Chaired by Martha Sear with presenters Jennifer Wilson and Bronwyn Dowdall, National Museum of Australia, 27 March 2009
MARTHA SEAR: Hello everybody. I am not Kirsten. I am standing in today in her stead as the chair. The way the session will work I have some brief remarks introductory remarks that Kirsten has put down on paper. I will read those through and then I will introduce our two speakers who will give their papers. They would like the questions to be grouped together at the end. We will look at the three different perspectives and reflect on the important all at once.
Let me begin by reading Kirsten’s remarks. In late 2004, the National Museum began work in earnest on redeveloping its Circa theatre - the rotating audio-visual presentation that is positioned right below where we are sitting today. Kirsten was appointed as senior curator on the program in 2006 was joined thankfully by researcher and copyright aficionado Bronwyn Dowdall and curator Jennifer Wilson to form the Circa content team.
The Circa development content team was tasked with developing a new audiovisual program and with refurbishing the theatre space and technology as appropriate. After a long period of intense and creative collaboration with many staff from across the Museum and with film-makers, designers and technology experts from a number of external companies, a refurbished Circa theatre, boasting an entirely new fit-out and audiovisual presentation, was opened in January 2009.
Today, Jen and Bronwyn are going to talk about the work of developing Circa. They will focus, in keeping with the symposium’s theme, on the complex, iterative process through which Circa both emerged from our engagement with the particularities of the Museum’s and other institution’s collections and simultaneously shaped and defined how we could engage and use those collections.
Circa is a very particular kind of exhibition and in many ways a highly unusual exhibition for the National Museum. It is a filmic and theatrical exhibition in which three-dimensional objects are rendered as images and presented together with images of people and of places, and also with audio elements such as sound effects, spoken text and a musical score. In most exhibitions, connections between display elements are suggested spatially but are essentially made, or brought into meaning, by visitors. Visitors are usually able to move freely through exhibitions, taking many different paths and encountering different materials according to their particular interests and style of visiting. Narratives are generated as visitors interrogate different exhibition elements and bring them, in their interrogation, into relationships with each other.
In Circa, visitors enjoy very little control over their engagement with the displayed material. They are seated in a dark environment and are transported through the experience as the turntable rotates. Their gaze is defined by the theatrical space and the audiovisual field. Although Circa establishes a complex audiovisual field, using multiple screens and points of audio delivery, this does not at all negate the fact that the narrative is strongly circumscribed. In most exhibitions, visitors can take their own path through the displays. In Circa, they are obliged to follow ours, as images and sounds follow each other in a determined narrative order.
As Jen and Bronwyn elucidate in their papers today, the peculiarities of developing Circa as a filmic exhibition brought into focus the complexities of a number of aspects of exhibition development. Jen, for example, will explore how Circa’s narrative both emerged from the Museum’s National Historical Collection but also strongly shaped which objects from that collection could be represented in the final show. Bronwyn extends this discussion to consider how Circa’s interpretive aims and particularities of the medium defined how we could understand and use archival image collections.
Developing Circa raised a series of questions about how we can understand objects. Bronwyn asks, for example, how we can understand archival newsreels as media objects. What is the object here? The newsreel itself, segments within it, the original footage, vision or audio, or both together? Similarly Jen’s discussion of filming three-dimensional objects for Circa suggests questions about how different styles of filming construct, or deconstruct, the integrity of an object. If we film a detail of an object, does this create a new object and, if so, how does it relate to the whole from which it comes?
These are important questions because exhibition making, like any representational practice, is embedded in an ethical practice. Visitors expect that when they visit the Museum they will be told the truth - as it is known - about objects and about the images, words and other media that go together to create a display. The Museum’s credibility relies on curators not pretending that an object made in the 1930s was made in the 1890s, on them not extracting a sentence from a historical statement and using it in a way that perverts its original sense, and on them not taking a picture of somewhere in New South Wales and asserting that it is an image of somewhere in Victoria.
As Jen and Bronwyn explore, developing Circa relied on close attention to being accurate and authentic in terms of the historical contexts for objects and in terms of how we used object elements to construct a narrative of Australian history. But as they draw out in diverse ways, the question of to what we can be accurate, authentic and true in representational practice is not necessarily one with a simple answer. Objects provide evidence of the past, but objects are themselves malleable and shifting depending on the exhibitionary aims we bring to engaging with them.
It is my pleasure now to introduce Jennifer Wilson. Jennifer Wilson is a curator in the Gallery Development Team at the National Museum of Australia. She previously worked as curator of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach. Since joining the Museum in 2005, Jennifer has worked on a variety of projects in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program, the new Australian Journeys gallery and Creating a Country gallery in development at the moment, and also on the Circa refurbishment initiative which was completed at the end of last year.
JENNIFER WILSON: I can safely say after completing the new Circa program in December 2008 the production team can sympathise with actor Daniel Day-Lewis who said: ‘Making a film, setting it up, getting it cast and getting it together is not an easy thing.’ Circa is an audiovisual presentation but it is an exhibition in every sense of the word. Put simply, it consists of a display of objects for public examination. Rather than being in glass cases, sitting on plinths or mounted on walls, the objects appear on screens. We considered the objects as actors, as this is a more fitting description of their role in Circa.
Circa is a revolving theatre space containing an audiovisual, multi-screened presentation. It has become a feature of the National Museum due to its distinctive format and content. Circa has elicited a variety of comments and criticisms from our visitors. Some have been intellectually and emotionally engaged, and some have fallen asleep.
The original Circa program, which opened in the National Museum in 2001, explored Australian history and identity through the Museum’s three themes: land, nation and people. The revision of Circa was a response to comments in the 2003 review and an acknowledgment that both the Museum and Australia had changed since 2001.
The main criticism of the old Circa was a lack of coherence and purpose, given its position as a point of orientation for visitors. The National Museum’s exhibits are modular and mostly non-linear. However, many visitors arrive at the Museum without knowledge of the key themes or basic chronology of Australian history. Visitors have at times found the exhibitions fragmentary and have struggled to establish connections between and within exhibitions.
The two communication objectives for a new Circa program therefore focused on introduction and orientation. The concept was to place key objects within the span of standard Australian history, offering visitors a narrative framework to make sense of the Museum and its exhibition. Circa was also to stand as an exhibition in its own right, in both form and content. Despite these broad objectives, the aim of the new Circa was not to include all the themes, events and trajectories in Australian history but to provide the audience with a representative show of the breadth and interest of the Museum’s collections.
The National Museum collects according to three fields of research: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their history; Australian history and society since British colonisation; and people’s understanding and interaction with the Australian environment. The initial script involved a selection of objects from the Museum’s National Historical Collection numbering more than 200,000 items, and the supporting archival collections. Because the term ‘object’ was understood broadly to include things, images, media and text, at the same time a selection of images, footage and sounds was made from archives across the country. The objects supported each other rather than representing the usual exhibition hierarchy.
As the initial object lists were formed, a narrative structure emerged that was at first glance a little ambitious but also an exciting prospect in terms of exhibition development. This narrative structure reveals some of the limitations and possibilities of the Circa program. The built environment of the theatre could not be changed dramatically. It still had to revolve, the audience moving from one section, or gradient, to the next, so sensible narrative divisions between the four quadrants needed to be made. The theatre was also created with a time limit that needed to be maintained, based on the average attention span of visitors and technical requirements. These problems were similar to the limits of space in a three-dimensional exhibition. With these factors combined, the audience moves from four quadrants, from Deep Time to contemporary Australia in 12 and a half minutes.
The process of selection was related to three main criteria: object authenticity, the visual format of the program, and the capacity and speed of presentation. The production team chose 270 National Museum objects to film. The selected objects would have their starring role only for a matter of seconds, without their physicality and text labels to aid interpretation. Anything placed on screen had to be immediately recognisable, but still challenging, interesting and able to contribute to the narrative’s development. It was not just a matter of selecting a few of our favourite things.
Objects like the Banks medallion, Governor King’s snuff box and the so-called First Fleet table - some highlights from the colonial collections - did not make the cast. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, digging sticks and firesticks would still look like sticks on screen. Political cartoons and some artworks were too complex for a few seconds of viewing time. These moments give us the opportunity to consider how people see things, and what information may be gleaned at first glance.
The final selection was a mixture of collections from professional and amateurs, along with commissioned artworks, family heirlooms, souvenirs, home movies, family snapshots, media coverage and advertisements - providing a combination of so-called ‘official histories’, as published in journals or textbooks, and oral histories or personal reflections, as written in personal letters and diaries, recorded on tape, and handed down from generation to generation. This selection in its most basic sense produced the core of Circa, making it a presentation of diverse threads of interconnected experience.
This was emphasised and possible through the use of multiple screens which exhibit different versions of the same event, perspectives from different people and places, and various views of the same objects. Because of the complexity of the material presented, points for consistency were maintained throughout the program to enable the creation of a cohesive whole. The chronological narrative enabled links to be made across space and time, create momentum, and more natural scene and quadrant divisions. The visual format also made the program strictly observational, not a journey as though Circa were a time machine.
The Circa sound track incorporates an original musical score by composer Michael Yezerski, with sound effects, and a variety of voices. There is no narrator, but a series of mostly anonymous, either as captured in recorded sound and film, or actors reading historical quotations from journals, letters, oral histories and articles.
Objects were filmed in a very contemporary way to emphasise their place in the present day. They were filmed from as many angles as possible, including tight details capturing the texture of fabrics and the wear marks on stone. The multiple views used in Circa help to de-normalise the audience’s observations of the objects, by changing their view of the vision.
We of course had the big and the small. Where appropriate objects were placed on a turntable and filmed rotating on a primary background. Those objects in working order were placed in motion and the sights and sounds of their operations recorded.
Early in the development of Circa, the decision was made to include no recreated objects or historical scenes. This was a conscious effort to maintain authenticity and it has become an integral part of the narrative’s chronology and use of objects as evidence of the past. On several occasions during the selection and assembly processes, however, this proved a challenging decision.
Places, as much as objects, have an important role in Circa. The objects informed our choice of locations to film. For example, the significant collection of convict material that originated in Hobart forms a big part of Circa, so the film crew travelled to Tasmania to film several convict sites rather than other possible locations across Australia. Some places are encountered several times in the narrative, suggesting change and continuity over time. The central New South Wales coastline, including Sydney Harbour, appears in quadrants one through four - from waves crashing on the beach to the Sydney Olympics.
Quadrant One, which represents several hundred thousand years of prehistory, posed a particular set of problems. There is no graphic portrayal of the formation of the continent of the kind found in science museums. Instead, contemporary location footage uses the Australian landscape, like an object, as evidence of the past. The approach incorporates sweeping birdseye views and camera angles embedded in the landscape in an effort to show both cultural and scientific perspectives. Of course the objects were a little rocky but also related to the landscapes on screen - minerals from South Australia and New South Wales, and ochre as mined in northern and central Australia. I would like to show you a scene from quadrant one. (Video played)
Unfortunately it doesn’t look as good on the flat screen. I encourage you all to go and have a look in the space below us. With the importance of place established, the problem of populating the landscape with diverse, distinctive and continuing cultures over thousands of years proved a further challenge. The Museum holds a significant collection of bark paintings, which represent some of those elements, but there is still some debate about their place in traditional Indigenous cultures. Although the bark paintings themselves are recent creations, the materials used and subject matter depicted are considered by many to be traditional. These three bark paintings have been included in Circa’s scenes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures prior to European settlement. With a focus on their imagery rather than their materiality we have an open question to the visitors to question their place in the historical narrative.
In all four quadrants, the theatre environment is used to support the narrative. In quadrant three, a picture theatre setting was created to be sympathetic to the material on screen, where archival footage is used for the first time. The audience views those early moving pictures to their greatest advantage on the huge screen.
While multiple screens are used throughout Circa, nowhere in the presentation is the idea of multiple threads so evident as in quadrant four which features 21 plasma screens. More than the other quadrants it reminds us of the pace of history, the complexity of our society and the various ways in which we remember and record our past. I will show you the final scene of Circa. (Video played)
Featuring a short return of many of the objects encountered in the program, the final scene shown here reminds the audience that through this high-tech presentation of objects and archival material, Circa considers what it means to examine, collect and exhibit the past in contemporary Australia. With objects as both the subject and the storytellers, Circa invites visitors to ask how those objects, within their historical contexts, can generate narratives about Australia’s past.
As always, the final word on Circa will be left to our visitors. Their opinions have been and will no doubt continue to be as diverse as the material on screen. Thank you.
MARTHA SEAR: Thanks Jen, that’s great. Now we are going to move to hear Bronwyn’s part of the presentation. It’s a pleasure to introduce Bronwyn Dowdall. Bronwyn came to the Museum in 2005 after working for many years in the audiovisual industry, in broadcasting and at the National Film and Sound Archives. The Circa exhibition allowed her to immerse herself, sometimes literally, in audiovisual collections around Australia and beyond in an attempt to tell the story of the objects featured in Circa.
Bronwyn has an honours degree in women’s studies and is currently enrolled in a master of arts in public history, researching the connections made between women outside their homes in the new suburbs of 1930s Sydney. It is a pleasure to welcome Bronwyn to talk about her work on Circa.
BRONWYN DOWDALL: Thanks, Jen and Martha. To the archive that we used in Circa. What I would like to do over the next 10 minutes is take you through some of the thoughts we had while we researched the archival material available; some of the difficulties that that material posed, some of the questions we had to ask about it; some of the more practical sorts of issues about what is in, what is out and why; and finally in conclusion - I am not sure I can call it a conclusion - I will pose a number of questions that I think were hugely relevant throughout the process and are relevant for us to think about for future projects.
One of the things I need to clarify is what we mean by archive. The Macquarie Dictionary gives quite a nice definition of it as being ‘non-current documents or records relating to the activities, rights, claims, treaties, constitutions, etc of a family, corporation, community or nation’. Archival documents and records though are generally understood to be reflective of a past. Perhaps what doesn’t automatically come to mind when we think about the archival record is that it includes a range of media not just written records. You will see that in Circa, when you go to look at it at lunchtime, it includes a mix of moving image, stills, paintings, sound effects, music, journal articles and newspaper stories - the whole range of available media.
It is fair to say when I started working on Circa that I thought it was going to be another archival research job. That was okay. I had done that before. I had even worked on huge documentaries that required huge amounts of archival research and Circa would be like that, I thought. It is also fair to say that I completely underestimated the task and that Circa exceeded any project I had worked on both in terms of ambition and realisation.
As Jen touched on, Circa is a particular type of exhibition in that it combines the principles of museum exhibition but is also governed by the principles of a filmic program. The original script that was developed certainly raised the possibility of working within the filmic tradition using techniques of historical documentary such as recreation and narration. However, we were also cognisant of the museum tradition of exhibition. These things didn’t seem to reconcile well together, so we came to the point where we thought we have to stop thinking about Circa as telling a history of Australia and start thinking about it in terms of a museum exhibition using objects, archive and media, bringing together the existing evidence of the past alongside collection objects.
The natural result of this though was that we created a whole different set of objects, essentially media objects, and 3D objects were no longer 3D. We had a new collection of objects. In order to find relevant archival material I started the process essentially sitting at my desk. Lots of archival institutions have a large part of their archive accessible via their websites, so that is where I started. Once I had located things that sounded like they were going to be interesting, I had to get out and have a look at them, essentially to weed out the empty promises of a synopsis on the screen with what turned out to be the useful material that was included in Circa.
Just to give you a couple of examples: at the National Film and Sound Archive [NFSA], I auditioned 360 audiovisual items. They ranged anywhere from a 1- to 3-minute piece to home movies and documentaries going from 20 minutes to over an hour. Similarly at the ABC archives in Sydney, I auditioned 270 audiovisual items and 35 oral history recordings. Basically in short I spent many, many hours sitting in dark booths watching and looking for that just right shot.
And then of course there was the still image research, again most of which could be done from my desktop because of fantastic initiatives like Picture Australia and also digitisation projects of individual institutions. In total we sourced - so actually ordered from institutions and got in - 730 images of which we then had to make a selection based on where they were going to sit in the program and alongside which objects. What stories would they essentially tell?
The archival objects that we use in Circa perform a number of functions. They provide a context for the collection objects by illustrating how they were used and also by suggesting a broader social framework in which to place the object. The archive also carries the narrative in some places. It ruptures the sequence and shifts focus and also provides an emotional setting for a particular historical time. It is difficult though to separate and compartmentalise those functions and often in one sequence the archival objects will perform all of those functions.
One of the particular challenges when we were selecting archival material was that we didn’t want to rely on the often used archival material. We wanted to stay away from what historian Kate Evans refers to as ‘the tyranny of the recognisable image’. However, what was also in our minds was that things would be on screen for a couple of seconds, people had to get it and then they had to move on.
The archival material contained in the goldfields sequence. (video plays) In this sequence you will see that the archive actually performs a series of those tasks. It doesn’t refer to any one object in the collection. It contextualises the gold cradle by showing how it was used. But essentially it sets up a particular place, the goldfields. It also introduces the presence of Chinese people on the goldfields in terms of a number of roles that they performed from diggers to merchants. It also indicates there was a huge diversity of people on the goldfields. There were women and children attempting, we suppose, to find some sense of normalcy amongst the chaos and noise of the goldfields.
Another of the issues we came up against was the problem of authenticity. Sometimes we used stock-shot libraries to give us the beautiful travelogue shot, and the production company had indeed thought they had found a magnificent shot. It was of a low pan or sweeping shot over a body of water that in the end looks up to see a horizon of land in the distance. The only problem with that shot was that it was off the coast of Mexico and not Australia. The dilemma then was whether we went ahead and used the shot of the Mexican coast - a coastline is a coastline - or whether we locate a different style shot actually of the coastline in Australia using whatever was available. Interestingly enough, the use of this file highlights some of the difficulties we had weighing up differences between approaches, I guess. I will just show you this shot before I go back in and talk about it. (video played) It’s lovely; you get the sense of travel; there is a bit of anticipation with the coastline in the distance; it’s very fast paced; it sets a particular tone. So there we go.
This shot out of any of them made it very obvious that there was a contrast between the filmic and exhibition approaches and also a contrast in ideas and responsibilities. In terms of meeting the requirements of the filmic tradition and film narrative, this shot was perfect. It ruptured the previous scene; it suggested something new; it pointed to a different focus; and it had the right pace. However, the shot posed too many problems for the exhibition tradition. It suggested that the Mexican coast was the Australian coast. The use of this shot could bring into question the integrity of the Museum and the authenticity of the rest of the program.
After weighing up both of the approaches - the filmic and the exhibition - and how each of those met the communication aims of the project, it was agreed we would hire a crew to go out and film the same shot from an Australian coastline. What we ended up with was this shot. (Video played) You will see the same pace, the same sense of travel and there we go - the land in the distance. However, I should say it would have been much easier and cheaper to go with the Mexican coast shot.
Another of the issues we came up against was the fact that sometimes the archival didn’t exist. One of the pieces of footage in quadrant four shows a group of Indigenous soldiers on manoeuvres in the bush. It looks great. Originally we were looking for a piece of footage that represented Indigenous soldiers as part of the fighting contingents of the Second World War. However, we simply couldn’t find a piece of footage that was tonally what we were after. The archives are pretty sparse when it comes to representations of Indigenous soldiers. The piece that we did use comes from a film called Aborigines are True Soldiers of the King shot in 1941 by Movietone. Those of you familiar with Movietone productions know it does have a particular tone and a particular style. The full film contrasts life in the army for the Indigenous soldiers against their ‘usual’ lifestyle, which is throwing boomerangs. As the note on the NFSA’s catalogue says:
The attempt made to contrast the training footage with traditional Aboriginal activities would, at the time, have been intended to be humorous but would now be regarded as racist and paternalistic.
I will show you a short piece of the film to give you an idea of what we found. (Video played)
What we did there was select the particular pieces of footage that said what we wanted to say and to represent what we wanted to represent. However, questions were raised about the actual practice of doing that. By using a piece of the original outside of its intended context were we representing the nature of the film differently? Did the film as a piece of archival evidence lose anything by being cut up? Did each of the segments have an equally important role to play in the whole or was it the whole that carried the meaning? The way in which we used the segment was not in the spirit of the 1941 item - it couldn’t be, could it? Or did we simply use what was available to tell the story we wanted to tell, as perhaps a documentary film maker might do. Or did the removal of a portion of the film simply follow curatorial conventions of re-interpreting and representing context? As soon as an object is displayed in a museum exhibition it is out of its original intended context. And anyway, we don’t really know what the intention of the newsreel producer was, although we can and do surmise.
Essentially the question we asked was: to what are we trying to be true? Surely we could have used the Mexico shot with a clear conscience. After all, the shot was simply suggestive of travel and exploration. People understood that the footage wasn’t actually shot in the eighteenth century, so already the question of authenticity is there. Did it really matter what continent it was? It conveyed a general sense.
Then we come to the use of newsreels as an historical document generally. While newsreels are an invaluable resource they are not without their particular problems and do require some analysis. Some interesting work has been done both in Australia and overseas on the efficacy of newsreels in providing an historical record. It is almost certain that these sorts of questions will arise more often as the use of archive as object has more applications within the museum environment.
While we don’t have any answers to any of the questions that I have raised in this paper, it is important to ask and think about those questions because they allow us as museum professionals to be more reflective and conscious of the choices we make in how we present the collections we have and how we use archival objects. Thank you.
MARTHA SEAR: Thank you, Bronwyn and Jen. We have a short period for questions.
QUESTION: Belinda Hunt from the National Film and Sound Archive - I am probably plugging the Archive here. A question to any National Museum curators present today: how important do you see film and sound as helping with exhibitions? Is it something that is always thought of when you are putting an exhibition together; or do you find that you face the problems that Bronwyn just explained about authenticity and re-interpreting something that the filmmaker shot?
JENNIFER WILSON: The great thing about Circa was that the film material was central; it wasn’t actually on the periphery in creating Circa as an exhibition. So we didn’t have quite the same problems that we would in a normal exhibition. One of the best things about Circa was not thinking of archival material as supportive but as central to story telling and as an object culture in itself. In general, I think you would know that National Museum curators are often up at the National Film and Sound Archive looking at various pieces of material, which is about how they have a role in the final exhibition. That takes a great deal of thought usually because we can only use a small segment and, as Bronwyn said, it can often change the context of the material by using only a segment of the original. These are constant concerns in exhibition development.
QUESTION: Charlotte Smith from Museum Victoria. I have a much more practical almost benal question but I want to know how many people actually go to Circa on the way to the gallery or after the gallery. That is my first question. Jen, you indicated this is kind of like the narrative for the Museum. Essentially because there is not one when in the Museum it is trying to give people a sense of the history of Australia pre-contact. My second question would be: are people getting that narrative?
JENNIFER WILSON: I put up those comments, a selection of about 12 comments from the visitors’ survey we did with the first draft of Circa that was put up at the beginning of last year. We surveyed just over 100 people to see what they thought about that version of Circa, which unfortunately wasn’t actually working 100 per cent. But from those I hesitate to say do they get it or not. One of the things in exhibitions that is a problem is what do we want people to get in the first place. From the Circasurveys, if people are getting that we are telling a broad narrative of Australian history, they don’t necessarily have to mention the word ‘objects’ to tell me that they are getting it. And also even though it is only 12 and a half minutes long Circa does do a lot in that time so people are always, as in a normal exhibition, only going to pull out things which they see that they like or that relate to something of their lives. We have had a few comments about a sense of nostalgia, and I think that comes out in Circa as much any other exhibition.
I don’t know the figures for people going through Circa as opposed to the rest of the Museum. We don’t force people through. People find their own path through the Museum but we do encourage people to go through Circa as an introduction. And certainly with groups that is usually their first port of call. I think teachers usually welcome being able to sit down 26 students for a short moment in a space like that. In fact, elderly members of the public like to sit down too. There is still an enormous variety of comments and experiences in Circa. We are looking forward to doing more surveys in future.
QUESTION: Stephen Forster from the ANU. One point of clarification before I ask the question: Martha in reading Kirsten’s paper referred to one of the objects being to ensure that each item was immediately recognisable, but Bronwyn said that the end result was to avoid recognisable images and then she quoted Kate Evans about the tyranny of the recognisable object. Maybe I misheard but if you could clarify that. My question is: how much disaggregation of audiences was conducted during the conceptual stage, and in particular how much attention was given to international audiences?
BRONWYN DOWDALL: If I can clarify the first point. It was probably due to my nerves more than anything else. The point was that yes, things needed to be recognisable but, in terms of using archival material, we wanted to shy away from the stuff that had been used every single time to illustrate something. The thing that comes to mind is the end of the Second World War - the dancing man footage. Every time there is a commemoration on the news, that story is brought out. What we didn’t want to do was to use that. Yes, something had to be recognisable, but we didn’t want to haul out the same old archive.
JENNIFER WILSON: The second part - to clarify what you were asking there?
QUESTION: Essentially during the conceptual stage how was the audience broken down? How much attention was given to looking at how these particular segments will respond and specifically the international audience? The basis of my question is that I wonder how much is there for international audiences and I have to confess that I suspect not much.
JENNIFER WILSON: That is a difficult thing to do. We did go back to visitor surveys that had been done of Circa over the years to look at what did and did not work in the old Circa. That is difficult to apply to the new Circa given that they are such different productions. We thought a great deal about what to put up - to reference the earlier question as to what would be recognisable to a broad audience, as is always the case in the Museum. To say that we don’t have anything in there for an international audience I think is incorrect. It just depends on your point of view. In the survey that we did do we interviewed a number of international visitors. I also spoke to a number as part of Friends tours that we did in the early stages, and many of them did ‘get it’. They maybe didn’t recognise everything but then a five-year-old won’t either.
We have elderly visitors, I suppose in general, who will say that it goes too fast for them, but then on the other hand they will also say they had a sense of nostalgia while watching it. So it may be fast paced but there are still things they recognise and enjoy as part of it. The main thing from the surveys - as I said, it was only just over 100 people so there will be more to come - was that there have been two sides to most people’s comments in that they liked some parts but maybe didn’t like others. I think that goes for everyone whether Australian, a local, an interstate or an international visitor. I think it does a little bit of everything but people are always going to have different views.
MARTHA SEAR: Time might be against us in asking more questions, but please do talk to Jen and Bron at lunchtime and other times during the day. Thanks for your attention and thank you, Jen and Bron, for a great presentation.
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Date published: 06 May 2009