Monday, January 17, 2011

When the digital becomes physical

             
After three years of construction, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria reopened its doors on Saturday. The renovation/expansion was designed by Thomas Leeser, a Frankfurt-born architect who used to work for Peter Eisenman on signature projects like the Wexner and La Villette. I guess he's been on his own for quite a while now - this new building, probably his first significant built work, doesn't reflect much of his Eisenmanian background.

From 35th Avenue, all you see is the original 1920s white stucco building. The three-story new addition bulges out from the back as a dull and windowless big-box volume. Clad in triangular light-blue aluminum panels, the exterior tries to bring some interest with its dia-grid surface. But it seems to me that it's just a game of pattern making, and the treatment of open joints in different widths further confirms its decorative nature. Leeser talks about triangulation as a motif of the "digital," a science fiction language - like the virtual wireframe blueprint seen in Iron Man. Isn't that just a superficial and graphic interpretation of the emerging digital culture?


The main entrance is still on 35th Ave. Again, the triangles appear at the front door. The public spaces on the ground floor are blindingly white, so pristine that they make you worry how they may look like in a few years. (In fact, the polymer floor and the bottom of the painted gypsum walls have already become quite dirty after two days.) I guess when you render with white in the computer, it looks so good that you just want to stick to it. But the computer doesn't tell you how materials age through time in the physical reality.

Ticketing, coat check, and entrance to the theater
On the wall is a 50-ft-long seamless projection City Glow by Chiho Aoshima
Museum Store
Cafe

I am not trying to be 100% negative here. In fact, there are several interesting moments in the museum, especially in the circulation. As you move through ramps and stairs, the experience of the dynamic space unfolds as if in a moving picture. The impressive large pieces of Corian guardrails and benches enhance the seamless transition of space.


The exhibition itself is a good combination of the digital and the physical. There are physical set models, Star Wars action figures, antique arcade video games, as well as immersive digital projections, augmented sculptures, and interactive work stations.
 
The circle of Star Wars vs. Star Trek!
Antique arcade video games
Augmented Sculpture (2007) by Pablo Valbuena
Interactive station to create your own stop motion animation

Cut from the pristine white lobby, the access to the theater is a futuristic luminous blue tunnel. Inside the theater, the Cindy Sirko designed curtain bears striking graphics of something like a zooming cyberspace. On the walls and the ceiling, the triangular motif appears again, but in this case made of vibrant Yves Klein blue felt panels. When asked about the choice of color, Leeser explained, "blue is the color of the digital world." Oh boy, I thought the triangles are already very literal...

                

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