Category Archives: fun

Participatory Museum or Playground? Or Both?

After our trip to the Met’s Luce Center to try out their technology prototypes, I was struck by one of the comments made– namely, that a young child using the computers in the period rooms was able to exit the program in order to use Paint to draw her name on the desktop.  It’s sort of a delightful anecdote and a commentary on the best laid plans of adults often going awry,  but it got me thinking about my experiences with museums as a child.  My first memory of visiting a museum is pretty hazy, but it was definitely to visit the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia (now housed in the fabulous Memorial Hall from the 1875 Centennial International Exhibition), and I was excited because I was allowed to dress up in “pilgrim” clothes and play pretend Thanksgiving with my siblings and other random kids.

It didn’t dawn on me until years later what the museum’s mission actually was, because it seemed light on traditional objects and heavy on being a child’s dream playground.  They have constantly changing exhibits which are interactive for both children and adults, and currently they  have something to do with literature (Alice in Wonderland), physics (a flight exhibit), and nature (a river exhibit).  The emphasis, as cued by the institution’s name, is of course placed on touch and learning by doing– something that seems to be a popular trend in science centers too, like we’ve discussed in class.  The point I want to make here is, that visiting the Please Touch (which my 5-year-old self called “Policetudge”–all one word), was memorable not because of what I might have learned about the Pilgrims, but because I could touch literally everything there.  To an extent I still hold that obsession of wanting to touch museum objects– there’s something about feeling the surface nuances and the weight and solidity of an object  that makes me feel as though I understand it more fully.

That said, I’m wondering how to classify the Please Touch Museum… now it feels more like a learning center or discovery center than my traditional concept of a museum (another bias leftover from childhood: my points of comparison were the more traditional style PMA and the Barnes Foundation where touching is, obviously, prohibited).  As we see with the Luce Center’s more intuitive study computers, there is definitely a rise in more entertaining and accessible technology or interactive features in museum exhibition design.  The Please Touch concept is just a simpler version of this type of interaction. I guess the answer to Steven Conn’s question “Do museums still need objects?” could start to get its answer here.  Apparently, they need more toys.

Michelle Jackson

Advertisements

Xaviera Simmons: junctures

OFF/SITE: Xaviera Simmons: junctures (transmissions to) at the Goethe-Institut Wyoming Building

Although this show is now over, it was a great show to experience after our discussion on technology a couple of Mondays ago.   About being private, yet someone public.

“Over five weeks of junctures (transmissions to), Xaviera Simmons will engage invited writers, academics, musicians, astrologers and others in a series of “micro-residencies,” embracing the collaborative and multi-genre nature of the OFF/SITE project. Participants including artist Brendan Fernandes, filmmaker Sophie Hamacher, landscape architect and surfer Benjamin Landers, singer/songwriter Austin McCutchen, and historian and singer Teresa Mora will join Simmons in a closed, site-specific wooden studio structure within the Wyoming Building. The studio will be equipped with a slide projector, digital projector, microphone, amplification system and commercial-grade copy machine; the gallery will serve as home to several live finches for the duration of the project. In the gallery, the artist and her collaborators will create an ever-changing installation of photocopies, projections, staged readings, sound recordings and ephemera reflecting the conversations and activity within the studio.”

Racini A.

High Tech Versus No Tech

This weekend was a perfect time to ponder the idea of high tech versus no tech within museum walls, as I had the chance to visit two wonderful museums which represented both extremes.

The First was a trip to The Waterfront Museum in Red Hook (Brooklyn) (please watch this video, it’s adorable.) The Museum has a very unique characteristic: it is actually a floating barge, and the only one in New York to be exact. I accompanied a friend to sit in on a third grade’s class visit to the museum. 70 eight year olds filled the barge to learn about its history, as well as the history of transportation in the US and specifically in New York. There space was bare except for some paintings on the walls an old fashioned domino effect machine, and a juggling curator named David Sharps.

The children were completely engaged by his class lecture, excitedly participating with their museum educator. At one point, he used the term “obsolete” to describe the old purpose of the barge, and explain how he created a new purpose for it, (by turning it into a museum.) I started to think about the word in terms of our discussion about the ‘no tech’ museum. Are they obsolete as well or can we still find a use for them within our society? By the enthusiasm and smiles on the children’s face. I was reassured that there was still in fact a great need for a museum which focuses on the rudimentary values of social interaction and energetic education.

On the other side of the spectrum, there was the “YouTube Play” exhibit at the Guggenheim. An Asian blog described the event: “The Guggenheim Museum last week unveiled the winners of a video contest submitted via YouTube from artists around the world. The top 25 videos selected in the ‘You Tube Play’ competition were shown for the first time on a large screen at New York City’s Guggenheim. The contest, created with video-sharing web site YouTube, was aimed at showcasing innovative online video artists. The videos were projected onto the exterior of the museum’s rotunda in Manhattan.Varying from animated line drawings to cartoons, the top 25 videos were created by 39 artists from 14 countries” (NTDTV). Here’s a video of the spectacular exhibition. While I was not able to make it to the event itself, just watching the event online was a breathtaking site to see. Youtube is one of the quintessential examples of technology and when used appropriately, can create beautifully crafted artwork.

In both cases, I think that the choice to use or not use technology was done appropriately, based on the content and aesthetic that the museum wished to convey.  The Waterfront Museum proved to me that technology was not necessary in order to create an entertaining and educational exhibit, while the Guggenheim reassured me that the use of technology could be done tastefully and successfully.  The question does not seem to be “high tech versus no tech” but rather “how will this tech” bring value to the museum.

J Peterson

Pop(up) Art Museum on the Mall

Hirshhorn Museum Transformation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects

This is a truly great project, a spectacular transformation of an already iconic museum building, bring it new life, it is conceptually clear, technically genius, brilliant that it can be performed annually like a circus coming to town. Washington D.C. needs more of this. Bring it on.

Ouroussoff’s review here.

The Latest Word: Spaces of Experience

Charlotte Klonk's "Spaces of Experience"

The latest word in display theory was just released by Yale University Press. As in two weeks ago. Charlotte Klonk’s Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800 to 2000 locates the development of art gallery interiors in the broader history of experience and perception. It looks like an interesting read, and may be helpful in guessing what comes next!

Jenny F.

The Experience Economy: Disneyworld

Soarin

'Soarin' at Disneyworld

While completing this weeks reading on The Experience Economy, I couldn’t help referring to my Disneyworld experience from this past summer.  Two rides in Disneyworld’s Epcot Theme Park particularly struck me as successfully achieving the different realms of (1.  Educational, 2. Escapist, 3. Estheticism) experience talked about in the article.

The first ride, Soarin’ is a simulation where visitors are strapped into a contraption that physically lifts them fifteen-thirty feet in the air as if they were in a plane, literally soarin’ over California.  In front is a three-story screen where images of California, shot from the perspective of a pilot are projected.  In the six-minute ride, visitors experience a flight over Napa Valley, Temecula, Santa Monica, San Francisco, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and much more.  As they fly, machines that are hidden overhead blow wind and scents that correspond to the destination shown on the screen, into the faces of the riders.  It was an amazing experience and the most wonderful flight I’ve ever taken in my life.

From the first step into the waiting line of the ride, visitors step into an airplane hanger and are surrounded by authentic (or reproductions) of flight memorabilia from early flight history.  Pictures of Amelia Earhart and other peers grace the walls.  Under the pictures are captions of flight history, when the first flight was, how the Orville brothers invented the plane and other significant moments. When stuck in a line for over an hour to reach the ride, these pictures and captions inform and educate visitors about flight history. Strategically, this educational strategy should be fairly successful since everyone is bored in line and has nothing else to do.

The second ride, Mission: Space is a simulation ride where visitors are given the chance to become astronauts and travel to Mars.  Visitors enter the line on a launch pad and after a series of turns and different compression chambers, are loaded into a claustrophobic container of a spaceship.  Once the ride starts, the screens in front hinge upwards to a three-inch distance from the visitors eyes and projected images from the perspective of the astronaut driving the spaceship appear.  This ride takes visitors on an adventure from the launch of the rocket, to using the moon’s gravitational force to gain momentum, to landing the actual spaceship on Mars.  Motion is simulated and even the pressure in the container adjusts to what its really like when trying to escape the gravitational forces of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Feels like a ton of bricks on your chest and you can’t breathe!

After a very nauseating experience, visitors exit into a Control Room that simulates those at NASA.  Visitors have a choice to do a whole variety of activities that educate them about space and the process of sending people beyond the Earth.  Activities include videogames, weight simulations and comparisons on different planets, assuming command of the Control Room, learning how to read the Control Room and the Display Boards and much more.

These two rides achieve all three realms of experience, educational, escapist, and esthetic.  From the moment a visitor steps into the ride area, the esthetic surroundings and environment change completely to fit the theme of the ride.  While waiting in line, visitors are surrounded by educational information and content that gives them a background and better understanding of what they’re about to do.  The ride itself provides any visitor with an escapist, out of this world experience where they assume the role of someone else.

Kelly Lo

The Post-Modern Museum

At some point in the mid 20th Century the modern museum began to take on a new form. Consumer culture gained a hightened level of self-consciousness, and the very notion of “the self” as shaped by individual experiences rather than a societal imperatives, took root and fostered a new way of thinking about museums. What emerged was a focus on the customer, a deeper understanding of the audience and meeting that audience’s needs. The post-modern museum emphasizes the user, education, relevancy and accessibility. In fact it is often described as a place of lifelong learning, supplementary to a more formal education compulsory learning in schools. Unlike the modern museum which might be characterized by didactic pedagogy, learning in a post-modern museum is experiential and accounts for different learning styles. Here the constituent chooses his or her own interests and the museum tailors its programs and exhibitions to those interests. Instead of prioritizing the curator’s voice as an overarching authority, these museums rely more on the meanings produced by their visitors and constituents through interactive engagement. As Eilean Hooper-Greenhill puts it “Meaning is produced by museum visitor from their own point of view, using whatever knowledge and skills they bring with them, according to the contingent demands of the moment”. Here, modern social psychology and constructivist educational theory prevails.

Museum Stages.xlsx

Exhibitions in these museums are largely developed with the aid of professional designers, creative practitioners who borrow the tools of advertising, a carefully crafted language, the focus group, formative evaluation and the survey. They are generally multi-modal, mixing a large variety of tools and techniques – combining exhibit script, objects, photography, graphics, media, interactivity, immersive sensory experiences, dramatic and directed lighting  – all of which serves to stimulate the exploratory desires of the visitor. The may have a proscriptive route but often have ways to wander and impulsively dig deeper into subjects you might be interested in. The ultimate challenge of this kind of museum which seeks cultural relevancy is that culture is a moving target.

Tim Ventimiglia