20 Sep Hall of Science – The art of Playfulness
This week I went to visit the New York Hall of Science. I have been to several science museums in the past, as a child my grandparents even used to take me to the local science museum once a year, but this visit was somehow different. Even before going there I was excited to see the place for its historical context of hosting the 1964 World’s Fair.
As most of the science museums I have been to in the past, when I entered the museum it felt very different than most of the other museums. It did not feel intimidating, nor “sacred”. It felt like a huge playground where people can explore different concepts. I was impressed by the consistency of this feel of exploration reflected in the design, the guides and even the museum’s website.
This experience of entering a space of exploration, especially after reading “Messing About in Science” by David Hawkins, made me think about the thin and difficult to find line, between constructing a meaningful and structured experience and keeping it open for exploration and interactivity.
I thought about the importance of providing the visitors with a sense of unlimited possibilities and options to choose from, exactly as I noticed in the Hall of Science where a lot of standalone interactions were spread in space, inviting the visitors to jump from one to the other. They did have captions, explaining how to interact with what you see, but it was interesting to see the little children who do not know yet how to read, trying to interact with the exhibits in different and creative ways.
On the other hand, I felt like this kind of experience also misses something. The museum did tell a story but I felt like it could have been clearer. I guess the big question is if in the end we want the visitors to remember their visit as, and only as, a game? Is there a better way to tie the tour to a one coherent experience? Is there a different way to organize the space or use other mediums to make it even more meaningful?
In my work I am interested in making history accessible to people. I think that playfulness is an important part of it. Giving the people a chance to decide what they are interested in and how do they want to interact with it can totally change the way we see history today. On the other hand, how can we tell stories when keeping them open and interactive? Thinking about other forms of media, I feel like this is similar to the difference between movies and video games. Is there a medium that can allow us to take the benefits of being immersed in a story and in the same time interact with it and feel that you as a visitor can actually affect it? I feel like this is what interesting about the “medium” of museums.