By John Galloway
If you are in Kensington, London, in the next few weeks, and are looking for some stimulating examples of how technology can enrich our experiences and feed our creativity then The Victoria and Albert Museum is the place to go.
The Decode: Digital Design Sensations exhibit (YouTube video below), which runs until April 11, is an exploration of technology, art and interaction and is guaranteed to challenge, stimulate and excite. Exhibits in this collaboration with onedotzero cover a broad range of ICT, from on-screen designs fed by innovative programs, to physical machines responding to external stimuli.
Some take complex data that we would normally see in tables and charts, much of it in real time, then present it differently. A tall machine made up of vertical black and white chains clanks and turns in response to searches on the internet, sometimes spelling out a word across its width. Others are interactive, enticing you to get involved, to explore and to engage with technology, and with the wider world, in new ways. (see "Decode: digital Design Sensations" YouTube video below).
To enter you walk through a tunnel lined with black plastic reeds topped with lights that sparkle and tingle as you pass, but fade when you are gone. Like walking through marram grass on sand-dunes, that rustle and settle with the movement of the wind. There are screens exploring how we understand information: a representation of synaesthesia, where sounds have physical form: the fluctuations of the stock market as vividly coloured, abstract animations; a digital clock made up of images representing numbers that people have contributed through a web-site – buttons, pens, even a toilet seat for zero. All of these challenging us to think about how we receive, and perceive, the factual world.
Other exhibits invite us to get involved. A pop video playing on a touch screen can be dragged and turned to be viewed from a different perspective. A kaleidoscope like pattern is driven by speech, or sounds such as snapping fingers.
Then there are the devices designed for interaction. When you brush the black sand aside from the screen of a table, primitive creatures swarm to the space created and begin to evolve. The virtual leaves on the floor scatter as you pass through them, or gather around your feet as you pause to stare up at the tall shadow of a real tree, a white silhouette on a black wall that bends in real time as the original, outside in the garden, is brushed by the wind.
Elsewhere is a mirror that fills ever so slowly with your image as you sit in front of it, then just as slowly fades once you have gone. Perhaps try the machine of curved metal plates that shift subtly to mimic your movements, or blow the down from an enormous virtual dandelion with a real hair-dryer. You can also make your mark as you pass through by adding your transient greeting to the video wall of short, looping clips. They will wait until over-written by someone who comes after you.
This is a fascinating, engaging, thought-provoking event that prods at our perceptions of the possibilities of technology and its role in our lives. It is somewhere to get a guaranteed buzz this spring.