By Caroline White, Learning Technology Designer
In this first post in a two-part series, Caroline White, Learning Technology Designer, describes her recent visit to Science Gallery Dublin.
“Music is not limited to the world of sound. There exists a music of the visual world.” –Oskar Fischinger
I thought about this quote, which appeared a few weeks ago in a Google Doodle, a lot as I wrote this post. To me, the words reflected what seemed to be one of the greatest challenges of Science Gallery Dublin’s latest show, SOUND CHECK. Compared to other Science Gallery themes such as GAME or BLOOD, the theme of sound didn’t feel quite as tangible or as accessible. How would Science Gallery make a theme like sound more visible and accessible to those who might not experience it normally?
The answer? Through storytelling.
Sarah Durcan, the global operations manager at Science Gallery International (SGI), had said as much when she, Andrea Bandelli, and Rob Warren visited Michigan in early May. Michigan State University is the latest member in the Science Gallery Network, driving the development of Science Gallery Lab Detroit. Science Galleries aim to engage 15 to 25 year olds in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), and introduce this audience to new knowledge, ideas, and career paths in connective, participatory, and surprising ways. Over the past few months, the development of Science Gallery Lab Detroit has focused on building relationships in Detroit and East Lansing, identifying potential collaborations for some initial experiences, and learning from SGI.
Durcan compared the development of a Science Gallery exhibition to writing a story. What did we want those who engaged with Science Gallery Lab Detroit to feel? Learn? Experience? And what kind of artifacts and events would help us create that story?
In order to understand all of the behind-the-scenes development that goes into a Science Gallery exhibition and see how all of the moving pieces come together, Erin Campbell and I spent a week at Science Gallery Dublin, the first gallery in the network. From June 3rd to June 9th, we were immersed in Science Gallery Dublin’s process, watching, listening, and learning as SOUND CHECK came to life. Every conversation we had, every person we met, taught us more about Science Gallery’s design process, toolkits, and what it means to design a Science Gallery experience. The lessons I learned from those conversations helped me identify new ways to think about my work both with the Hub and with my role in Science Gallery Lab Detroit.
But those lessons are something for a second post. Right now, I’ll focus on what it is like to participate (and participate is a key word here) in a Science Gallery exhibition.
Described as “a collaboration exploring the boundaries of many disciplines to bring you an electric, musical cacophony of work,” SOUND CHECK brought together works from a variety of artists, musicians, researchers, and scientists (Science Gallery Dublin). The artifacts, most of which had some kind of interactive element, ranged from synth bikes and swings to a musical pinball machine. While each piece centered around sound, it was the stories behind how the pieces worked and the connections they had to other disciplines that made this exhibition really intriguing.
In Chit Chat, those who spoke or sang into a microphone would hear their voices bounced back as bird song. The tone of the initial resulting bird call was based on the musical characteristics of the speaker’s voice, which then triggered a series of three other corresponding bird calls.
In the Ore-Some machine, a Geiger counter measure the activity of a small amount of uranium ore (a naturally occurring, low-level radioactive material). A microcontroller measured the Geiger counter’s clicks, and the second counter click generated a random note on the attached xylophone to reflect the randomness of the decay.
But one of my favorite pieces (and, unfortunately, the one that the rainy skies prevented us from experiencing) was Ya Slip Ta Bang, a set of bicycles that played music. Each bicycle contained a location receiver, and, as an individual rode through the streets of Dublin, different music would play based on your location. The music is mapped across the city to correspond with the experiences of Lucy Dolan, the main character in Mia Gallgher Hellfire, engaging the rider with her story.
Although the artifacts within SOUND CHECK were interesting pieces on their own, it was these detailed intricacies and stories behind each piece that threaded the show together and bridged connections across disciplines. Exhibition signage helped to describe some of these stories; however, the primary way that these hidden stories are uncovered is through engaging in conversations with the gallery’s mediators. All of the mediators fall within the age range of Science Gallery’s primary audience, and come from a variety of disciplines and experiences. The knowledge that the mediators have of the different objects within an exhibition, and the stories they can tell about them, is what makes Science Gallery so interesting.
It wasn’t until I experienced the opening of this exhibition and engaged in a conversations with the team that helped create it that I truly grasped the weight and importance of Durcan’s words. Ultimately, Science Gallery exhibitions tell stories. The key now is working with community partners, young adults, and the MSU community to determine what kind of stories Science Gallery Lab Detroit’s first exhibition will tell.
To connect with Science Gallery Lab Detroit, visit the website , follow the SGLD Twitter, or contact Troy Livingston, Director of Science Gallery Lab Detroit, at firstname.lastname@example.org.