Ignite talk - Lesley Kadish

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Video: “Sensory Learning in Museums” by Lesley Kadish (Georgetown University / Smithsonian Institution), an Ignite talk for the Openlab Workshop Unconference, December 1, 2015, in Crystal City, VA. Published on Jun 27, 2016

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By Leslie Kadish, Georgetown University, Smithsonian Institute


Okay, my name is Lesley Kadish. It’s nice to be here.

A leaf falls loneliness. The poet who wrote this line EE Cummings was a master of disruption. His poems broke all the rules. Old forms deconstructed. Old words reframed anew. Lets us disrupt and reassemble.

Sit up and cross your legs if you're sitting, and stand up and cross your arms if you're standing. Take a deep breath, and I invite you to close your eyes. Relax your tongue. Note the inside of your mouth. Press your feet into the ground. Now soften. Notice stillness. Listen for motion. As you take in the sound, notice you are in a body. This body is in a space, and the space has a texture, temperature, and a tone. Museum professionals can learn from EE.

He writes since feeling as first who pays attention to the syntax of things. Kisses he says are a better fate than wisdom. How would we curate this close-eyed moment we just had. This kiss of the space on our senses.

Traditionally we curate wisdom. Museums are intellectual, textual, visual, object-based, but bodies are complex. We learn on levels that are kinesthetic multisensory and not always processed in the language parts of the brain. Neurobiologists talk about more than just the five senses. There's interoception proprioception, chronoception, but what matters is this: we need to bring forth our bodies complex way of learning and connect it to the intellectual, the textual, the visual. How do we do it?

One way is to ask seemingly absurd questions. If this room were a bird what kind would it be? What is the shape of the sound of my voice? Is this UnConference more of a stone in the sun or a freshly cut apple? What is the smell of this slide? There is no right answer. These kind of questions though disrupt the dominant deep ruts that have us doing the same thing over and over. They give us a new lexicon for understanding, but the most important part isn't the question. It's bringing ourselves as professionals right into the heart of the disruption. It's holding the moment softly, patiently waiting for something to arise. Because it always does. After I've asked what is the shape of what is the smell of this painting people do me a, “Oh I don't know. I'm not creative. You're asking the wrong person.” But I wait I allow space and then they say, “Coconut.”

They read the label text. They look at the object closely. Together we explore what it was about the coconut that kissed them. These seemingly small disruptions engage a sublingual pre-cognitive realm of the body that thinks in gestures, shapes, smells, and memories. These are valid ways of knowing. In fact a world of future innovation dwells here. This is my point: start with the senses, all of the senses. Recognize the complexity of your own body's wisdom. Then ask the questions that have no right answers. Do this in galleries. In your staff meetings, and do it at home. And be patient, because something will arise, and when it does you'll see the same thing anew.

A leaf fall loneliness.