Virtual worlds are becoming a major topic when it comes to participating on a local or global scale. There are many programs that are being developed to navigate through ancient architectural civilizations and even in the present, traveling around urban cities. These programs enable people to explore a vast amount of information, as well as pilot through artificial realms to meet people and view objects.
I am currently on a team to redefine how we experience New York City during the day versus the night. This involves a lot of data collection and understanding how these spaces feel in the daylight environment versus the night environment from a lighting stand point. One popular web program that has taken the first steps to this experiential experience is Second Life. They advertise this space as a place to connect, to shop, to work, to explore, to be different and free yourself and mind, and be who you want to be. This is definitely taking this idea of the iPhone as your museum guide to a much different and extreme limit, but this is a potential program that will be developed by many museums in the coming years and the beginning of this investigation have already begun.
The New York Hall of Science has partnered with the Greater Southern Tier BOCES SciCentr program on a project to engage an ethnically and economically diverse group of young people in creating a Virtual Hall of Science (VHOS). This entails designing, building and staffing the virtual science center while working and interacting with science and education professionals throughout the process. VHOS is seen as a long term program that will encourage students to develop and plan the future of their museum as they see fit. This program will further enhance the already strong connects NYSCI has with its community and student science education program.
In either case, the idea of a virtual world that enables people to experience a museum or, for that matter, many different cities from the comfort of their homes is a great start to spark interest, but the fact of the matter is that this will never change how we truly experience something that is tangible.
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A Multi-Channel Animation by Marina Zurkow
I was wandering around Chelsea this weekend and discovered that EyeBeam has open studios where you can talk to residents and research fellows about their work. I saw two projects that really struck me as potentially relevant to a discussion of new uses of media and technology in museums.
The first works, a series of animations by artist Marina Zurkow is based on the Ecosystem Engine – an open source development platform that she created for multi-channel animated scenes. The works are basically ‘living’ digital worlds in which large casts of animated characters, static elements and landscapes interact dynamically to create never ending sequences, relationships and possible meanings. For several years I have been searching for a new medium/ technique that could approximate the power of the diorama’s ability to describe complex ecosystems. I see some of that potential here. The projections are quite large and some of here work is quite architectural in scale. I talked to her for a while and asked if she had ever worked with a museum. She said that she preferred to keep her work lyrical and not subservient to any particular messaging. This makes sense. Any overt messaging would definitely detract from the work. The illustrations are beautiful and well rendered. Much like a diorama, you want to project yourself into these worlds as another character in the scene.
The second project, Immaculate Telegraphy, by artist Jamie O’Shea was a kind of reality show/ documentary video and blog following his attempt to construct a working telegraph using only materials he finds naturally in the wilderness. He creates the simple tools he needs to make other more complex tools, sources and refines materials, even to the point of building a smelter for making the copper he needs for the conductive wire. Eventually we presume that he will assemble a rudimentary telecommunications network. I really liked the image of a man the woods taking on the internet by starting from nothing but knowledge and more than a little patience. Here is the statement from the artist: “Could humans at any point in history, given the right information, construct an electronic communication network?” What would Ted Kaczysnki think of this project? It just so happens that the wilderness that he is working in is in Montana.
Both artists occupy an interesting territory with their work that spans the realms of both art and science. Their use of media (in totally different ways) brings a level of accessibility to rather complex scientific ideas. I suspect we will see a generation of artists like these two working within scientific museums as well as art museums, retaining status as artists but providing an inquiring and interpretive entry into the world of science.
The Museum of Chinese in America
I recently visited the newly re-opened MOCA–Museum of Chinese in America. Drawn partially, I’ll admit, by the museum’s architect, Maya Lin, I was also interested in seeing what, if any new design ideas on how to present this history–“Chinese in America”–an example of these unique groups building museums to tell specific cultural identity stories. Firstly, I find the title of this museum interesting–“Museum of Chinese in America,” not “Museum of the History of Chinese Americans” or “Museum of American Chinese,” but “Museum of Chinese in America.” The words “Chinese in America” suggest to me a purposeful separation of “Chinese” and “America” and does not imply overlap or inclusion. Perhaps that is part of the point, that for most of the history of Chinese immigrating to the U.S. our culture separated and labeled them as “Chinese” and not “American.” I thought that this was particularly relevant to our class conversation about the growing presence of such group and identity-specific museums. I have to question, who is the audience? Throughout my visit I felt as though the museum made no effort to connect this “Chinese” experience in America to any other immigrant group (other than a brief commentary on the Japanese interment during WWII). If museums keep telling these specific stories and do not connect them out to a larger point or group, aren’t they missing part of the point of the very history they are trying to present? Regardless, some of the objects on display in the museum, e.g. a candy box for “Fu Manchus” or a copy of “The Good Earth,” were great tools that could speak about racism without use of many words. I wish the current section, instead of having a wall of famous Asian Americans–Maya Lin, Yo Yo Ma, Ang Lee, they might have discussed current immigration or racial issues because this story is still ongoing–just because we have museums that discuss these issues historically, does not mean they are not still alive and relevant today.
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