Last night, the World Science Festival and NYSCI presented the first WSF event outside of their normal spring programming. The panel was organized around the themes presented in the iBook that NYSCI produced called “False Conviction: Innocence Guilt and Science” authored by Jim Dwyer. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/false-conviction/id780517691?mt=11
It was held at the Cardozo Law School and had about 225 people in attendance,
I had the opportunity to frame the discussion at the outset, and here is the text of my introduction.
I met peter neufeld 4 years ago at the google campus in silicon valley at a conference called Sci Foo. Somehow we both found ourselves in this conference of very high-end scientists, big data and big think types, and as a result we both totally stood out from the crowd.
Peter introduced himself as the co-founder of the Innocence Project, which of course I knew about. I assumed he was there to talk about new DNA analysis techniques or some similar specific set of technologies.
But it turns out he had a much bigger agenda, which was to look critically at the underpinnings of science, the fundamental attributes of the way scientific knowledge is generated and used, and to apply to that to the most profoundly personal and social questions of innocence and guilt.
In Peter’s recounting I began to hear what we at the NY Hall of Science are always looking for: a way to connect science with personal experience. At the core of innocence projects work and and peters narrative narrative is a very powerful emotional response, a horrified personal identification, to the psychic distress of being imprisoned for 25 when you know you are innocent.
As Peter and I talked , we realized that the power of that narrative, its kind of breathless, pit in the pendulum grip, could be the mainspring for a profound examination of the role of science in society.
By now, most of you as sophisticated science and criminology people recognize that CSI style forensic science is a bit of a fantasy. But I bet you didn’t know that most of what we think of forensic physical science, hair identification, fingerprint ID, various chemical assays are themselves suspect and for a very specific reason: They were all born in the crime lab and the courtroom, in litigious contexts, and therefore lack the fundamental qualities and processes that make good science. DNA identification, by contrast, was born in the laboratory and has been subject to the rigors of peer review science because it did not originate in order to bolster one side or another in a court room.
As cognitive science evolves, scientists are demonstrating how unreliable we are as witnesses or at recalling and interpreting any facts from our day to day lives, including the facts of a crime. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that the testimony of an eyewitness, once held as the gold standard of prosecutorial evidence, is terribly unreliable. In our guts, we want to trust our eyes, and so do juries. But we are wrong.
So, untold hundreds or thousands of innocent people are serving decades in prison because of a fundamental misapprehension of science. False confidence in physical science born of the courtroom, and the false trust we place in our own perceptions, has forced the reopening of thousands of criminal convictions.
Peter and I were very fortunate to work with Jim Dwyer, who captures the pathos of the wrongly convicted prisoner married with cutting edge research in the physical and cognitive science, and spins an extraordinarily compelling narrative in False Conviction: Innocence Guilt and Science. This ibook, available at the apple ibook store for a special World Science Festival price of $2.99, uses state of the art interactivity and compelling media to enrich this narrative. It is the rich and moving exploration of the real impact of science on our public and private lives.
We are grateful to the alfred p sloan foundation for supporting the collaboration among The New York Hall of Science, the Innocence Project, and Jim Dwyer, and grateful to the World Science Festival for this opportunity to share this important work with you this evening.
Here are steve’s very thoughtful notes, which I am posting with his permission. Thanks Steve!
"There are some really interesting and compelling critiques of NGSS, some of which were mirrored in my feedback to them, others that really get to the heart of issues around curriculum and assessment in all K-12 learning, which could be summed up as permitting form to negate function. In particular, some important issues include (these are excerpted from my responses, but mirrored in the linked critique):
- Math is the language of science, and with the emphasis on engineering and technology, highlights the paltry attempt to integrate ideas from the math standards into the science standards. God forbid they use and equation anywhere. As reflected in the standards documents for both math and science, they continue to be safely siloed. What this means is that math will continue to be the teaching of equations, and science will be occasionally “disrupted” by some of these equations.
- Widely assumed in the standards is the understanding of underlying concepts and definitions of terms whether they are part of the standards or not. Ideas like: - Analyze and interpret data - Construct explanations - Engage in arguments - Construct models - Empirical evidence - Scientific reasoning Cross cutting concepts are even more cavalierly used. things like: - Flows and cycles - Cause and effect - Differentiate between cause and correlation - Systems - Patterns indicating causality - Feedback mechanisms - Dynamic equilibrium - Define the boundaries of a system (gets into cybernetics territory will teachers be teaching cybernetics?) There is no indication that these ideas will actually be taught,
- There are concepts that are simply misstatements of the facts. For example, they state that color is a characteristic of light, when in fact color is a characteristic of vision.
- Evolution has gotten better since the first draft, but there are still fundamental ideas that are missing, like human evolution, the function of the central dogma (molecular evolution), or other basic mechanisms like lateral gene transfer or endosymbiosis.
- They make sweeping and overreaching statements like: “scientific knowledge assumes an order and consistency in natural systems (3-PS2-b)” When we know that emergent systems abound in nature (we have an exhibit on this upstairs), and making believe nature is consistent and orderly ignores much of 20th century science, nevermind 21st. Anyone who watches the weather report knows this is just incorrect
- They are still scared by any form of complexity (except the traditional ones) and deliberately avoid seeing science in light of many new ideas. I can understand why they might not address morphogenesis, but they also avoid some of the key complexities around biodiversity- more is still better.
- They talk about modeling everywhere, without indicating even the most basic examples from traditional science, never mind more advanced ones. The pretext seems to be that software and computer simulations will save the day, without even having defined models or created any framework for scaffolding modeling. Kids are just supposed to model everything… of course without grounding any of it in math or computer programming. Its just supposed to happen by magic.
- the most important ways science is crosscutting through interdisciplinarity in systems science, sustainability science, network science, ocean sciences, even earth systems sciences, are not addressed in any systematic way, just stated as if they are just name dropping.
- throughout the standards is the gnawing teleological assumption that humans are different from nature and no effort is made to dissuade people from thinking this. There is a constant mantra of distinguishing the human made world from the naturally occurring world. It is extremely useful to compare how we behave and what we do as compared to other animals and plants as fundamental to understanding the role of behavior and the brain (something else that is conspicuously missing). But to make the artificial distinction between natural and human made is simply erroneous and makes everything from animal behavior to ecosystems ecology, more confusing.
This document (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2013/02/in_science_standards_draft_lar.html) is long, but not as long as the standards themselves. It is helpful in going into discussions about the progression of STEM education, and the potentially important role institutions like NYSCI have in moving science learning forward. I hope we can all begin a useful, ongoing dialog about the implications of these new standards and how we can respond to it productively in our work. Honestly, I had hoped we would leave the 1980s behind when we went into the 1990s, but I feel like we are reliving them all over again. It looks like the opportunity to really teach science will be missed again as the gap between the teaching of science and science practice continues to widen.
After a two year hiatus, I am back to teaching in the NYU graduate program in Museum Studies. The core of our class in Museum Management is a semester long project in “creating” a museum from scratch. The intent is for them to master what I consider the fundamental skill set for working successfully in a museum: Take Something Vague, and Make It Happen (or at least make it less vague). So the parameters for this exercise are very simple: they work in groups of 4 or 5, and they have to dream up a museum that they would find exciting. Drilling down, the exercise gets to the heart of the issues that we deal with in museums: what’s distinctive about the place (another contemporary art museum in NY? why?); what is the audience proposition, and can it be readily articulated? These are essentially exercises of creating the mission. Though they are free to dream, there is a constrained budget of a million bucks/year for operating (they get to invent how they got the building and permanent infrastructure funded, and they get utilities for free). So that forces them to think about how to staff the place and create programs, and what is the development and marketing program to bring in audiences, who is the target audience.
All this is in the context of a museum that was dreamed through negotiation among the small group,which may include people with backgrounds in contemporary art, anthropology, history, and media etc. So there is a strong element of collaboration.
Finally, they have to prepare a compelling hour long presentation, with visuals, background information, due diligence level financial and staffing info, technology plans etc.
Since the first time I did this exercise with students several years ago, one thing has changed dramatically. In the first couple of years, people were interested in technology infused experiences, with a lot of talk of virtual museums and online collections etc. By 3 years ago, all that had gone away, everyone wanted a social space supported by social media, lots of “first friday” style gathering places, places to convene and discuss pressing social issues, a big focus on the social aspect of museums. This year, though we have met only once, I detect a strong tropism toward “authenticity” real objects, real places, real experiences.
These ideas will evolve no doubt, but there was some very compelling thinking already about art in a contemplative space, so a museum about contemplation and individual interactions with art pieces; another about art and conflict, the art that arises from war; a third about performative or interactive art; and a fourth that is a kind of traveling and changing suite of exhibits that travel around to natural areas with ways of engaging people in the local environments.
All pretty cool ideas, no? I found myself energized and even moved to see how ready these young people are to jump outside the museum box and free themselves to imagine new hybrid experiences.
ReGeneration at NYSCI: Urban Sustainability, Art, and Science
My colleagues and I have been working hard on the design and production phase of a major new contemporary art and science exhibition at NYSCI called ReGeneration. When we invited artists to submit proposals for the 11 new commissions we planned for the exhibition, we talked with some fervor and fuzziness about the theme of Urban Sustainability. You can see the call for artists here. I can say with all honesty that in defining this theme, I was groping for something that wasn’t yet entirely clear. As the exhibition comes closer to fruition, and as the work of the individual artists comes into focus, what we mean byUrban Sustainability is also becoming clearer.
The artists are mostly in their 30’s and 40’s, the generation that came of age assuming that our environment was under threat. But it is also a very urban group, most of whom live in one of US coastal cities like NY and SF, and some of whom have roots in other countries from Asia to South America. While they think of sustainability as a matter of protecting the planet, they also think of it as a way of building healthier communities.
As a result, their work explicitly invites participation by the community, focuses on the human aspects of sustainability, including health, education, immigrant culture, as well as the more traditional foci of the sustainability movement, flora, conservation of resources, technology, waste, air quality, climate change, etc.
Future Farmers is planning an ethnobotany project that explores local flora and the ethnobotanical knowledge of local residents. They will conduct weekend programming into the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a huge park that NYSCI is part of, used prinicipally by local immigrant communities. These explorations will form the basis of an ethnobotanical cart and exhibit in the museum.
(this is an installation in San Francisco done by FutureFarmers)
Shih Cheh Huang is an artist from Taiwan who is lives and works in Brooklyn. He builds gorgeous living breathing sculptures from things that he finds in local dollar stores. He has explored dollar stores all over New York, and tells us that they are different from community to community. Through his eyes, these sculptures are not only compelling and fascinating, but find beauty in the story of local consumption, cheap goods frequently made elsewhere in the world, and commerce.
I will share more examples of the artists’ work in ReGeneration in future posts. For the moment, though, I want to focus on the core idea of the exhibition, the idea of urban sustainability. It turns out that this is a very rich vein to mine in thinking about how science centers, particularly urban science centers, communicate about sustainability. For a few years we have been groping our way toward finding a meaningful and compelling way to discuss this pressing issue. In several projects, we have been reaching for connections to our urban audience that would be meaningful, beyond the frankly unsuccessful strategies that attempt to influence people’s beliefs based upon the very real global threat of climate change and species extinction.
As pressing as these issues are, presenting them through the media, through museum exhibitions, books, articles, school curricula have not changed the trajectory of our patterns of life and consumption. Research is very clear that people respond to local conditions that they themselves experience, and feel empowered only to make changes on a very local level.
So, what if sustainability was repositioned as a deeply urban issue? If education, health, transportation, child care, immigration, jobs, and green spaces were the topics of conversation when we talked about sustainability? All of these factors can plausibly be influenced by local action. And all of them will make a meaningful contribution to the quality of life of the community.
Alaka Wali, a brilliant anthropologist who works at the Field Museum and conducts research both in the Amazon and in Chicago, wrote:
"[Urban ecology] enables us to treat human populations as integral to the rest of the environment. This is in contrast to previous approaches. From the late 19th century, when industrialization and urbanization began to dominate social processes and become subjects of sociological concern, to the present, we have tended to characterize urban life as Ymnatural," "alienating," and"chaotic". We have separated the cityfrom nature and drawn them as polar opposites."
Back after a lengthy hiatus, a lot has been going on. First of all, it was delightful to see so many friends and learn so much at AAM. I had a chance to engage in some great and contentious discussions along with relaxing into the cloud of friendship and support of the museum community.
The day that I left from NY, we held a prototyping session/advisory committee meeting for one of our major exhibition programs, which we are now calling “Connected Worlds.” This will be the centerpiece experience in our Great Hall, which in turn is being renovated as the centerpiece of our 2014 50th year anniversary celebration. 2014 used to be a long time from now, but it isn’t any more. So it is time to get down to cases. Connected Worlds is built around the idea of sustainability, which we are hoping to approach from a more human, local context rather than the beyond-all-hope-and-control global context. Its kind of funny/sad how Al Gore’s passion translated into his being such an ineffective bummer. His film has become kind of the touchstone of what we don’t want to do, scaring people about this global phenomenon that they can’t really do anything about and using data in misleading ways.
We have had had many long discussions with our invaluable advisors about where we stand with global warming (a fait accompli), and what we do next to mitigate its worst effects. I would refer you to the work of the CIESEN group at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Lab, who have been our principal scientific advisors, as well as the research on cooperation of David Rand at Harvard to explore some of these ideas. Suffice it to say that it is a difficult topic surrounded by a roar of conflicting opinions and advice.
The prototyping session involved 3 interactive full body-scale gesture based screens in which changes in one area either automatically effected other areas or could be moved through clever RFID design into another area. Design I/O did an incredible job of providing us with something really substantive to test, and we learned a huge amount. Here is a video of the prototype
The experience is of three large screens that you figure out how to interact with with very little or no guidance (you show one and it seems you are good for about 20 minutes before someone else seems flummoxed). The right hand screen is a representation of reservoirs in the mountains with water flow controlled by a discarded cable spool that you can crank. The middle screen is a corn farm, where by gestures you cut corn, and using a piece of rope, water the corn. There is a silo on the right that fills up with corn, and can be emptied by placing a RFID’d box next to the silo. The screen on the left is the city, where there is either enough water, food, and population (a balance) or not enough food and water. In this aspect, you can pump a pump and water flows into the city (this and the corn field both effect the water levels in the rightmost screen), and you can add the corn you have brought from the silo.
Given how complicated the set of interactions is, there was a lot of great game play, lots of people self organizing (or organizing under big brother’s [literally] thumb), lots of engagement, not too much over the top cranking/button pushing/jumping around like a maniac (not that there is anything wrong with that).
As far as literal learning goals, most of what people had to say had to do with water as a scarce resource and how it is needed for everything, etc. Overall, lots of positive stuff, and certainly indicators like engagement and excitement were in evidence everywhere.
We were very fortunate to have Cornelia Brunner, from EDC’s Children and Technology program participate in the prototyping/advisor meeting, and a follow up staff meeting. She was able to articulate something that we have been grasping for, and I will do my best to restate it. When she works with game designers, 90% of the work is in creating a great game. 10% is embedding some experiential learning in the game. 0% is given to overlaying educational “content.” As she said, as soon as a kid smells PBS in a game, you’ve lost them. I know not everyone would agree with this approach (there are some NYSCI staff who would argue strenuously, Hi David K).
This depends on a deep and mutual confidence between the museum team and the designers, and that is the subject of another post. I think we have the chops to pull it off, both on our side and on Design IO’s side. It also requires being crystal clear about the experiential learning
After much discussion, we have narrowed down our experiential goals to help people experience and explore “systems thinking” and “balance.” These ideas are a big step toward making the exhibition more experiential and less didactic. People can experience aspects of systems thinking, like feedback loops, and also engage in the idea of balance, as in water seeking its level.
As a matter of fact, water seems like a good organizing principal/metaphor because it is an essential resource for life (both biological and social) and also a bit mysterious. I always wondered why we should conserve water, its a closed system, water isn’t going anywhere. If anything, water is being added incrementally to our environment. The most recent exhibition on Water, done by AMNH and Science Museum of Minnesota (which is traveling, and has a number of excellent qualities), didn’t resolve this problem for me. Maybe I missed it, but if I did, probably a significant number of others missed it as well.
So now we crash on to the design development phase of this work, ending in, you know, a design…this is where the you-can-do-this and you-cant-do-that comes in, which I actually thrive on.
A question for the readers. If you wanted to create introductory and follow on experiences, whats wrong with a plain old high quality video? Ever since we hosted 1001 Inventions, and ever since Martin Weiss did Charlie and Kiwi, and Sean Duran’s wonderful videos for Amazon Voyages (mudfish!), I have become kind of focused on the 5 minute video. Yes, I know its not interactive, but so what? Also, we hired the brilliant Geralyn Abinader who started and ran the media program at AMNH for a decade, so I know we have the in house capacity to kill in that form.
I’ve been running a high fever this week, and had feverish dreams from about 6-9 AM about all the projects that still have open questions. We are placing our markers on some major commitments to new approaches as we speak, and its great to be able to share these ideas with NYSCI’s and others who read this post.
When we first started working on Design Lab, we invited a number of exhibition firms to come in to talk to us about how we might collaborate on this project. This process helped us to realize that we were not really creating an exhibition space per se, but rather an armature or environment that would support design-based learning activities. We would not be trying to tell a unified story through the space, but rather inviting visitors to build things, to test them, and to evaluate and share their work. The predilection of exhibition design firms to design…well…exhibitions made it difficult for us to communicate the nature of the space we were looking to develop.
Through extensive discussions we ended up by engaging an interesting, brilliant, and complicated team of two design firms with very different skill sets. We are working with Local Projects, a growing shop that has a focus on digital media; and Situ Studios, an artisan shop of architects/builders who pride themselves on building what they design. We are just ending the concept design phase, and are at a moment of thinking…wow…this is actually coming together. And the Design Lab team has been so deeply gratified by the success of this unconventional pairing.
Local Projects was started by Jake Barton, a graduate of the ubiquitous ITP program at NYU. It first came to prominence with the revolutionary and inspirational StoryCorps kiosks that opened around 9/11, and Local Projects has continued to grow and innovate through projects such as the 9/11 Memorial, the BMW/Guggenheim Lab project, work with digital media in museums, parks, and other public venues. Increasingly they are being asked to work on experience design more generally, but their core competence is around digital media, interactivity, and story telling. They have devised some really creative approaches to working with collections in museums as well as a suite of media education tools for the Jacob Burns Media Arts Lab
We have reached the end of the concept phase, and the amazing thing is how the two firms are gelling as a team. The image at the top of this post suggests the kind of integration of digital and physical that we are planning. Without going into too many administrative details, there was a lot of contract negotiation that went on to delineate the role of each team. The conceptual design phase was let as one contract with LP in lead and Situ working collaboratively with the LP team. The design development/cd phase, as we are currently planning it, will be two separate contracts as each firm’s work becomes more specific. So it will be up to us to integrate.
In the mean time, we have been prototyping activities with the public. You can see more about this in the Design Lab blog . This month we had visitors creating and sharing shadow puppets in conjunction with an installation of Design-io’s wonderful Puppet Parade interactive( see Design-io’s blog for more on our work with them). Its worth mentioning that the combination of Puppet Parade, the traveling exhibition from OMSI called Animation, and our design based activities, we have had record visitorship, with 4,100 people coming on one day, 50% higher than our previous record.
This week, we have been harvesting staff comments from the operations, public programs, education, and development staff on the Design Lab concept documents. There have been some really valuable and substantive responses. For those of you reading this who are at NYSCI, please feel free to go into the North Wing Conference Room and look at the drawings and connect with Peggy Monahan or me with any comments and questions.
For those of you reading this offsite, we will make selections from the concept design phase available online.
I went for the first time to the Museums and the Web Conference in San Diego this past week. This is a new community for me, and I spent my time trying to get oriented, finding points of concordance with our work at NYSCI, and sharing what we have been doing with new colleagues.
I went to a preconference session called something like “social media strategy,” and this revealed one of the thick threads running through the conference. People are trying to find ways to capture the energy of social media with two principal aims. First, to build audiences; second, to create and disseminate content. To me, the people who were talking about the social web to build audience were mostly looking backwards, reviewing what has been done: what are the existing channels, and how can museums feed those channels? You know the drill, from facebook to instagram to whatever has just emerged while I am writing these words, museums want to build audiences using these networks. This is typically managed by the external relations staff within the institutions, and the whole idea of digital medial strategies is fostering a whole ecosystem of consultants, experts, and software infrastructures (is django>druple? inquiring minds want to know.)
The second group were people who were engaging with social media to build content. Crowdsourcing, folksonomy, and other ways of engaging audiences in curation and program creation were represented with some lively examples, including the winner of the Best of the Web contest, the Walker Art Center. The home page of their web site, below the fold is all content harvested from other sources. I am not sure it is curated, or frankly why it won the best of the web, but it is a model that many were discussing for creating digital content.
From NYSCI’s perspective, we are creating content by engaging staff and project leaders people in what I learned is called “microblogging.” I am not sure that the term has really come into focus, though I heard it frequently. From our point of view, we are inviting visitors to become more attached and intimate with NYSCI through the creation of blogs like this one, as well as the new explainers.nysci.org and design-io.nysci.org. Many people expressed interest and admiration for this approach, and I do think it is a strategy that at its best can both attract/retain visitors and provide rich content for our web presence.
In the afternoon, I went to a pre-conference session on alternative interfaces, in which we talked about and played a little bit with arduino and kinect interfaces. There was a lively discussion about how exhibition developers think about interfaces (developer: kids just go around slamming randomly on buttons, banging on them like whackamole; me: then stop putting buttons on exhibits.) A cool demonstration of the potential and shortcomings of rfid (radio frequency tags with unique identifiers). The long and the short of it is that you have the option of knowing where a lot of them are at close range or a few of them are at long range. Still not ready for prime time for tracking visitors and allowing visitors to automatically personalize their visit (this is id#33, I like picasso, so show me what else I would like.)
An opening reception on the first evening showcased the San Diego Contemporary Art Museum featured a great piece by Ai Weiwei (shown at the top of this post) and a beautiful Doug Wheeler.
I just got to Museums and the Web for the first time. This morning’s workshop is on social media strategy, a quick review of facebook, pinterest, instagram, google +, etc etc. I think the thing that is interesting about these platforms is the opportunity to present actual voices from the institution and engage in a dialogue with audiences. There is only going to be a small group of content creators from the institution and a somewhat larger but more casual group of participators from the audience.
One reason I am doing this blog is that I think the institution is best served by social media when there is a real person’s voice, as opposed to a corporate voice (no matter how casual, frank, and open the latter may be). Somehow authenticity is sniffed out by the social media mechanism, and anything that smells institutional or promotional will be snagged by the filters that have become so sensitive to PR.
This is a blog post I did with IBM, along with a video, about the great Charles and Ray Eames exhibition “Mathematica: a Word of Numbers.” It is a brilliant exhibition, a founding document of interactive STEM learning, and NYSCI owns the original and only complete copy.
IBM has just released a free app based upon the Mathematica Time wall, check it out.
Suzy and I spent an hour or two at the Whitney Biennial yesterday. The Whitney is kind of in transition; the Marcel Breuer building has been sold to the Met for a new contemporary art department, and the Whitney moving to the Meat Packing district/Chelsea. I love the NYC churn of institutions and buildings, there are very few fixed landmarks and change is the norm. I also love that the AIA Architects Guide to New York City calls the Breuer building “fancy pants brutalism.”
OTOH, I didn’t really love the Biennial. It had some good stuff and some stuff that left me completely cold/nonplussed (unfortunately the Werner Herzog installation, which I was really looking forward to, was among the latter). There are plenty of reviews out there that you can read, xx loved it, yy hated it, and the contemporary art world shifts on the couch and directs its attention to Art Basel or whatever is next.
I was struck at the almost willful incoherence of the show. There is no organizing principal that I (a pretty active art guy) can discern, I am sure the curators have some brief that they feel they have fulfilled but it is on such a meta level that its meaning is completely obscure. The media were evenly distributed from clay to paper to ferrofluid to media of all kinds (actually, not, there is no online component that I have found, no apps, no interactive media in the galleries). There are live performances scheduled throughout the whole run, ranging from dance to music to lectures.
Not only that, nobody expects there to be a message, there is no “what is this about” “what is the big idea” “whats in this for me” thinking that pervades the science museum and history museum exhibition world. It’s all about a hermetic vision, a kind of puzzle box. One of the games you can play with this puzzle box is “why is this piece next to that piece, or why does this room contain these pieces?” Or you can just play the most simple contemporary art game of trying to discern what the artist is up to.
A very few of the pieces *were* about specific things. An artist who grew up in Braddock PA had a series of compelling photos about the collapse of that community because the steel industry has decamped. But that piece just highlighted the absence of legible meaning in the rest of the exhibition.
I sound like I am being judgmental about the lack of “meaning” in the exhibition, but in fact I go to art museums more than science or history museums, and i don’t read art for “meaning.” I love the way pictures, sculptures, media, and other installations look and am not all that concerned with teasing out a narrative beyond the scope of the work itself.
At the same time, we are creating two major exhibitions at NYSCI that are not first and foremost about specific content goals. Design Lab is about a process of engaging with STEM through design based hands on activities, and I am excited to be working on an exhibition/activity area that focuses on this process of engagement.
ReGeneration is even more complicated. The call for proposals referred to “community sustainability,” which are two of the least precise words in the english language (along with “design,” but that’s another story). As a sieve for selecting artists, community sustainability as a phrase seems to have attracted a genre of engaged artists to submit their work, and the jury of curators were surprisingly unanimous selecting from the submitted work. I am now thinking hard about what we can do to make this meaning more legible. We want visitors to feel both that they encountered some beautiful and surprising work, and also that there is some coherence and relevance of the exhibition to their lives.
How do you interpret contemporary art in way that doesn’t trivialize the intentions of the artist (this piece is about pollution in the east river), while retaining accessibility for our visitors? We are open to ideas, please comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Try walking through the Intel Science and Engineering Fair as I did today. The Great Hall is filled with a forest of poster presentations on topics ranging from nano particles for transporting proteins into cells to a statistical analysis of imaging that might (or might not) represent the transit of a possible moon around an exoplanet 100s of light years away. Each poster is attended by one or two high school students who are eager to explain their work to you, the visitor.
The kids are polished, well dressed, and the majority appear either to be immigrants themselves or the children of immigrant parents. They are busily kibbitzing and flirting, and most seem completely at ease explaining their work. Biotechnology is probably the best represented field, followed by environmental sciences, health science (such as the behavioral basis for over eating, or the incidence of health problems correlated with environmental changes), with a smattering of social sciences (the effect of “empty nest syndrome” on family stability.
And here is the thing that really stands out. These kids, just broaching the bottom reaches of science as it is done by actual scientists, have had to acquire an amazing range of skills and knowledge…just to get started. They casually discuss the statistical calculations (one kid mentioned “quadralizing the equation” I swear…) that are the basis for their work. And every poster makes you realize that science, even as it is practiced by eager and advanced high school students, is filled with specialized vocabulary and knowledge.
I am a musician, subspecies jazz musician. I just spent a day hanging with some world class guitarists (an instrument at which I am significantly less than world class). It is clear that just to get in the door with these guys (all men, except for a killer violin player, a woman from France), you had to have some serious knowledge of harmony and the chops to pull it off. You had to be able to hear unfamiliar chord progressions, play idiomatically and ideally even bring some creativity to how you approached improvisation,
Science, and to some extent jazz, have very “high ceilings.” There is a lot to know, you can become a superspecialist and be able to discuss things at the highest level in your field, but you have to put in years and years acquiring that knowledge and expertise.
What is the motivator that encourages people to invest so much energy into something that is not obviously necessary for reproductive success? (despite the reputation of jazz musicians, they sacrifice years of their prime socializing time to practicing and studying.)
So what represents the barrier to entry into science? How did the young people at the Intel Science Fair get so engaged? What makes them different from others? These were the questions I had walking through the poster forest (along with hundreds of more specific questions about the kids’ projects). Is it fair to tell people that if they cultivate innovation and creativity and scientific habits of mind that they will be better able to enter STEM careers? Or is it more likely that they need to cultivate the ability to defer gratification, to study something because it is necessary to get the next step, all the otherhardskills of becoming really excellent at something.
Right now, the question we are focusing on at NYSCI is how to engender sufficient curiosity, enthusiasm, and a general positive affect that they will wantto engage in this hard work. But then what? Do schools fan the flames and encourage persistence? Do families? Do social environments and peer groups?
We have been working intensively with Gigantic Mechanic, a NYC based game design firm to create a social game for our Great Hall exhibition on the theme of sustainability. We have spent a lot of time with dice and cards (my response was to make a game where you build a house out of the cards and dice…) in small groups designing games that we share with each other, then tearing them apart. Once we went into one of our large galleries with a bunch of numbered ping pong balls and created a “Waste Monster” game that had us running back and forth with the balls, trading them, shouting out numbers, trying a “hunter/gatherer” game.
We are trying to create an experience that visitors would come to on a scheduled basis that invites them to play for 20 minutes that would convey some key themes of interdependence, resource trade-offs, collaboration vs competition. This would all happen in the context of an immersive and responsive environment created by Design-io, who are artists in residence at NYSCI in March-May. We were drawn to their work through their piece Funky Forest where water flows across the floor, the walls sprout with trees, and who knows what all. Actually. we have a prototyping session coming up for that immersive environment tomorrow.
I am really excited by the spark that seems to be kindling between these two very different design firms. It would be awesome if we could create a large scale immersive
environment in the Great Hall that responded to visitors and supported the intense interaction that characterizes social games.
That would be a big enough challenge, but we also have to make it so the immersive environment stands on its own. And we have to make it so the space can be used for other purposes like rentals or Bjork.
So it is really a huge challenge, but for the first time I am beginning to get a sense of how this might work out.
The folks from design io and gigantic mechanic have been great, and we have added an awesome new project manager/developer Geralyn Abinader. She started and ran the digital media program at AMNH for more than a decade, so she is really a huge addition to our team. Another huge addition in a different way is Leilah Lyons, a PhD computer scientist specializing in embodied interactive experiences. She is joining us from U Illinois in Chicago. So there is a lot of new great brain power on this project.
They’ve kind of lost their touch in OS’ and their office suite is only good because its the one everyone uses. But they have been doing a run of cool physical/remote computing applications and hardware.
First Surface, which after a few iterations seems really to be a solid and useable platform (though I prefer scrappy nfp museum-y underdog open source ideum’s product).
Then Kinect, which is being widely used by artists and interaction designers such as Theo Watson and Emily Gobeille of Design-io.
Now this one, which is lamely named illumi-share, seems dead simple, and extremely useful.
I have this feeling that in the next couple of years everyone is going to wake up from the apple lust decade and find that a whole generation of interesting new products have grown up that aren’t apps and aren’t as controlled as the apple ecosystem.
This is pretty amazing, Electrolux using the web tool Pinterest to open up the design process to the public. Very unexpected and cool. Thanks to Grace Andrews of the NYSCI Design Lab team for digging this up.
Things are incredibly intense in all of our new exhibition development projects, and almost all the intensity comes from the kinds of collaborations that are at the heart of all of the projects.
On Design Lab, the Great Hall project, ReGeneration, and the Maker Space we have put together teams of designers, curators, educators…and all of these partnerships are having teething pains at exactly the same time. I have spent hours on the phone and talking with colleagues face to face trying to clarify everyone’s role, all the expectations, listening to various peoples’ frustrations and anxieties. Its kind of wonderful in a certain way, and an artifact of how strong the people are that we’ve engaged for these projects.
A few generalities…people who can think beyond their own parochial interests in the projects and look at the project as a whole are rare and their value is in proportion to their rarity. I promise from now on that these are the people that I will clasp to my breast and hold on to for dear life.
I also have really come to value people with a clear and persuasive response at the various decision points (at what ever level of granularity these decisions arise). I am more than willing to engage in back and forth, its all part of the creative dialectic, but it is hard to engage with people who don’t have lucid instincts and have the ability to be analytical and strong in expressing these instincts.
Someone told me (maybe Paul Orselli or Jeff Kennedy) that whenever the answer at an exhibition decision point is “both” you have the wrong answer. I don’t know about that. There is a lot of synthesis, combining of ideas, finding a middle way that seems to be part of the decision making process in exhibitions.
Its time to keep the eyes wide open, listen to everything that the project teams are saying, try stuff out, raise lots of money, and keep trying to carve away everything that isn’t strong in our ideas.
In the mean time, I want to get a t-shirt that says “No More Bored Kids.” This group doing design lab prototyping was from the Bronx, and having a great time.
The Design Lab staff and Explainers have been prototyping 3 activities, Circuit City (with LED’s, batteries, foil, and various building materials); Dowels and Rubberbands; and Recycle City (with recycled materials and zoobs). In general, the buzz has been really beautiful to watch, the kind of calm and cooperative concentration that suggests a level of “flow” that great state of intense and playful focus. Scott Burg and Molly Reisman, the evaluation team from Rockman et al are here, and I think that they share our enthusiasm for the Design Lab work.
Our Explainers have an invitation only blog (I managed to wheedle my way in) called Clumpology (long story). They have been sharing their very illuminating reflections about facilitating Design Lab.
2/26/12 Circuit City
Circuit city has quickly become my favorite design lab activity. I was curious how the children would interact with the idea of creating ciricuits using LED lights and switches, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. One of my favorite interactions of the day was with a child who built a helicopter using a motor and decided to create a helipad for it. After he made the helipad, he realized he had no place to put his helipad and promptly assembled a skyscraper for it. The creativity the children demonstrate for design lab’s circuit city is fascinating. Another important point one of the children made was if we were building a city, where were the people? After her realization, circuit city had a proud population of five, one of which was an alien. I didn’t realize how many different possibilities were available with a carton, some wires, and a battery with an LED light.
Oh, and pipe cleaner saved the day; our alien was a proud demonstration of pipe cleaner-based life.
1964 in NYSCI’s Great Hall, nearly 50 years ago…Frank Capra’s last movie, Rendezvous in Space is a 20 minute long quasi-documentary with Danny Thomas trying to explain what will happen in the Space Station that will eventually orbit the Earth (a question that still lingers with the International Space Station). At one point in the movie —which I have put on youtube, its a lousy print, but you can get the idea, —the footage cuts to the images that John Glenn took from his first Friendship 7 orbits of the Earth.
It is the first time most people every saw the Earth from outside the Earth. I remember it vaguely, but the rush of images, culminating in the image of the Earth from the moon and beyond, have diminished the shock. We are on one planet, not on separate continents. Political lines do not show up on the actual globe (I actually remember being kind of surprised, since the only globe I had at home was a political map). The ocean, the clouds, the atmosphere are vast and transnational.
For the new exhibition we are planning in NYSCI’s Great Hall, we are inspired by this sense of connectedness to consider the global systems that shape the future of the planet. Not just the natural systems, but the social, economic, transportation, and electronic networks that are deeply influential in peoples’ lives. The immediate impacts of these human global systems shape our lives more directly than the longer range impacts of changing natural systems.
Steve Uzzo, a network science PhD and polymath leading the Great Hall Project insists that climate change is a symptom of a world out of balance, and that making communities healthier and more sustainable (in a human sense…better education, health care, transportation, economic opportunity) is the best way to address climate change.
There is a wonderful set of TED talks by Hans Rosling that use clever visualization to show how data reveals transnational social change. Check it out. It is an image of a globally interconnected world that is more abstract than John Glenn’s orbital pictures of the earth, but equally compelling in showing how connected we are.
Just landed in Sarasota, FL for a few days vacation. went straight from the airport to the RIngling Museum to check out he last few hours of this artist. Its amazing what can be done with a few motors with off center mountings. Just like LED’s are the gateway drug for arduino etc; off center motors are the gateway drug for robotics, brushbots etc.
In the course of doing the exhibition Human +, we have worked with people with disabilities and spent a lot of time talking about how we think of disability. My daughter Lili, a sophomore at Smith College who has CP, is an advisor to the project. She sent us a link to a paper that is very powerful. Here is the link
“Disability, then, is the unorthodox made flesh, refusing to be normalized, neutralized, or homogenized. More important, in an era governed by the abstract principle of universal equality, disability signals that the body cannot be universalized. Shaped by history, defined by particularity, and at odds with its environment, disability confounds any notion of a generalizable, stable physical state of being. The cripple before the stairs, the blind person before the printed page, the deaf person before the radio, the amputee before the typewriter, and the dwarf before the counter are all proof that the myriad structures and practices of material, daily life enforce the cultural standard of a universal human being with a narrow range of bodily and mental variation.”
The MacArthur Foundation does more than just anoint underappreciated geniuses every year. For the past several years, the Foundation has been cultivating and promoting a pretty radical approach to learning among teens that goes under the rubric “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out” (or HOMAGO, as they call it).
I just came back from a couple of days in Chicago with a group of people funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation to create “learning labs” in museums and libraries. Though way too much of the time was spent listening to people talk (don’t they realize that we are informal learning people because we don’t learn well by listening to others talk?), there were several revelatory moments.
The MacArthur Foundation has decided, at least for the moment to focus on out of school learning. Like the Internet, which famously routes around obstructions, the MacArthur folks found liberation in focusing on the majority of the time that young people spend with their friends, their families, their computers, and other virtual and meatspace companions. They commissioned a book, a collection of kind of ethnographic articles about teen’s informal learning lives, called Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. You can grab the book here.
Its a compelling read in its way, more descriptive than prescriptive. The gist is that kids learn along this kind of axis or overlapping venn diagram that includes the most casual (Hanging Out), proceeds to a more active and engaged, if still very diffuse mode (Messing Around), to a more focused and productive mode (Geeking Out.) The authors, led by Mimi Ito, are at great pains to say that these aren’t a linear progression, that this is not a hierarchy where you want kids geeking out…again, it is more descriptive than prescriptive.
An example might be: a bunch of you go to a friends house to watch tv (hanging around), you might decide to do cartwheels or throw a nerfball around (messing around), and some of you might be taking video, editing a collage or mashup with some music that you like, and putting it on facebook (geeking out.)
This is all good, and has the pleasant buzz of putting something familiar into the larger context of what we think of as learning. So the next step MacArthur took is that it connected with some visionaries to create a physical space in which HOMAGO is leveraged to create an inviting space for teens in Chicago.
Enter YouMedia. This place is a trip. If you walk into the pretty vast Harold Washington Library in the Loop in Chicago the way we did, from a door right under the El, you immediately encounter the large space (probably about 5K ft2). We got there at around 5, a bunch of middle aged gringos after a long day of meeting, and at least I felt a weight lifting off me. This was a place where a teen age kid could pretty much do anything or nothing as s/he prefers. Couches, computers, music equipment, video equipment, all laid out in a way that was both casual and purposeful.
I gravitated toward the music production station. Nothing fancy, a midi keyboard, a synth that wasn’t working, a korg and an akai loop station for creating hip hop beats and an incredibly welcoming and cool “mentor” named JoVia Armstrong. She studied percussion at Michigan State, and I studied percussion and composition at the University of Michigan, so we bonded. Her music is here.
As we heard over and over again, the mentors (typically hired from the teens who were homago’ing, and graduated out) are one of the lynchpins of a successful teen program like YouMedia. But also is the incredibly low barrier to entry, you can walk in, no pressure, and get involved in what interests you. Go check out the YouMedia it shows the whole deal far better than I can write.
The IMLS/MacArthur grants are the next step in the HOMAGO campaign, to see how this model might be transposed to different institutions. The ArtLab in the Hirschorn Gallery, pioneered by the resourceful Ryan Hill, is an early reflection of this model. Ryan’s presentation was really useful as he shared how the YouMedia model might be adapted to very different circumstances…while the Hirschorn has the benefit of being free, it has the drawback of being part of the Smithsonian bureaucracy, which makes radical ideas hard to implement. But Ryan seems, conditionally, to have this up and running, so its worth checking out.
The grantees comprise a dozen or so consortia of libraries and museums in cities large and small throughout the US. We are all beginning our planning, this was kind of a kickoff meeting for the grant. We’ll share NYSCI’s progress with its maker space over the coming months, and I hope we will learn about others’ work as well.
While I was sitting in the meeting, I was a bit distracted, so here are some remixes of our maker space…
Many colleagues have asked about the why’s and how’s of bjork’s appearance at NYSCI. Some of you have seen the NY Times article about this, which was pretty cool. Dan Wempa, NYSCI’s VP for External Relations who really made it happen is kind of an alt.music guy, and he pointed out this review in SPIN, which I really liked.
Here is the story. I hope it is interesting not just documenting this particular high profile event, but also how an institution like ours learns to take chances. The story parallels in many particulars the unfolding of our relationship with Maker Faire.
As Bjork was finishing Biophilia, she expressed interest in making it a performance, and in doing that performance at several european venues along with 2 venues in the US, SF and New York (where she lives part of the year with Matthew Barney, the film maker of Cremaster fame). Bjorks “people” reached out to science based venues in SF (the Exploratorium and the Cal Academy) and in NY (NYSCI and the American Museum.) They sent random feelers into NYSCI and didn’t get a response until Rob Semper from Explo and Scott Snibbe, the artist who did many of the apps, suggested they contact me. I was immediately enthusiastic, so we began discussions. Bjork came to NYSCI and fell in love with our amazing Great Hall and effectively said “we will make this happen.”
When Bjork says “we will make this happen” a cadre of people start working. We had a production design in weeks, and the logistics and budget stuff got sorted. Live Nation came on as the producer of the event, insulating NYSCI from any financial risks. Dan worked through all these logistics and our operations staff put together a plan for dealing with this new audience.
During this same time, senior staff attitude ranged from neutral to bemused…why would we want this pop star at NYSCI. There was one particular senior staff meeting where the CEO asked why this is worth spending time on, and Dan gave a very focused and impassioned response about how this will raise our profile as an adventurous, cutting edge institution and continue our work of broadening our audience. Everyone agreed after that spiel that we should continue to pursue the possibility with Bjork.
All along, Bjork had been talking about integrating Biophilia with our exhibitions and programs. In Reykjavik, we learned, Biophilia was being integrated into the science curriculum. About two months before the first show, the first discussions began about programming. A small team of Karla Calderon, who is leading our maker work, Erin Thelen, and our Explainer team created a music and science after school club on the spur of the moment, with no funding, on top of everything else they are tasked with. We recruited students through our NYSCI Neighbors outreach program led by Tania Tiburcio . The first camps ran this Monday, I haven’t yet heard how they went.
A few of us from NYSCI walked around with Bjork and a group called the Creators Project to look at specific exhibitions that could be highlighted to connect with Biophilia. After an hour or so walkabout, we came up with about 10 exhibits that could be associated with the songs (with sufficiently elastic bands). Dark Matter? Well we have great cloud chamber that reveals invisible matter…Cosmology? the Eames planetary motion vortex reveals how planets orbit a central mass. etc etc. I wrote the labels, and I am still not sure if they are installed.
I couldn’t make the first show, but I heard it was a great evening of rich complex music. Dan said that Bjork said that the Great Hall at NYSCI was the best place she had ever played.
Kudos to a lot of staff for energetic and positive attitudes about working across boundaries.
The moral of the story…taking chances can be powerful for audiences and transformative for the staff.
The first night of Björk’s six-show residency at the New York Hall of Science included a live spectacle for the album “Biophilia,” with towering pendulum harps, multimedia visuals, Tesla coils and an Icelandic choir.
went with suzy to the Met Museum tonight. Its open til 9 on saturday nights, and rooms that are usually filled with light (like the new-ish Greek Roman galleries or the American Wing) have a kind of hushed quality to them. Lovely international crowd, a few families, the guards are friendly and relaxed.
The new American Wing galleries are pretty awesome, including this great walk in Frank Lloyd Wright room. If this works correctly, you will see a photosynth vr panorama of this room below.
The Met just keeps getting better and better, and anyone interested in museums should read the book Making the Mummies Dance, by Thomas Hoving the Director of the Met in the 60’s who practically invented the modern encyclopedic museum and its relationship to the surrounding city.
Most of the projects I work on have at least some artists involved. How do I know they are artists? They say so, but also…is it fair to say that the definition of artist in contemporary society is someone who does what s/he wants to? Sort of the opposite of “designer.”
Rob Semper from the Exploratorium just stopped by this eve before the Bjork show (more about that later). He told me about a fascinating book from Xerox PARC, about the pairings they made between artists, designers, engineers, and scientists.
In Rob’s summary, he recounted that artists and scientists made great pairings, in general; engineers and designers did as well. But artists and engineers not so much, nor with designers and scientists. The speculation is that artists and scientists pursue problems that they identified themselves, whereas engineers and designers were used to solving other people’s challenges.
I have my own take on this. I have been a musician all my life, and for a number of years I was doing a lot of composing for television, specifically CBS sports. If you watched anything on CBS sports in the late 80’s you probably heard my music as the show was going to an advertisement, or in a public service spot. The way that worked is that the producer gave you some adjectives of what he wanted, how long it should be, and maybe a reference to some current piece of music. Then I scuttled off to the studio and spent the following 24-48 hours sketching out ideas. The producer would then use more vague adjectives to suggest the changes he wanted, and ideally I got it on the next shot. At the same time, you never heard the music I was doing for myself and with a group of lower east side alt jazz musicians. Nobody could tell me anything to do with that music, it just wouldn’t have made sense.
So over decades of working with artists in exhibitions that have a pedagogical intent (loosely defined), I have almost always encountered this moment where its clear that the artist is not going to do what you suggested, but rather will pursue their own line of exploration. It is a powerful and thought provoking moment, if approached with humility and flexibility, it can result in better work than either of you might have anticipated.
ReGeneration is a flat out art exhibition, so there are 16 or so artists that we are commissioning new work from. One of the artists, Angelo Vermeulen, was not happy with the space allocated for his piece called BioModd, which is a wicked cool piece.
So, he and his collaborators dreamed up a new location, away from the heart of the exhibition, that he thought would be a great site for building the NY version of BioModd. It wasn’t going to work for a few reasons, and when he and I discussed it, it was easy to feel him digging in his heels. As easy as it would have been to bang heads about it, we found a way to make it work for both us that is going to be even awesomer…running coils of water with algae to pick up energy from an adjacent sunny part of the museum. A little crazy, but it will be great.
The boundaries of what is an artist are eroding in a big way, perhaps going back to an era where artists were also craftspeople, running a studio, doing commissions, and engineering ramparts for the duke (obligatory Leonardo reference). One of the ReGeneration curators, Amanda Parkes, is a PhD grad of MIT Media Lab, an artist and teacher who uses biological material as her medium (particularly algae), a high tech costume designer, and the founder of a biofuels startup in the tech corridor near Boston. Her web site is kinda lame and outdated, but google her, she is a powerhouse and a real hub of the art/tech world here in NYC.
The Great Hall Project has created a residency for Theo Watson and Emily Gobeille of Design_io. Theo is one of the creators of Open Frameworks (http://www.openframeworks.cc/) “an open source C++ toolkit for creative coding.” Together, he and Emily do beautiful and fanciful interactive work such as funky forest
We had a four hour brainstorming meeting earlier this week with Theo and Emily (a bad idea to begin with….more and more I am admiring Steve Jobs habit of having important discussions during a walk…sitting in a room for 4 hours is a hopeless way of getting creative work done, at least for me.)
Once again, in a subtler way than had happened with Angelo, we got to a point where it was clear that theo and emily had a vision they wanted to pursue, and that we weren’t going to get beyond or around that idea without giving them the opportunity to prototype it. So, the museum team pushed the idea around a bit, but in the final analysis, we have to see how it plays out in prototype form.
There are plenty of other examples. Working with artists in the context of a science center exhibit is an amazing ride, requiring flexibility, empathy, trust, and an awareness of the dynamics of creativity.
At the NY Hall of Science, there are a whole slew of things I am working toward on any given day. This blog will focus on five projects that are all pretty large scale, all interesting and challenging across several different dimensions, and all in about the same stage of development. I will also write about special projects that come up from time to time, like our work with Bjork, or World Maker Faire. I hope the various other members of our team will contribute from time to time and share their perspectives.
Of these five main projects that I will focus on, I really am not sure how to do four. Through The Works at NYSCI, I hope to sort and share my thoughts with the readers (who I imagine to be people involved with exhibits and other creative education endeavors). I see it evolving a bit like a murder mystery, as my colleagues and i piece together clues and chip away at the uncertainty. As Sherlock Holmes said:
"when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
Or another perspective from Michelangelo:
"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."
(michelangelo’s sculpture struggling to escape from the marble)
So my colleagues and I are engaged in a process of both imagination and elimination, trying to be inclusive of as many great ideas as we can find and to exclude ideas only for good reason, not because of bias or impatience.
These are the projects that I will be writing about:
Design Lab: A project to transform 5,000 square feet of exhibition space into a series of design based STEM learning activities that are facilitated by Explainers. An integral part of the project is fostering design based approaches that work in STEM classrooms beyond the NYSCI walls. Along side Design Lab is our new Maker Space which was designed by a great Brooklyn design build firm called Situ Studios.
(The NYSCI Maker Space in construction)
The Great Hall Project: This is a major exhibition about the interrelationship between human and environmental sustainability. This is a large and open ended theme that is proving to be pretty difficult as a guiding principal. We are working on prototyping this now with artists Theo Watson and Emily Gobeille and game designers Gigantic Mechanic. The Great Hall space is magnificent and it will be a challenge to do something that enhances and does not compete with the space.
(The Great Hall)
ReGeneration. ReGeneration will be a full blown art installation, with 14 commissions of new work from international artists. The theme is “community sustainability,” and the artists have responded with a wide range of installations. To me the interesting thing about this exhibition is that we have not chosen the typical “isn’t nature beautiful” school of artists (which I shorthand as the Exploratorium artists, who put a frame around a natural phenomenon to draw our attention to its beauty and maybe inner workings.) Rather, we have chosen artists with a more critical eye on science and our place in the natural world and in our communities. So, a big question is how does this kind of forward looking art connect with our audience, who is largely families with young kids who are not denizens of the art world? We are working with a great curatorial team, and plan an official catalog If this works, we would like it to be a biennale.
(BioModd, an installation by artist Angelo Vermeulen, whose work will be in ReGeneration)
Innocence Guilt and Science. I met Peter Neufeld, the co-founder with Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project http://www.innocenceproject.org/, at SciFoo at Google. Through the use of DNA and other scientific evidence, The Innocence Project has obtained exoneration of hundreds of death row and other prisoners convicted of violent crimes. Peter explained how he was trying to put the justice system on a more scientific basis. I thought this would be a great window for exploring both DNA science and the science of cognition (how fallible eyewitnesses are, for example). So we are working with the Innocence Project, a group called Touch Press, and Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times reporter Jim Dwyer (who wrote the book about The Innocence Project called “Actually Innocent.”) to create a media rich ipad book. The book will have a strong narrative by Jim, interactives that we are creating with Touch Press (http://www.touchpress.com/), and media resources such as video of witnesses and people released from death row after 20 years, along with court papers and other documents all accessible from within the narrative. We think this will set a new standard for interactive books, as Touch Press has been doing with each consecutive release (see their most recent Skulls by Simon Winchester, or their publication of TS Eliot’s the Waste Land).
Human + is a project that explores how technology enhances human ability, with a focus on technology for people with disabilities. We are committed to this being an inclusive exhibition development process, so we have had some pretty intense interactions with people with disabilities, exploring what we share and what makes us different. It is an emotionally powerful topic for me, as we have a 20 year old daughter with Cerebral Palsy (who also blogs as a sophomore at Smith College (her name is Lili Siegel, and she blogs as Silly Legal at http://smithblog2014.tumblr.com/). We are doing the exhibition in partnership with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (www.omsi.edu) and the Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center at U Pitt and Carnegie Mellon (www.cmu.edu/qolt). This is moving along quite nicely at this point, and as it has less friction, it is likely not to be as much the focus of this blog.
(Aimee Mullins, model, athlete, actress, and bilateral amputee)