Monday, March 24, 2008

Interactive Elements at the DIA

Recently, I travelled to Detroit, Michigan to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). There were specific parts of the gallery I was extremely excited to see, such as Julie Mehretu’s exhibit City Sitings and Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket. Although these elements were personally pleasing, I came away from the gallery more impressed with DIA’s interactive elements and the reaction they were getting from the numerous school children in the gallery that day.

One specific interactive element took 18th century European porcelain and dinnerware (a boring subject for many school age children) and turned it into an 18th century feast titled: The Art of Dining. The DIA used replica artefacts to create a virtual, and imaginatively realistic, dining experience. The children were able to sit around a black table and with the push of a button, a projector from above served them a multi-course meal. The children not only saw the dinnerware in use as it would have been in the 18th century, but they also witnessed the types of food the European elite were eating at the time. In addition to the dinnerware and the food, the children were presented with the suggestion of butlers or servants, who waited on them throughout the meal. The experience left many responding to the dinner, some with disgust at the idea of eating rabbit, others mimicking a French accent, while others just silently watched, taking it all in. Overall, it took a static and potentially lacklustre environment and turned it into a positive and fun interactive experience.

Essentially, the DIA took this:

… and made it into this!

Throughout the gallery, I noticed that the DIA has incorporated numerous lively elements to appeal to a younger audience. Many of the exhibits have a ‘push button’ presentation such as The Art of Dining. Another example is the Antiquity Silhouette, which is projected on a wall in the Greek section of the gallery. The life-size silhouettes demonstrate a slave mixing and serving wine to a more prominent man. The movie displays artefacts similar to those in the surrounding gallery and introduces the viewer to some of the artefacts original uses. Again, this video takes a typical object, such as a Greek pot, and turns it into something unique and exciting.

Looking at our upcoming Digital History exhibit, The Sky, I see a lot of similarities between the DIA's interactive elements, and the digital elements imagined by each group. For us, it was essential to take traditional topics and display the history, while also trying to entertain and engage people. Whether it is an interactive model, a SmartBoard presentation or a digital timeline, each group has achieved several interactive elements for the viewer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blog Poll - Which Museum would you visit?

I am still not sure if this blog poll is going to work or not. I spent the morning trying different polling sites, all of which were easy, straightforward and provided the HTML code for my poll. Each time, I would transfer the HTML into my blog and, surprisingly, it worked... kind of! I am leaving this poll up to see what happens, but the poll (or blogger) seems to get confused once I actually enter my vote. The poll looks as if it will continue to show only my one vote, instead of returning to the list of choices. Now, I figure I will wait for others and see if they can vote - hopefully this blog poll will actually work.

On a side note, I tried the blogger poll option, available under 'Page Elements' and 'Add New Page Element', but I found that it was not what I had envisioned. The poll seemed to get lost on the page and the ballet box was not big enough to accommodate my five choices (although, I believe I could have changed this).

This specific poll is 'Blogflux'. I also tried 'Easy Poll' and 'Polldaddy'.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Comandancia de La Plata - Less is More

In my museology class, we were asked to write about our most memorable or life changing museum experience. I chose to write about The Comandancia de La Plata, in Sierra Maestra, Cuba. The Comandancia de La Plata functioned as headquarters for Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their guerrilla rebel army, while they planned and campaigned their fight against Batista. Visiting it today, the grounds are kept in their original, rustic style, with only one of the original cabins transformed into a small and equally rustic information centre.

The only way to access the museum is by foot or mule, and a park guide must direct you, as the hike is narrow and steep (not to mention full of wildlife such as snakes, lizards, birds, etc.). On your way up, you learn that Fidel and his comrades hiked a similar route to establish their hidden command centre. As you make your way through the dense vegetation, you pass look out points and thatched spy-huts, used by the rebel forces to guard the command centre. Once you reach the Comandancia de La Plata itself, you can enter Fidel’s cabin, which still houses his bed, beer fridge, desk and trap door (for a speedy escape). Also, the original broadcast hut for ‘Radio Rebelde’ still stands, as well as Che’s hut, the original stairs and trails, the kitchen and the medic hut.

Looking back on my experience now, with new ideas for digital and interactive museum elements, I believe that this is one museum experience that is better off without the new and experimental. It is raw and unrefined, and possesses a unique living history, that is essential to the atmosphere of the Comandancia de La Plata. Without computers, audio tours, televisions, Smartboards or audio-visual clips to alter the environment of the museum, you gain a greater understanding of how it was originally, when the rebels were developing tactics and strategies. With just the grounds, complemented by a collection of photographs, a large model and detailed oral histories, the experience certainly feels authentic and candid. For this site specifically, the motto, ‘less is more’ certainly reigns - the addition of digital elements would tarnish the overall appeal.

Photographs: 1) Our Guide showing us where we were on the model, 2) Fidel's hut with trap door and desk, 3) Fidel's hut (view from outside).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Surface Computing = Wicked.

Check out this video on Surface Computing by Microsoft!

I came across this a few weeks ago and really want to share it. I figure a lot of people know about this technology already, but I thought I would post it anyway!

I am not sure how this could be used in the field of Public History, but really, the possibilities seem endless - from interactive museum maps, to photographs of artefacts being enlarge and manipulated, to uploading a virtual museum tour onto your cell phone, this new surface computing could add a lot of pizzazz to an exhibit, display, or meeting (and it only (!) costs $5,000-$10,000).

Can you get more out of a virtual museum tour?

Recently, a fellow student in the M.A. program at UWO stated that a virtual museum tour can be more intimate and detailed, and that they preferred the virtual tour, over the hustled and detached tour they associated with museum visits. I was surprised to hear this, not in a judgemental or contradictory way, but in a, "Wow! I would have never thought of that," way. Personally, I only go to a museum's website for a few specific things, such as, directions, exhibit schedules, and possible internship opportunities.

I decided to look into the virtual museum to see if it was indeed a positive experience, and challenge my comprehension of what a museum visit should be (marble stairs, large groups of children, lines, tour guides, velvet ropes, gift shops, unique architecture, etc.). I decided to look at the virtual tour for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Having visited the museum this past summer, the image, atmosphere and tour is fresh in my memory.
I entered my virtual museum visit with an open-mind and I started out with four giant bonus points on the side of the virtual tour: 1) I was in my pyjamas 2) I was drinking coffee 3) I was alone 4) It was free! But my bubble soon burst when I recognized the painfully quiet sound of my own apartment. The onsite Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is full of games, audio clips and visual clips, which saturate the museum with the sound of music and musicians. The website was already falling short, with very little audio and visual interest. So, I thought I would visit one of my favourite exhibits, the ‘Revolution Rock: The Story of the Clash’ – as I remember it, it was loud, dark, full of onlookers and loaded with information, pictures and artefacts. What I found was this. White, clean, and quiet! I especially noticed that this virtual exhibit created a distinct absence of intimacy with the objects in the collection, displaying the showrooms from a distance and only narrowing in on one poster and one guitar. Throughout the tour I noticed that the Hall of Fame included 'Artefact Spotlights', which would change as you selected different topics. While this was an interested effect, it takes the artefact out of any collective storyline or context for the virtual viewer; instead, they just see Hank William’s White Wool Hat or Chuck Berry’s Gibson Guitar. In order to find out more about the artefact, the viewer must click on the picture and leave the exhibit they are visiting at that moment.

As I continued through the virtual tour, there were some advantages, such as a closer look at the Everly Brother’s Report Cards, which I remember not being able to make out too clearly at the museum. As well, little things such as Janis Joplin’s scarves, which were displayed at the museum among numerous other possessions, are photographed separately to provide a visible and clear look at the artefact. Also, the virtual tour allows the viewer to access things such as Past Exhibits and Travelling Exhibits, which you may miss with an onsite visit.

In some ways, the virtual tour did allow for a more intimate and somewhat detailed look at numerous artefacts. Overall, though, the virtual tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame fell short for me. I preferred the onsite tour full of flying cars, loud concerts scenes, hyper children, numerous artefacts, games, video clips and old Rolling Stone Magazines. Maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wants the virtual experience to lack-lustre? Perhaps it is just a tease to get us down to Cleveland, to see the real thing? They make more money from onsite visitors anyway – I have an expensive ticket stub and overpriced magnet to prove it!

Friday, January 4, 2008

P.S. - I love cardigan sweaters!

Over the holiday break, I had access to my family car, which resulted in numerous long trips to Toronto and unnecessary shopping. Fortunately, it also allowed me more time to listen to CBC radio. Although I often listen to CBC radio at home, it is never for a substantial length of time. This break, I was pleased to notice that the CBC was making great use of its archival holdings, often incorporating sound clips from the past into relevant and interesting topics for the present. From New Year’s Eve predictions since the late-50s, to the top Christmas toys from the mid-80s, CBC radio used sound clips to connect the audience to the past and harked back to different, rare moments in time.

Since returning from my break, one audio clip has remained on my mind from CBC's segment 'Flipback' on December 27th. Unfortunately, when I went to find the clip at CBC Radio online, I was unable to locate it. Luckily, YouTube had the clip that I was so desperate to share: 'Mr. Rogers talks to US Senate'. When my sister and I first heard Fred Roger’s voice, it immediately gave us chills and we became reminiscent of our childhoods. It also happened to send us into a discussion about our generation’s supposed sense of entitlement and the lasting effects of songs such as, 'You are Special' and 'I'm Still Myself Inside'.

Now, listening to the clip again, it helps me comprehend how powerful and massive a collective childhood memory can be. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran continuously from February 1968 to August 2001, daily entering homes and engaging children throughout North America. With his straightforward, thoughtful and calming style of entertainment, Mister Rogers was able to directly speak to several generations of youth. For thousands, possibly millions, Mister Rogers was a childhood staple and arguably an immensely influential figure for countless individuals. Thanks to CBC radio's 'Flipback' I was prompted to reflect on this important and strangely impressive childhood legend. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood takes me back in time and opens the flood gates on thoughts about the collective memory thousands share with me and Fred Rogers.

" So, let's make the most of this beautiful day. Since we're together we might as well say: Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor? Won't you please, Won't you please? Please won't you be my neighbor?" - Mister Rogers

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Being An Outsider: A How To Guide

Start out your journey by being a twenty-six year old, history student with a computer dating back to the mid-90s. Then add your gender as female and your hobbies as camping, reading, running and anything outside the realm of video games and computers. Then (and here’s where it gets tricky) decide to travel two hours to engage in a full-day Northern Digital Expo! This my peers, is how to feel like an outsider.

It is interesting to note that just days before the expo, I was comfortably engaged in my weekly digital history class, exploring ideas surrounding the digital world and discussing possible display technology. Reflecting on my day at the expo, I started to think: what were the major differences between class and the expo? Why did I feel so comfy/cozy in my digital history class, but not in the digital expo world?

It turned out to be pretty easy to spot the differences. For starters, my digital history class does not have dancing, Old Spice, ‘cyber girls’, which, I am guessing were aimed at the majority of expo goers – male, 15 to 25 years old. Secondly, my digital class does not have a deafening loud heavy metal(-ish) band playing while we are computing. And lastly, our classroom, for the most part, does not smell like a mixture of energy drinks and Doritos, which were handed out in large quantity, for gamers to smear all over the latest controllers, keyboards and virtual reality simulators.

Now, the Digital Expo had some interesting and more positive elements: guitar hero wars, large gaming arenas, massage tables (mostly unvisited), and the latest in Mac computers - but for the most part, it felt more like a toned down frat party than a digital expo.