What if… we could have visitors see through each others’ eyes?

One of my favorite tricks for working with parents and kids is “bend down, look at the object from their eye level.” It sounds trivial, but it’s not. Especially with 3D objects like sculpture, the angle of approach can make a huge difference.

It’s also one of the advantages of looking with a big group. Take Tony Cragg’s Split Second, a piece I love to use on the start of tours to illustrate the value of looking closely.

Tony Cragg, Split Second, 2006, bronze

Beautiful, right? Now, look closer.

The sculpture is filled with faces! Here’s just one, framed against the steel plate at the base, and rotated left to make it clearer.

Cragg-Face

Suddenly everyone’s looking together, finding more faces, pointing them out, helping each other to see. Different heights, different starting points… their cumulative perspectives allow them to find so much more than any one visitor could have found alone.

How could we create this experience for visitors outside of the tour group setting? The technology already exists: cameras and image feeds. It could be done just with a simple photosharing app. With it we could allow the first viewer to snap and share whatever they found, passing it along to the next visitor. It could transmit easter eggs, like the faces in Split Second. It could allow something like Gerhard Richter’s Mirror Painting (Grey 735-2) to be a social experience even for the solo museum visitor. It showcases different perspectives (if you’ll pardon the pun), emphasizing that there isn’t one right way to look at art. For both creators and consumers, it encourages closer looking and more time-on-task, any educator’s base goal.

In the world of what-if, however, we can dream a little bigger. What if we could build it into glasses instead of iPhones, as short videos instead of still images? On the surface, it’s a small change but it’s one that alters the meaning of the experience. In an image sharing App, someone is pointing something out to you, helping you to follow their tracks. With glasses, you’re looking from the spot that they chose in the room, seeing from their height, moving with the direction and speed of their eyes raking across the canvas. You don’t shift back and forth between your eyes and theirs. You are immersed in one or the other. You’re hyper-aware that you’re looking through their eyes.

The tech already exists, Google GlassMetaPro, etc. although they’re a few years away from museum installation unless you’re the Smithsonian. But, we can still what-if about it now!

PS: Bonus points if you can figure out how to make sure no-one accidentally stumbles into a piece whilst goggling! Eeesh!

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