Saturday, August 22, 2009
Making Meaning through Measurements
What are these people doing? They're standing in line at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to help make a work of art. At a very crowded museum, a willing and patient line of visitors waited to participate in Roman Ondak's Measuring the Universe.
What do they contribute? Each one contributes two unique qualities. You step forward and a museum staff member measures your height, asks your name, and writes your name and the date at your height. The room started empty, but the exhibit closes September 14 and the room is almost full.
I found several elements fascinating: the staff member and the visitors approached it very seriously, so a sense of calm and quiet pervaded the room. No official line, but a line formed. The staff member took the time to pause so their friends or family could take a photo, and then afterwards, visitors often stopped to take their own pictures of their name and date. There was a pacing to the event that encouraged a bit of contemplation.
How could history museums use such an idea? How about collecting information about where your visitors live in the community, or their age, or even what kinds of possessions they own? Could visitors connect a network of places where they work, shop, or live?
I also found two other places at MOMA where visitors were distinctly making their own content in reaction to exhibitions. At the opening of the James Ensor exhibit, the very large opening label (above) encouraged people to pose as part of the scene. The exhibit, Looking at Music: Side 2 explored the experimental music and art of the 1970s. It's a great thing to watch visitors put on headphones and begin to dance--what were they listening to? Among others, the Ramones, of course. I watched one man take a cellphone video of his companion dancing which they then watched with great delight.
There's lots of looking at the Modern, so these planned and unplanned ways of audience involvement were small joys within the crowd of people.