Recently amid cartoonish background noise and joyful participants playing musical fruit (more on this later), I had a fascinating conversation about the future of art and technology with some facilitators of the new Design Interactions Studio taking place at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In our brief discussion, the big questions were: how can technological tools be used outside of their functional purposes and leveraged for their exploratory value? For pleasure? What about for the purpose of helping others? And how are technologies evolving in order to accommodate those who would like to interact with them but don’t necessarily have a rich technical or engineering background?
These are all questions that the Museum of Modern Art hopes to explore through their workshop series currently in session at the MoMA Studio in conjunction with their exhibit, This is For Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good. If you don’t live in New York and haven’t had the chance to see the show, it’s something worth reading up on. Curated by Paola Antonelli, the exhibition (on display until January 2016) explores our sometimes naive designs—often singular and simple—while the reality is that we live in a highly complex technological world with many different demographics and user needs. The objects within the exhibition, which range from products on the market to conceptual art/design hybrids, all attempt to confront these questions.
To follow up on the ideas explored in this exhibition, MoMA has organized a series of workshops with a wide range of artists who create from a technical touchpoint. The workshops focus on teaching any willing participant about tools like musical soundboards and Arduinos (all of which are featured in This is For Everyone) with the purpose of gaining this knowledge for artistic exploration.
I visited MoMA last week to participate in the first workshop of their series, an off-the-cuff jam session-hackathon with designer and musician Yuri Suzuki, friends, and willing participants. At this workshop, Suzuki presented two of his thoughtful sound inventions: one being the Color Chaser, a collection of cute plastic robots that respond to hand drawn circuits decorated with ‘train tracks’ of color. Equipped with an internal sensor, the machine responds to a variety of RGB color data with corresponding sounds.
The next part of the workshop was probably my favorite, which involved Suzuki’s ingenious invention called Ototo.
Finding a way to cut the issue of complex coding, Ototo is a musical soundboard that instead reacts to electric conductivity in everyday objects like paintbrushes, film coils, and yes, even fruit. The result of this is a completely customizable and hilarious synth kit that anyone can program and play.
Jess Van Nostrand, Assistant Director of Exhibition Programs and Gallery Initiatives at MoMA, says this particular studio comes at an interesting cultural moment: “My own observation is that there’s a really good reason why this studio is happening now. It’s because these new design technologies have been made simpler for anybody to use. We didn’t have [products like] an Ototo 7 years ago…’art and technology’ usually meant an artist with a technological bent was the only person who could understand what that technology was doing. But in recent years there’s been this drive towards accessibility. Now people can actually use these objects with no background or technological experience.”
The coolest thing about these workshops is there is still time for anyone to get involved; simply check out the schedule of events on their site. Visit the museum this weekend and you can participate in a workshop incorporating LittleBits where participants will explore how to enhance everyday objects with technology for the greater good (or for the sake of simple entertainment). Next week, artist Juan Cortes will help visitors create prosthetic devices using found objects around New York City and Arduinos. No matter which one you choose to attend, it sounds like things are going to get weird—and really fun.
Learn more here about how to participate in MoMA’s Design Interactions Studio, running now through November 14th.