Category Archives: science

Evolution: Science and Art for Sale in SoHo

evolution and curiosityThis store has been a landmark in Manhattan’s SoHo art district since 1993; it “sells unique natural history collectibles usually seen only in museums. These include butterflies and beetles, fossils, seashells, skulls and skeletons, medical models, and tribal art.” More here.

The second I walked into this store it immediately reminded me of the Cabinets of Curiosity; the way the objects are presented and the whole store is structured is similar to an early museum. For those of you who are not familiar with the Cabinet of Curiosities also known as Cabinets of Wonder, or Wonder-Rooms [Wunderkammern], these were encyclopedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined in Renaissance Europe . Modern terminology would categorize the objects included as belonging to natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art and antiquities. It was regarded as a microcosm or ‘theater of the world’, and a ‘memory theater’.

Peter Thomas stated about Charles I of England’s collection that these were “a form of propaganda”, only for the aristocrats and only some could afford having them. Besides the most famous, best documented cabinets of rulers and aristocrats, members of the merchant class and early practitioners of science in europe formed collections that were in fact the precursors to public museums.

Clarisa Llaneza

Cocoon

The Darwin Centre at London's Natural History Museum (photo by Tim Lee)

The Darwin Centre at London Natural History Museum (photo by Tim Lee)

One of the newest and most anticipated installations in the world of Natural History is the London Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre 2. This iconic facility opened a month ago and a few friends have since visited and reported back to me. The Cocoon – a large egg shaped structure inside a glass box and provocatively nestled up against the Victorian-Era museum building – contains 20 million insect and plant specimens as well as 220 working scientists. One of the overarching goals of the project is to make the museum’s collections and research accessible to museum visitors. This is a general trend as museums of all types seek to engage more sophisticated audiences by providing access to previously hidden away: study collections, research, registration and conservation. Darwin Centre 1, which as a sort of modest prototype for this project built a few years ago (and which I did visit), used curators as docents that took you on behind the scenes tours of collections areas as they talked about their work. You felt privileged to have access to their world and though it still had carefully controlled set of windows, you saw a lot of real stuff. I suppose a day long program of tours was a lot to ask of the curator whos’ minds should really be on research and not entertaining the public.  Darwin Centre 2 seems to dispense with the warm, human (albeit scripted) interactions. Here a set of digitized curator avatars introduce the audience to the research and the experience is focused mostly on a series of interactive media experiences that allow visitors to explore both real and digitized versions of collections, interact and provide feedback on a range of current scientific debates. I kind of like the mix of real stuff and high tech interactive interfaces, but word is that the human touch and the awesome spectacle of millions of specimens is missing here. I think this is a great model for existing museums to leverage what they already have going on behind the scenes and deliver a public view into the authentic, mysterious, museological, inner-sanctum. However, the walls of this cocoon may be still too opaque.

Another review with descriptions and images of a few exhibits here and the official video tour here and another video here.

Tim Ventimiglia

Virtual Worlds

Virtual WorldVirtual 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.

Stephen Kaye

Eyebeam Afternoon

A Multi-Channel Animation by Marina Zurkow

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.

Tim Ventimiglia

The Modern Museum

The modern public museum was invented to meet the needs of an emergent democratized society. Without the rule of law overseen by a dominating sovereign power, newly minted governmental powers needed a way to control the masses. Michel Foucault calls this the “disciplinary society” where penitentiaries, schools, libraries, department stores and museums were invented as “instruments of the state” to control and shape the behavior of the public. These were the new public spaces and were governed by ideas of transparency and surveillance. The modern museum was considered crucial to the notion of progress of the individual and served as a therapeutic space where he could learn to aspire to higher ideals.

Modern Stage.xlsx

Exhibitions in modern museums were performative environments in which newly forms of conduct and behavior could be scripted and enforced. The space of the modern museum was highly ordered, rational, collections and displays were serial in nature, expressing an encyclopeadic completeness. The rare and unique was replaced with the serial where an implied system of relationships between things became more important than the individual objects themselves. They were described as “educative spectacles”. As Edward Grey, a mid-19th Century curator of the British Museum, put it “the subject should be able to visually comprehend the greatest amount of information in a moderate space, that could be obtained in a single glance”. In other words, you did not need to read in the museum. You learned by looking. William Henry Flower late 19th Century director of the London Natural History Museum outlined the method  by which modern curator creates an exhibition “…Hire a curator, define the objective of the museum, determine a subject, divide the subject, plan a space, create a hierarchy of labels, develop a concise language, select illustrative specimens,… that then fall into appropriate places.” Note how much of this process is about determining the message and ordering space. The emphasis is not on the uniqueness of the object but on its ability to serve a script. These museums were most often organized around departments that reflected the professionalized disciplines and sub-disciplines of social history, art history and the natural sciences. These disciplines and the rigorous scholarship that defined them gave rise to the curator – or subject matter expert – who presided over the functions of collecting, preserving, studying and interpreting (writing the script) and exhibiting.

Tim Ventimiglia

Not Science Fiction

Renzo Piano creates a master piece for the California Academy of Science and recreates the building envelope as a  multi-functional form for the museum. This single structure curves with the surrounding environments while containing multiple spaces within. This includes a four-story rainforest, the aquarium, the planetarium, and the natural history museum. There is also a roof terrace that allows the visitor to experience the rolling mounds that create this iconic roof system. This process of creating a green roof that houses natural, living plant specimens enables the building to change with its surroundings while at pivotal movement’s glass apertures direct daylight into specific areas. This design has received Platinum rating from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and is one of the largest public buildings to have this rating.

This facility is setting the benchmark on what the future of the museum, and for that matter, what the science museum will eventually become. Technology that is engaging and user-friendly allows for people to immerse themselves into experiences that may be out of reach for them. Visitors can view the most up-to-date renderings of the universe, catch virtual butterflies with a digital net, and connect their cell phone and go for an Academy-wide scavenger hunt. The use of technology within these facilities will transform and reshape these spaces, as well as the next generation of visitors that will in turn be designing the future of museums.

This building reaches out to such a large audience and this must be noted of how hitting target areas can ultimately leave you with an award winning museum. The California Academy of Science has a modern architectural form and in many cases, having a building designed by a famous architect will, inevitable bringing fame to the structure. Introducing new and up-to-date technology that targets a wide range of age groups can turn a traditional exhibition observation time of 25 seconds to one that reaches close to the 3 to 4 minute marker. In this day and age, new generations are learning to use technology at a younger age making digital media production, multimedia displays, technology platforms, and interactive gaming the cutting edge in how learning will be taught. Another great design accomplishment is introducing living specimens to embed greater understanding and knowledge to the viewer. The California Academy of Science also has an extensive library that serves both a pubic function, but mainly for the scientists at the academy.

Please take a moment to investigate this museum, as this is the future.

(Stephen Kayes)

Learning while Enjoying

"Parque Explora", an interactive experience that teaches you while you amuse

"Parque Explora", an interactive experience that teaches you while you amuse

I would like to share with you my experience in “Parque Explora”, a very innovative interactive park in Medellin, Colombia. Its main objective is to disseminate and promote science and technology in the population of the city and its visitors. It gives them the opportunity to experiment, learn while they are enjoying, and build some knowledge that can help developing social welfare and dignity. It has more than 300 interactive experiences outdoor and indoor, spaces for experimentation and exhibition places.

One of the places I enjoyed the best when I went there was the open hall. An incredible place outdoors fulfilled with interactive experiences to learn about physics while you play. I remember my physics’ lessons in high school and how boring they were, but this place makes of physics an entertaining experience. You can experiment the physics’ laws on your own while you are spinning around on a circular platform and controlling its speed depending on how close your chest is to the center of it. You can also experience the laws of gravity, inertia, parabolic movement, eccentric movement, etc. You learn tons of stuff that is usually boring while you are amusing yourself.

Another amazing space in the park is the digital territory. Here you can learn everything about new technologies while you create with music, images and movement.  You make your own animations, you broadcast the weather on a TV station, you analyze your own body temperature with infrared cameras, and you compose your own songs. It’s is magical.

“Parque Explora” makes of learning the most fun, amusing, unforgettable experience.

(MVillegas)