Talk To Me @ MoMA – chaotic, engaging, weird and brilliant

Last summer I went to New York where I visited the ‘Talk To Me’ exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which I really enjoyed so I thought I’d share my thoughts and some personal highlights – it’s taken me a while to sit down and write.

The exhibition is curated by  Paola Antonelli and explores ‘design and the communication between people and objects.’ So what does this mean in practice? Well, lots of things: from strange interactive objects, data visualizations, guerilla tech projects to commercial iPhone apps. In fact, there were so many different types of contrasting exhibits that at times you could have been fooled into thinking that you’d accidently walked into an adjacent exhibition. Indeed, Creative Review described the Exhibition as ‘Chaos’. Chaotic it may be but I really enjoyed it and as a creative agency type looking to  be influenced by innovative creative ideas I felt spoilt for inspiration. Part of me also felt as though I was in an adult version of the London Science Museum’s Launchpad – the place in the basement ‘where science comes to life’.

One of the first things I noticed upon entering the exhibition is that every exhibit (194 in total) had its own QR code and associated Twitter Hashtag. Being a geek I took to exploring the QR codes before actually looking at the exhibit. Each QR code linked to each exhibit’s individual page within the exhibition website which contains a Twitter feed of the exhibit’s Twitter hashtag. In this way the exhibits record people’s views and discussions about it in real-time, thereby becoming a timeless platform of conversation. The whole online aspect of the exhibition adds a timeless dimension to the exhibition and the accompanying website could in fact be described as a piece of art, but that’s a whole other story.

Gotham Guide: QR code on NYC fire hydrant

Gotham Guide: QR code on NYC fire hydrant

Sticking with the theme of QR codes…There were a number of exhibits which featured QR codes, one of which, or rather project representations, was the ‘Gotham Guide’. This is a series of yellow QR codes on walls and surfaces throughout New York . When users come across one of the Gotham Guide QR codes they can use their smartphones to access a wealth of historical facts about that particular site or neighbourhood. The idea being that this allows users to ‘explore the city at their own pace, or even to stumble upon these troves of information while running an everyday errand; for those who desire a more directed, comprehensive tour, Gotham Guide publishes maps clearly indicating where all their QR codes are located.’

There was also a picture of a QR code crop field, created by Bernhard Hopfengartner. Now I’m

QR crop field: visible on Google Earth

QR crop field: visible on Google Earth

guessing there’s no SmartPhone big enough to make use of this so it must therefore be ‘art’ – either that or the lawnmower man is was hoping aliens have QR code readers. I found this concept interesting as it turns on its head the notion that  QR codes are ugly patterns. Indeed, the QR crop field is useless and big enough for everyone see from Google earth.

Moving away from QR codes and onto augmented reality…one of my favourite exhibits was the ‘Augmented Reality Flash Mob.’ Human-statue performers appear in public places around the world (those annoying people who pretend to be statues in city centres). However, using QR codes (sorry I tried to get away from them, honestly!), Layar technology and smartphones, users can connect to an augmented-reality platform to take the phenomenon one step further. The designers coordinate, on a specific date and time and place, a series of virtual three-dimensional characters—including Darth Vader, zombies, Spider-Man, the Beatles, and Smurfs—which anyone with a smartphone can see and walk among. The characters can only be viewed (and photographed) through a device; pictures of the event can then be uploaded and printed, creating a visual record of a virtual event.

Augmented reality flash mobReading this you’re probably thinking the whole exhibition was about QR codes but it was in fact a lot more varied, in fact it’s difficult to really pick out what could be described as quintessential exhibits. The exhibits varied from showcasing the brilliant work of the agency world, including BakerTweet (the tweeting oven) from Poke London (updated to show croissants from the MoMA cafe) to infographics (nothing more thant the bog standard stuff you see sent around on Twitter on a daily basis), to just plain weird things (or art I simply ‘don’t ‘get), such as a chess set made of dildos.

It’s fascinating to see what creative digital ideas people come up with when there’s no client brief or other commercial pressures. As such, the exhibition has inspired me to pursue some of the my own non-commercial digital interests (watch this space). Ironically perhaps  a lot of the non-commercial ideas could easily be repackaged for commercial campaigns (I’m going to be hated by some for saying that). Although I agree with the sentiment that the exhibition is perhaps chaotic it was also engaging, interesting, weird and made me think, which is surely the point of an exhibition?

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