Michelle Henning - Visiting Senior Research Fellow

Michelle Henning researches new media and cultural change, in photography, museums and exhibitions. Her artwork combines new and old media forms: interactivity, digital manipulation, drawing, old processes (eg. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake, 2011). She has published more than 12 essays and books which are amongst the first to bring together museum studies and digital culture, and she has spoken at many conferences and museums in Europe and North America. In ‘Digital Encounters’ (1995) she looked at how the new arrives disguised as the old, in’ New Lamps for Old’ (2007) she considered the arrival of digital photography in terms of the production of obsolescence. In a number of essays published in key collections, she constructed an alternative pre-history for digital culture in the early twentieth century exhibition experiments of people such as El Lissitsky and Otto Neurath, who pioneered interactivity, icons and mixed media forms.

Michelle’s writing traces the realist tradition to its deadly roots in hyperrealist taxidermy displays of the early twentieth century. She compares the recent decline of realist taxidermy and revival of curiosity-type displays, to wider changes in media, away from an organic realism and towards dazzling multiplicity. Her 2006 book, Museums, Media and Cultural Theory is ‘a materialist study of the museum as media form’ that explores museums and exhibitions as sites which stage the modern, technological transformation of the relationship between people and things. She has continued to write about Otto Neurath, and his ‘picture language’, Isotype, a key precursor for contemporary icon-based and affective computing. Her expertise in museums has also led to involvement in BLIMA (Bristol Live Independent Music Archive) and to her organising the AHRC funded Rethinking Archives workshops (2008-9) in collaboration with Arnolfini, bringing together well-known artists, researchers and curators to bridge archival theory and practice.

With research assistance provided by DCRC, Michelle is currently editing Museum Media, a large volume of 30 essays, to be published as part of Blackwells’ prestigious International Handbook of Museum Studies. Essays cover the latest developments in the field, from augmented reality, crowd sourcing, social media and new mobile media in museums, to the architectural design of entire museums as communicative media. In this context, the digital is not a means of constructing representations, but of orchestrating light, space, atmosphere, which set out to produce experiences, feelings, and inculcate new habits. Writers for the volume include new media curators at major international museums (Smithsonian, Tate Modern), key figures in curating new media art, and renowned digital culture and technology theorists. Many important practitioners in this field are German-speaking and the DCRC is funding translation of essays on new techniques in immersion and ‘social scenography’.

Selected Work

Henning, Michelle, Museums, Media and Cultural Theory. Open University Press, 2006.

Henning, Michelle (2011) ‘Living Life in Pictures: Isotype as Modernist Cultural Practice’ in New Formations 70..

Henning, Michelle, The Cosmic Symbol. In Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (eds) The Object Reader, London: Routledge, 2009.

Henning, Michelle, Legibility and affect: museums as new media. In Sharon Macdonald and Paul Basu (eds) Exhibition Experiments, Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.

Henning, Michelle, New lamps for old: photography, obsolescence and social change. In Charles Acland (ed) Residual Media, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. 2007 pp. 48-65.

Henning, Michelle, New media. In Sharon Macdonald (ed) A Companion to Museum Studies. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. (Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2007).

Henning, Michelle, Skins of the real: taxidermy and photography. In Bryndis Snaebjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson, Nanoq: Flat-out and Bluesome, Blackdog Press, 2006. pp. 25-46.

Henning, Michelle, Making things happen: interactivity in zoos and museums. In A.B. Ploughman and S.J. Tonge (eds) Innovation or Replication: proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Zoo design 2005. Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust/ Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, 2005, pp 79-86.

Henning, Michelle, Digital encounters: mythical pasts and electronic presence. In Martin Lister (ed) The Photographic Image in Digital Culture, London: Routledge, 1995 pp. 217-235. (also translated into Spanish)

Cover design and merchandising for PJ Harvey Let England Shake, Island Records 2011.

Wingwalkers, with Rebecca Goddard, Watershed Media Centre, Bristol, 7 November 1998 – 3 January 1999 awarded the first JA Clark Bursary for Creative Work in New Media.

Externally Yours, with Maria Parkes, for From Silver to Silicon, touring exhibition for Watershed Media Centre and Focal Point, various venues including ICA, London, 1994.