Haptic Connections

When I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago I noticed they, like many art museums, are including more "screenings" as part of their regular listing of programs. The MCA's website describes them as taking place "...anywhere we can project moving images."

Guilana Bruno is a Harvard Professor and author on topics such as visual art, architecture, and film. In her book Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media she explores the similarities between movie theaters and art museums.

She develops a case for the importance of exhibition design. That it's not just about what you exhibit but how you present it that matters. Here are some of my take aways from her book:

  • Museums and cinema both include spectatorship.
  • They are solo activities that encourage intimacy while in public.
  • Viewers in both venues are encouraged to explore their memory and imagination.
  • Cinemas require a still audience whose train of thought is activated by the sequence of images on the screen.
  • In an art museum the viewer moves through the space and takes as much time as they'd like with a sequence of imagery.

The author continues by exploring the increased introduction of projections, screens, and films in the art museum setting, and how this influences the viewer. In these cases the museum-goer moves through the sequence of still works, then encounters a projected film featuring a rotation of imagery. After variable viewing time the viewer is encouraged to continue moving through subsequent galleries. This combination of the movement from museums, with the allotted time of cinema creates a dynamic experience for the viewer. She ties this back to understanding how bodies interrelate with environments and how that supports the message of the work.