Digital Cultural Learning: A Comparison of Data-Driven Approaches to Mediation of Art and Culture


Florian Wiencek, Jacobs University Bremen, Germany

It is evident, that digital media severely transformed how we display and interact with cultural artifacts and how we think, discuss and learn about and with art and culture within today’s information society and participatory culture (Jenkins et al. 2009). Nowadays more and more cultural data becomes available in digital form and ideally is open and therewith freely (re-)usable and re-contextualizable, to allow for co-creative knowledge generation and for the creation of meta-experiences. At the same time we see a rise in the need for informal learning and life-long learning opportunities as well as an increasing popularity of different forms of online learning and digital pedagogy in formal education and at cultural institutions.

Therefore my PhD-research aims at analyzing contemporary mediation of art and culture (Kunst- und Kulturvermittlung) in the digital age, its functions, approaches and current practices. Thus I am bringing together the concept of critical mediation of art (“Kritische Kunstvermittlung”, e.g. Mörsch 2011) with the notion of the “database as a cultural form” (see Manovich 2001) – ‘the’ form of cultural expression of the digital age, as Lev Manovich defines it – and the perspective of “Software Studies” (see Manovich 2001, 2013) as an analytical lens, taking into account digital media and software as agents in the mediation process. The main objective of the research is to understand the challenges mediation of art faces in the participatory and data driven culture of the 21st century and define the role of digital media and digital data with their affordances and characteristics (e.g. Manovich 2001, Logan 2010) within cultural learning (Cutler 2009) and the concept of critical mediation of art and culture, which does not aim to reproduce existing knowledge but rather co-creatively generate knowledge together with the visitors and at the same time foster the own direct engagement and interpretation of the visitor within a cultural setting (see Mörsch 2011).

Departing from the database as backbone for mediation projects and as software tool, which has a distinct way of generating meaning, the paper will walk through a trajectory from web-based to locative, data-driven practices of cultural mediation employed by museums and cultural institutions: starting from institutional online-repositories, -collections and subject gateways, over online learning and collaborative platforms to mobile applications and site-specific approaches inside and outside of the gallery space. I will distill and compare their different media specific approaches of digital cultural learning in relation to their function asking amongst others the questions: What are the function-specific interface grammars of these cultural interfaces, which shape the in-between of user and cultural item and shape the potential meaning of the item? How can the user interact with the artistic and cultural artifacts? How and to which degree do the different approaches employ the characteristics of the Web and digital media? And how does digital media and software act as agent for cultural mediation? This will lead to a novel definition of digital informal learning specific for the realm of art and culture.

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