The ‘O’ in Mona

March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments

Last week I visited Mona – the Museum of Old and New Art, which recently opened in Berridale, Tasmania, Australia. Mona is extraordinary for a number of reasons, not least the story of its creation by professional gambler David Walsh, but here I just wanted to relate my impressions of The O, the mobile device given to all visitors who walk through Mona’s doors.

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Just inside the unassuming entrance to Mona I was introduced to The O, an iPod touch with a Mona branded protective case. In a quick group lesson we learned how there are no labels to be found anywhere on the walls of the museum, and that these devices provided access to information about the art. We were also given a pair of Mona-branded headphones, which have a retractable cord to avoid tangle problems, and the museum visitor-guide brochure. The front-of-house team made The O seem easy to use, and I happily hung it around my neck as I descended a spiral staircase into the museum.

The O

I had no idea where I was going or what was going to see, and spent the first 30 minutes marveling more at the excavated gallery spaces, than the art.  When I did start to notice the work around me, I didn’t feel the need to use The O immediately. I just wanted to orientate myself in the space and look.  Surprisingly, I caught myself glancing around for non-existent labels, like phantom limbs. It’s confronting to realise how ingrained my museum behaviours are, and it felt deliciously liberating to have them subverted.

Eventually I got around to the business of plugging into The O. I clicked on the pink cross, the device used geolocation to position me in the museum, and returned a list of works nearby. I made my selection, and received a simple summary screen with a thumbnail of the work.

The options on the screen included:

o    Voting on whether I +LOVE or xHATE the work: This was good fun, when I chose to love or hate something a screen returned delivering stats in amusing ways to show how many agreed with my choice. It is also an opportunity for Mona to collect some data about me as a visitor, which in the end made me a little self-conscious about my choices.

o    Artwank: Text in a formal curatorial style. Worthy stuff, but I was having too much fun working it out for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good artwank, however in this context it was too hard to read on the small screen, and my eyes began to glaze over.

o    Gonzo: This is more like it. Personal musings on the art from Mona’s owner David Walsh. He is funny, smart, and his conversational tone was much better suited for delivery on a mobile device.

o    Ideas: Perfect little text bytes to take you in unexpected directions.

o    Audio: In the gallery space I found the audio hard to engage with. The recording was noisy, and the poor quality made it a deal breaker. A good solution would be to have the audio on the Mona website, where I could access it from home. Many museums and galleries offer this feature, but Mona is yet to.

Once I had looked at a couple of works on The O, a message appeared to tell me I could save my tour and access it later online. All I had to do was enter my email address, confirm it, and I was done. This process was a little misleading. It gave the impression that I would be able to access all the content on The O on the Mona website after I had left the museum. As it turned out, this wasn’t the case. As I have already explained, there is no post-visit access to audio, and to unlock extra content online you need to have accessed the specific work on The O.

Another point of frustration was that the content is locked up by the geolocation IA. If I moved away from a work and reset my location, the content from the previous location disappeared, and could only be accessed again if I moved back within range of the work. I am not sure why there needs to be so much locking up of content. It seems to be out of kilter with the spirit of sharing that makes Mona free to enter, and attractive to people who would normally run a mile from an art museum visit.

As I walked around I found myself using The O intermittently. In one interesting instance I was sitting and listening to the Last riot 2 video installation, while reading on The O about James Angus’ Truck Corridor, which I had just walked past. The effect was like a mashup – a new experience made possible by The O. I enjoyed the loud, energetic clash, and it pretty much sums my whole visit. I eventually emerged into the late-afternoon sun feeling altered and elated, perhaps even a little in love with all things Mona.

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The O app was fun, addictive, easy to navigate and provided a seamless wi-fi enabled user-experience. Some of the content could be improved – and set free – but it’s early days yet. Perhaps even more interesting is that I liked not using The O. It’s existence allowed the labels to be ripped off the walls of the art museum, leaving the work without obvious instructions or signifiers. This shone a bright light upon the preconceived ideas I bring to any exhibition space, and how without them my unguided response to an object might be magically different.

My visit to Mona was a delight, and challenged me to engage with the space and art in unexpected ways. Mona did not want to dictate my experience. In fact, I was encouraged to get lost, explore and learn in my own way. The O device was my compass, but I was not forced to use it in any prescribed fashion. It was up to me to take it or leave it, and I appreciated the choice. Sadly, my visit to the website post visit wasn’t so satisfying, but I’m sure that side of things will evolve with user feedback.

If anyone else out there has had a chance to visit Mona and use The O, I’d be interested to know how your experiences compare.


This is creepy treehouse

August 27, 2008 § 4 Comments

A friend on Facebook has had the words ‘This is creepy treehouse’ written on her profile picture for many months now and I’ve always wondered what the f is she’s on about. The other eve over a F2F drink she finally revealed the meaning of her reference and when I got home I immediately googled the term and found the ed-tech blogosphere had been busy with creepy treehouses for months. The clearest definition is on Flexknowlogy – “Defining Creepy Treehouse” which includes:

n. A place, physical or virtual (e.g. online), built by adults with the intention of luring in kids.

n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.

what struck me immediately was that the repulsion described and commonly attributed to the kids for adult built or infiltrated social networks and LMS’s can also be applied to the all-age communities suspicion of inauthentic attempts by institutions to jump into the social networks. How many times have you run across a cultural institutions presence on Flickr, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. that no-one is maintaining in the way that’s authentic to the community space you’re on. It’s like the light’s are on in these spaces but no-one’s home , both frustrating and a little creepy for the interested community members and totally useless, even harmful for the institution.

The general consensus, and I agree, is that the creepy treehouse is best pulled down by paying healthy respect to the social spaces of others and the way they wish to use them, no matter what the age. Web 2.0 technology has opened up all sorts of incredible learning possibilities but the social structures we’re interacting with are more mall than classroom. You can’t force people to hang out with you in their social space or join you in yours, personal choice is everything here. To use social networks to reach students/audiences there should be an effort to build trust and you can only really do that by being authentic and finding out what that means and how it can be achieved. After all that you may still be creepy but that’s whole other story.

Museum conversations with children

March 17, 2008 § 4 Comments

Colo(u)rful experiences at MoMA

Jude, pictured above, my just turned 4 year old son would much rather watch a digger in action on one
Brooklyn’s ubiquitous building sites than be dragged along with me to another one of New York’s famous art museums. When I’ve managed to coax him through the door he’s usually lasted about 5 minutes max before the museum guards descend with their list of violations; don’t run; don’t climb; don’t shout; don’t lie on the floor; DON’T TOUCH! Not wanting Jude to have a completely negative experience of museums I’ve stopped taking him to see art and have spent most of the northern winter in the American Natural History Museum or the New York Transit Museum where everything is behind glass or allowed to be touched.

Last week things shifted a little in favour of art, I was looking at a timelapse video on YouTube of the installation of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at Moma. Attracted by the cranes hoisting sculptures off the back of flatbed trucks Jude climbed onto my lap to watch. Eventually he began to see beyond the cranes to ask what the sculptures were, he was particularly taken with the construction of Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk and after watching the short video about 13 more times he asked if I could take him to the sculpture garden, so I did on Saturday and was amazed and excited by his excitement. The MoMA sculpture garden is just beyond the entrance so all we had to do was run across the colourful floor (see picture above) installed as part of the current Color Chart:Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today show and out the glass doors. The guard told him not to run but he took no notice and soon discovered the Broken Obelisk – see picture below.

Jude with Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk

Because he’d seen the video on YouTube he could attach his passion for building sites to this sculpture, I think looking at art made a little more sense to him. He began to explore some of the other sculptures. In this good mood he even agreed to the Color Chart exhibition but again he lost interest fast once he was stopped from touching, back in the sculpture garden we stumbled across Color Lab, an interactive space for families created in conjunction with the Color Chart exhibition and in here Jude could not only touch the colourful objects but also had a view of his beloved Barnett Newman sculpture. At last a positive art museum experience for him.

MoMA education

When we got home we watched the YouTube video of the installation of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at Moma another 13 times.

Facebook, a list of positives and negatives

December 2, 2007 § 13 Comments

So all of the sudden everyone is on Facebook – the numbers for users of my generation, the Xers, have gone crazy in recent months. I’ve begun to use it personally and professionally and am pretty much addicted now, and because I’m living in New York it’s been a great way to keep in touch with friends and family in Oz. That’s the genius of it I guess, every new FB member brings another bunch with them, it just grows and grows. I am not 100% enamored though, I have a growing list of personal positive and negatives which I want to share and keep track of myself. I’ll be adding to this list over the coming months, so if anyone reads this feel free to add some, here’s a couple to begin with:

-Friend spam

  1. I don’t want to play zombies, vampires, pacman etc. etc. – it’s not that I don’t like you I’m just too old and don’t have enough time
  2. I don’t want to send notification to all of my friends about every application
  3. I don’t want to buy your artwork in an online auction
  4. I don’t want to ‘send this on to all your friends and see what happens’

-Advertising that you can’t remove on  the News Feed.

-I like that I can share what I’m reading and listening to with friends using apps like Music! and Visual Bookshelf but wish the marketing intend wasn’t so aggressive.

-Cool apps like ‘ArtShare‘* that fill your profile page with stuff that might actually interest you and your friends

-Privacy – Unlike MySpace you get to choose who looks at your profile and sends you those zombie invites. I see that you can hide your profile information on MySpace these days.

-It’s fun to waste/kill/fill time interacting with friends by playing the odd ‘identify the famous actor as a child’ quiz.

-Great to play with your profile and change your picture and update your status to let people know where you’re at.

*I am currently working at the Brooklyn Museum with the team that developed this app so I’m totally biased but nevertheless it’s a personal fave.

Museum and Educational Social Network (MESN)

August 21, 2007 § 1 Comment

Lauren, one of the curators for australianscreen online gave me the heads up about this article at artshub entitled ‘Facebook for museums’. It’s about MESN a new museum specific social networking site started by Kurt Stuchell. There seems to be a focus on ‘authenticity’ of material on the site and the provision of a ‘safe’ learning experience for students.

 We needed a more defined and structured platform that would embody the educational objectives of our member museums and present a clear value proposition to art lovers, educational institutions, parents, students, and life-long learners. The purpose is explicit: this is an environment for learning about cultural treasures.

I will keep my eye on this, but my initial reaction is that it is not as immediately as fun as interacting with museums on flickr or facebook – I’ll be interested to see how they motivate the above-listed stakeholders to hang out with them.

Tag talk

June 29, 2007 § Leave a comment

If I’m honest my tagging habits could  best be described as haphazard, on Flickr I sometimes tag my pics if I have the time and the head space, but sometimes it doesn’t even occur to me to do so. Social bookmarking sites are brilliant but so far I haven’t really become usefully dedicated to any – more often than not I lazily use my browser to bookmark, not really in the community spirit of things but it’s force of habit I guess. I do however use social bookmarking sites for research purposes, taking advantage of the resources created by those who are putting in the time to build and maintain great lists. For this blog my original choice of wording for tags was more for personal organisation of information than anything else. Almost a year on things have evolved, more posts have been added and I’d like to search my content using wider criteria, also it’s clear that others are occassionally reading ‘making conversation’ and I feel obliged to provide a clearer map of what’s within the blog.

I see how incredibly useful tagging is, especially folksonomic tagging in revealing objects that may have previously been hidden to visitors by more formal curatorial language. However the more I learn about how we tag the more I realise how many objects are hidden all over again by what might be called poor tagging practice. Words being misspelt, strangly grouped, split by plural or singular usage, synonyms, the list goes on. The wonderful payoff of not controlling how objects are tagged by individuals is the serendipitous element of each search, you can land in places you never knew existed and be inspired to find out more about stuff you didn’t even know interested you. Also, if you find another who tags like you then chances are you’ve made a valuable connection to that may broaden your horizons even further.  As much as I would like folksonomies to be more reliable it’s obvious that if we try to control the way we tag then some of the magic may disappear and we’ll head right back into the more authoritarian classification methods that negate the creative opportunities free tagging has given us. 

Tate on Flickr

May 21, 2007 § 13 Comments

battersea power station, originally uploaded by joelrawlings.

For the first time, Tate Britain is inviting members of the public to contribute to the content of an exhibition. How We Are: Photographing Britain takes a unique look at the journey of British photography, from the pioneers of the early medium to today’s photographers who use new technology to make and display their imagery.

For more info go to Tate online
or straight to the Flickr site