A2 Form for environments in context: hybrid exhibit environments: Step 1
Learning Objectives 1. Articulate the relationships between form and context in physical and digital environments. 2. Develop thresholds in physical and digital environments through the use of multiple sensory experiences. 3. Use iterative design strategies to test design and interaction ideas. 4. Use parti-drawings and storyboarding as a means of planning human movement through a physical and digital environments. 5. Identify, storyboard and prototype concepts or experiences that could be enhanced by physical and/or digital interactions in an environment. 6. Develop a cohesive, conceptually-driven environment that tells a narrative through space.
Client The Mattress Factory, “a contemporary art museum and experimental lab featuring site-specific installations created by artists in residence from around the world.”
Brief Create a pop-up (2–3 week) exhibition featuring an artist currently on exhibition at the Mattress Factory. The goal is to both increase awareness of the Mattress Factory mission and exhibitions to the general public, as well as attract more CMU students to the museum. The exhibition will be temporarily installed within the first floor of CMU’s Miller Gallery.
Target Audience Generally: All visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Art. Specifically: Students in the College of Fine Arts and those with an interest in contemporary art.
Activities Step 1 - Groups of 3 Visit the Mattress Factory. Document and reflect on:
A. Audience — Who the audiences are and how the MF responds to them.
Observation: I’d never been to the Mattress Factory prior to this assignment, so I had a hard time spotting the building (its facade was too similar to the surrounding houses). One of the biggest cues was the huge swarm of young couples walking out from the entrance. Most were Caucasians in their 20s or 30s. I knew they had just visited the factory because of their MF badges.
Analysis: The contemporary culture and reputation that MF has is attractive to younger generations. MF features art that touches on topics such as transgender oppression. Since such issues have only become more widely discussed/accepted, older generations are not as accustomed to them and are probably less interested in such art. My group partner even observed an older woman, who was showing her friend around (meaning she’s probably been a long-time MF-goer), making a transphobic comment. She was one of the very few older visitors.
Observation: After entering the building, the first thing I saw was an exit. It was right across from the entrance, and led to what looked like a patio/garden area. After looking around, I saw that there was a side door that led to the front desk, but I observed another visitor asking her group of friends whether or not they were supposed to go out to the patio area.
Analysis: MF might consider blocking off the exit so that there is a more direct/clear path to the front desk. The patio would still be accessible from the room featured here:
Inquiry: Is it a huge problem that people might take that exit? They would eventually find their ways back in. If it doesn’t detract from the experience, does it matter if they get temporarily lost?
Analysis: Although the confusing exit and being “lost” in the patio do not detract from or hinder the MF experience, they create traffic in the entrance. People spend time deliberating which doorway to pass through instead of moving at a steady pace.
The walkway next to the front desk leads straight to the gift shop. Although this seems like a good way to get people to visit the shop, it is hidden in a corner that people in an exiting path would not make eye contact with.
Observation: “Free Audio Guides” = free-to-borrow headphones that you must link to your personal device for “free audio guides.” I thought it was interesting that the item provided was not the item listed. However, if they had written “free headphones,” it might have been misleading.
Analysis: At first, I thought these were accommodations for people with poor eyesight or literacy skills. I found it odd that they would provide such an accommodation when their entryway didn’t even accommodate for physically disabled guests (only stairs, no ramp). However, after reading the (tiny) subtext, I realized the audio guides were more so for a tour-like experience than a guest accommodation. Additionally, in order for people to access the audio guides, they must have smartphones -> data plans -> internet proficiency. These serve as thresholds and might deter people from using the audio guides. If the audio guides enhance guests’ experiences (which I would guess they do — otherwise, why would the museum provide them?) the museum might want to look into making them more widely accessible. In addition, since there’s no clear route throughout the museum (and given there’s an entirely different building), there doesn’t seem to be an efficient way to return the headphones. Maybe it would be a valuable investment for the museum to have headphones available at each exhibit/stop that could be returned at the end of each exhibit/stop. Docents would manage them and could help with technical difficulties.
B. Spaces — How are spaces arranged? What thresholds exist between exhibits? Are the rooms large or small? How do the Mattress Factory installations respond to their physical environments in the museum? What are some examples of installations that occupy a whole room and rooms that have multiple installations? How do the environments associated with each installation differ?
Observation: In order to access the 3rd floor, guests have to take the stairway. The stairway leads guests to a small outdoor bridge (between 2 buildings). There’s a machine-like bird noise playing near the door you’re supposed to enter. Once you cross this threshold (the bridge), you enter a white-walled space (a stark contrast to the dark stairs and brick exterior). The art is sectioned off with wall dividers (permanent). The first section has a seating area for people to take their shoes off for the Yayoi Kusama exhibit. However, we observed people taking their shoes off and entering the other exhibits.
Analysis: There is a clear threshold between the general space and Kusama’s exhibit — door, lighting change, temperature change, etc. However, there was no clear threshold between the general exhibits spaces and the shoe area. This caused a lot of confusion because the Kusama exhibit was hidden behind a wall, and the shoe area seemed to be more connected to the general exhibit space. The Kusama space is small and hidden, whereas the general exhibit space is large and connected. There needed to be a clearer indication, whether through thresholds or signage, that the shoe instructions/space were for the Kusama exhibit only.
C. Color and materials — What colors and materials are used within the exhibition spaces? What remains consistent between installations? What has been manipulated by the museum or artist?
Observation: The fundamental museum interior included white walls (most likely polyester with resin) and hardwood flooring (standard maple). Some exhibits simply showcased their pieces within the given space, while others manipulated the wall color/texture and flooring. For example, in Danaë by James Turrell, the work is simply projected (the only alterations were cuts in the ceilings/walls, lighting and perhaps layout). None of the colors or materials are altered. However, in Repetitive Vision by Yayoi Kusama, all the walls and the ceiling are covered in mirrors and the floor is covered with a layer of black vinyl. My group and I even saw a sectioned off space on the third floor indicating “work in progress.” Walls were being painted, and temporary dividers were in place.
Analysis: The “work in progress” and diversity of exhibits makes it clear that the MF is willing to accommodate its spaces to fit the art’s needs. It makes me wonder whether or not there are restrictions in place as to how much each space can be altered while maintaining a flow throughout the museum. I think for the most part, the hardwood flooring, heights of ceilings and description placards were kept the same.
D. Learning opportunities — What implicit (mood) and explicit (signage, handouts, etc.) methods are used to teach people about the exhibition content in both institutions? Is all content analog? If applicable, how are digital materials and interactions handled? Note both successful and unsuccessful learning methods and experiences.
Observation: Each piece had a small analog placard on the wall describing the artist and piece. They were placed a bit lower than eye level and had extremely small text. At some exhibits, docents would greet you at the elevator and tell you what to do. At others, you just had to feel the space and browse/experience without instruction. The digital informational methods were limited to the audio guidebooks and the MF app/website.
Analysis: I don’t think a lack of digital informational methods detracted from the overall experience. However, if they were going to include digital options such as the audio guides, I think they should’ve been more thoughtful about including them. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of thresholds that must be crossed for people to use the audio guides, as well as the difficulty of borrowing/returning them. If the audio guides were better incorporated, I personally think the experience would be greatly enhanced. For example, in the James Turrell exhibit, some people may take a peak into the blue room and assume the piece is simply a blue projection. They wouldn’t know until approaching it that its really a humongous cutout in the wall with lights inside. An accessible audio guide could encourage people to interact with hidden aspects such as this that one might easily miss.
E. Interactions — Where are there opportunities to either physically or digitally interact with the environment in both institutions? How are points of interactivity identified? (deliverable) Make an annotated online process page that documents your field visit. Please address all five of categories with text, images, and sketches. Develop a short, 5–10 minute presentation that summarizes your finding.