‘Children of us all’ by Jessica Renfro
Children of us all (working concept for ‘Memory & Memoricide’ 2021)
When contemplating the impact of climate change, it is easy to slip into speculation about the lives and viewpoints of generations not yet born. How will they remember ‘us’ as they live out their lives on a hotter, less hospitable planet? What will they exhibit in their museums to document an age when the power to avert catastrophic events laid in the collective hands of a world divided?
Peter Weibel asserts, “the museum of the future will become a laboratory for the citizen to explore new worlds” (2018, p. 49). This requires not only equal access to knowledge of the past, but also de-centralization of its interpretation. A museum in this context would be a social simulation of alternative ways of being, bending the lens of the past to gaze upon a field of collectively imagined possibilities.
‘Children of us all’ is a curatorial concept that harnesses collective thought by asking museum-goers to reflect on the future of childhood. Exhibited works would address topics like decolonization of education and play, digitization, nostalgia, and coming of age in a series of rooms linked by projector-mapped corridors. Visitors would download an app upon entering the exhibition with which they could respond to reflective prompts through text messages (What advice would you give your childhood self if they were standing next to you right now? What is your most hopeful dream of/for the future?). Answers would display in real time on the walls of each corridor, offering participants the opportunity to co-curate their experience, and incorporate the responses of other visitors as they do so.
Upon exiting each hallway, visitors would be given the additional authority to delete someone else’s text if they would like. While this presents some risk to the democratization of the exhibition, it also confronts the hegemonic nature of curation, placing some of the weight of ‘caring for’ and contextualizing the exhibition on visitors, and using digital means to draw scrutiny back to the concept of ‘museum’ itself. Using this digital means of ‘meta-curation’ via projection could lead to questions of how meaningful a projected text is when it can be so easily switched off or deleted (Egger and Ackerman, 2020).
While the exhibition would take place in a live context, the fragility of its digital nature would impress the point that a connected subject relies on external data storage far more than internal memory (Juhasz, Langlois and Shah, 2021). This deserves critical reflection as it can distance knowledge of the past from the present mind at precisely the moment it might inform it best. What was deleted? Where do digitally stored memories actually reside? Can a shared experience with other connected subjects offer insights about how to act collectively?
An artist, artistic researcher, and curator, Jessica uses digital participatory practices to create playful, immersive social simulations, using the concept of ‘the collective’ to build new worlds.
She was co-curator of the Take It Bend It or Leave It festival (Arnhem 2020) and the 404 Festival (Amsterdam 2021), and has also written, produced and directed several multimedia productions including Lost in the Woods (2017), Sea to Shining Sea Radio Hour (2017), Evil Ever After (2019), Dream City (2020), and We Called It Earth (2021), which have been performed at festivals like Dutch Design Week, Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and the Erasmus University Cultural Platform.
In 2021, she received an M.A. in Performance Practices from ArtEZ University in The Netherlands. Her research into participatory art has been published and presented in the APRIA journal (2020) and the Politics of the Machines conference (2021). More information about her can be found at jessicarenfro.com
Egger, B. and Ackerman, J. (2020) ‘Meta-curating: Online exhibitions questioning curatorial practices in the postdigital age.’, International Journal for Digital Art History, 5, p. pp 3–18.
Juhasz, A., Langlois, G. and Shah, N. (2021) Really Fake. University of Minnesota Press.
Weibel, P. (2018) ‘Chapter 5: Manifesto for a New Museum’, in The Future of Museums. Springer.