Talk to Me at MoMA

Suppose you’re walking through an art gallery, find an amazing piece, and need to share it with everyone you know immediately. What’s the easiest way to do this? You could, of course, take a photo and tweet it – but then how will you fit in its title and artist information? You’ve only got 140 characters after all. What if this work of art had its own hashtag or QR code? You could share both the visual and the pertinent pieces of information on the piece instantly on any social network of your choosing. This is what the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Talk to Me is all about.

 Talk to Me explores this new terrain, featuring a variety of designs that enhance communicative possibilities and embody a new balance between technology and people, bringing technological breakthroughs up or down to a comfortable, understandable human scale.

Talking Carl

In the spirit of enhanced communication, each piece in Talk to Me had a QR code and unique hashtag to encourage discussion about the work on a plane that transcends the boundaries of the museum.  In a wild blur of form, function, and social media, Talk to Me featured a range of pieces from the most intimate to corporate design. I was lucky enough to see this exhibition a few weeks back, and snagged some QR codes of the pieces I found especially interesting.

Greeting visitors was a fun piece called Talking Carl, a friendly little blob that repeated what he was told, flinched if you poked his eyeball, and would fly out of view if tossed into the air. Carl is a game that can only be interacted with, not won. Carl set the tone for the exhibition, light-hearted and fun but featuring some seriously amazing technology.

Some of the pieces were mind-boggling in their complexity – E. Chromi is an engineered bacteria that won MIT’s International Genetically Engineered Machine competition in 2009. Others were merely masquerading as technology, as with this Analog Digital Clock by Maarten Baas. If the viewer looked too quickly, they may not even have noticed that it was not a digital display, but rather a video of an artist adding and erasing numbers from a black display.

Included in the exhibition was a redesigned and functioning MetroCard Vending Machine, which had an extremely interesting interaction with participants. I watched as multiple groups of people went up to it, started to interact with the piece, and were then shocked when it asked for their money – as though they didn’t expect it to be a real vending machine. Full disclosure: I did use it to purchase my ride back to the hotel.

The piece I most wanted to take home with me was the Wifi Dosing Rod by Mike Thompson. Colored lights lead the user to the nearest wifi signal – which is a whole lot cooler than using my phone to find one.

Talk to Me closes November 7th, so this weekend is your last chance to check in and tell your friends about it. If you’re in NYC, hit it up, and tweet at me - @rewilkin. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pieces. Do you think this interaction of technology and art is appropriate? Leave a comment, and in the spirit of Talk to Me, share what you think!