Wall placards, museum docents and audio tours have all become essential technologies for many peoples' engagement with our collective culture as represented in the world's fine art.
Imagine what could happen if your enjoyment of art was augmented further by the kinds of social technologies that you already use on the internet. Thousands of visitors to the STRP art festival in Eindhoven, Holland this Fall got to experience exactly that. The festival's creative integration of its existing art exhibits with Twitter, Facebook, a recommendation engine, a print-on-demand service, tag clouds and RFID chips might represent the kind of experience that art lovers everywhere may be able to enjoy elsewhere soon. If life imitates art, such technologies could bust out of the museums and enter into the rest of our cities sooner than we think.
Consider whether this sounds desirable, in art and perhaps throughout our interaction with what was formerly called the offline world. Here's how they did it at STRP this year, according to an in-depth account by Mary Catherine O'Connor in the publication RFID Journal. ("At Dutch Festival, Visitors Used RFID to Critique Art, Share Opinions")
Prior to entering the festival, attendees were encouraged to fill out online profiles describing themselves and, if they like, signing in with their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Then when they arrived, they were given Radio Frequency Identification chips (RFID) in a variety of different formats (badges, bracelets or their municipal services card) that they logged-in to associate with the online accounts they'd created.
Inside the part of the festival that included an art show, the attendees were able to visit any of 37 kiosks that could read their RFID chips and recognize who they were.
They were then asked about particular pieces of art they had just viewed. How would they describe each one? How would they rate their appreciation of the pieces of art?
If attendees had signed in with their Twitter or Facebook accounts, their reviews could be published immediately out to the web and shared with friends. Have you seen van Gogh's Starry Night at the New York MoMA? It's surrounded by people waving cell phone cameras at it all the time. Could we just skip that part and publish a picture, along with our responses, out to Facebook? Personal annotation, in an existing social context. Ought that not be every bit as much an option while standing in front of a beautiful painting, or river or tree, as it is when reading an article on a website you've visited?
After describing each work, the kiosks showed attendees a tag cloud of the most frequently used words used by other people to describe the same works. Perhaps you've experienced a work in an unusual way, or hadn't considered a particular emotion or theme that other viewers had experienced when looking at the same work. Wouldn't that be informative to learn?
Pandora for art. Depending on which pieces they rated the highest, the kiosks also offered attendees personalized recommendations of other pieces they would likely enjoy and should make sure not to miss. That's very cool. (MIT Media Lab does something similar, recommending exhibits based on your past experiences at the Lab.)
The more art an attendee rated, the more likely they became to win a graphic badge displayed on the profiles of top participants.
Walking throughout the exhibit were festival staff members with RFID scanners, netbooks and digital cameras. Attendees could have their cards scanned, their photos taken and then purchase a personalized photo book printed to commemorate the event.
"Many of the STRP attendees are high-school kids, and they think [RFID] is really cool," Ties van de Werff, a curator of the event, told RFID Journal. "To them, it's an extension of the Web."
What do you think of this kind of technology being involved in the world of art? If you think it could enrich the experience without too great a cost in attention and engagement, perhaps you can imagine this kind of experience extending beyond the museum and into our everyday lives.