Tangible Interaction and Mashnotes at MOV

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There have been red and white blob sightings through Vancouver’s downtown core, over the past couple of weeks. More specifically, these blobs are found as part of interactive kiosks standing mutely, but provocatively, at 3 locations: 700 Granville, Yaletown Roundhouse Community Centre, and the atrium at Woodwards. There’s also a multi-part installation inside the MOV Studio, with real-time feedback from each kiosk, reflected as mesmerizing visualizations, complemented by a motion-sensitive voice it table.

The MOV recently announced that they’ve extended the installation through April 10, to give people one last weekend to see and share in this unique debate.

So what is this all about? Read the Q+A with two of the folks behind Mashnotes, Hanna Cho from MOV and Alex Beim from Tangible Interaction:

What is Mashnotes?

(Hanna) Mashnotes is the final instalment of our “This is Not an Architectural Speaker’s Series”, funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. It is a new way of inviting Vancouverites to tell each other, and us here at MOV, what they love and/or hate about the city’s built environment and architecture.

Where did the idea come from?

(Hanna) The idea for Mashnotes came from the simple childhood game, that many people are familiar with. It represents a very common occurrence in
Vancouver, where people talk about their social lives in very close connection with real estate, architecture, and their built environment. It was a natural fit. The technology portion was inspired in part, by projects Alex Beim had executed during the 2010 Cultural Olympiad – in particular, the Voice it Table.

Mashnotes has a number of different elements. Can you explain how they fit together?

(Alex) The 3 downtown kiosks – Woodwards, Granville, and Yaletown – each ask a different question, that relates to it’s particular place in the city’s imagination and urban context.
Every answer submitted through these kiosks, are reflected in real-time, on the Voice It Stations within the Museum. The kiosks are intended to be an enticement for people to come into the mashnotes.ca website and Museum, and access the more in-depth rationale about the topic. It is a gradual way of piquing interest in the average Vancouverite, about something that they might not otherwise think about very much.

Finally, the Voice It Table, is a chance for visitors to tell us their more descriptive, open-ended feelings about the city’s architecture and built form. It is like a new media format of the same chalkboard, that we have in the MOV studio space where visitors write and leave their sentiments about Vancouver for others to read and think about.

Why is the Museum of Vancouver interested in this kind of project?

(Hanna) Mashnotes reflects the Museum’s desire to be a place of civic conversation, where progressive and dynamic programming act as a catalyst for local change. In particular, there’s a strong interest and emerging mandate at the MOV to use technology in new ways.

Who is the creative energy behind Mashnotes?

(Hanna) There are two ways of answering this. The overall speaker’s series, was co-curated by Michael Green (mgb-architecture.com), Amanda Gibbs (MOV), and Hanna Cho (MOV). Part 1 and 2 were, “Architectural Karaoke” and “Moving Through” mini-walks. Overall, this series was borne out of a desire to make it not be your typical, esoteric, or elitist set of lectures. Rather, creating architectural discussions with both citizens and practitioners that would would be inclusive, playful, and interesting.

The Mashnotes creative concept was directed by Alex Beim, of Tangibleinteraction.com. Alex and his creative partner Andy Meakin, worked closely with the co-curators of the overall speaker’s series: Michael Green (mgb-architecture.com), Amanda Gibbs (MOV), and Hanna Cho (MOV). After a number of conversations about the kind of possibilities and reach that was hoped for, with this installation, what Tangible came up with a public technology interaction that would literally take our desire to talk about the city, INTO the city itself. They have a specialty in creating surprising, playful, and simple-to-understand installations for the public realm

Why do you think this kind of public technology is important to bring to a wider stage?

(Alex) It’s very important, and increasingly so. Although there’s more public debate and discussion taking place online these days, if people want their voice to be heard, they more often than not still have to visit a venue at a time set by an institution. MASH NOTES is an example of how an important discussion can be taken to the public and they can get involved when it suits them. I’d guess probably 90% of the Vancouver citizens who took part in MASH NOTES and engaged with our Voice it system wouldn’t have done so if we hadn’t installed an interactive component on the city streets.

Have there been any surprising responses or outcomes from mashnotes?

(Alex) On the city streets in particular, we noticed people didn’t just walk up to the MASH NOTES Voice it Kiosks, read the question and simply press an answer button. They’d actually start debating the topic with their friends or family right there. We’ve no way of knowing if those conversations continued or if they led to any action but it’s a pretty good indication that the installations sparked something.

What was the creative inspiration and reasoning behind the creative concept for Mashnotes?

(Alex) Museums are often seen as pretty conservative institutions that expect the audience to visit them. With MASH NOTES, we saw an opportunity to reverse that by taking the MOV and the discussion right to the public. The topic is controversial – who doesn’t have an opinion in this city on Vancouver’s architecture and built future? So we set out to cover all bases and the result was Voice it, an interactive opinion collection system with street level kiosks, SMS and an online participation presence.

What do you like most about the exhibition?

(Hanna) I love the real-time connection. I like being in the MOV space, and not only being able to marvel at the playful beauty of the whole set, but the surprising and delightful knowledge that somewhere in the city, a stranger is also thinking about the same thing, and contributing to a changing set of answers and graphic visualization.

What’s the most provocative or response-generating question?

(Hanna) Our most popular location is the Yaletown Roundhouse Community Centre, with almost 1000 responses to date. Perhaps, because this is such a dynamic local community place, but also, the question is provocative. Vancouverites really feel strongly about the role of nature-supporting structures like the seawall, versus more space for public gathering…

How has this installation been different from your previous works/collaborations?

(Alex) Tangible creates interactive experiences in the physical environment. Most of the work we produce, whether it’s public art or for commercial clients involves play. MASH NOTES was a more reflective project about a serious issue that affects every Vancouverite including us.

Where, on what topic, and with whom would you like to do another collaboration with, next?

(Alex) We’re always open to collaborations from the public, arts and heritage sectors and we’d certainly like to do more in the city, especially as most of our work comes from outside Canada. It’d be great to take Voice it and repurpose the system to get Vancoverites talking about other controversial topics that spark lively debate.

Last but not least, how can Vancouverites participate?

(Hanna) Check out one of the three kiosks, see the installation at the MOV, and tweet or SMS us @mashnotes, all info at www.mashnotes.ca!