This new issue of JDH contains several great articles on evaluating/assessing Digital Humanities work. The editors explain:
Some scholarly societies, universities and colleges, and departments have called for a redefinition — or at least an expansion — of what is considered creditable scholarship. There have been scattered initial attempts to understand how digital scholarship might be better assessed, but the editors of JDH felt, and many of our readers agreed, that there was not a single place to go for a comprehensive overview of proposals, guidelines, and experiences. We attempt to provide a single location here, with an issue and living bibliography that will grow as additional examples are published across the web.
The various posts address the support needed for, and collaboration involved in, DH projects, as well as the need to give credit to a wider range of collaborators and contributors; and several focus on processes of peer review and standards for tenure and promotion, including guidelines put forward by several professional organizations. A few, mine included, talk about evaluating student work.
Just as the New York Public Library released plans for their renovation of the grand 1911 Carrère and Hastings building, we wrapped up another semester of my Archives, Libraries & Databases class. We started off the semester by historicizing “information overload” and the compulsion to collect, sort, organize, delete, etc. Then, to “ground” the archive theory we were about to explore, we began our Archives unit with a guided tour of the New York City Municipal Archives. We read some Michel Foucault, Wolfgang Ernst, Terry Cook, Ann Stoler, and Diana Taylor. And after that, we explored archival aesthetics by examining a selection of artists who either make use of archival materials in their work, or take the archive-as-institution as their inspiration.
After that, we considered different theories and strategies of classification. And then to introduce our Libraries unit, we took a guided tour of the Morgan Library and visited the Reanimation Library, where we explored the collection and brainstormed possible means of classifying images without privileging their subject matter. What if we classified images not by what’s depicted in them, but according to other properties — color, form, density of information, etc,? We then looked at more idiosyncratic libraries, particularly the Warburg and Prelinger libraries. To round out this unit, we considered the future of the library, then met with our University Librarian and Archivist to talk about practical considerations in planning for that future.
We then moved on to databases, reading some more Foucault and exploring the prescient work of Paul Otlet and Vannevar Bush. Then we talked about the “episteme” of the database, considering how data is transformed into information, and perhaps knowledge and wisdom. We looked the database-building work of Alan Liu and Lev Manovich. And while I was in Sweden, we brought in Rory Solomon and Ted Byfield to talk about database aesthetics.
As an appropriate close to the semester, we visited the Ann Hamilton installation at the Park Avenue Armory. And then in our last class everyone presented their projects (I had a smaller group this semester; thanks primarily to the economy, the student body was smaller across the board in my program and throughout the university).
Andrea explored connections between Aby Warbug’s Mnemosyne Atlas and the work of Gaston Bachelard; both are concerned with templates/floorplans, pathways, intervals, etc. — Bachelard in space, Warburg within and between the panels of his Atlas. Andrea then designed her own panels, featuring representations of “gesture,” “fire,” and “memory,” as proposed additions to the Atlas.
Angelica focused on objects that are typically extracted from the archive — specifically, technologies of “attachment,” like paperclips, rubber bands, brads, etc. These fasteners do important intellectual work in organizing papers into conceptual units, yet they have deleterious material effects on archival documents. She wanted to collect these un-collected tools of collection!
Chris began to explore archives of historical computer manuals in an attempt to determine how these documents construct habits of computer use, frame the relationship between human and machine, and even embody affect.
Lara investigated possibilities for bringing collaborative knowledge-making — as exemplified in projects like the Public Laboratory and BLDG BLOG / Edible Geography’s Venue — into the public library.
Oz examined the challenges of archiving performance art, focusing specifically on the work of Marina Abramović, whose proposed Marina Abramović Institute will espouse a particular philosophy of recording, preserving, and granting access to performance.
Steve examined the archival turn in filmmaking, focusing specifically on the construction of alternative histories of British coal mining. He studied the National Coal Board’s films of 40s, 50s, and 60s, and Bill Morrison’s The Miner’s Hymns and, then drew connections to Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave.
Rory, my long-term TA, and I wrapped up the third semester of our Urban Media Archaeology graduate studio this past Wednesday evening. The last week of every semester is always a nail-biter — and I’m always amazed to see how well everyone pulls it together by the deadline. Once again, we had media maps addressing a wide range of topics — some really stretching the definition of “media” — and quite a few that productively and creatively pushed the limits of mapping as a method, and challenged the conventions of the database behind our map.
Last fall I gave an overview of the semester’s projects and some of the more meta-level insights that came into relief for us, collectively. I’ll offer a similar wrap-up for this semester’s class — but I’ll allow the students to reflect on their research-and-production processes in their own words by drawing from their final “process blog” posts. Their final reflections are always extraordinarily poignant and demonstrate a great deal of critical self-awareness; the bits I’ll extract here are likely to have the most resonance for new students starting their own mapping projects in the future.
[w]aterfront metaphors emerge in the various points of data: the slips where water slips purposefully into Manhattan’s rigid grid; the oyster houses that embody the griminess of the oyster’s marine habitat; the expansions of the coastline that extend the land outwards into the sea; the floating oyster barges that symbolically marry, through architecture, land and water; and the middens underneath the soil that illicit a sense of discardedness wherein water is submerged under land.
After selecting a topic, most of the semester was spent narrowing the topic down, researching this topic (still many topics), and further narrowing it down. The research process is integral to the map itself, despite most of the process remaining invisible in the end product. After researching, it was time to assemble/disassemble the research and turn it into mappable data. I’d say this, next to the actual research, was the most time consuming.
*Brian has worked in Times Square for years, and has long been curious about the “Old Times Square.” His “Mapping the Deuce: The Transformation of 42nd Street” focuses on the establishment of 42nd Street (particularly between 7th and 8th avenues) as a theater hotspot; the area’s transition, after the Depression and WWII, from “legitimate theater” to “questionable genres of film”; and the redevelopment of 42nd Street as part of a “massive public/private clean-up project.”
Brian, reflecting on his process, lamented that he
spent too much time at the beginning hunting down media to enrich my map with, rather than organically seeking it out as I crafted my arguments. As a result, I had to tone down my final product with far less photos than I originally intended as they would have distracted the reader rather than enhance the narrative.
In the end, though, his map changed his mind about 42nd Street; it contradicted his original hypothesis about the area: “42nd Street wasn’t turned into something NEW, it was simply given back to the people of the area and it’s once again a place where all walks of life can find entertainment.” The project, he said,
really made me scratch my head and figure out how to make a map of static objects entertaining and interesting. I’ve learned that the points on a map don’t need to move to tell a compelling story; instead, the blanks just need to be filled-in.
*Christine began with a focus on urban farming — and, through her research, eventually saw the agricultural potential for repurposed “gutterspaces” and other unclaimed slivers of land. Her research on rooftop farms also revealed an additional challenge in mapping these sites, which helped her to identify her major cartographic challenge:
When I first began mapping rooftop farms, one of my first questions was whether they would be visible from a satellite image. Lo and behold, right there on the trapezoid roof below are the neatly planted rows of the Brooklyn Grange located at 37-18 Northern Blvd in LIC, Queens. From this height, the produce looks more like mold than kale, but I still gasped when it came into view. My attempt to zoom in as much as possible to see a recognizable vegetable warped me into Google Street View and I was left with the drab facade of the Standard Motor Products building. Headlines and conversation around rooftop farming often asks one to “look up”. However, a walking tour of rooftop farms would be quite boring without scaling the wall or an elevator ride. As my project progresses, the tension between these two views has been just asking for a cartographic argument. Somehow the project has found it’s way into the gutter (with the mapping of gutterspaces) and then high up above where it is more accurate to “look down”. At both extremes, the scale of real estate and the contours of space take on mere shapes. Then, there is navigating everything in between.
Here, Winnicott’s question, ‘Did you find that in the world or did you make it up?’ denotes an irrelevant distinction. More important is how the map permits a kind of excavation (downward) and extension (outward) to expose, reveal and construct latent possibilities within a greater milieu.
After plotting points on URT, I was waiting for that invisible layer to reveal itself. Adding Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fake Estates and gutterspaces to my map was nudging me closer to latent possibilites that had yet to be excavated, but I did not know what I was looking for and I wanted to find it. That is not to say I lacked things to map that were visible. The process of mapping felt as if there was no beginning or end, ‘but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and overspills.’ Multiple entryways and exits gave the process dimension. The project had a life of its own.
[U]nlike the graphic arts, drawing or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detatchable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entranceways and exits and its own lines of flight.
To which she responds:
This is my last semester in the Media Studies program and I didn’t realize it completely, but all semester, I was trying to create a map that I could take with me. Each point created a line with its own “line of flight.” In some ways, I wanted [Lewis] Carroll’s map that was impossible to unfold, instead of understanding that “…mapping unfolds potential; it remakes territory over and over again.”
The first phase of my project reveals the close network of mostly Fluxus artists (1960-) that helped to gentrify SoHo. And the second and final phase of my project examines the New York School (1940-1960) of artists. After completing the first phase of my project, I realized that it in order to fully understand the gentrification of lower Manhattan, I had to explore the cultural and political climate of the 1940s and 1950s in New York. My project is an examination of how New York’s art world of the 40’s, 50s, 60s and 70s transformed downtown Manhattan from wastelands to a culturally rich neighborhood full of high-end lofts, fashionable boutiques, trendy restaurants and galleries. My project also examines how the art that was created during the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s was a direct reflection of the social and environmental factors of New York’s deteriorating urban landscape, full of abandoned buildings, and the culture of poverty and neglect in lower Manhattan.
Danielle revisited the mapping strategies she used in the first phase of her project:
I realized my strength from last [year] was my ability to reveal a very tight-knit community; my weakness was relying too much on images and videos for my data. This semester, I have tried very hard to create concise and informative descriptions, biographies and histories.
expand popular representations and perceptions of ACT UP NY. More specifically, [his] map aims to diversify ACT UP’s recorded historical narrative by telling the story of the Latino Caucus…. In part due to the relative absence of the Latino Caucus story in textbooks and film, [his] sources are archival documents found at the New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division, as well as recorded conversations with Jimmy Lopez, self-defined ally of the Latino Caucus and ex-employee of the Hispanic AIDS Forum, Ricky Rivera, ex-Latino Caucus member, and through a non-recorded conversations with Jesus Aguais, ex-member and present Executive Director of AID for AIDS.
And here’s Julian, a first-semester Masters student, reflecting on his work over the course of the semester:
It’s hard for me to let go of this project. I expose it now with a little apprehension but also with a lot affect.” After critiquing the few mistakes and gaps he sees in his final project, he writes: “[W]hat I’m choosing to see now, and seeing much more in detail than any other details, is all the humanity and spirituality that the project captures. I think that it manages to accomplish what I had intended from the onset, using digital media to tell a compelling story. That of my subject and that of my own. There is a vulnerability that I have learned in this urban media archaeology methodology(?), and it is something that I will reflect upon throughout the course of my graduate studies.
Louis, inspired by object-oriented philosophy, wanted to examine the life of various animate and inanimate objects in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. His map, “Sights and Sounds of Space-Time” ended up focusing more on the technical and conceptual challenges of mapping the haziness and dynamism of both space and time. He used a variety of creative methods — e.g., “ontographs” and field recordings — to capture the presence of “invisible” forces in the urban landscape.
He offered an eloquent reflection on how the process of mapping these complex ideas not only enhanced his understanding of philosophy, but also encouraged him to reflect on his own own methodology and modes of working:
This is the sort of class I wish I’d taken my first semester at the New School as it forced me, more than any other class, to reflect on methodology itself. I’m sure that if I had taken this class a year and a half ago I would’ve spent a lot of my time in this program making maps. Mapping my research aided me in understanding some of the dense theoretical concepts I’ve been exploring in my “free” time, so in a reflective sense, I am indebted to the project if only because it helped me understand some things…. Through trial-and-error (and error and error and error…), the entire mapping process has indeed been a challenge, but in the most productive sense of the term. In making visible our research (and the research process itself), the “holes” in particular theories become visually evident. Inasmuch as mapping has allowed me to further “understand” some things, it’s also shown me what’s missing… Overall: a most productive experience, and one that will inform future work.
Mert, an international student, wanted to explore how other international students navigate and make sense of the city. Through “my new york,” he followed six students as they led him on a tour of sites that were personally meaningful to them, and asked them to narrate their experience of those sites. One of Mert’s great challenges was sorting through the tremendous amount of audio and video he collected through his research, then formatting this material so it lent itself to presentation on a map. His strategy: using Final Cut Pro as a classification and storage tool.
I created a Final Cut Project for each participant and added the necessary files. I have to create shorter parts from these long files to make them ready to use in my final project. The approach I used is the one I developed through oral history projects and film projects over time.
He then labels each file with terms that identify the primary topics or themes addressed in each interview. “The basic premise of this method was to create a memory-recalling method.”
Miranda’s “Endangered Languages in New York City” mapped speakers and enclaves of endangered languages in New York. While there are about 800 languages spoken with in a 20-mile radius of the five boroughs, her map focuses on the Garifuna, Highland Totonac and Nahuatl languages. Miranda’s project evolved quite dramatically over the course of semester. Her original plan was to map the migration of the languages themselves from their global places of origin to the communities in which they’re currently spoken in NY. But then she realized that “focusing on that topic erases any sense of agency from the speakers of those endangered languages.” So she turned her attention to the individual stories of endangered-languages speakers in the NY metro area, and the social and media networks (particularly radio) that enables them to form language communities.
Robin, in her “New York on the Broadway Stage,” mapped Broadway musicals set in New York City, and how they both reflected the character of particular neighborhoods and deal with issues of social mobility. It was through the process of plotting her records on the map that Robin hit upon the social mobility theme:
It was really only in the last hours of putting this all together that I finally let the map speak for itself…. Once I actually started mapping points, I found the clustering interesting…. I realized that the arguments I had been thinking about existed in these clusterings… They represented a way to talk about how people move upward socially, and what that translates to in terms of actual geography.
Through mapping, she also became aware of ingrained habits in her own work process:
This project really made me hyper-aware of how linearly I work. I like to be able to move up and down on a paper and draw straight lines through my arguments. This map really challenged that habit of mine and forced me to look a harder into what I was doing and how I was doing it.
She had a break-through earlier in the semester that set her on this path of self-reflection:
I stayed a bit late after class today helping a classmate navigate URT, and I realized that I LOVE DATABASES…. I was incredibly nervous about this project before I really got my hands on URT. I was ready to change my topic, abandon all hope, ect., but once I started plugging away on URT everything fell into place. During the paper-prototyping class, I was working with all my data as one layer, but after speaking with Rory he pointed out that I could very easily pull-apart that data and create a second layer; that second layer made all the difference. I could see the form of my map, how the data would fall into place, and where the holes in my data were. Now the task is getting the information to fill those holes, but I’m feeling pretty comfortable letting the map inform me rather than trying to force things into the map.
Shiran lives near the Meatpacking District and wanted to better understand its rapid and dramatic transformation. In order to do so, she needed to explore the recent history of the neighborhood. Her “The Meatpacking District: From Raw to Well Done” required that she do some archival research and conduct some fieldwork, which involved interviewing a few locals and documenting changes in the area. She comments on the research experience:
Walking around the Meatpacking District, looking for materials, people and testimonials was a really unique experience. I really enjoyed looking for ideas and arguments on the street, not in articles. Taking photos and expressing ideas while using visual aids was one of the greatest aspects of this research. I love how instead of just saying something, I can express it using a picture. But what I loved the most, without a doubt, was walking around the NYPL archives and bookshelves, looking for pictures, books, articles or whatever else I can find. It was great going through the heavy, old folders (including entire folders full of photos of meat!), looking for photos I can use.
She also echoed a sentiment expressed by many of her classmates, about the fact that her map never felt “done,” that there’s potential for infinite expansion:
I think that since URT is such a great, unique platform, all of us could probably add more layers, records and arguments. I was planning to create different layers than the ones I ended up creating, before I realized that my main source of information will be archival articles and not traditional academic books. But the flexibility and rhythm of this great project took me to different place, which was great! …[T]his time it was much more about the process….
Yesterday afternoon my Archives, Libraries & Databases class visited Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread installation at the Park Avenue Armory. I was in heaven. Not only is she among my favorite artists, but her work also perfectly illustrates so many of the issues we’ve been addressing throughout the semester: the evolution of media and the concurrent evolution of institutions dedicated to collecting and storing them; the materiality of the record; dimensions of existence that defy recording; the stuff of knowledge that leaks between the shelves, between the classification categories, etc.
Plus, there were swings! I haven’t swung in nearly a decade!
There’s so much to see and hear and feel here that it’s nearly impossible to describe the experience. Luckily, others have tried their hand at such a description, so I’ll turn to a press release posted on e-flux:
the event of a thread draws inspiration from the act of reading aloud and its relation to the varied experiences of speaking, listening, and recording. Over the duration of the exhibition, a succession of attendant readers, two at a time, will read aloud while seated at a table near the drill hall’s entrance. Their live voices will become a constant presence broadcast throughout the installation on a radio bandwidth designed to occupy a single city block, the physical footprint of Park Avenue Armory. Radio receivers will circulate to visitors who will be able to “carry” the voices as they traverse the installation. Continuing this theme of transmission, 42 trained homing pigeons, historically used to communicate messages, will be housed in cages surrounding the readers’ tables. On the opposite end of the expansive drill hall, an attendant writer—a quiet presence and visual counterpoint to the readers—will inscribe a response to the radio transmissions, the reading voices, and the room behind them as seen in a mirror reflection.
At the center of the installation, a field of 42 swings suspended from the hall’s elliptical wrought iron structural trusses will connect via ropes and pulleys to a massive cloth that bisects the space and will be animated by the movement of the swings. The shifting constellations of people gathered and invited to use the swings will create a complex kinetic system and an experience of communal connectivity.
I should note that, when we entered, one of the “attendant readers” was Hamilton herself, which was quite a treat.
What kinds of media, what modes of communication, are represented here? We’ve got newspaper, 8 x 11″ lined paper covered with handwriting, scrolls covered with typewritten text, pigeons (which once, like the horse, served as a vital means of transmission), vinyl-record-engravers, erasers, bells, bellows, radios, the voice — and air: the medium for both the voice and the birds, an invisible medium whose presence is made manifest via the billowing curtain at the center of the hall. The curtain could also be said to be a medium. As Hamilton writes in the program,
Cloth is the body’s first architecture; it protects, conceals and reveals; it carries our weight, swaddles us at birth and covers us in sleep and in death. A patterned cloth symbolizes state or organization…. Like skin, its membrane is responsive to contact, to the movement of air, to gravity’s pull.
Each of these individual media takes on multiple modalities: the voice, for instance, is ephemeral and barely audible as the “attendant readers” intone their texts — sometimes in unison, sometimes trading off parts — into a microphone (they transform the lines, or “threads,” of the text into a performed “event”); then that voice is transformed into a “thing” captured in a paper bag (inside the bag is actually a radio broadcasting the live reading).
We also encounter various genres of text: concordances, personal letters, news, etc.
We also talked about the various temporalities represented by these different modalities: while the radio transmits the reading voice instantaneously, the curtain registers air circulation with a few-second delay. The newspaper “program,” a format that implies a daily life-cycle, is instead printed once for the entire duration of the exhibition. Meanwhile, the recorded song operates on a 24-hour cycle: each evening’s song is recorded, then played back the next morning.
Several of my students commented on the various kinds of labor, or performance, represented in the installation. We had “official” participants, including the artist herself, reading and writing and erasing and singing and recording. And we, the visitors, gleefully labored on our swings to move the curtain (perhaps there are parallels to be drawn here to the “enjoyable exploitation” of digital labor?)
Hamilton draws a “thread” between these various actions, and creates a parallel between this communicative labor and the labor of a loom:
Each scroll contains the possibility of multiple readings, and each reading becomes an act of writing. If the scroll is warp and the reader is weft, then the voice, transmitted in hand-carried paper bags, is a shuttle, whose reach is further extended as the script streams silently on the web.
The photo above was taken from the mezzanine of the Drill Hall. Hamilton explains what we see in the field below, from a vantage point that allows for a bird’s (pigeon’s)-eye view:
If on a swing, we are alone, we are together in a field. This condition of the social is the event of a thread. Our crossings with its motions, sounds, and textures is its weaving; is a social act.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Media Places: Infrastructure | Space | Media conference at HUMlab in Umeå, Sweden. As I mentioned before, I was very much looking forward to this conference because it would afford a rare opportunity to think, with relatively few distractions, about issues that have been central to my own work for the past decade-and-a-half — and it would allow me to do that thinking in the presence of folks whom I’ve admired and enjoyed working with for nearly as long.
It ended up being one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended — so well organized (thanks in large part to Patrik Svensson and his excellent staff), so thought-provoking, with such lovely facilities and such smart and friendly people. I cemented some friendships, and made quite a few new friends. Of course you can’t have an academic event without a few egos, and there were a few moments of abrasion — but amidst the collegial surroundings, they were fast forgotten.
For the benefit of those who weren’t able to attend (it was an invitation-only event), and in order to help myself jog my own memory in the future, I’ll recount some of the highlights. This isn’t an exhaustive recounting. The time-zone shift rendered me a bit out-of-sorts for part of the conference — particularly the mid-afternoon panels, when my energy waned majorly — so I don’t have reliable notes for some of the presentations.
Okay. Here goes.
The always-inspiring Tara McPherson started out with a characteristically lovely keynote about publishing infrastructures. She noted that, in the academy, we used to emphasize (even fetishize, I’d add) “deconstruction,” but now we’re turning our attention, necessarily, to a more productive, generative activity: building infrastructure. Focusing on her own work in building the Vectors journal and the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture‘s Scalar platform, she examined how these and other platforms “bring together multiple and diverse agencies” — and how the construction and use of these platforms enables us to think about the knowledge we produce and share with others. I’ll paraphrase one of her key points: Our infrastructures are us; their materiality matters. Looking to the future, she wondered how vast archives — particularly of popular cultural resources — can impact our scholarship. Can our analyses and writing live productively alongside our data? Can we combine the machine and the human more productively in interpretation?
Then Cecilia Lindhé shared her totally fascinating work on digital ekphrasis in the study of medieval religious spaces. In her words, she’s “rethinking the dynamic relationship between word and image with a special focus on how digital technology shapes, transforms and reconfigures literary representation.” Many digital representations of medieval environments, she notes, excise crucial dimensions of its performativity and materiality; we lose the sense of touch, movement, etc., and the everyday contexts of these envrionments’ and objects’ use. Referencing the rhetorical concepts of memoria, ductus, and ekphrasis, she then showed some of her own digital installations of medieval spaces, which incorporate recorded sounds, references to smell, and other means of engaging the sensorium; and interfaces that allow users to compare and zoom into images. These installations emphasize the processes through which the user passes through and experiences the historical environment; they “orchestrate” relations between the space and the body, between memory and performance. Lovely, lovely work.
I have to note that the concept of ductus, which, according to Mary Carruthers, refers to the “flow” of a composition, or “the conduct of a thinking mind through a composition,” totally blew my mind. What an incredibly useful concept — particularly if, for my purposes, rethought spatially, perhaps in relation to Bourdieu’s habitus. Ductus is dope!
Then Johanna Drucker, with her usual shrewdness and eloquence, talked about mapping in relation to the “creeping new positivism” within the digital realm. She reminds us that everything created within the digital environment is a fabrication, an interpretation with an ideology. Consider, for instance, the Google Art Project’s “singular monocular point of view”; or the Rome Reborn project’s presumption to use fragmentary evidence in creating a simulacrum of a whole city. Furthermore, we have to consider the contradiction inherent in representing Rome via a God’s eye view, when such a view would have been inaccessible to inhabitants of the ancient city (“I challenge you to find a single Roman account of a position from space.”) We make space according to our own conventions, she said, but we are “conveniently blind to these reifications.” Not only do we need to be cognizant of the biases built into our representations, but we also need to make another shift in our conception of mapping: we need to move toward regarding “partial knowledge” as a good thing — “good” not as in “this is good enough,” but good in that it represents a valuable “push-back against positivism.”
Garnet Hertz, an artist-scholar to whom I was introduced by Jussi Parikka a few years ago, then shared his fabulous work in the realm of “critical making.” He was inspired by the “back to the land” existence of his grandparents in rural Canada, where life was characterized by a “lack of infrastructure,” where “hacking” and “DIY-ing” were necessary for survival. “I’m inspired by doing things the wrong way,” Hertz admitted; intentional subversions and DIY practices, he said, can “un-black-box” our technology and help to reveal the infrastructures (or lack of particular infrastructures) undergirding our creations. He then offered a smart, and welcome, ideological critique of maker culture and its variants (critical making, critical design, disruptive change, adversarial design, etc.), contrasting “utilitarian” and “hedonized” projects. This critique flows through a series of ten lovely zines he created. I managed to score a set (Thanks, Garnet!).
Later, Chris Speed presented Comob, a tool for collaborative mapping. What’s interesting here is the ability to map relations between people without referring to geographic place. As explained on the project’s website, “The software allows members of groups to see each others movement in real time on their mobile phones. The group is linked together by a line that shows their relative spatial distribution.”
Katherine Hayles then offered a dense and rich analysis of the economic infrastructure and artificial intelligences in high-speed trading. She started off by addressing the particular temporality and spatiality of high-speed trading, for which co-location and super-fast transoceanic cables can provide traders with millisecond advantages in getting information and making trades, which translate into billions of dollars in profit. She told the story of the “flash crash” of May 6, 2010, which highlighted, as a blog commenter noted, the “facade that industry has anything to do with ‘people’ investing in ‘business’… [It’s] all algorithms, all the time.” We’ve moved, as Neil Johnson has argued, from a mixed human-machine phase of trading to an “all-machine phase characterized by frequent black-swan events with ultrafast duration.” Hayles wondered, “how might we recover a…sense of stability?” Humanists aren’t likely to contribute to highly technical discourse about regulations, but we can ask questions regarding the large social purposes that finance capital is intended to serve. Humanists can help to put finance capital in historical perspective and connect it to social responsibility and economic justice. She proposed a new field: “Critical Studies in Finance Capital and Global Stability,” which would be simultaneously an archaeological media project and a critical/political one. That challenge is for humanists to figure out how to “write in ways legible to the finance community.” My question is: will they care?
Okay, I’m going to have to start condensing these synopses. Otherwise, this’ll take me all day!
Molly Steenson then shared her exciting dissertation research about the Architecture Machine Group, predecessor to the MIT Media Lab. She highlighted various projects the group had undertaken — the Seek project in Jack Burhman’s 1970 “Software” exhibition at the Jewish Museum, the Media Room, the Aspen Movie Map, Mapping by Yourself — that ultimately led to their focus on “a machine that can appreciate the gesture.” I wish I had more time and space to explain how we arrive at “the gesture,” and what that means — but, alas, I don’t, and I can’t.
After that, Finn Arne Jorgensen presented briefly on Cabin Porn, which is exactly what it sounds like, and is awesome; and Eric Robes-Anderson shared her work — which I had seen, and enjoyed, on several occasions in the past — on the Crystal Cathedral.
Patrik Svensoon, the conference’s host, then talked about humanities infrastructures, including learning spaces. He used his own HUMlab, a space that many of us New Yorkers envied, as an example. Later in the panel, Nicole Starosielski talked about her fascinating work on undersea cables. We imagine the spaces where these cables land on shore, she said, as “friction-free zones,” but we need to acknowledge the unique geographies of international signal traffic. Those geographies are — contrary to our assumptions about the digital landscape — semi-centralized, territorially entrenched, precarious, and rural and aquatic. Nicole’s writing a book, for Duke UP, about this research, so rather than fleshing out her argument here, I’ll recommend that you buy the book when it’s available!
Architect Sheila Kennedy then presented some of her own work, which involves a great deal of materials research, and very skillfully integrates technology — electronics, inflatables, etc. — into environmentally- and socially-conscious design.
Then Jennifer Gabrys, author of the fantastc Digital Rubbish, gave a smart talk about smart cities. She acknowledged that the integration of digital technology can of course allow cities to run more efficiently, but wondered how relationships between Cisco, IBM, and city governments can change how we inhabit our cities. What does it mean when inhabitants can exploit these technologies to become civically involved — by practicing “citizen sensing,” for example — while, at the same time, those technologies turn inhabitants into “data points”? Smart cities are constituted of a series of “programmed environments” — material-political spaces — in which “particular narratives of sustainability are carried out,” and those narratives are bundled up with governance.
Keeping with the sustainability theme, Jennie Olofsson then turned Latour’s Reassembling the Socialon its head by exploring the ethics and politics of dis-assembling technologies — particularly screens. She demonstrated how policies and practices for “end of life” treatment of screens, including recycling guidelines, can raise ontological questions about “what a screen is.”
Later that evening, we were introduced to, and allowed to wander through, the university’s beautiful Bildmuseet. I particularly enjoyed the Dayanita Singh and Communitas exhibitions.
The next and final day, we started off with Fred Turner on multimedia exhibitions as democratic propagandistic devices. He traced a lineage through the Bauhaus, the Committee for National Morale, the Eameses, happenings, Bucky Fuller’s dome, Stan VanDerBeek’s environments, etc., and argued that these multi-screen environments aimed to liberate the senses of the “viewer” and promote “democratic personality.” I wonder, though, about the contrary aims of deeper-historical precedents, like the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk and Futurist and Constructivist performances and stage environments. I look forward to Turner’s forthcoming book, but I’d like to supplement his history with Chris Salter’s Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance and other tales of installations with alternative political aims.
Sylvia Lavin then blew the roof off (how appropriate!) with her talk on the architectural pavilion. She had written about this topic in a recent issue of Artforum, so I was expecting a talk that simply expanded on the argument she laid out there — but her performance offered so much more. Addressing the global phenomenon of “pavilionization,” she argued that these structures serve as “symbolic forms,” emblems of an epistemic dilemma incited by the digital. The projects can be organized into two categories: the super high-tech variety (which, ironically, often only superficially engage with the digital) and the low-tech “intervention-through-applied-sociology” variety. Again, I wish I could say more, but in the interest of time, I’ll refer you to her Artforum piece.
Then Erica Robles-Anderson presented again about the orientation of the screen — upright vs. landscape — and its parallels to debates over the orientation of the window. Both offer a form of “epistemic framing.”
Oh, boy — I’m running out of steam. So I’ll have to apologize for failing to capture the energy and creativity in our closing discussion, led by David Theo Goldberg. Much of our time was devoted to thinking about the consequences of humanities’ adoption of the “lab” as a pedagogical space. What are the affordances of this particular “infrastructure” for knowledge production? How does the lab create its objects of analysis, and how well do these practices apply in humanistic research? What gets enabled, and what gets disabled?
I could go on — but I must stop. Check out the Storify for each day on HUMlab’s blog, expertly updated by Jim Barrett.
I’m very excited to be making my first trip to HUMLab at Umeå University this week. I’m prepared for lots of cold, snow, and darkness (only four hours of daylight!, though I’m hoping to see the Northern Lights!) — but that’s fine: I’ll be inside, talking about infrastructures of knowledge production with scores of fantastic people, many of whom I know personally, and some of whom I count among my intellectual heroes.
We’ll all be gathered for the “Media Places: Infrastructure | Space | Media symposium. I have the honor of joining Tara McPherson from USC (one of the aforementioned heroes), Zephyr Frank from Stanford, and Cecilia Lindhé from Umeå University on the introductory panel, which has been charged with tackling one of the symposium’s central issues: “knowledge production.” No big deal.
I’m talking about “designing and inhabiting spaces where knowledge is produced through embodied experiences – and how those spaces function as both physical and intellectual infrastructures.” I plan to focus on five such spaces: libraries, archives, labs, classrooms, and galleries. I’m still working on the talk — as I should’ve expected, I’m still pretty brain-dead after finishing up this other big project really late last night — but if it turns out okay, I’ll post it here.
Animated Spaces: Experience and Context in Interaction and Architectural Design Exhibitions
Acknowledgments: I’d like to express my appreciation to Eva Franch i Gilabert and Paola Antonelli for making time to speak with me; and to Jim Drobnick, Johannes Goebel, Siegfried Saerburg, and John Weber for stimulating conversation on our “multisensory exhibitions” panel at the “Multimodal Approaches to Learning” conference at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October, 2012). Thanks, too, to my research assistant Alex Minton.
According to design theorist Malcolm McCullough, interaction design is defined by its concern with the embodied experience of technologies and the context of that experience. “Activity in context,” he says, “is the heart of interaction design.” Recent exhibitions of interaction design have sought, and often struggled, to capture within the space of a traditional gallery the multisensorial, often performative nature of the user experience and the richness of the contexts within which that experience takes place. In some cases the interactive object is reduced to either a static objet d’art, or a flat screen or graphic. Similarly, many architecture exhibitions have attempted to reinvent the place of architecture in the modern museum – to portray architecture not as yet another objet d’art birthed by a master designer, but as a multimodal, multisensory shaper of the material landscape that impacts people’s everyday lives. Yet, again, the “white cube” complicates curators’ and exhibition designers’ efforts to go beyond traditional materials – blueprints, renderings, models, and photographs – to convey the dimensionality and material richness of built space. In this essay we’ll examine how interaction design and architecture, both experiential fields, present unique challenges to the exhibition designer. But we’ll also consider how these fields, by virtue of the distinctive qualities of their designed objects, offer unique opportunities for us to rethink the relationships between the contexts and contents of exhibition.
EXHIBITING INTERACTION DESIGN: CONTEXT FOR ACTIVITY
Interaction design, according to designer Jonas Lowgren, “is about shaping digital things for people’s use.” Fellow designer Jon Kolko expands on what form that “shaping” might take: interaction design, he says “is the creation of a dialogue between a person and a product, service or system.” This notion of a “dialogue” between people and designed objects was central to “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects,” a 2011 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Much of the following discussion is drawn from my review of the exhibition, which appeared in Design and Culture in Fall 2012.
Curators Paola Antonelli and Kate Carmody chose the show’s nearly 200 “objects” from among 1500 suggestions solicited since Spring 2010 through a “Talk to Me” public blog. And while they may have initially planned to organize these objects into format- or genre-defined clusters – computer games, data visualization, interfaces, installations, etc. – they ultimately settled on five categories that emphasized the scale, nature of, and directionality of the objects’ communicative process or content. Objects focused on things that talk to us about themselves; Bodies examined objects that interact with humans’ physical selves; Life highlighted designs that find patterns in, and help users navigate through, everyday existence; City featured designs that facilitate urban communication and encourage citizen engagement; Worlds looked at designs that can alter humans’ perception of, and help us to comprehend, global phenomena that are beyond empirical observation; and Double Entendre addressed how designers can “script,” or design for, misunderstanding and complexity in an attempt to call critical attention to the ethics and aesthetics of our communicative practices.
The curators suggested that the various categories represented different ways of characterizing who’s talking to whom – but the non-parallel structure of these categories (they’re not all of the same rhetorical register or ontological category) and the tremendous diversity of works on display suggested that the exhibition was actually posing a much bigger question, one of McLuhanesque proportions: what does it mean to say that people and objects “communicate”? What is happening when we interface with an ATM machine, when a sensor monitors traffic flow and alters the timing of our traffic lights, when we implant or ingest sensing technologies into our bodies, or when we rely on Gerard Rallo’s Devices for Mindless Communication, on display in the show, to recognize patterns in our everyday conversation and feed us lines of banter, sparing us the burden of engaging in small talk?
Because visitors weren’t permitted to interact with most devices – a necessary but unfortunate limitation, given the nature of the show – the exhibition itself turned into an object lesson on the complexities and complications of human-object communication. In a November 2012 conversation with me, Antonelli explained that one of the exhibits in the show – Sissel Tolaas’s “Berlin, City Smell Research,” in which the artist “worked in various Berlin districts to distill an essential scent for each one, creating an olfactory map of the city” – presented an exhibition challenge. The scents, which Tolaas conceived of as a source of “information that enhances and subverts the physical and symbolic boundaries of the urban ecosystem,” were bottled. We “wanted to let people smell,” Antonelli said, “but then realized that it would be difficult; we would’ve had to use pieces of paper” – similar to those used at the perfume counter in a department store – “but then where do you throw them [away]?” Antonelli had at one time proposed a “smell” exhibition at MoMA, but eventually realized “it would’ve been impossible to isolate scent” in the gallery. Using scent is feasible only if “you have the luxury of space and isolation from other spaces.”
Sometimes it was the objects themselves, rather than the conventions of the space in which they were exhibited, that thwarted their ability to communicate. Few objects in the exhibition were able to “talk to us” formally, to tell us, through their shape, size, and materials, what they do. This communication failure was due in large part to the fact that most of the exhibited objects were typological innovations. A display case full of iPod-esque gadgets, metal canisters, and expressionless plastic toys – all “black boxes,” affording no glimpse of their internal mechanisms – easily could have been reduced to a case full of “stuff” if the curators hadn’t made available a variety of textual and audio-visual support media to interpret what those objects are. Each exhibit had its own substantial label, and many objects were also accompanied by monitors that showed the object in action. Some projects, particularly those that were performative, or that didn’t lend themselves to representation through material artifacts, existed solely in video form (the exhibition included roughly 80 flat-screen monitors).
In keeping with the interactive spirit, all objects were assigned their own Twitter hashtag and QR code, featured at the bottom of their wall labels. Smartphone-equipped visitors were invited to scan and save the codes for later reference on the media-rich exhibition website created by Stamen Design. For me, the comprehensiveness and cross-media integration of the website contrasted with the live gallery experience, where I found myself code-switching between wall text, flat-screen video, and QR code in the gallery, and, all the while, dealing with myriad sources of gallery “noise”: other museum-goers blocking my view of wall texts that required a significant investment of time and attention, guards shooing children away from artifacts that begged to be touched.
Yet in our conversation a year after the exhibition, Antonelli revealed another way of conceiving the relationship between the mediated exhibition and the live, in-person experience. One of her favorite pieces was “The Wilderness Downtown,” an interactive music video by Chris Milk for the band Arcade Fire. The video, shown on a monitor in the hallway leading into the main gallery, “gives you shivers,” Antonelli said. It embodies the “very intimate experience you need to have in the middle of a big crowd.” She drew a parallel to the rationalist architectural concept of existenzminimum, or minimum dwelling, which she described as “taking a volume,” like a small apartment or a boat, “and fitting everything in”; it’s “designing from the outside, in.” Antonelli prefers to think of her work, conversely, as existenzmaximum – designing spaces from the inside, out; creating metaphysical spaces, like those you experience “when you’re in the middle of people and you put your headset on, and all of a sudden your space is much bigger than the bubble.” She advocated for the creation of “several parallel sensorial universes within [the] physical space” of the gallery, and for the use of technology “in whatever way possible to make that happen.” In an exhibition, you can “create several bubbles that are communicating with each other” and thereby create a context for experience that is “at the same time separate from social space and also shareable.”
Of course pragmatically this isn’t always so easy. Antonelli cited particular artists – Bruce Nauman, Dan Graham, James Turrell, Tino Sehgal – whose work, for various reasons (e.g., its loudness or brightness, or, conversely, its vulnerability to visual or sonic “infiltration” by nearby exhibits) requires that “we…create a whole chamber around them.” Performance, too, creates interesting problems for exhibition. The various sensory dimensions of artworks or design objects present sense-specific challenges. Antonelli offered a brief “state of the senses” run-down: Sound works fine in the gallery when you can provide appropriate acoustic buffering. “Sound cones don’t really work, but headsets do.” Touch is often impermissible, “but if you’re allowed to touch, you can do whatever you want. The problem at that point is maintenance” – keeping things in working order. Smell is “still really complicated.” Taste is of particular interest to Antonelli; she’s been working on a book on design and food for the past 13 years. “It would be fantastic if we could eat in the exhibition,” she said, citing Rirkrit Tiravanija’s food-centric conceptual pieces. While several objects in “Talk to Me” were activated through touch, and some took smell or eating (or consumption, as in the ingestion of medicines) as their subject, gallery-goers had little opportunity to touch, and no chance to smell or taste. When these “other” senses aren’t directly experience-able in the gallery, they have to be somehow mediated, or captured through synaesthetic references or metaphor.
“[T]he key to effective and elegant communication,” Antonelli writes in the “Talk to Me” exhibition catalogue, “is choosing the right [medium or channel], the right interpreter. The most recent technology, in other words, may not be the most appropriate.” “Talk to Me” employed a variety of channels of communication that, in the end, might not have coalesced into the most “effective” interpreter of the works on display and the exhibition’s core concepts. The exhibition of course talked to us formally, materially. Only an on-site viewing of the concrete object – impenetrable black box though it may be – allowed us to perceive its textures and scale, to observe its blinking lights, to appreciate the visceral impact of its beeps and squawks. But all this was just stimulus until we knew what those textures and blinking lights meant. That’s where the “captions” – texts and videos on the wall and on the web – came in, but those captions didn’t always lend themselves to easy consumption in the gallery space.
Recall McCullough’s characterization of interaction design as being centrally concerned with “activity in context” and embodied experience. “Talk to Me” was itself an extraordinarily complex task of interaction design; its curators designed a context for visitors’ interactions with exhibits that in turn represented how objects created communication experiences. The exhibition’s various channels of communication – on-site and online; material, textual and audiovisual – collectively constructed its context for communication. But the “media mix,” as they say in the advertising world, cultivated a not-so-interactive experience. Visitors we able to touch a few objects’ control screens and play with a few robots, but for the most part, our “talking to” the objects was limited to tweeting and reading about the objects on the exhibition website.
Communication is an experience, a context – it’s “feedback or dialogue between the mechanism and its environment,” an “organic unity of interprocess,” McLuhan said – not a thing. The “vitrine and wall-text”-centric museological culture lends itself to a focus on things. Perhaps a series of live performances or demonstrations of these objects talking, communicating, responding in real-time to user feedback and contextual cues, might’ve better suited the ethos, the experience, of interaction design. The challenge is to develop exhibition practices that provide appropriate contexts and experiences for art and design that emphasize multisensorial experience, the “activity in context,” over product.
Antonelli mentioned two past exhibitions at MoMA that prioritized the visitor’s multisensorial experience. Her first examples was Terence Riley’s 1999 “Unprivate House” show, which featured recreated domestic interiors. Second was her own first show at the museum, “Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design” (1995), which placed, on a ledge near many of the exhibited pieces, “copies that people could touch.” Of course it’s one thing to allow visitors to handle samples of woods, fabrics, and plastics, and quite another to allow them to experiment with expensive prototype electronic kiosks and medical devices. But these concerns will become even more pressing now that MoMA has begun acquiring video games, and the museum staff is considering how to exhibit this interactive art form. Depending on the duration and complexity of the game, users may be able to play a game in its entirety in the gallery, or they may need to engage it through an interactive demonstration or a guided tour; and depending on the condition of the original game cartridges, software platforms, and consoles, the user may need to experience a game through an emulator, which may result in slight changes in the embodied experience of play.
In our efforts to better facilitate these multisensorial, embodied experiences in the gallery, Antonelli suggests, we might also draw inspiration from recent “unsighted” exhibitions, like “Invisible: Art About the Unseen” at London’s Hayward Gallery (2012), which included works that use bathwater, chilled air, and electromagnetic waves as their media; and the “Dialogue in the Dark,” program, in which “visitors are lead by blind guides in groups through specially constructed dark rooms in which scent, sound, wind, temperature and texture convey the characteristics of daily environments.” She recalled another exhibition in Italy, “where they gave you a flashlight” to explore in the dark; such a show would be “impossible” at MoMA, she admits, “because of regulations.” “I don’t think the public would have any problem” with being invited to use other senses, or their whole bodies, to engage with an exhibition. “The problems are all on our” – the institutional – “side, and they’re all pragmatic. Our [main] challenges have to do with the perceived safety of our audiences and our (gallery) spaces” and exhibited objects. Curator-scholar Jim Drobnick agrees that the institution presents many barriers to multisensory experiences. At the “Multimodal Approaches to Learning” conference at the Metropolitan Museum in October 2012, on a “multisensory exhibitions” panel that I chaired, Drobnick acknowledged that curators and exhibition designers have to contend with HVAC systems, with ubiquitous deodorization, and with the fact that galleries’ open plans and permeable walls promote the intermixing of senses. Exhibition designers are thus commonly left to convey different senses through different technologies.
But unlike Antonelli, he suggested that the audience presents challenges and poses resistance, too. He wonders how to pull museum- and gallery-goers out of their uncritical (and often unconscious) adoption of ocularcentric ways of encountering the world; and how to get them to recalibrate their senses, or to use them in different ratios, particularly when they aren’t likely to have either training in “controlled” sensation or a discourse to talk about it. Drobnick advocated, too, that we consider the critical possibilities of designing unpleasant sensation — bad smells, rough textures, etc. — that compel us to question our values and ideologies, including those embodied in our ocularcentrism. Exhibition designers also have to be conscious of visitors’ potential for “smell fatigue” or anosmia (inability to smell) — and of the ethical implications of sensory engagement; visitors usually come to a museum or gallery, he said, with particular expectations regarding how they’ll interact with the work on display, and with one another.
EXHIBITING ARCHITECTURE: ATMOSPHERE AND DYNAMICS
MoMA’s 2008 “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling” exhibition gave visitors the option of exploring full-scale models of pre-fabricated housing, commissioned specifically for the show, in a vacant lot next to the museum. I visited the show one hot summer day, and I recall that, after exploring the indoor portion of the exhibition in air-conditioned comfort, some of my companions – particularly those with children – chose not to wander out to the side lot and expend the effort to climb the models’ multiple flights of stairs in order. They were willing to forgo an opportunity to engage with the exhibition in an “immersive,” “embodied” fashion.
Architecture exhibitions haven’t always been so physically demanding or interactive. Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s chief curator of architecture and design, and creator of the “Home Delivery” exhibition, claims that “[A]ll too rarely in the history of architectural exhibitions has the salonlike presentation of the seminal 1932 ‘Modern Architecture,’ the so-called International Style exhibition of Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, been broken with in any fundamental way.” Fellow curator Henry Urbach concurs: “architectural projects were sublimated to conventions of exhibiting art in order to enter the modern museum… Johnson placed the models on tablecloth-covered bases, as if small sculptures, and instructed the installation crew ‘to hang the photographs as if paintings.’” The International Style show foregrounded the “individual genius” of the architects above the designs’ social and political contexts – and when the museum launched its Department of Industrial Art, later called Design, the existing Department of Architecture was further distinguished as being primarily concerned with “architecture as a fine art,” unlike Design, which concerned itself with “function, cost, and building.” Through this museological “framing,” architecture’s “capacity to produce atmosphere” – what Urbach describes as a “vibe,” a multisensory spatial context for its embodied experience – “was lost.”
At the same time, though, even in the International Style exhibition, the museum’s “aestheticizing vision” was challenged, notably by Lewis Mumford, in a section of the exhibition that critiqued the current housing conditions in New York and thereby proposed the exhibition “as a form of social and political engagement.” MoMA also began to “embrac[e] the technique of full-scale demonstration houses employed for so long in world’s fairs and building exhibitions and even – most pertinently – in the marketing strategies of home builders.” In 1940 curator John McAndrew planned to exhibit a full-scale Usonian house as part of the Frank Lloyd Wright retrospective, and in 1941 Buckminster Fuller presented his Dymaxion Deployment Unit. In 1949 Marcel Breuer brought to the museum a model home, the first in MoMA’s highly influential House in the Museum Garden series, which, Bergdoll says, helped “to break down the distinction between the practice and the display of architecture” – and, I would add, allowed for a reintegration of what Urbach calls “atmosphere.” Bergdoll regarded “Home Delivery” as a renewal of the House in the Garden legacy.
Since the 1960s, there has been a surge of scholarly interest in architectural exhibitions and in the number of such exhibitions. We’ve also seen the rise of dedicated architecture museums and the Venice Biennale of Architecture. With these increased opportunities for exhibiting architecture has come a reconsideration of the purposes and audiences of exhibition, and an exploration of various approaches to exhibition design. Curator Fleur Watson distinguishes between (1) exhibitions that “record” the work of individual architects or practices and tend to adopt a documentary style, making use of photographs, drawings, and other archival material; (2) those that “research” “the action and activity of designing and building,” and can make use of sketches, prototypes, models, samples, etc., to study the hands-on process of design; or utilize installations as a means for “testing spatial propositions”; and (3) those that “reflect” on larger conceptual concerns, global themes, or “movements,” frequently through the form of group shows or bienniales.
These various exhibitionary functions, as Watson suggests, call for appropriate modes of presentation, which in turn encompass distinctive exhibition media. Jonathan Hale and Holger Schnädelbach propose a typology:
The “book-on-the-wall” model makes use of photos, drawings, and panels of text. While we have to acknowledge the “experiential limits of a mainly two-dimensional presentation format,” we can also appreciate the “benefit of graphical abstraction, allowing a specific focus on thematic issues without the real-world ‘distractions’ of the building programme, contents, and context.”
The “salvage yard” approach makes use of “full-size building fragments – material samples, components and constructional assemblies – in order to provide some degree of real-life spatial experience while also referring to the temporal process of construction.”
The “office/studio/workshop” model “tries to sidestep the problem of capturing experience of built space and instead focuses on the story of its creation.” It presents materials produced during the process of design – drawings, sketches, mock-ups, models.
Felicity Scott, Director of the Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture Masters program at Columbia University, recognizes that there are “multiple operating platforms” for architectural representation, display, and engagement. She sees the exhibition platform in particular – in part because it’s typically removed from real-world practice and allows for a “’suspension’ from utility” – as “central to opening new lines of research, testing new formats, technologies, and programmatic investigations, and launching new polemics and conceptual claims for where architecture might head.” The founding of Scott’s program in 2009 signaled the presence of much critical thinking about the architecture exhibition itself as a medium – or, rather, a meta-medium that incorporates other media, ranging from drawings, photos, and animations, to building fragments, scale models and even workshops or performances.
Curator and design writer Carson Chan points out a paradox inherent in the exhibition-as-medium: “How can architecture be at once the object and the context of display?” Architecture exhibitions do, after all, exhibit architecture inside architecture. Equally confounding, notes architectural historian and curator Kurt Forster, is “the impossibility of showing what architecture is really like rather than merely elaborating the means of its representations.” In other words, the architecture exhibition typically exhibits not architecture, but the many modalities through which it’s represented or mediated. Hale and Schnädelbach say that this “absence of the work itself” – of architecture as it exists, whole and complete, in the world – means the “absence of the multi-sensory and dynamic experience of a real three-dimensional architecture space unfolding in time.”
But if, as Chan acknowledged, architecture also serves as the context for the display of architecture, exhibition visitors can still enjoy a “multisensory and dynamic experience” as they traverse the three-dimensional gallery space. And perhaps exhibition designers can promote experiences that enable visitors to translate their embodied experience of the architectural gallery context into an understanding of the architectural objects on display. “The exhibitionary setting is,” after all, “both representation and experiential,” notes museum studies scholar Jennifer Carter. She continues:
The appropriation of architectural tropes of maps and labyrinths in exhibition design, the heightened attention paid to creating immersive environments through installations, and the role of sensory aesthetics that transcend the visual to incorporate the olfactory or haptic senses within this practice provide these sites with the means to come to life not only as didactic exercises but as highly developed sensorial environments as well. Thus beyond fulfilling a certain documentary or informational imperative, when designed well, the content and form of the architectural exhibition are capable of expanding upon the didactic representation of material (such as wall texts and objects) to allude to what is endemic to the subject itself: building in space.
In his own work, Urbach has consistently created immersive installations and attended to sensory aesthetics. Much of that sensory environment is provided by the architectural context, “the frame, the container” – in other words, the gallery and all its exhibitionary variables, which include:
the architecture of the gallery; lighting and décor; furniture; interpretive elements; the activity and comportment of people, including security guards and other visitors; the ideas and affects that fill the air; the museological, curatorial, and artistic practices that discursively support the objects; the interpretive practices that support the activity of the viewers, and so forth. Smells and sounds, too.
Together these elements construct the “atmosphere,” the “vibe” of an exhibition, which is “something to be felt and inhabited,” rather than merely looked at from a critical distance. Urbach regards the production of atmosphere as one of his jobs as a curator. In 2004, in his former New York gallery, he hosted Freecell’s “Moistscape” installation, in which a three-dimensional steel frame supported a garden of moss. Underfoot, a rubber floor created a particular buoyancy and generated a distinctive smell that permeated the gallery’s cool, damp air. The gallery’s final show, by Jürgen Mayer H., involved coating the room’s surfaces with heat-sensitive paint, which served as a record of visitors’ physical contact with the exhibition. In this case, the architectural context of the gallery was simultaneously the architectural object on display.
Urbach identifies a number of additional precedents from which architectural exhibition designers and curators could draw inspiration: Lina Bo Bardi’s installation design work at the Sao Paulo Museum of Art in the 50s and 60s; Philip Ursprung’s “Herzog & de Meuron: Archaeology of the Mind” at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in 2003; Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 “Weather Project” at the Tate Modern; and Mike and Doug Starn’s Big Bambú installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010. In a similar vein, I would also add, are the Whitney Museum’s 2003 “Scanning: The Aberrant Architectures of Diller + Scofidio,” and the architects’ Blur Building, an inhabitable cloud of water vapor constructed for the Swiss Expo 2002.
Also instructive is 2005’s “Beauty and Waste in the Architecture of Herzog & De Meuron” at the Netherlands Architecture Institute. The exhibition contained design media in a variety of formats – all the “accumulated waste” of the architects’ design process. One of those material artifacts was a fragrance. Creating a scent, the designers said, enabled them to capture the “elusive emotions that define the aura of a place,” and which “pla[y] a role in our perception of architecture.” On occasion of the exhibition the architects created a limited edition perfume, “Rotterdam,” with characteristic hints of Rhine water, dog, hashish, algae, vin chaud, fur and tangerine.
Carter holds up the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s 2000 “Shaping the Great City: Modern Architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937” as exemplary, too. She regards it not only a departure for the CCA from their previous shows, which kept with the “fine arts paradigm” of exhibition design; but also as an exemplar of immersive, engaging exhibition design in which form echoes content. With its modular, grid construction, “it was the infrastructure to an exhibition on infrastructure, borrowing in form, function, and materiality from that which it intended to exhibit.” “One progressed through the exhibition in the manner of a promenade – stepping over steel bars, dodging between modular units”; the exhibition thus constituted “an itinerary…that unfolds as the visitors progress through the installation, and the sensorial effect of the environment as a whole.”
This embodied, dynamic experience of an “unfolding” program also characterized a Fall 2012 exhibition at New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture, where I met with director Eva Franch i Gilabert. “Past Futures, Present, Futures” featured 101 “alternative visions for the present and future of the city,” each represented on an informational sticker affixed to the back of reflective panel in a curved wall of vertical blinds. Franch explained that “the exhibition is breaking the entire site of display”; it deconstructs the visitor’s experience “conceptually, sensorially.” The walls break up the gallery into various “rooms” (including one where visitors can sit and inscribe their own visions for the urban future), which one can access by passing through the maze of blinds. At the same time, the individual panels break up the wall plane – and the information it’s presenting – into discrete units. When you move through the space,” Franch explained, on each panel “you see a new fragment of the knowledge” represented in the show. QR codes on the panels allow visitors to “see in the digital space how all these things come together”; thus, what is sensorially and conceptually fragmented in the gallery, coalesces online.
Inside the gallery are also eight speakers that broadcast the titles of the 101 projects. The speakers aren’t synchronized; they’re meant to “work as a kind of [sonic] rainbow,” and the implied movement in the sound is compels you to move through the space. The sound is also “transgressing the inside and outside” of the gallery, which is known for its multi-paneled exterior walls that are often thrown open to the street. The sound – if not the sparkly blinds – pulls you in from the street. Franch proudly declares that “there is no code that tells us we cannot be shooting sound outside the façade.” She’s clearly inspired by sound’s – rather, any “sensorially based and physically disruptive” gesture’s – radical potential. The senses,” she says, are “more connected to our instinctual, basic devices or communicative processes,” than to our “educated, cultivated pleasures…. They are more radical tools of action than [those] in a space of rational action.”
Smell, for instance, has tremendous potential in “new spaces of radical marketing.” Franch discussed how KFC restaurants reach out into the street by strategically positioning their ventilation shafts to lure customers with the smell of frying chicken. What might be the “radical” potential for smell in architecture, and how might it fit into the architecture exhibition? Franch asked: “How do we architecturalize our own smell? Think about how new cars smell. That smell’s trademarked… Now, how does a new building smell, and how does an old building smell?” Furthermore, “what’s the smell of the [architectural] future?… Maybe the smell of the future is neutralization… There are already offices where you can’t wear perfume. Maybe the future is odorless.” Storefront is itself an interesting olfactory case study: “what is fascinating about this location…is that in itself is already provokes.” With the gallery’s permeable facades, the smells and sounds and weather of the street flow readily inside. Thus, the designers, speakers, and artists presenting their work know that it “needs to be a lot louder [and stronger], because this place is already loud.” Franch said Storefront is collaborating with folks from engineering firm Ove Arup (through the gallery’s tech committee) to develop an “olfactory laboratory.” She’s not yet sure what form such a project would take.
Franch, who’s known as a skilled cook, has achieved Antontelli’s vision of integrating food – with its attendant tastes, smells, and sounds – into the gallery. Her “Paella Series” of events, which involve Franch cooking for her guests in the gallery, are intended to “introduce intense public conversations and debate into spaces of quotidian action, in this case cooking and eating.” It allows participants to ruminate on “architecture in a state of distraction… When people are brought into the most visceral element of what we do as human beings – that is to eat and share – one can start thinking about things differently.” Debating over food also serves a critical function: “The idea of the sensorium has always been something [considered] much more feminine… The paella series for me is a ways to bring those [feminine] things more value.”
Of course Storefront, with its history of experimentation and its flexible gallery space that literally opens itself up to the New York Streets, is perhaps more capable of taking risks than more traditional institutions. Yet Franch suggested that more “standardized museums” can perhaps use more “performance-based installations” – exhibitions that unfold over time – to better convey the multisensoriality of the architectural “object,” and to promote embodied user experience. Yet she cautions against regarding multisensoriality as an imperative: “The problem of big institutions is that they are interested sometimes in making something that is not tactile, tactile; making something that is not visual, visual… The important thing is to understand what is the real space of communication and action that each medium requires and demands.” There’s no point in gratuitously employing smell vaporizers or sound in the gallery if those media fit neither the space, the context; nor the content of the exhibition. Johannes Goebel, a participant on my “Multimodal Approaches to Learning” panel, agreed that designing exhibitions to engage as many senses as possible isn’t always advantageous, because it runs the risk of Disney-ifying the experience.” “One needs to always find the way,” Franch says, “not to thematize things without knowing how to bring them into relevance. Because if one just simply starts talking about smell, taste, [etc.]… then one just starts taking those things and codifies them…, capitalizes them.”
While distinct fields of design, interaction design and architecture both deserve to be represented in a way that does justice to their multisensory, dynamic nature. Traditional exhibition spaces complicate such efforts. But by examining these myriad exhibitions and learning from the experience of diverse curators and exhibition designers, we’ve identified a number of challenges and opportunities that apply to exhibitions not only of interaction design and architecture, but to exhibitions of all sorts:
The Exhibition Space: We need to ascertain and acknowledge – and, if possible, seek to overcome – the limitations our museums and galleries present to multisensory exhibition. We need to understand how various senses “occupy” space and design our exhibitions accordingly. Sound and smell, for instance, tend to “bleed” into nearby spaces, and therefore commonly require isolation or dedicated sensory “chambers.” We also have the potential to work with our gallery architecture, or perhaps even compensate for its shortcomings, by manipulating all the variables – lighting, furniture, security, didactic materials, etc. – that together comprise the “atmosphere” of an exhibition. Finally, when designing exhibition spaces, we need to take sensory experience into account from the very beginning of the design process. Acoustics in particular can’t be easily fixed after the fact.
The Exhibition’s Publics: We need to consider the capacities, desires, and limitations of our exhibitions’ various publics. What perceptual impairments might they bring to the gallery? How willingly will they accept our encouragement to think critically about their standard modes of sensation? What are the ethical implications of expecting our publics to engage exhibitions with their full sensoria?
Exhibition Modes and Media: We need to think about the wide variety of exhibition modes and media, and their unique affordances and limitations. How might we use technology to mediate various senses, particularly when those senses can’t be experienced first-hand in the gallery? How might we use these technologies to promote critical forms of sensory perception? What media and modes of presentation – e.g., full-scale models, manipulable copies of items on display, performances, demonstration of exhibition material – are best equipped to allow for embodied experience? How might we create dynamic spaces that “unfold” the curatorial “vision”? These questions imply that we also need to carefully consider the unique capacities of the exhibition itself as a medium….
Thinking Context + Content Together: How might we design exhibitions that embody the qualities – including the sensory registers – that we regard as central to the material on display? As Carter acknowledges,” the content and form of the…exhibition are capable of expanding upon the didactic representation of material…to allude to what is endemic to the subject itself.” In other words, our exhibitionary contexts and contents can better inform one another. We need to listen more carefully for echoes – sensorial, conceptual, formal echoes – between the objects on exhibit, and the atmospheres in which we exhibit them.
 Malcolm McCullough, Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).
 Malcolm McCullough, Invited Presentation at Usability Professionals’ Association, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 10, 2004.
 Jonas Lowgren, “Interaction Design” In Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam, Eds., Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction (Aarhus, Denmark: The Interaction Design Foundation, 2008).
 Jon Kolko, Thoughts on Interaction Design: A Collection of Reflection, 2nd Ed. (Burlington, MA: Elsevier, 2011): 13.
 Shannon Mattern, “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects” [exhibition review] Design and Culture 4:3 (2012): 369-373.
 Paola Antonelli. Personal Interview. November 8, 2012; Museum of Modern Art, “Berlin, City Smell Research,” “Talk to Me,” Museum of Modern Art (n.d.).
 MoMA collaborated with Parsons The New School for Design (along with International Fragrances and Flavors, Coty, and Seed magazine) on “HeadSpace,” a 2010 conference exploring scent as an “untapped medium that presents a remarkable opportunity for design” (Jamer Hunt, “HeadSpace: On Scent as Design,” Parsons MFA Transdisciplinary Design [October 2, 2010]; see also HeadSpace: On Scent as Design).
 I must admit: I found it difficult to experience that intimacy with myriad museum-goers jostling me and obstructing my view. I had seen this video months earlier, at home on my computer, and found the intimacy of that experience better suited for the nostalgic themes of the video.
 In a panel discussion at the Multimodal Approaches to Learning International Conference at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October 2012, curator and sensory historian Jim Drobnick acknowledged the challenges of exhibiting smell and taste when the entire fragrance and flavoring company is controlled by a handful of major companies who jealously protect their recipes. The proprietary nature of this “raw material” complicates any attempts to integrate smell and taste into the gallery.
 See Shannon Mattern, “Silent, Invisible City: Mediating Urban Experience for the Other Senses” Mediacity: Situations, Practices and Encounters (Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2009): 155-76.
 Paola Antonelli, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2011): 9.
 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,  1997): 348, 354.
 Barry Bergdoll, “At Home In the Museum?” Log 15 (Winter 2009): 37. Bergdoll also addresses the history of architectural exhibitions outside of MoMA, and prior to the 20th century. This deeper, more global history is beyond the purview of this essay. For more on the history of architecture exhibitions, see Barry Bergdoll, “Curating History” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 57:3 (September 1998): 256-7, 366; Jennifer Carter, “Architecture by Design: Exhibiting Architecture Architecturally” Media Tropes 3:2 (2012): 32-33; Phyllis Lambert, “The Architectural Museum: A Founder’s Perspective” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 58:3 (September 1999): 308-315.
 Henry Urbach, “Exhibition as Atmosphere” Log 20 (Fall 2010): 13. We find precedents in the late 18th century at the Musée des monuments français, where Alexandre Lenoir “dismantled the parts of buildings confiscated from ecclesiastical and aristocratic settings, deploying them as both picturesque and didactic fragments, but effectively elevating them to works of sculpture rather than dealing with the complex organism of the building of which they were so many momento mori” (Bergdoll 2009: 35). It’s important to note that some of these fragments were “the scale of buildings,” and thus potentially inhabitable (36).
 Bergdoll 2009: 39; see also Terence Riley, The International Style:Exhibition 15 and the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Rizzoli and Columbia Books on Architecture, 1992).
 Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen, Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2008): 9-10. Bergdoll (2009) describes many historically significant precedents: Mies’s Weissenhofsiedlung housing estate, completed in 1927; the Werkbund’s exhibition of full-scale rooms at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1930; MoMA’s 1930 Bauhaus exhibition; and the Berlin Building Exhibition of 1931.
 See Jean-Louis Cohen, “Mirror or Dreams” Log 20 (Fall 2010): 49-53; Sylvia Lavin, “Showing Work” Log 20 (Fall 2010): 5-10; Aaron Levy and William Menking, Eds., Venice New York London Chicago: Four Conversations on the Architecture of Discourse (London: Architectural Association 2012); Felicity D. Scott, “Operating Platforms” Log 20 (Fall 2010): 65-9; Mirko Zardini, “Exhibiting And Collecting Ideas: A Montreal Perspective” Log 20 (Fall 2010): 77-84.
 Kurt W. Forster, “Show Me: Arguments for an Architecture of Display” Log 20 (Fall 2010): 62.
 Of course there is much debate over what constitutes architecture, and whether architectural mediation itself constitutes a form of architectural practice. I discuss these issues in Shannon Mattern, “Click/Scan/Bold: The New Materiality of Architectural Discourse and Its Counter-Publics” Design and Culture 3.3 (November 2011): 329-354.
 Some museums have long offered special tours for visitors with various handicaps – e.g., Antonelli mentioned in our conversation MoMA’s special programs for visitors with Alzheimers – but the Newark Museum of Art seems to offer an early example of architecture-specific programming for the blind. In the 1960s the museum began to hold “Touch and See” exhibitions for the blind; the tenth edition, in 1974, was dedicated to “Forms of Architecture,” which explored, through various senses, the different available forms and materials of spatial enclosure (Sally O’C Townsend, “Touch and See – Architecture for The Blind” Curator: The Museum Journal 18:3 (September 1975): 200-205).
 Quoted in Philip Ursprung, Ed., Herzog & De Meuron:Natural History (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2002): 365.
 Also noteworthy is the wine “smell wall” in Urbach’s 2011 “How Wine Becomes Modern: Design + Wine, 1976 to Now” exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.