Researcher biography

Dr. Caroline Wilson-Barnao’s research takes a critical focus on the use of digital media by cultural institutions. Wilson-Barnao’s work examines how digital spaces can be reimagined, to enhance experience in galleries, live performance, and more. 

In August 2018, Wilson-Barnao spoke at the University of Queensland on Algorithmic Cultural Curation and the Coded Gaze. 

In The Logic of Platforms: How “On Demand” Museums Are Adapting in the Digital Era Wilson-Barnao interviews cultural workers, and draws on industry studies, to examine how digital technologies are used to materialise a  participatory ideology in museums, art galleries, and libraries. Wilson-Barnao’s research considers the tensions associated with the digital transformation of cultural institutions and their collections as they navigate the ‘blurring’ of their commitments to public space with the ‘logics of an algorithmic media system’. She further investigates these themes in  How algorithmic cultural recommendation influence the marketing of cultural collections, The quantified and customised museum: measuring, matching, and aggregating audiences, and her most recent book Digital Access and Museums as Platforms. In Digital Access, she draws on interviews with museum practitioners, along with a range of case studies from public and private institutions, in order to investigate the tensions and benefits involved in making cultural collections available using digital technologies. Wilson-Barnao compliments this by working with the National Museum of Australia, investing their use of digital platforms and collections to engage visitors during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the 2019/2020 bushfires.

"By layering sensors that collect information into their public spaces, cultural institutions mirror the logics of digital media platforms—albeit for the purpose of seeking to provide visitors with more enjoyable and personalised experiences. For example, Google Arts and Culture recently launched a face-matching app that brings together user selfies with portraits of people that look like them from their archive of international collections. The advantage of this type of technology is that it encourages people to see themselves within different artworks and facilitates a process whereby a new audience playfully engages with a collection. The disadvantage is that users trade private information (in this case their images) for an experience, in a sense renegotiating the terms of access to these artefacts. While on one level there is nothing wrong with this, because the institution’s pedagogies are extended more broadly, at the same time there is an integration of these enclosures into cultural practices and an embedding of culture within the machinery of networked capitalism."- The Logic of Platforms: How “On Demand” Museums Are Adapting in the Digital Era (Wilson-Barnao, 2018)

Wilson-Barnao also examines the the relationships between the self and technology. In The droning of intimacy: bodies, data, and sensory devices Wilson-Barnao and Collie examine digital technologies of intimacy, including wifi-enabled sex toys, arguing that this “constitutes a distinct acceleration towards more invasive forms of commercial surveillance and the commodification of the private body and intimate affect … supported by an analysis of product design and marketing”. According to Wilson-Barnao and Collie, this “illuminates the exchange at the heart of our willingness to capitulate to this work of being watched by any contemporary device: promises of efficiency, satisfaction, social connection, and control”, further blurring lines between technology and self, even in private moments. Wilson-Barnao and Collie also explore the tensions between technologies and the self in the book chapter "Playing with TikTok: algorithmic culture and the future of creative work", tracing the production and organisation of creative work by contemporary media platforms, with a focus on Tik Tok.

Wilson-Barnao also continues these inquiries in teaching within communications and museum studies. How is technology reshaping our relationships to these institutions, and ourselves?