Elena Renken '19
In 1981, Ed Tannenbaum created the first incarnation of Recollections, a system that captures images of the people moving before its projected screen, isolates their silhouettes, and projects those figures onto the screen in real time. Each projected snapshot comes in a bright color, selected based on the instant that it was recorded by the video camera, creating vivid layers that quickly build up on top of each other — a surreal animation of anyone before the camera.
Since its conception, Recollections and its following versions have been installed in over 80 museums. New technologies have improved the system, allowing for high definition resolution, 256 images on screen simultaneously, and a range of 16 million colors.
With technological advances continually opening up new options for interactivity in museum settings, exhibits like these are still on the rise. You may have noticed apps and games offered by museums, encouraging engagement with the displays. Or you may have heard of exhibits whose content changes in response to viewers, putting the visitor at the center of the experience and giving them control of the show. New technologies offer curators more ways to involve and intrigue museum visitors, creating more multisensory and immersive experiences.
Until the end of the month, the RISD museum will host an exhibit that differs from the impressionist paintings and period artifacts displayed throughout the building: DiMoDa 2.0: Morphe Presence offers viewers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the work of “four young artists exploring the emergent form of virtual reality.” Handheld controllers and headphones allow visitors to become part of artworks, which are described as “meditative” and “claustrophobic” on the museum’s website.
One of the most well-known interactive exhibits to date was MoMa’s Rain Room, which takes advantage of three-dimensional tracking cameras to follow people’s movements once inside. Only 10 people may enter at once, and they are discouraged from wearing raincoats — although they wouldn’t need them anyway. The cascade of droplets from above is controlled based on input from the cameras so that a temporary drought follows each visitor. Rain falls around them, but not on them.
But not all interactive exhibits fill so much physical space. In the Netherlands, a project called Wonderkamers aimed to engage kids with an elaborate interactive game on tablets. This game was an exhibit in itself, allowing users to curate their own show as they perused the artworks and spaces of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Design specialists for games, sets, lighting, and sound all contributed to the exhibit, which took three years to produce.
Other interactive installations focus less on the visual, appealing to other senses to connect with viewers. Scrapple, the creation of Golan Levin, let users place different objects on a table, which is scanned every few seconds and interpreted as a musical score. Light glows around the different objects on the table while a specialized system builds music from the scans, determining the pitch and timing of notes based on the shadows of objects.
As technology improves, more and more opportunities arise for artists and curators to personalize exhibits, adjusting their art to each viewer’s specific presence. Museum visitors have a hand in the shape and products of these shows, which turn everyone into artists.