"Dad, can you buy one of those?” I don’t recall ever hearing a child ask that at a museum outside of the gift shop. But today, at the NYC MOMA’s opening of "Talk to Me" – an exhibit "featuring a variety of designs that enhance communicative possibilities and embody a new balance between technology and people" – it’s exactly what a boy asked after seeing Mo Musical Objects from the Interlude Project. The boy's question might speak to the success of the goal to "bring technological breakthroughs up or down to a comfortable, understandable human scale," or it might speak to the many commercial references (GE, Orange [the UK phone company] Second Life, iPhone apps) throughout the exhibit.
In any case, the works were thought-provoking and definitely worth a MOMA visit. Among my favorites were Level, the 1997 performance piece where participants all wore blue foam footware tweaking each person's height to 2 meters, BugPlug, which turns off devices when it detects human absence, and Cross-fire, a short film of an emotional dialogue across a dinner table (follow the link and see what I mean).
It was also obvious that the artists, if that is how they should be defined, were overwhelmingly young -- with the birth year most often sometime between 1977-1983.
Sometimes mixes between art and science are dull or esoteric, but everything at seemed to genuinely belong. My problem was what was missing. The overall assumption of "Talk to Me" is that technology has played a positive role in communicating, but everyone knows that isn't always true (consider the many couples on their respective cell phones at restaurant dinners). The SMS slingshot ambitiously stated its use to reclaim “increasingly commercialized urban space” by projecting texts on huge digital screens in urban areas. What about the increasingly digitalized space, like the one that exists just outside the MOMA in Times Square?
Presumably, the exhibit will be a huge success. It's fun, interactive, and smart. But it was hard to say how the crowd felt today because there was no way to talk back. The curators subtly executed the one sentiment I didn't hear lifted among the fray -- the one that sometimes says: "Don't talk to me."