Category Archives: stories

Objects as Characters

Before taking this class, I always thought exhibitions were based around objects and never thought of the larger story they were used to tell.  Once Tim mentioned that exhibitions always started out as stories and that objects were just one means of telling it, I began to view exhibitions in a different light. I became more critical of the importance and inclusion of certain objects.  Why was this vase included, and not a different one?… What role did it play in the narrative?… What was it trying to tell me?…  All these questions constantly circle in my mind and honestly, have made my exhibition viewing process much more enjoyable. On that note, I stumbled on a review of the new permanent exhibition at the Museum of the American Indian in NYC called “Infinity of Nations“. The review stresses the same idea of objects as characters in an exhibition. I recommend reading it, it’s very interesting to see how much larger and lively issues are addressed through the use of inanimate things.

Ryan Massey

Brooklyn Gets Participatory

Last night in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn, the first ever Nuit Blanche “White Night” was held in New York City. This festival of lights, which has been held in areas around the world such as Atlanta, GA and Paris, France, allows artists and designers to display their light creations on sides of buildings, in warehouses, and throughout sidewalks, playgrounds, and street corners.  The festival combined artistic expression with technological outputs and showed the potential creativity that could be reached with the blending of the two.

The most interesting (and relevant to our class) option they had at the event was a participatory project.  Visitors to the celebration could download an application, similar to most museum styles we see today, and create their own designs that would then be projected onto the buildings.  It was a great way to allow the visitor to feel creative, important, and instrumental in the success of Nuit Blanche.  The picture below shows the steps required for participation.  It was a great event, and an even better way to get people involved in both art and the community!

Ryan Massey

Museum Without Walls: AUDIO

Apropos our discussion on Monday which briefly touched on the concept of Museum 2.0, a very relevant reinvention of the museum is currently taking place along Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Museum Without Walls: AUDIO is essentially a downloadable personalized audio tour of public sculpture available as an app for your iPhone or as a podcast for your computer.  Implemented by the Fairmount Park Art Association, the tours encompass the 50+ sculptures peppered amidst the myriad cultural institutions of the Parkway, and are based on the idea of authenticity in the presentation and interpretation of sculpture.  These tours seek to purvey the different perspectives of artists, historians, teachers, scientists, writers,  local community leaders, and, yes, curators in order to present a more personal experience of Philadelphia’s rich tradition of public sculpture.

This idea is definitely interesting for its engaging use of public space, and its aim to reacquaint Philadelphia with some recognizable but perhaps still mysterious works of sculpture.  Also of interest is the added role of the spectator as an active participant in the “exhibit”: visitors are invited to submit their photos and/or anecdotes to the program’s website.  Added bonus: tours are free! For more information, including an interactive map, please see: http://museumwithoutwallsaudio.org/

michelle jackson

Immersive Media: Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller

Our readings this week, including one by Ontario artist David Rokeby, reminded me that I’ve meant to write about the work of a pair of Canadian artists who use immersive media. Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller are best known for creating interactive and highly engaging art installations and “walks”. The gallery I worked for in Toronto exhibited two of their installations – 2001’s Paradise Institute (which won the major prize at that year’s Venice Biennale) and the Forty-Part Motet – so I’ve had some first-hand experience with their work. While I’m sometimes iffy about the artistic value of their installations, there’s no doubt that they can usually provide remarkable experiences for participants and visitors.

Janet Cardiff's "In Real Time"

Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Millers "In Real Time"

Many of Cardiff and Bures-Millers’s installations, and all of their “walks”, use binaural audio (usually implemented through headphones)and video to animate a space in support of a narrative. That the narrative is obscure and open-ended doesn’t really matter. For a few minutes you are completely drawn in: the narrator addresses you directly, guiding your movements; invisible presences seem to whisper so closely that you can’t help but turn around to see whether someone’s there; the space around you is transformed by the atmospheric sounds. The technology seems fairly simple, but the artists use it in a way that is unparalleled. Their “walks” absolutely transform existing environments, even those already imbued with notions, from Central Park to abandoned prisons to historic sites. Even their simplest-seeming installations can be moving.

Janet Cardiff's "Fourty Part Motet"

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's "Forty Part Motet"

The Forty-Part Motet, which assigns a speaker to each voice in a choir, offers an emotional and strangely intimate experience. It was amazing listening to the beautiful choral music emitted by the installation, but once I found the speakers that “belonged” to the choir’s sopranos, a group of little boys that would whisper and joke between sections, I loved the piece even more.

When Cardiff and Bures-Miller are successful, their work is incredibly immersive, powerful and evocative. It leaves a lasting impression. I would love to see how this example could be translated by museums to generate learning experiences.

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

Identity Museum – MOCA

The Museum of Chinese in America

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.

kmcaleer

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

Learning from the Libraries

Bibliotheca Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt designed by Snøhetta

Bibliotheca Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt designed by Snøhetta

When recently pressed for their vision of the future of the museum, two totally unrelated people (albeit museum people) began talking in excitedly about libraries they had recently visited. One person noted that if you shuttered a local museum, people might hardly notice. And if you shuttered the local library there would be clamor and outrage. It is true that if given a choice both governments and foundations tend to favor the library. Perhaps there is something far more essential about a library than a museum.

The library is at least as old as the museum and likely precedes it by some degree. In fact many of our greatest museums began as new wings of college libraries that had expanded to include objects. These were the great ‘teaching museums’. Libraries are fundamentally akin to museums in that their missions include collecting and preserving knowledge and making that knowledge accessible to a defined end-user. Both provide access to knowledge through collections and use the exhibition as a means to make their holdings more visible. Similar to museums, the earliest libraries were created by and for privileged classes of society. But nowadays libraries are assumed to be integral to any society’s public educational infrastructure, freely accessible spaces of learning and study for everyone. In the developed world access to a good library is considered as fundamental a right as an education, a fair justice system or access to basic utilities such as water and electricity.

In the last decade we have seen great innovations in libraries around the world. The old form of the library as a vast repository of books is currently undergoing a renaissance with the rapid development of customizable digital catalogs, new media storage capabilities, the scanner, the web and other interfaces that supplement the physical book. While many prophesied that the Internet would kill the book (fatality still pending), the Net has with some irony made the library more essential as a socializing space where communities share the experience of accessing knowledge content across new mediums. No longer called Libraries, these spaces are now called Media Centers and Information Literacy Centers. The former emphasis on the book is replaced with a more all-encompassing media representing a spectrum of technologies that includes the books and other objects. These are multilingual, multi-modal, inclusive spaces of community engagement, storytelling, and even story-gathering as libraries add recording, broadcasting and distance learning capabilities that enable them not only to preserve content but also to produce and distribute it.

A few notable examples include:

Toyo Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque (opened 2001) was an inspiring model for what was to come in the next decade. Not a vision of a library based on the book, Ito’s library placed more emphasis on infrastructure, access and transparency. Also notable is that he decided to essentially build an open structural shell that could be transformed over time by generations of new media, new uses and forms of occupation. He even relinquished control of the interiors assigning each level to a different architect.

Snøhetta’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt (opened 2002) is a resurrection of Alexander the Great’s iconic library of the same name and perhaps at least mythically, is the most famous library in the world.

Salt Lake City Library (opened 2004) designed by architect Moshe Safdie has become a major downtown destination  with is coffee and sandwich shops, open fire pits to warm your feet at while you browse half a million titles in their catalog.

Soon to follow was Rem Koolhaas’ Seattle Central Library (opened 2004) which has drawn record attendance and use by citizens of Seattle and design tourists. In the true spirit of a library as free source of information, Rem was kind enough to post his concept design brief online for us to review now ten years after he presented it to his visionary client.

The Aarhus Library in Jutland, Denmark by SHL Architects (to open 2009) definitely promises to break the out of the moldy, old, quiet, box full of books. “[This library] features an ‘info column,’ where people share digital news stories; an ‘info galleria’ where patrons explore digital maps layered with factoids; a digital floor that lets people immerse themselves in information; and RFID-tagged book phones that kids point at specific books to hear a story.” Sulter The Aarhus Library even created a design lab to research new approaches to library use and design. They made a video to explain their process.

Perhaps these library projects can shed some light on where museums need to go to be more effective in the future. Most museums are burdened with the preservation of vast collections of unique and rare items. Their charters often stipulate that if they cannot preserve their collections, then they have no business doing anything else. This includes engaging with the public with exhibitions, educational programs and new media experiences. It is likely that libraries  – whose collections typically only contain a small portion of un-reproducible, rare objects, books and documents – have had an easier time transforming themselves from the inside out.

(timventi)

Woodstock at Forty

Woodstock Poster

The Newseum, a museum designed with the guidance of RAA, is currently holding an exhibition entirely dedicated to the relationship of music and media. “Woodstock at 40” traces the rise of photojournalism through a music festival in upstate New York. This exhibition, unlike the rest of the Newseum is almost entirely void of technological interactions. The exhibits rely solely on interviews from now famous journalist who attended the festival, a collaboration of photographs documenting the weekend, and music memorabilia such as tickets and album covers. “Woodstock at 40” is set up more like a living documentary than its high-tech counterparts which make up the rest of Newseum. The video interviews with Woodstock attendees seem to be the most technologically advanced aspect of the exhibition. Because of the overall simplicity of the gallery design, I assume that the budget was not particularly large for this display.

It would be interesting to see how Woodstock, one of the most controversial events of its time, could be shown through technological interactions such as a computer generated map of the festival grounds, a way to place the museum visitor at the site, and other means to experience  interesting aspects of the Festival such as musicians, instruments, and drug use.

(ryanm)

The city as interactive museum: [murmur]

[murmer] "Exile" in TorontoToronto’s [murmur] project explodes the idea of the museum as a discrete reflector of our condition, and expands its role as a communicator of narratives by turning the whole city into a museum. [murmur] collects personal histories of public places to let you live the city through others’ experience. More here.

(Jenny F.)