Friday, October 22, 2010


Adobe launched their Museum of Digital Media (AMDM) earlier this month. It's an institution that only exists in the virtual dimension. There are no doors, no guards. Admission is free, and it's always open. The mission of the AMDM is "to showcase and preserve groundbreaking digital work and to present expert commentary on how digital media influences culture and society." It is "an ever-changing repository of eclectic exhibits from diverse fields ranging from photography to product development to broadcast communications. To inspire fresh conversation on the constantly evolving digital landscape, exhibits are overseen by guest curators, each of whom is a recognized leader in the field of art, technology, or business."

Sounds revolutionary? I was pretty interested in the premise, so I went on the site and see how it really works. I was shocked. First of all, loading takes forever. Then the intro comes up with a wheat-looking twisting tower appearing in different real cities in the world. Then there's this jellyfish eyeball zooming in and out with a creepy sweet voice that sounds like V.I.K.I. in I, Robot. What the F is going on?

The Adobe Museum of Digital Media "building"
Virtual viewing device

If this is a virtual museum, why is there a building at all? Why is it a tower with such an overt physical presence? This "unique structure" is designed by Zaha Hadid veteran, Italian architect Filippo Innocenti. The "building tour" says, the atrium is a grand "space" designed to hold exhibits. "In the real world," it would span 57,680 square meters. There's a auditorium for live lectures and events. And for the archive and the permanent collection, "we have erected towers reaching 50 stories sky-ward." Give me a break! It's purely digital and you don't need 50-story towers to house the archive!!

Creative Director Keith Anderson says, "one of the things that we kept stopping and asking ourselves as we were developing the museum is: How would this work in the real world? How would it be in a real brick and mortar museum? We want to make sure that we can take the museum experiences that were familiar to people and then transfer those over to the digital space." I think they were asking themselves the wrong questions. What they should be thinking is how this virtual institution operates DIFFERENTLY from a museum in the real world; what it really means to have a museum solely digitally. Copywriter Mandy Dietz explains the reason why there's a viewing device: "we need to let people walk through the virtual museum because people can't physically walk through." But did it ever occur to the project team that people actually don't need to "walk through" the exhibits? We are not in MoMA. Visitors are sitting in front of the screen.

Actually, MoMA has been creating nice interactive exhibition webpages for most of their shows in the past years. To embrace the notion of virtuality, the key to curating AMDM is to put on things that start in digital form and end in digital form, i.e., something that is produced and consumed only digitally, not a scan or a photo of a physical art work in MoMA. If MoMA's webpages are to reproduce the experience in a physical museum, it's more like the Matrix - programs to simulate reality. You are not supposed to be aware of being in a different reality. But AMDM, with a more radical premise, should be like what Cobb knows about dreams in Inception. Time measures differently; gravity can be manipulated. It is a totally different world. Our existence and value system will be completely recalibrated. The inaugural project "Valley" by Tony Oursler is actually a good pick. It shows how digital media doesn't rely on any built space at all. Curator Tom Eccles calls it "site-specific." I am not sure if he's being sarcastic.

The index page of Tony Oursler's AMDM inaugural show "Valley"

Facebook reshaped how people interact with each other in the virtual space. But it didn't start with a common room with Victorian decorations or an urban plaza with grand Spanish steps. When virtuality becomes only an excuse to make the most overt thing ever, AMDM could only mean "Architects' Memorial of Delusional Masturbation."

1 comment:

David Whitehill said...

It is also strange how in the "building tour" you can see viewing devices flying around looking at the exhibits. But looking through the site feels nothing like that.

If they were actually going to use the conceit of a virtual building, they might have allowed movement through 3d space, and allow awareness of other visitors to the virtual space. It just feels like a web page from the early days of flash, with Motorola Droid styles overlayed.

By the way, my word verification is "vordig"
Cool Word.