All posts by waltzdesigns

Post-Exhibition Reflection

Upon arriving at the exhibition opening I was struck by how minimal, muted and sparse the space seemed. It was airy and each piece was more or less thoughtfully laid out. Given the gravity of the subject matter, and the sheer number of artists being represented, I expected the exhibit to feel more chaotic and populated. The overall layout was palatable, almost unassuming and the placement of each piece felt purposeful. If I were to offer any criticism concerning the “museography” of the exhibition, it would mostly concern the language/writing of the placards and the timeline, which was overdone and poorly designed. In addition to the strange color combinations, which were distracting and aesthetically off-putting, there was far too much information on the timeline without the necessary context to properly situate the content. If the timeline were to be redone, I would have it heavily stripped and make sure that the language presented was meaningful; illustrating quality over merely sheer quantity.

Regarding the setup, “The Metamorphosis of Devaluation,” felt incredibly contrived and confused despite our best efforts to bring integrity and authenticity to the work. The receipts were pinned as flippantly to the sidewall as one would place memos on a corkboard in a conference room and the quality of all the prints in the entire exhibition was blatantly poor. There was a craft (DIY) element to how things were presented which, depending on taste, could be perceived as either charming or cheap. To improve the presentation of The Metamorphosis of Devaluation, I would actually take the whole project down and completely reconstruct the concept. This would obviously mean that the entire design and delivery would be different. The other work that I was equally unmoved by in terms of both its visual layout and labeling was the “Cliff Writing” by Yasmin Hage. I do not think there is a lot of clarity of thought behind this project and its manifestation was a sincere stretch to me. The intent to illustrate “ancient text in classic Mayan language,” had potential, however, unfortunately the project as a whole simply fell flat.

Alternatively, I did think that Sitio-Sena’s work was well displayed and I could immediately see the work and thought that went into the project. That said, I wasn’t really taken by it and rather immediately thought about the incredible work I have seen being done with encoded textiles and “coded stories” by other artists. Sitio-Sena reminded me of the work of Guillermo Bert, however, his artistic voice has far more presence and intentionality behind it. Bert designs hand-woven, large-scale tapestries, which, combine contemporary bar codes, indigenous design methods, and the stories of native peoples in order to both celebrate and revive traditional art forms. Guillermo’s work is both clear and incredibly layered and his production seamlessly conveys the intricate histories of indigenous weavers in Southern Chile. Sitio-Sena was successful in its depiction of a collaborative art project, but I personally failed to see the analogy between what happened with African slaves and the Underground Railroad in The United States and current migration between the U.S. and Guatemala. I found this element of Sitio-Sena to be incredibly problematic in myriad ways.

Lastly, two works that I did find compelling were K’ak’ Mul (Nuevamente. Otra Vez)/ K’ak’ Mul (Once More, Again) and Quema. Although very literal, Quenma was visually beautiful and displayed a vulnerability which, I found refreshing, compared to other pieces in Guatemala Despues. It alluded to other historic cases of persecution, censorship and book burning, therefore, it was memorable to me. Moreover, K’ak’ Mul was independently powerful, however, I’m afraid that given its placement, most people fail to take note of it. The piece was a modestly constructed video clip that showed the commemoration of activities conducted at the peak of Mt. Alaska, where a massacre of protesters took place in 2012. These two pieces provoked me on both an intellectual and emotional level, however as a whole and given the thematic nature of the artworks, the exhibition fell short. No one narrative was coherently crafted and as a result, I think a lot of value became lost in translation. Once I left and crossed the street, almost immediately, I stopped thinking about what I had just seen.


Museums Today: A Glossy Curatorial Redesign

The juxtaposition between the museum’s Victorian façade and its high-tech contents is both jarring and depending on your personal taste, aesthetically off-putting. The Cooper Hewitt’s grand reopening has turned the classic design of a museum on its head and digitized it, replacing minimalism with technological overdesign; quiet with restless rustling and constant din. Everything about the museum’s massive transformation is completely new and encourages digital consumption. Upon entry, every visitor is equipped with an electronic Pen that records information that can be later accessed by the user online. It “collects objects,” enables the visitor to interact with myriad ultra high-definition-touch screen digital worktables and tracks content. In addition to the Pen, which the museum notes is its “most innovative and integral new tool,” most patrons couple the device with their personal cellphones; screens, therefore, ubiquitously stand between the visitor and whatever is directly in front of them. The amount of technology at the Cooper Hewitt is overwhelming and many of the additions scream of design for design’s sake. According to New York Times Museum journalist David Wallis, “Many cultural institutions have also turned to digital technology to transform static labels into compelling interactive attractions.[1]” The Cooper Hewitt purposefully underwent this monumental shift and extended it into all aspect of visitor engagement. It’s not a space where a visitor can simply walk in and explore with ease and it’s definitely not a museum where one would go seeking quiet contemplation, rather, it’s the exact opposite. Obtrusive informational briefings are required in order to train visitors how to experience the space before they can even begin exploring. Understandably, for some, the technological advancements add to their overall experience. The tools temper their wandering attention spans and reframe the museum into a more playful and accessible place. However, for others who go to museums seeking solace and to be with things personally, peacefully, and without constant distractions, the smart devices and high-tech immersion rooms greatly take away from the traditional museum experience.

Museumgoers have changed and museums are rapidly altering their approach to the public in order to remain relevant and build patronage, especially among younger audiences. Museums tend to serve as a respite, a break from the constant distractions of the outside world, however, today, there is no longer any separation. Museums, like libraries and other cultural institutions were once places people could go to escape from the buzzing anxieties of reality. They were places to simply be present, introspective and quiet. Holland Cotter of the New York Times, poignantly writes in her article, Just Being There: Art is what’s in front of your nose. You might not know it, looking at a cellphone, “They (museum patrons) move through galleries fast and with a new purpose – cellphones in hand, they’re on Instagram treks and selfie hunts – and with a new viewing rhythm: Stop, point, pose, snap. If you want, you can even take the tour remotely, virtually, as more and more institutions make their collections accessible on the Internet.”[2] The Cooper Hewitt’s newly renovated galleries cater to this type of audience. According to their new literature, each gallery, “promises new experiences, not only in the way content is displayed, but in how it can be navigated, positioned, interpreted, and seen in relation to collection objects not in the physical galleries. Our exhibitions invite interaction, play, and participation.[3]” These changes push the boundary of what a museum could be, and also, poses the question of what will be the museum of the future? Or as Cotter asks, “What exactly in an age of expanded digital access, are museums audiences seeing? Through electronic media – cellphone screens, laptops, Pintrerst and Skype- we can survey an extraordinary amount of art, see how it is displayed in museum galleries, zoom in on close-up details. But what are we missing by not putting these filters aside and just standing in front of the thing itself (F34)?”

I asked myself these same questions. The Cooper Hewitt is a lively, noisy and highly interactive space that does not invite thoughtful discovery, but rather, encourages active and immediate engagement. It’s a museum that would likely be more attractive to extroverts, and people who wish to talk through their experiences with others. I spent the majority of my time looking for quiet corners where I could personally explore Beautiful Users, an exhibit that highlights designers addressing contemporary human needs and desires, without being molested by other visitors trolling around for their next photo op. It was an enervating experience, which left me to question my position on how museums ought to be configured for the twenty-first century in order to pacify diverse needs.

The ground floor Process Lab is a hands-on learning space aimed at immersing visitors in the design process. Its digital and physical activities are engaging, however, design is presented with a glossy Apple product finish. The why and intentionality of the space is missing, leaving visitors to simply make because that’s what their guided to do. The Cooper Hewitt implemented the lab in order to enable visitors to “Play Designer,” nonetheless, even though it may be an entertaining way to experience the space, it does not provoke museumgoers to actually critically think about design, its implications or consequences which is a dangerous trend within the industry.

Additionally, the high-tech Immersion Room, made me feel as if I were in a design “incubator,” trade show or even lab as opposed to a museum. The room offers visitors an interactive experience and provides them with the tools necessary to sketch their own designs and then project them onto the walls. The shift into the visitor as curator has its merits, however, as a paying visitor, I prefer an educated specialist to subtly guide me through a gallery by establishing a thoughtfully designed floor plan and curatorial statement. Although, the Pen, when it works, is useful to collect large amounts of data, I am skeptical as to how many patrons actually go home and then access what they preserved through their Pen. That said, the Cooper Hewitt was conceived as a “working museum” for designers to engage in an immersive and interactive design experience where direct physical engagement was viewed as a critical part of the creative process. It’s a museum that will not satisfy all audiences, however, for those who seek a “twenty-first” century museum-incubator experience, the Cooper Hewitt is successful and provides a truly unique space to explore.

Museums ought to be seen with the eye and not through a Pen or lens. The Cooper Hewitt’s new identity and reconfiguration as more of a participatory design resource center has fundamentally redesigned the way visitors view its collection. For some, these alterations are absolutely revelatory, and represent a broader cultural transition. However, for people who are less technologically adept, I believe they miss out on the totality of what the museum has to offer. Ultimately, although I personally have an affinity for technology, when it comes to museums, I would rather be left alone to look at what’s in front of me without a filter.

[1] David Wllis, “You Are Here Now, Looking At This, New York Times (New York, NY), March 19th, 2015.

[2] Holand Cotter, “Just Being There, New York Times (New York, NY), March 19th,       2015.

[3] Cooper Hewitt Design Journal, November 2014

Deconstructing the Colonial Body

In her piece, Indigeneity and Decolonial Seeing in Contemporary Art of Guatemala, author Kancy Cornejo, writes about how the indigenous body was and is still used as an object of violence, historical discourse and sociopolitical analysis, which in many ways continues to uphold problematic Western perspectives. Within art, the indigenous are usually depicted as representations of a fictive romanticized past. This is a dangerous lens with which to approach their history because it allows the public to veil itself from the lived reality of the people; a reality which can most generally be defined by racist and dehumanistic colonial treatment. In order to decolonize minds, the indigenous identity can no longer be manipulated and used as a source of silent artistic inspiration. This brand of historical romanticism and revisionism enables the violence of the past to continue onwards into the future.

Many groups in Latin America, Guatemala in particular, believe that actively preserving collective memory will serve as a foundational mechanism with which to protect people from future injustices. Social justice based art is used globally as a form of collective expression, healing and identification. As noted in the piece specifically, visuality and performance art are valuable vehicles of expression because both recognize how sound and language remain implicated in coloniality, and thus by intervening in public spaces with their bodies, these artists are able to enact visual and corporal screams of denunciation.

Moreover, visuality and art is a vital transmitter of histories and identities because many of the repressed lack the educational resources to access these issues through other mediums. Art becomes the means through which people can come to reevaluate, reflect and respond to what has happened to not only themselves, but also their communities. Given this, decentering Western perspectives is critical in order to reinstitute the position of the dispossessed. By romanticizing the lives of the indigenous, the West enacts a massive disservice upon these marginalized communities. It’s incredibly valuable to continually highlight how indigenous groups are reclaiming their discourse in order to protect their cultural identity and spirituality. These acts help clear the path towards implementing justice and overcoming silence. Decolonial gesturing is critical to de-colonializing ways of seeing, approaching knowledge, and truth. That said, this process will always be in flux and decolonization is an ongoing endeavor which will need to constantly be examined. Nonetheless, movements, especially those taking place within the arts are working to revitalize societal consciousness.

Transcending Territory

Last week, Laura, Ivana and I went to The Museum of Arts and Design to see their latest exhibit: New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America. We are all taking the same participatory curatorial design course with Professor Nitin Sawhney titled, “Co-Lab: Curatorial Design and Media Practices: Guatemala Después,” which is a weekly studio that explores the culture of curatorial practice with a particular focus on the subversive contemporary art scene in Guatemala. The focal point of the Co-Lab revolves around the Guatemala Despues project which critically reflects upon the political, economic and cultural influences between the U.S. and Guatemala through the multi-disciplinary lens of creative practitioners from both locations. 
New Territories is a deftly designed exhibit that examines how the state of creating in today’s globalized society has inspired a convergence of art, design and craft, within several distinctive cities throughout Latin America, where some of the most influential directions in design are developing. It is a dynamic and thought-provoking exhibition and all of the pieces speak to various issues that are manifesting themselves in compelling ways within most parts of the region, from commodification and production, to urbanization, collective memory and sustainability. It’s an incredibly thoughtfully laid out display that also artfully blends craft, tradition, and new technological innovations. The exhibit’s strength lies in its subtle ability to transcend regionalism and national identity. New Territories will be at MAD until April 5th and is well worth a visit; its an ideal space to feel good lost. 
Additional information about Guatemala Despues and its joint exhbitions and public programming can be found at the following link: 
(New York City (Sheila Johnson Design Center) from April 9-29, 2015 & Ciudad de la Imaginación in Quetzaltenango in June 2015)

Mae W

It’s pretty late and I’ve put this on the back shelf of my closet for far too long. Like most folks, I disdain writing about myself, so I’ve decided to use this profile as an opportunity to write a “flash fiction” piece. The only difference between this one and the others I regularly write is that this one happens to be non-fiction. I have thirteen minutes left. My name is Mae Wiskin and I am the product of a tiny but ferociously strong Thai woman and an overly garrulous Russian Jew from Brooklyn. I was born in Bangkok; however, I’ve moved so many times that countries often blur into one another. I have a non-rolly suitcase and sometimes write letters on my Underwood Typewriter because I adore the sound of clicks against ink and paper. I’m a creative writer, but received an honors degree in human rights law from The University of Washington in Seattle. During college I spent a year in Cairo and traveled throughout the Middle East, collecting stories, images and colorful experience. After college, I moved to Mexico to focus on my art whilst also working for a micro-finance organization in Oaxaca. I wish I could write that I’m fluent in Spanish but I’m not. I can speak a lot of languages to a shallow degree including Bemba, which is the tribal language I learned during my time serving as a global health Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, a puzzle-shaped country in southern Africa.

I am moved by all things social justice and art, and I am profoundly excited to be pursuing a Masters of Design Studies at Parsons because I believe you should never stop learning and following that which makes you truly come alive. As it stands now, I would like to unravel the notion of home, identity and community. I am somewhat obsessed with “cognitive maps,” migration, relocation, contested spaces and urban planning. Although I am not sure how this passion will manifest itself, I enjoy musing about unexpected homes made of unconventional materials in atypical locations, both nationally and internationally. I believe that every individual is trying to find “their place in the world,” and I would like to use “Design” in order to reimage urban spaces and help people foster community. It is my dream to work for an organization that fuses social justice with art that people use. Time’s up.2e8b6ab