Monday, September 21, 2009

Visit to the Tree Museum in the Bronx

Earlier today I went to the Tree Museum in the Bronx with my wife. We took this trip because it is an assignment from my CommLab class, I was happy to go since I rarely get up to the Bronx. The museum was created by Irish artist Katie Holten to celebrate the communities and ecosystems along this historic boulevard. Visitors are able to listen to local stories related to the trees and their surroundings. These stories are offered by a wide-range of current and former residents.

We got off the subway at the stop on 161 St./Yankee Stadium and walked over to Joyce Kilmer and Franz Sigel Parks. The map bellow shows the area that we explored.

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Even though I did not find the stories themselves very enjoyable, the collaborative storytelling idea and the involvement of members from local community was compelling.

The format of the museum was what I found most interesting - it was powerful with potential for widespread use. Mobile phones are used as the delivery channel for this augmented reality experience. This easy and low-cost solution enables the addition of contextually relevant content to locations in the physical world and support interactive features such as commenting.

What was most fascinating is that the exhibits are ultimately the world around you - or at least a perspective on that small piece of the world. This simple technology seems ideal for small community and art guerrila groups that want to play around with the boundary between real and virtual worlds and the tagging of locations with different types of information.

The use of spoken media was ideal for this type of environment. Sound is the only option for communicating information while enabling an audience to appreciate their visual surroundings - this is not possible using text and image-based mobile internet. Mobile voice service is also a the most accessible portable technology, openning the museum to the widest possible audience. 

The experience was designed to be borderless and to allow each exhibit can live on its own. This makes it easy for individuals to customize their own experience. They can enter and exit the exhibition at any time either physically or mentally by walking away from the vicinity or shifting their focus away from the small markers that serve as the only physical manifestations of the museum.

Actually, one of the complaints I had about the design of the museum was that the markers were to small and non-descript. This made it hard to find the trees that were part of the exhibit. This, I'm sure (or at least suspect), is an area of a lot of debate during the development of such projects. To what point can or should the museum intrude in its real world surroundings considering that it is a visitor here (not the other way around)?

The last thought I have to share in regards to experiences of this type (at least for tonight) is: how can communal experience be delivered via these types of deconstructed museums and exhibits? How can other media provided via cell phone be used to help deliver on this communal experience angle? 

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