Friday, July 06, 2007

Learning to Look

Today, I visited the Getty Museum and Research Center with out-of-town guests and renewed my reader's stack card. The Getty has a reputation for using technology to get viewers of art exhibitions to spend more time contemplating individual artifacts as discrete objects. Unlike other institutions in town, such as the Los Angeles County Art Museum, that force visitors into rapidly moving lines through one-way routes to file quickly past blockbuster shows, the Getty uses augmented reality techniques to slow the visual pace.

Now the Getty has expanded their repertoire beyond touchscreens and listening tours that require borrowing audiotour devices to strategies that take advantage of how average citizens often carry ubiquitous communication technologies to the site. Although only currently used for exterior l0cations, such as the modern sculpture garden, visitors to the Getty are being encouraged to use their cell phones and iPods to hear commentary from artists and curators about individual pieces.

Some traditionalists who associate the museum space with silence may be resistant to this approach, and some who consider the gallery to be part of the public sphere may not want viewers immersed in what philosopher Michael Heim describes as private "sonic bubbles" or "electronic envelopes."

I think its a good idea, particularly if users generate their own content for viewing these works. For more on how these mobile electronic practices should be understood as signs of social participation rather than individual isolation, see Mimi Ito's work on the complexities of the "personal," "portable," and "pedestrian" when it comes to auditory culture.

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