Random notes on interaction from recent museum visits
Yoko Ono’s Half a Wind show, currently at Louisiana Museum of Art north of Copenhagen is a real treat. Knowing little about her art prior to my visit, I was smitten by her combination of hippie ethics, humour and poetic sensitivity, and explored her instructions, interactives and installations with a smile on my face. But one thing bugged me – the exhibition of the renowned Ceiling Painting (Yes painting) piece, the one with the ladder which you would climb to use a looking glass to read the tinniest ’yes’ hung on the ceiling, which, legend has it, brought her and Lennon together (or something like that). The thing was, it was the original ladder, and therefore you were not allowed to climb it. So was it the original art piece? Or some representation of the the original, even if the objects were authentic, auratic? And is this what happens to objects when they enter into the museum? At least for me, this experience was emblematic of that process.
Also on display at Louisiana, from the permanent collection, was an Yves Klein triptych: magenta, gold and International Klein Blue. It’s the most amazing blue, and in order to be able to savour it for longer, or as an act of appreciation or of taking ownership or something, I tried to take a photo. What is this urge, this reflex to capture our experiences, the things we encounter, in a photo, that is the million dollar question here. But I will go for a slightly cheaper point this time, namely the observation of how the colour was completely transformed by the camera.
I remember reading an astute blogpost or article about how the colour qualities, the tones, the contrast etc. of digital reproductions ultimately affects our reception and thus understanding of the artwork (unfortunately I cannot remember the source, but the point was beautifully illustrated by a google image search of a piece of gothic americana, which in some renditions took a sentimental, romantic hue, thus rewriting the unsettling ambience and story in the original). Then again, our perception of colour in a work of art is also affected by the colours on the gallery walls.
Anyway, with a nod to Benjamin, in this case it is not only the aura that is lost in the reproduction, but sort of the whole point of that blue. And isn’t that often the case, when looking through the snapshots intended to capture a moment, an experience, a piece of art? That the joy or wonder that prompted us to take that photo is not really there in the image. But perhaps it can still be triggered in our minds.
Finally, still at Louisiana, I got the chance to try the mobile guide to the sculpture garden. Or to try to try it at least. When logging on to the free wifi, you’re can opt for guide, which gives you a menu of tracks for the individual sculptures. You then select a track, which starts to download. And continues to download for minutes on end until I lost patience, tried another track instead, same storry. I then decided perhaps the whole application or site needed to refresh, so went to my main screen and… couldn’t find the guide again. At all. Not as a bookmark, not in the browser history, not going via the wifi settings – when it recognised that I had already been logged in once I wasn’t offered the guide again.
I’m sure there’s a way, but the point is I got so annoyed that I gave up. Really, I shouldn’t need to ask for assistance, I shouldn’t need to waste my time and get confused and feel stupid. This wasn’t a cutting edge format, it was a bog standard mediatour, on my mobile, via wifi. How long can we stay in the pilot stage for this?
Perhaps the server was having a bad day, perhaps reception was poor (but this was a tour for the grounds), perhaps I didn’t have enough storagespace (but I wasn’t informed of such a problem). A pamphlet wouldn’t have given me this kind of trouble. So there I was, right next to world class sculpture, overlooking the Sound on a beautiful summer day, and staring at my screen. And that is just another example of many where technological glibs gets in the way of the experience the technology was supposed to serve. Damn IT.
Den Moderne By
Visiting ’The Modern Town’, the newly opened 1974 section of open air museum ’Den Gamle By’ (The Old Town) and thus seeing a past I can actually (partly) recall in a museum was an interesting experience, and an ideal outing for three generations together. Little details, like the fag buts in the ashtray of the gynocologist’s waiting room, the list of phone numbers next to the dial phones which you could actually operate, the books and the record collections in the commune, the food in the new clear family’s larder etc. all made for good memory triggers and conversation pieces. Many things you were allowed to touch, and on top of that the exhibitions included video footage old and new, clever projections of live action and a number of digital interactives.
The magic mirror in the commune, allowing you to dress in seventies socialist garb, was perhaps a bit gimmicky, but good fun, and again, clothes speak volumes about the ideals and changing gender roles of the age. As these clothes are still in plenty supply from any second hand shop, however, perhaps a hands on dress up box could have done the trick.
The interactive polls, however, were more hit and miss. In the flat of the head mistress, her father, a former politician,’s desk had been turned into a touch table, and invited you to ponder tricky questions like whether a small country should always take up arms to defend itself from alien aggressors. In the gynocologist’s office, however, the poll seemed to have inspired digital dissent rather than contemplation. Asked if you were pro or against free abortion, apparently 66% of participants had voted against. Surely that cannot be a reflection of the visitors’ honest opinion if they even remotely ressemble the general public, I mean, this is Denmark, we’ve had free abortion for 40 years, and it’s not even really up for debate. Even considering a number of international and devout Danish visitors, these figures must be misleading, and although there is a clear markation that this is user generated content, it still makes for a strange message in a cultural museum.
At Aros Museum of Art, apart from enjoying Elliasson’s glorious Rainbow, we had a great time with Jeppe Hein’s Distance installation. Although it wasn’t really an interactive (albeit triggered by people entering the room (and children working out where the sensors were)) the artwork itself inspired people to interact, running around the follow ’their’ balls, positioning themselves so that they would be ’playing’ with the balls whilst respecting that they could not touch, discussing and explaining to their children the physics of weight and speed etc. Completely unmediated, prompted only by the installation mechanics itself, and making for a wonderful art/science center/social museum experience.