The importance of interpretive interface

The general public does not understand what art is, and they may never will without a proper course to educate them. Sometimes they do not recognize artworks immediately as “Art,” other times, they may simply regard those “shapes” they do not understand to be “art” around them. So do we need to educate everyone to art so that everyone could appreciate artworks? Probably not. What we possibly need is to present artworks in a certain environment for the general public to see, to think, and to interpret actively. Certainly, there are many public spaces such as cities, streets and shopping malls striving to act as the interface of showing art, yet their representation as “artistic interface” has only generated a rather low-end appreciation of arts. People do like their exhibitions sometimes, yet their interpretations of artworks may only be confined either to their aesthetic beauty or to their unconventional ideas under their physical shapes. There is no space for more profound interpretation.

A sculpture made of LEGO blocks exhibited in a shopping mall in New Jersey, photo by Siheng Zhu

Compared to these public space of exhibition, museums not only provide people with a certain degree of “cultural stereotype” of being “artistic institutions,” but also offers people the “environment” and “circumstance” they need to conduct current interpretation of artworks. Take Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse exhibition in Hirshhorn as an example. Anyone who visits the last room of light-bulb exhibition would be impressed by the overwhelming effect of light effects they see when he enters the rooms, and it would become even more impactful when he realizes that his heartbeat controls all the lights in this room. The artistic interaction between human biology and technology is the basic catch of this exhibition, and Hirshhorn museum as the interface has created a place of decoding for people to understand the meaning behind this exhibition. However, what if this light takes place in a park? Lozano-Hemmer one performed similar installation in New York City, where he installed his pulsing light-bulbs in the central oval field of Madison Square Park. The visualization is without a doubt impressive, yet did it achieve the same artistic level as the one shown in the Hirshhorn Museum? Maybe not. Edward Tufte states that ”good information visualizations allow interpreters to discover and understand meanings and relationships not apparent in the data or representations of objects themselves.” The museum, as a physical interface itself, acts as the vessel of interpretation as well as the vehicle of active meaning discovery. Therefore, it can be guaranteed that museums will never become alienated from human cultural society since their presence is one of the ”last resort” for human artistic thinking.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Pulse Park, Relational Architecture 14”, 2008.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse Exhibition

Creating a dialog between arts is also imperative for creating a useful art interface. When looking at the Google Art Project Interface, one notable feature of it is to introduce, filter, as well as to form collections of artworks using the art movement they associate with. This way of categorizing indeed do help the audiences with understanding specific artworks’ year and date of creation, as well as the general art circumstances that affect these pieces. This way of interfacing lacks a basic understanding of historical connectedness artworks possess inside themselves. According to professor Irvine, a successful interface should be composed of a “meaning network” that allow nodes inside it to “break” and “group” freely, thus creating an interconnected relationship across the system. However, Google Art interface only offers a rigid categorization of art that seems to never “interact” with one another. Therefore, it may create confusions among audiences to make them believe that every art movement is “spontaneous” and came out with no foundation or relation to former movements. Therefore, Google art interface may need to consider adding more curated dialogues in their “exhibitions” in order to connect their collection of digital art pieces into a consistent “network” to create meaning and interpretation to understand art genuinely.