In New MoMA Exhibit, Borders Between Internet, Real World Blur
CREDIT: Museum of Modern Art
NEW YORK At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), it's hard to tell where the digital world ends and the physical world begins. The museum's new exhibit, "Talk to Me," focuses on how communication influences 21st century design, but its collection of mobile devices, interactive art installations and Web apps tell an even more revolutionary story about how contemporary design has blurred the line between online and offline life.
The exhibit, which opened here last week and runs through Nov. 7, presents modern design as a sledgehammer, a tool for knocking down the wall that used to separate computerized environments from the corporal world. Everything about the show, from an architectural design that utilizes the rounded edges and orange color scheme of the interactive iPhone app that serves as the first display piece to a nonlinear floor plan reminiscent of a website, embodies the breakdown of the online/offline divide.
The exhibition hall features six different sections, each of which represents a component of this emergent design paradigm.
The "Objects" area highlights how designers have come to think about user interface for even the most straightforward items. "I'm Talking to You" explores the design of social networking platforms. The "Life" section showcases how design has influenced data analysis, resulting in the current infographics fad. "Worlds" most explicitly tackles how designers have consciously produced products that erase the divide between online and offline realms. The "Double Entendre" looks at how activists use design concepts to deliver political messages in more palatable forms. "City" constitutes the most abstract section, as its contents argue that urban areas are effectively giant devices with which their inhabitants constantly interact.
Each section mixes art pieces, practical digital tools and commercial objects. The curators consciously bring the framing power of a museum to bear on the exhibit's contents, using the institutional context to provoke visitors into re-evaluating New York's MetroCard machines and PlayStation games through the lens of 21st century design.
Even the exhibit's shortcomings reinforce its message. Readers of this website, and similar sites such as Fast Company Design or Wired, will recognize many of the objects on display from their RSS feeds. Although this redundancy may give the exhibit a stale taste to a more tech-forward visitor, it also reinforces the feeling that exhibit hall marks a tear in the dimensional fabric, the place where the Internet burst forth from its digital domain and crossed the veil into our physical universe.
And lest anyone think that portal only flows one way, the exhibit itself reaches back into the Web. In fact, it began online, with the curators creating a website to solicit ideas about what to include in the exhibit. The blog continues on today, giving an exhibit about interface and communication an interface and a means of communication.
That Möbius strip of links connecting the physical and digital worlds would seem ingenious, except that the exhibit successfully highlights how design has made the bridge between offline and online spheres a ubiquitous quality of all products. Therein lays the ultimate triumph of "Talk to Me." It doesn't just highlight new thinking in design; it lives within its own subject. And, by constantly using the devices and services on display, so do you.
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