Category Archives: science

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)

Sentient City

Amphibious Architecture

"Amphibious Architecture" at Toward a Sentient City

I was excited to see  great projects at the Toward the Sentient City exhibition at Urban Center last night. The projects represented visionary thoughts about situated technologies and networks in urban space  – digital workspaces in urban parks, satellite sending tags on discarded objects that track downstream waste systems in real-time, using roots of plants as carbon cycle circuit breakers, interactive street furniture that enforces good behavior, and my favorite… aquatic beacons that allow you to talk to fish in the bottom of the city’s waterspace. The Amphibious Architecture team immersed several SMS addressable electronic sensors in the bottom of the East River and The Bronx River. You can text them and engage in a dialog. Here is a short transcript:

me “Hey East River”, them “Underwater, its now loud”, me ” Hey Herring”, them “Hi there there are 24 of us down here . Dissolved oxygen is higher than last week”, me ” RiverRiver”, them “Right now the East River is louder than the Bronx River. This hour 18 fish swam by in East, and 11 in Bronx. Dissolved Oxygen is higher in Bronx”

It reminded me  of the Fish Finder radar that my grandfather and I discreetly deployed on many of our fishing expeditions. But this the added sense of having a dialog with your prey. Now anytime I am feeling a bit too high and dry in my office (which overlooks the East River) I can find out what’s going on down there along its murky bottom. Just text message “EastRiver” to 41411.

Network Futures 1939, 1964, 2024

GM's Futurama II at the 1964 World's Fair

GM's Futurama II at the 1964 World's Fair

As one of our museum partners – the New York Hall of Science – is located within the footprint of the 1964 World’s Fair, I have been reading about this iconic American event and thinking about how it relates to our exploration of Museum Futures. Apparently the most memorable installation was GM’s Futurama II. An early prototype of the now ubiquitous Disney ride, the experience inside the Futurama II postulated how the world would look in 60 years (2024) which is not that far away for us to reasonably imagine. Among other things, Futurama II described a connected world of real-time information where we will have instantaneous weather information from Antarctic climate monitoring stations and remote sensors streaming data on what is happening in the ocean’s depths. In retrospect, it sounds a lot like the global proliferation of the microprocessor and the ubiquity of the internet.

I also discovered that Futurama II was in fact based on an earlier Futurama that was built by GM for the 1939-40 New York Fair at Bryant Park. This earlier version speculated on 20yrs (or 1960) and placed a great emphasis on a vision of a then non-existent nationwide infrastructure of highways and bridges, connecting urban and rural life. This would eventually take the form of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. This Act led to the construction of federal highways system, connecting audiences in the millions to a vast number of formerly remote towns, historic sites and national parks. In fact most of the 16,000 museums we have in America today are attributed to the realization of this transportation infrastructure.

Now with our renewed focus on infrastructure through the recent Stimulus and Reinvestment Act there is a call by Kazys Varnelis – editor of Networked Publics and founder of Columbia University’s Net Lab – to consider not only physical infrastructure but also digital networks and their potential to shape public spaces, architecture, cities and to empower communities of people. What effect will these networks have on museums in terms of energy, transportation, locality and place-based narratives? How will the now ubiquitous digital network change our ideas about identity, authority and authorship? How will the small museum and its local community continue to define its unique experience and identity as it inevitably becomes connected to a global network of available content?

Coming full circle, it turns out that New York Hall of Science has an interactive exhibition on networks called Connections: The Nature of Networks.

Museum Futures

What is museum of the future? What shape will museums take in 10 years, in 20 years, in 40 years? If you are in graduate school right now then this represents the time span of your active professional career when you will likely lay the groundwork for the next generation of museums. In 2050 what will The Cooper-Hewitt look like? The American Museum of Natural History? The Museum of the City of New York? How can the museum of the future take into account the ever-increasing speed of social, geographic and technological transformation that we are witnessing?  How can the range of design professionals specializing in museums help with the necessary transformations that these institutions must undergo. What new strategies and techniques will they employ?