Visiting the Cooper Hewitt, Part II
Even before we set out on our family field trip, I am asked about “The Chair”, whose lucky sitter can rock from side to side, or spin around in a complete circle – reminiscent of a top twirling off its axis to slow down. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick and distributed by Herman Miller, the Spun Chair (also dubbed the Fun Chair by its faithful followers) is a must on our second visit to the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum — and, in my humble opinion, surpasses any Coney Island ride in combining functionality, comfort, enjoyment, and, yes…stress reduction.
The Cooper Hewitt’s New Experience offers interactive, immersive, and creative technologies that are playful to boost learning, while helping us connect, personally. The interpretive process allows us not only to make meaning in art and design, but imagine greater possibilities for learning in other contexts.
In the Process Lab, we use The Pen to brainstorm design solutions on interactive tables. From a flowing river, we fish for floating objects to fashion hats, lamps, buildings, chairs. Picking up on line, color, and shape, our designs introduce pieces from the museum’s collection and/or cast the reverse. Our new blue wool hat and metal beehive lamp connect curiously to a nineteenth century hand-painted bandbox, that portrays Sandy Hook Lighthouse standing tall and protective of ships on turbulent waters.
The Pen encourages us to tag our favorite objects; read more about them on our devices (by entering the codes on our ticket receipts); and, best of all, share them with our friends. We love how flight patterns can be turned into art (Data Visualization, 2005-2008, Aaron Koblin); stamps, a world map (Mural, 2011, Sir Paul Smith) and varnished copper wire, polymetal, pirarucu fish scales, and metal, a wall hanging. (Golliath, Hechizoo Textiles, 2015). As with the Spun Chair, function becomes art through, and by design. We press our pen to the museum labels, so as to remember other beautiful pieces: the French sidewall, Italian birdcage, and American vanity. We also enjoy seeing everyday objects – televisions, radios, teapots, chairs – in which striking designs stand out from different decades and even remind us of a few pieces back home.
The museum’s unparalleled collection of wall coverings inspires us to create our own. Enter the Immersion Room, where we poise our pens to sketch designs, adjust color, repeat patterns, and mount our fresh work, floor-to-ceiling, on the surrounding walls. Holly flowers and fat cats busily abound in favorite shades, and we easily envisage them in yet larger spaces. We max out our time, and turn the drawing board over to the next in line.
We prompt the simulator on the museum’s lowest level to teach us about design. Planting my feet first on the pad, I strike up a pose and hear the screen click to capture me as a dancer, then pause to connect me, arms spread wide, to an open, finely painted lady’s fan of the Directoire period. Later on, I learn this is a time of radical change in fashion due to the impact of the French Revolution. I ask myself what lies ahead… and suspect that I prefer this interpretation to the next one, where I am cast as a robot and linked to a 1920’s poster of an athlete muscling up a dumbbell.
So…. how might a stylus or other innovative media be used in a library? Hook a picture of a book, journal, or artwork from the Gottesman collections; click to get information, reel in the research, then draw the audience into the educational scene — a reconfigurable, adaptable stage of learning. Make your own personalized or favorite collections from the multitude of materials. Set the stage with artifacts, objects, resources that inspire thinking, dreaming, making. Adopt light, sound, movement, data. Create positive space to explore with lots of interesting choices. Invite surprising connections through smart technologies and people. Have fun. Stop to breathe, listen, and decompress.
It’s as much about play, as it is art and design — and discovering our constantly evolving needs and preferences in the pursuit of knowledge or education, source of energy for life. The Earth spins as her axis is tilted. Seasons change, we experience, and continue to revolve.
Note: Read Visiting the Cooper Hewitt, Part I to learn about our visit with the Girl Scouts.