The Museum of Modern Art attempts to inform the general public about what any owner of an IPhone already knows: how humans relate with objects changes rapidly. The exhibition “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects,” presents a muddled collection of technological innovations, toys, and data visualization. Unfortunately, the show lacked a thesis statement or opinion of the interaction of humans and technology. While museums often struggle with showcasing innovative technologies in the context of fine art, “Talk to Me” lacked a strong curatorial voice or institutional opinion to provide a readable narrative of the show.
The curators struggled with the presentation of the work, because the majority of the work was inherently interactive and performative. Instead of allowing the audience to fully interact with the art works, much of the work was displayed as artifacts from a piece of performance art. Stagnant and often behind a layer of glass, the inventions were hard to understand and visualize. To overcome this difficulty, the curators overcompensated by bombarding the visitors with copious amounts of wall text and explanatory videos. Even though many objects required explanation, the Museum of Modern Art should have stuck with its institutional character by allowing the pieces to stand-alone or with an interactive video.
Many of the objects within the show were witty, inspiring and truly innovative. The exhibition included daily objects like an MTA subway card vending machine to beta prototypes of bank Automated Teller Machines. Prayer Companion by the Interaction Research Studio at the University of London beamed current events to a group of cloistered nuns to provide them with material for daily prayer. The Avatar Machine by Marc Owens allows the wearer to walk around with the perspective of their body from behind. This is a common format in video games, which would create a truly out of body experience.
Things that the show chose to omit were the most baffling aspect of the “Talk to Me” exhibition. Throughout the exhibition, there was no mention of social networking or an at length discussion of the Internet. The show ignored the innovation of smartphones and the rising global impact of cellphone usage. Also, the show ignored the politics associated with the innovations like open sourcing and the activism surrounding different interfaces of the Internet. Even tongue and cheek video game displays like Gentrification Battlefield contained political undertones that were ignored by the copious mounts of wall text.
Despite the flaws that existed within the exhibition, it is extremely important for much of the art within the show to be institutionally recognized. While the MoMA’s efforts were often a bit misguided, the existence of this exhibition is a step in the right direction for the museum to embrace alternative forms of digital media.