Museums and visitor created journeys

I have just had a remarkable trip traveling through the USA visiting several cities that also included a fantastic road trip through the desert where I experienced the most remarkable landscapes that left me repeating one word for a whole week: ‘wow’.  Here is one of the shots I took on this road trip.

For other’s see my Flickr account.

I visited several museums and galleries on this trip and saw some great stuff but there is one experience I had that keeps me thinking about visitor created journey’s through museums and this was not created by a museum or gallery.  A bunch of us, including several friends who work in museums, went to a theatre experience in New York City, called Sleep no more, a totally immersive experience that tells the story of Macbeth in an incredible set.  It takes place in the McKittrick Hotel (a reference to Alfred Hithcock’s Vertigo) which is actually three old warehouses in the Chelsea district that had been converted together into this hotel.  The audience is issued with white masks, similar to something from the film’Eyes Wide Shut’ and told not to speak during the epic three hour experience.  As you enter the lift with a friend you are then deliberately separated and told to go it alone

‘believe me it will be a better experience’.

Photo by emmastory (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Well, that was it, the next three hours were incredible.  I had to lead myself through this theatre production deciding which actors I would follow, watch or just explore the remarkable sets that had been created over the five floors.  This was such an experience and so different to how theatre is normally seen.  The masks made this even more intense and the silence of the theatre goers increased this.  I was deciding what I wanted to experience and the pace at which I walked through this production.  At one point, after not eating dinner, I was completely overwhelmed with how intense the experience was that I had to head for the bar and miss the last act.  It was the ‘Escher’ of theatre production, almost like a video game and this is what I have been thinking about in relation to museums and visitor led experiences.

I wish every museum designer could experience this theatre production.  I would love to have a similar experience in a museum where I felt as intense, surprised and completely immersed in such a production, where I decide how the journey should unfold, an experience that is not didactic in anyway.  The museum as a form of video game, where no two paths are the same and everyone experiences a different journey.

Slowing the visitor down: the ping pong theory

I have been thinking a lot about ping pong lately.  Why?  Well a recent trip to the Outpost exhibition at Cockatoo island that finishes up this weekend, (definitely worth a visit) has had me thinking a lot about the ping pong tables that were one of the activities provided to visitors at this art from the streets exhibition.  The tables were provided in a fairly central location to many of the artworks featured in internal gallery spaces.  They were all being used and many people were just hanging out in the space, taking their time and enjoying participating in this social game.  So why think so much about the ping pong, well it provided an opportunity to slow down the experience of viewing the artworks and I wonder why Museums don’t think about slowing down their visitors more.  Museums generally provide an experience that should follow a path and certain direction through an exhibition, but what if there were more experiences that allowed visitors to just sit, converse, enjoy a space that’s mission may not even relate to the subject matter of a particular exhibition..  I’m calling this the ping pong theory.

Although we didn’t get to see all the works featured at this great exhibition, mainly due to the horizontal rain that was causing us some serious umbrella issues, there are some great works at this exhibition.  One that I want to highlight is Next-a fantastic display of T-shirt culture featuring hundreds of t-shirts strung from the ceiling in colour co-ordinated lines above large and very graphic portrait photographs featuring the artists that created the works and the origin and story behind the brands.

Photos CC BY-NC 3.0

Outpost finishes this weekend and it is worth a visit.