

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Thanks GLAM Blog Club for providing another thought-provoking monthly theme. I am looking forward to reading the other entries for this month.

Now that museums are slowly starting to re-open in Australia please remember to follow the procedures they have in place, treat staff with respect, and enjoy returning to these amazing institutions. Keep safe and healthy everyone!

Author: Rebecca Lush

Curator, Integrated Pathology Learning Centre.

One thought on “GLAM Blog Club: Play”

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