Who Am I?
of an Exhibit
Published on July 03, 2010 , Modified on September 10, 2010
Museum: Science Museum, London
Visit Date: June, 2010
Wow. This new exhibit is beautiful, fun, surprising, sophisticated, and cool. The room itself is divided into 5 main areas. The entry experience is a giant wall and floor filled with falling multicolored digital confetti. As you get closer the confetti begins to organize into a shape roughly the size of your body. Sure we have all seen this technology before. But this intro actually serves as an intro to design motifs used throughout the zone, as well as setting up a use of technology throughout. Plus they picked really pretty colors and the scale made the whole thing really impactful.
The main space of the gallery contains a central zone with glass display cases filled with layers of artifacts, text, collections, specimens, items cast specifically for this exhibit, and artworks. Some of these are see-through so that sightlines are maintained. The aesthetics here are again fantastic. Some things are a little weird – brass casts of facial muscles eg – but there is a sense of humor, a good mix of serious and odd, and a sense that you can dive into whatever depth you want to. This is not linear – although each case has an organizing theme – but somehow the associative, or topical, logic is responsive to individual lines of inquiry or just whatever catches your unique eye.
On either side of these cases are a series of polished silver pods on stilts. These look like hovering blobs, and they reminded me of Karim Rashid’s furniture. But their rounded edges and reflective surfaces beckon. Each pod contains a number of screens with interactive games: What’s Your Sex? My Brain, My Body, About Me, Teach Me, etc. Many of these use the visitor as a participant. One station scans your fingertips, tells you about fingerprints, and then invites you to make a digital fingerprint puppet. Another scans your eye. One on emotion has you put your hand into a small box and then shows pictures like spiders while measuring your response through biofeedback. After using any of these the machines say goodbye and “thank you for contributing”. It wasn’t entirely clear but it seems the museum is storing data as it goes.
Scattered throughout are stations that say “this is for kids” and suggest something for an adult to do with their child. So for example, there were 2 black boxes where kids are encouraged to put their hands without looking. A less technological and more immediately understandable interactive that paralleled the adult exhibit. I thought this was a nice touch and allows an adult to feel their child is welcome in the zone, but it did underscore how adult the exhibit is overall.
Finally, in the middle of the space, is a game all about you! The design again is important – two large white tables with curved, sloping tops. Inset into the surface are a series of paired screens – one large and one small. The large is a touch screen and the small displays your progress. Starting by choosing your initials and gender; the small screen displays a corresponding picture. Then it asks you to do a reaction time game, to pick foods you like to eat, your favorite color, your ability to differentiate the word “purple” written in purple from the word purple written in black, how many hours of sleep you get a night. . . In all I think there were 12 games to build your profile. As other people join at the other stations in the table it syncs with their activity so you are all playing the reaction time game together. When you get your results the feedback also includes how well you did compared to the other players. Initially this was a little strange – it created a small lag as it sync’d, and I think it skipped a game for me. But it was overall very fun and I played the whole thing.
At the end your picture shows up in the same confetti pattern you encountered at the entry but this time large on the back wall, with others that people have created in the gallery. You have progressed from the ephemeral view of yourself at the entry to a more solid, durable part of a community, and part of you will stay behind when you leave.
There is also a live science research component near the start of the gallery called “Live Science”. They are currently studying how we use our sense to make sense of the environment. The initial research team is from Royal Holloway, University of London. While not in use there are interactive screens that ask about your sleep habits and interpret your dreams. A cool take on citizen science.
Prior to the show opening the Science Museum invited the community to create self-portrait dolls. Many people knit theirs, others sewed them or adapted figurines. As part of the grand opening these dolls were installed in a case on the first floor, near the shop and the main entrance. I thought these were lovely, fun, and witty. There were over 300 submissions and the effect as a way of introducing the exhibit – participatory, visitor-centered, encouraging reflection, personal – cleverly captured the main themes and personality of the experience deeper within the museum.