Oh! The O

With apologies to James Thurber or Anne Desclos fans, but this is a story about another kind of O…

When you visit MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart), once you’ve made it past the engaging architectural effects and you’re standing in front of a work of art, you realise there are no labels! And so you turn to the “O” they gave you at the door. It’s a modified iPod (an OPod perhaps) which is (another) paradigm shift in the way you experience a museum.

Powered by 46 WiFi transmitters embedded throughout the building, at any time at least six of them know where you are, and your O presents you with a list of the things you’re looking at. And better still, you have options at your fingertips which allow you to go beyond the title data to levels of information and opinion which are inaccessible in other formats.

No longer do we have to engage in that forward and back dance to read the label beside a work of art: “this looks like…” “never heard of him, oops, her…” “when was this made?”  or “where on earth did they get this treasure/dudster from?” Now MONA’s O gives you access to all these layers of provenance and interpretation, and more. It’s very smart. You can even vote: yes, you can form a love/hate relationship with a work of art!

Other museums agonise over how much information to provide on their labels. Not enough, and you’re expected to buy the book. Too much, and it’s Anthropology. Don’t let the Words get in the way of the Art, they say. With the O, you decide. And if you enter your email, by the time you get home you’ve been sent a record of all the things you looked at, all the things you missed, and access to the layers you didn’t have time to read.

One of the tabs at the bottom of the gadget’s screen is GONZO This gives you David Walsh’s words… What made him buy it, among other things:

Enjoy the mini-essays by Jane Clark and others, under the ARTWANK tab…

And there’s the interactive diagram of your voyage through the labyrinth. Very cool indeed.

And MONA keeps all this info to tell them how to rearrange things in the future. According to David Walsh, if a work becomes too popular, it comes down!

Even though that’s unlikely in the case of the Kiefer Pavilion. The O is a product which DW would like to see adopted by museums internationally. It gets the Iconophilia vote, but we don’t yet have a museum to go with it…

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