Conversations With Objects

by Kevin Makice

I’m too far away to attend this exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, but some of the 194 works that comprise “Talk To Me” allow me to interact without being there. The installation features designs that “enhance communicative possibilities and embody a new balance between technology and people.”

From MOMA’s description of the “Talk To Me” installation:

Thus far, 21st-century culture is centered on interaction: “I communicate, therefore I am” is the defining affirmation of contemporary existence, and objects and systems that were once charged only with formal elegance and functional soundness are now also expected to have personalities. Contemporary designers do not just provide function, form, and meaning, but also must draft the scripts that allow people and things to develop and improvise a dialogue.

Most of this interaction is through smart phones, texting and social media, but there are  several works with touchscreens that invite you to physically interact with the art. (According to NYT‘s Karen Rosenberg, there are also, inexplicably, interactive pieces that you are forbidden to touch.) From perusing the site, some of my favorite pieces are about juxtaposing familiar tools and places with unfamiliar contexts, including “BBC Dimensions” (superimposing the scale of historic events onto city maps) and “Walk the Solar System” (a sort of local commerce scavenger hunt for scale representations of the planets).

For Rosenberg, the exhibit sparked memories of the dystopian devices of Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story,” the äppärät, that obsolete thoughtful conversations by mediating every face-to-face encounter. I prefer Ze Frank’s take, that the devices are portals a worlds of real engagement with others, different but comparable to what we can get by looking someone in the eye as we talk. Either way, the reality of design today is that we must consider the physicality and transmedial nature of how we embody information. “Talk To Me” is a great resource for inspiring ideas about what that means.

New York Times (July 28, 2011, by Karen Rosenberg)