Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Tweenbot, Talk to Me: MoMA
Image by The NewsGallery
MoMA's latest design exhibition, Talk to Me curated by Paola Antonelli, revolves around the concept that in a world submerged under a major digital revolution, these days the object of the design's affection is highly more focused on the interaction between objects and humans.

Interbrand IQ - Paola Antonelli in conversation with Chris Campbell.

MTA Metrocard Vending Machine
Image by The NewsGallery

The inspiration Antonelli disclosed, is "how we communicate with objects, and how we expect things to talk to us" — giving product designers "a new role."  These days, designers really need to consider the first few lines of the conversation between humans and the machines we communicate with.  They also need to consider the fluidly of the improvised interaction after the first scripted conversation, according to MoMA's Senior Curator of Architecture and Design.  

Upon entering the exhibition, a succession of screens line up all along the hallway, which ultimately leads us into the core room of the show. The very first screen is interactive: whereby one can control the cartoon character on the big screen via the touch iPad function while the digital caricature responds to each contact by making noises and body movements simultaneously.  

Among the line of screens that follow, there's only one other screen that's somewhat interdependent: Keiichi Matsuda's short film, Augmented City 3D.  The Anglo-Japanese conceptual artist's films explore the possibilities of ads and how the web in general escape their computer houses and transform into holograms.  (For more on Augmented City, go HERE.)  

Aside from the Matsuda 3D installment—which has been out on the web since last year, (we announced it at the NG then see HERE)—the rest were simply videos displaying a variation of  what could be construed as Talk to Me concepts.  

Talk to Me Exhibition, MoMA
Image by The NewsGallery
In fact, through-out the entire exhibition, most of the installations were either videos featuring the objects being referred to, or they were enclosed with the "Don't Touch," signs next to them, It was something like looking at toys at a well-anticipated toys store opening, but you're forbidden to sample or play with 95% of the display.  

But perhaps one of the most intriguing attributes of Talk to Me, is that the show is also opened sourced: a Talk to Me website was set up to get feedback from the public, just shortly after the announcement of the exhibition last year; and as Antonelli divulges in the (video featured above), she surveyed anyone and everyone in her network to research how society today interacts with human-made objects. 

Post-show retrospection, this aspect of the curation comes through quite clearly: the concept of the Talk to Me exhibition looks to be extensively open to interpretation: There are adjustable shoes, with featured heels that can be fine-tuned based on the height of the person one's speaking to, a strange contraption by Japanese artist, Sputniko! called Menstruation Machine (see video below, right), a mini-robot called, Tweenbot  (featured top left, who ventured in the west village looking for strangers to point it towards its final destination), and there's even the New York City metrocard machine, which made it under the abstract umbrella of Talk to Me's philosophy.

The array of examples in how objects "talk to us" as a whole exhibit, at times feels disjointed: jumping from one version to another, seeming completely unrelated — and obviously left to decipher.  But do not fret, this is exactly the goal of the show says Antonelli: "It's okay not to do a perfect job, especially with contemporary design, if people leave feeling like  they had to fill in the some of the gaps, the exhibition becomes much more interesting for the curator and the public.  

And we must agree, as that's exactly the sentiment one's left walking away with— translating more of, "Were you talking to me?" rather than "Talk to Me."  We are left compelled to ponder more about when and how we do interact with objects in our daily lives, how such practices can be improved, and how we could express ourselves  better through the objects we design and use to communicate, create, as well as function. 

"A sign of the times, [is that] you don't have to necessarily have to make the ultimate exhibition about anything contemporary.  Quite the opposite: you have to pose the right questions and point people in a certain direction," concludes Antonelli about her latest production at the MoMA.

And it's a sign of the times indeed when in most of the descriptions written next to each piece, encourages the viewer to announce and discuss the items on Twitter and or Facebook.  But whatever that means, remains a question posed unanswered. 

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