Title:Web Museums and Memory in the Age of Digital Multimedia Networks (Extensions of Walter Benjamin’s Insights)
Authors:Isabelle Rieusset-Lemarié
Publication:MW2000: Museums and the Web 2000

This paper will be concerned initially with tracing the emergence of memory as a specific problem for Web Museums. Museums are not only dedicated to cultural heritage: they embody a specific conception of memory and patrimony. But Web Museums are faced with increasingly pressing issues of memory in the age of digital documents and multimedia reproduction. Digital multimedia networks condition, in part, the emergence of new patterns dealing with memory, but Web Museums may condition, in part, the evolution of these patterns. We shall trace the dissemination of artistic heritage in the age of globalization not just as problem of size but as integral to art. It is the necessary interconnection of memory and art that will open up the way in which problems of technical reproducibility and experience are presented and thought within elements of cultural heritage in the age of globalization. The technical reproducibility that is taken to mark out digital multimedia memory pertains not just to the nature of electronic networks but also to any thinking of the artwork and thus of the art Web museums. W. Benjamin emphazised the great capacities of technical reproducibility in matters of preservation. But he called attention to the serious need for another kind of transmission of memory, dealing with art, to ensure that memory will be disseminated in the future, not just as information, but as experience. Our point is to suggest that the dissemination of cultural heritage in the age of digital networks deals with the transmission of memory as experience and that Web Museums have a specific role to play as far as this artistic approach of memory is concerned. In order to reach this aim, they must emphazise their differences with "CD-Rom Museums" and exploit the woven structure of the net which fits the kind of memory that W. Benjamin wanted to disseminate through the paths of experience which meant form and content intermingled either in narrative figures or in artworks. Consequently particular attention will be given to those artworks for which the net is not only a tool for technical reproducibility but the very texture of the artwork and the exhibition place for its appearance or disappearance. Web museums are not bound to disseminate nothing but reproductions. They can be places where visitors are invited to construct their owns paths in virtual exhibitions, collaborate to the creation of a virtual artwork or share their experience with curators, artists, and museologists thanks to forums which re-enact the original function of the classic "mouseion". We shall analyse in which way emergent cultural Web sites are anticipating the prospects of Web Museums which must face the challenge of memory in the age of multimedia networks "not as a machine but as a structure with its own memory, reacting as much to us as we interact with it--essentially an electronic central nervous system that will generate a productive situation between the public, the artist and the museologist"(Swarz, "The Virtual Museums on the Internet", Salzburg, May 8-10, 1998).