A figure of speech

Tuesday 30 Aug 2011

MoMA’s ‘Talk to Me’ talks to us about new ways to communicate

If you’re thinking about going to see MoMA’s new exhibition, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects, don’t forget to take along your smart phone. Without it, you will not be able to experience the full richness of the exhibition, which incorporates such technologies as QR Codes and Twitter Hashtags that allow visitors to access more information about the things on view at the exhibition’s website, which can be accessed from the galleries or from home. Such a curatorial approach makes sense for an exhibition that explores how objects speak to us in the digital age but it also signals broader changes afoot at museums everywhere to make their material more dynamic and accessible.

As with all new things, emerging technologies are prone to experiencing glitches and require a modicum of experience to negotiate. So what’s the issue you say? Simply put the exhibition is geared to a younger audience that knows how to operate all of its bells and whistles, which allows the material to come to life. As a particularly dense show that includes nearly 200 objects and projects, it is difficult to take all the projects in on a brief visit and the conditions are less then ideal. The galleries were far too cramped with products and too busy to allow sufficient time to interact with the many cool things on display. Such things like cell phones, furniture, information systems, video games and web interfaces all designed to enhance communication.

The material is loosely organized into six categories entitled Objects, I’m Talking to You, Life, City, Worlds and Double Entredre, according to who or what is doing the talking. Greeting visitors at the gallery’s entrance is Yann Le Coroller’s Talking Carl (2010), an iPhone and iPad app in which a box-shaped creature responds to sound and touch and gets ticklish and jumpy and repeats what visitors say in a high-pitched voice. Other interactive features in the show include a working NYC MetroCard Vending Machine, where one can recharge their transit card or purchase a new one specially designed for the show by Antenna Design, which designed the machine itself. Another interesting thing on view was Kracie Kinzer’s Tweenbot, which relies on the charitable contributions of passers-by to keep functioning.

For architects and urban planners, the sections on the City and Worlds are especially telling as to where we are going with such things, demonstrating a shift in the role of designers from creators of form and function to enablers, inspirers, and facilitators. Here one can find objects and ideas that enhance clarity, civility and engagement by involving citizens in the maintenance of the codes that keep the city alive. Chromaroma (2010) by Toby Barnes and Matt Watkins, for example, uses London’s transportation systems as a platform for a real time game in which commuters sign up to play using their Oyster cards and then are grouped into one of four teams, where they rack up points with each journey and strategically complete tasks and missions. But on a more serious note, such objects as Electronic Inc.’s 911 Command Center Radio Control Application (2006) are indicative of the vital emergency response interfaces that help dispatch critical resources more efficiently and with fewer errors in dire circumstances.

A more adventuresome and thought-providing piece is Sascha Nordmeyer’s Communication Prosthesis Portraits. This device, which exaggerates your facial expressions when talking, putting a smile on every face it comes in contact with, is at once hilarious and a solution to social angst. Organized by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design and Kate Carmody, Curatorial Assistant, ‘Talk to Me’ is an exhibition that keeps on talking and has much to say. So return visits are encouraged. The show runs from 24th July to 7th November, 2011.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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