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About: Things that encourage one to see "nature" as it is: a set of process and relations. Not something that is external to us, or that we are apart from yet something that we are very much a part of.

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MoMA’s Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Things

This weekend I finally got the chance to briefly check out the MoMA’s special exhibition Talk to Me which explores numerous examples of cutting edge technology and design and the ways in which humans have adapted to communicate with the objects that they create. These levels of communication are extremely new and at times, a bit scary, but some of tools on display use the human-object interaction in order to go far, far beyond it. Here are a few examples that I found particularly innovative in communicating through new ways of learning about other species:

Bat Billboard (2008)

One of my favorites is this billboard project by Chris Woebken and Natalie Jeremijenko. The piece is not only designed to be a functioning bat house, but it would also be equipped with monitoring equipment that translates the bat’s call patterns and displays them on the billboard’s screen. In urban areas, this billboard could allow bats to seek shelter from misinformed, fearful humans that aim to destroy them while also attempting to dispel the common stereotypes that fuel fright by displaying messages that make their key role in many ecosystems largely clear.

bzzzpeek (2002)

This next project is an extraordinary website that functions as an online collective of sounds made by native speakers (mostly kids) vocalizing “uniquely regional” animal noises. Each noise is represented by a basic image of the animal filled with a flag corresponding with the native speaker’s country. The interactive interface allows the visitor, at MoMA or within their own home, to jump from country to country in order to hear the different ways in which people attempt to mimic other species’ forms of communication.

Sharkrunners (2007)

Sharkrunners, designed for the 20th anniversary of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, is an online role-playing game about oceanic exploration and research with a twist: it incorporates telemetry data from real sharks tagged with GPS transponders. At the start of the game, players align themselves with a specific research agenda, choose a crew, and pick a home port. They take control of fictional research vessels with the goal of encountering sharks, using advanced observation techniques to gather high-quality data and earning more funding for research; the sharks move in real time, and the research vessels move at a true-to-life pace. Players receive e-mail/text alerts when their vessels are within range of an encounter, and they can try one of a series of approach techniques, each carrying risks and payoffs. This ongoing game is enriched by a website and online forum, where players can discuss strategy, honor the holders of fund-raising records, review shark news and research, and become part of a global community committed to learning about and preserving the species.” -MoMA

Animal Superpowers: Ant and Giraffe (2008) 

This creative collaboration by Chris Woebken again and Kenichi Ocada gives users a more literal new way of seeing, and experiencing, by using technology to alter the perception of their senses in order to mimic those of certain animals. The curiosity and imagination of children often is enough to allow them to transform into different animals, but these devices will give kids an educational insight into the ways that other beings exist, promoting a better understanding of the way they live. If children develop these connections at a young age, it can encourage a life-long awareness of other species and their importance in the world.

These creative investigations of the new terrains of communicability and many more, including a recreation of the famous hominid Lucy’s voice box, can be seen, heard and interacted with at MoMA until Nov. 7. or on the exhibition’s slightly less interactive  website.

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