july 28, 2012
Going to a museum? There’s an app for that. It could hardly be otherwise these days, each of us armed with pocket-sized supercomputers desperately clamouring for content and interactivity.
Time was when you could go to an exhibition of any kind and if it was any good, all the interactivity you’d ever need or want would be taking place in the pleasure centre of your brain.
But in an era of superficial information overload, we seem to not be trusted with our own visceral, in-the-moment reactions to things without larding them up with unessential dross.
You can hardly blame a museum for wanting to seem with it, so to speak, and such things can even be useful. Each of the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario and Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art have simple, straightforward informational apps that take care of essential practicalities: what’s on, where and when.
Where they diverge is in the aforementioned lard: Each has launched new apps in recent weeks, to varying degrees of usefulness. Here’s a run-through that might help you decide whether to devote any precious remaining megabytes on your smartphone to them.
AGO, “Express Yourself”: The AGO already has a decent, if underpowered info app (searching the collections for Michael Snow, for example, of whose pieces the museum has about 80, the app turned up exactly nothing). Sensing, maybe, that it wasn’t enough fun, the museum launched what amounts to a simple, not very good game that allows users to take a picture of themselves, re-render it in one of five styles — Cubism, Pop Art, Collage, Sculpture, Impressionism — and post the results online. Big question: Why? Diverting for maybe 20 seconds — until you learn that your photo booth app, with its multiple effects, does the same thing better — Express Yourself is generic with no specific grounding in the museum or anything inside it. What it was intended for (a branding tool? How? The only thing AGO about it is its name) I have no idea. It lived on my iPhone (which ground so slowly I could hardly stand it) for a day and was done. I’d be surprised if many people give it that long.
ROM’s Dino app: As any of the seemingly thousands of bus shelter, billboard and telephone pole banner ads have likely told you, the ROM’s big summer offering is “Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana,” centred on the paleontological findings of the titular supercontinent that, some millions of years ago, comprised South America and Africa fused together. The exhibition itself is technology-intense, with motion-sensitive animations and adjustable “augmented reality” viewers that skin the dino skeletons in scaly living colour, before your eyes. The app is supposed to do something along those lines too, albeit in significantly lower-resolution. The idea is a good one, but its opportunities too few (you’re meant to be on the lookout for black-framed signs, with which the app interacts; I scanned my way through on high alert, finding only two). At the same time, the app doesn’t offer much of what one might hope to find in a scientific exhibition: namely, information. For all the tons of text, video and everything else swirling around the exhibition space, wouldn’t some supplementary reading that you can consume at your own pace in a quiet corner, versus jostling with a crowd, trying to read from the wall, be a better idea than a glorified toy?
MOCCA: No catchy name here. MOCCA’s supremely navigable app does what you’d hope it should: it provides information about the museum, its mandate and its shows, past, present and future, and then it goes deep into its current offering, the very good “trans/FORM,” with a wealth of images, information and even short video interviews with each of the artists showing in the exhibition. In short, it does what any serious museum ought to: it presents its material in a clear-eyed and plain-spoken way, for its audience to react to, personally, without nudges or guides one way or the other; then, it gives us the opportunity to learn more — much, much more — about what we see in front of us should we be moved to do so. Museums are about content. Why make widgets that get between the viewer and that content, when you have the opportunity to bring them closer? In Toronto museum-world app-land, why does only MOCCA, the tiniest, least-funded institution with no time or resources to spare, seem to get it? The apps prove the adage, which is always worth repeating: less is more.
via: the toronto star
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