Category Archives: storytelling

Simplicity is Key

After Monday’s lecture on technology within the museum, I saw this on a walk and it made me stop and think about the simplicity I seek within museum walls.  Everyday I walk (as I know everyone else in the class does too) past the light store- Filaments.  The store, located near Parson’s on 13th Street, is filled to capacity with light bulbs, stands, and shades. I know this is a stretch, but every time I walk past the store, I always think of the Hall of Biodiversity located in the American Museum of Natural History.  The Hall of Biodiversity is laid out in a similar manner, it is crowded, colorful, and completely attention-grabbing.  There is a very small presence of technology, making the visitor rely almost solely on the presentation of the plants and animals.

If I said I adored this area of the museum, it would be an understatement.  Every visit I am pleasantly overwhelmed by the information and models presented, and I always learn something new.  I really appreciate the simplicity of this Hall, and I find it refreshing that I find myself thinking of the museum when I see things as simple as a store front.

This is something museums must strive for-  a seamless transition between spaces.  Museum learning cannot stop once a visitor leaves the confines of the institution.  I applaud the Hall for it’s simplicity.  If it was only technological displays, instead of the appropriate combination that it does have, I doubt it would make as strong as impact on its viewers.

Ryan Massey

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Jake Barton, “Collaborative Storytelling and the Dissolution of Technology”

Last night I attended the School of Visual Arts Design Criticism lecture series featuring Jake Barton, the founder of Local Projects. The lecture was on “Collaborative Storytelling and the Dissolution of Technology” and focus largely on the Local Projects process of storytelling and use of technology through their project.

A common theme throughout his lecture was the humanness that connects people, thus the question of how to engage people in a museum. A recent study that he addressed concluded that the average person spend eight and a half hours looking at screens, therefore his studio has the difficult task of keeping peoples attention to more screen (which they commonly use in their designs). Some of the ways in which Local Projects addresses these issues is using seamlessness in their design, humanness to connect people, and simplicity in the technology. Barton states that they did not want the technology they used to be overly complicated, because they are not focusing their designs on a tech-savvy group, it must be generally accessible.

I found this issue of the use of technology in the museum space very interesting and the discussion after the lecture brought up many questions about its present and future placement within our society that I found relevant to the class. There will be many technology advancements within the future, which will directly affect the museum, but I think that in many ways the function of technology in museums will stay very similar to today use of them. I thought that Barton’s idea that technology should be seamlessly woven into the museum so that one forgets about it even being there very important. People do not want technology thrown in their faces, technology should be used to enhance the experience not distract from it.  In addition, the technology should be simplicity in its nature, this way it can be accessed by a wide ranged audience without difficulty. Finally, museums are about human experiences and learning and the technology should reflect that in its design and function. An example of that humanness is in Local Projects’ exhibition in China with the theme of caring. There are screens with people discussing their views and ideas about what it means to care, but the people are full sized looking the viewer straight in the eye as if the viewer was talking to a real person.

Technology is consistently around us and has the potential to engage the museum visitor in new ways. Yet, the goal should promote human interaction and discussion about the topics it raised in the museum space. I think that the idea that technology needs to be seamlessly integrated into the museum (so that the visitor forgets about it) and uncomplicated would greatly benefit museums in the future. In addition, that the first goal of the museums in its use of technology should be to create better human interaction and discussion in the museum space, not to isolate people even more. Technology has great potential in the museum if it is used correctly and effectively.

Miranda Elston

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

Victorian Models in the Modern Museums

Nature’s Museums Victorian Science and the Architecture of Display, by Carla Yanni, states that “One of the most disturbing aspects of classification in Victorian museums is that the natural history museums…all contained objects made by non-western people.” (p. 15) Yet, when looking towards the natural history museums in the world today, the same occurrence happens. Many of these collections were founded during the Victorian era and still have strong linked back to that identity. The question to consider, is how do “contemporary” natural history museums understand their collections of non-western people? Even further, how will natural history museums in the future address these issues to the wider and more diverse audiences that attend museums? As we move towards the future in museums, an important component to consider how are we displaying the objects inside and what do those display choices reflect about our own society. Historian Mario Baglioli expressed that “representation of racial differences and gender roles embedded in many natural history exhibits, are some science museums’ attempt to shape national identities through the celebration of a nation’s scientific and technological “monuments” and heroes.” (p. 15) These non-western objects and collections are a key part to many museums and should not for-sake them. The question for the future is how will we deal with these Victorian models in a modern environment?

mirandaelston

Stairway to the Past

The tenement is a New York City Museum that tells the stories of immigrants who loved in 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side by a German named Lucas Glockner and it was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants. These immigrants faced challenges that we understand better today; specially with the economic and moral crisis we are confronting: making a new life, working for a better future, starting a family with limited means. This museum tells their stories, the stories of the families that lived here; how they lived, what they accomplished and where did they came from. The second you enter the building the museum takes you to the days were there was no electricity inside the building and slowly take you through the years in a casual and very interactive way.

Ruth Abraham, an historian and social activist wanted a museum that honored America’s immigrants; but she accomplished much more. The museums mission: “The Tenement Museum promotes tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gateway to America”.

97 Orchard was found in ruins, after it being abandoned for over 50 years, it took a long time to gather everything together, combing through archives, compiling evidence about tenements and their lives; but after several years of research the museum began the task of restoring apartments and in 1992 they opened the first restored apartment, the 1878 home of the German-Jewish Gumpertz family. Now, they have restored 6 apartments and are looking into the future with a lot of other new projects that will expand the ideas of tenements now-a-days. Every corner of this museum is amazing, a space were you let go your imagination and go back in time. It’s a beautiful time capsule in the Lower East Side.

It’s a great and amazing experience that everyone should visit.

(clarisallaneza)