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02.19.2011
Review> Missed Connections
Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago
Dutch architect Tjep's OOGST 1000: Wonderland, 2009.
Courtesy AIC

Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design
Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Through July 20

Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design explores the interconnectedness of various design disciplines, including architecture, industrial design, and multimedia. Curated by Zoe Ryan, the Art Institute of Chicago's first curator of design, and Joe Rosa, the former curatorial chair of architecture and design, the exhibition aims to foster conversations on the changing role of designers as a result of new technologies. Focusing primarily on how the internet has changed our access to culture and to each other, Hyperlinks is a lofty undertaking, given the scope of its subject matter. Boasting more than 30 projects in a relatively small space in the Modern Wing's second floor, Hyperlinks seems to struggle for cohesion. Cohesion, however, may not be the show's main goal.

Hyperlinks does not attempt to collapse the different design disciplines it contains, so much as to mete out some of the layered connections between them. Like clicking on links on a webpage, the exhibit offers several departures in an overarching dialogue on contemporary architecture and design. Looking at one of the chairs in the gallery, for instance, viewers are urged to consider the space the chair occupies and its relationship to the other projects in the room.

  Shade, 2010
Novosibirsk Summer Pavilion Russia, 2007
Switchable transparent film installation called Shade, 2010 (top) and Animation of Novosibirsk Summer Pavilion Russia, 2007 (above).
[Click to enlarge.]
Courtesy AIC and Tom Wiscombe

A large wall text with slanted graphics at the entrance to the gallery explains how the different disciplines represented in Hyperlinks engage and interact with each other in the Internet Age. Additional wall texts accompany each of the many projects represented in the exhibit. Though they elaborate the relationship between each project, the paragraphs of text take away from the show's effect, seeming instead to invite more attention to the disconnectedness of each piece rather than their inherent correlation. The large, busy wall graphics feel distracting and gimmicky, as the show strives to embellish the curators’ vision for the show.

Without all of the unsightly wall words, however, viewers may struggle to make sense of the relationship between projects like Evan Gant and Alex Tee's Lightlane and Simon Heijdens' ambient LED installation. While Lightlane depicts a product that bikers can use to project their own bike lane onto the street as they ride their bikes, Heijdens' installation uses technology to track wind patterns outside the museum that effectually animates LED panels on an east-facing window in the gallery. Both projects are undoubtedly interesting in form, but their correlation feels trivial, if nonexistent.

Elsewhere, text accompanying Nacho Carbonell's Lover's Bench explains how the chair consists of simple materials, including old newspapers, to create a space where two people may have intimacy despite being surrounded by media. Further back in the gallery, Augmented (hyper) Reality: Domestic Robocop, a two-minute film played on a loop, depicts a person interacting with objects in a kitchen in the same way that one drags and drops icons on a computer desktop. Created by architect Keiichi Matsuda, the film suggests a reality where the distance between the virtual and the real is nonexistent. These two projects, like others in the exhibit, seem to complacently accept our inundation with globalization and media, instead of grappling with their heady undercurrents.

On display until July 20, Hyperlinks looks at the future of architecture and design as marked by the collaborative efforts of designers in a spectrum of disciplines. Despite the exhibit’s approach, its projects still feel isolated from one another. Though the curators seem interested in a statement about how one form of design informs others, each discipline is still categorically apparent.

As refreshing as it is to see the work of international architects and designers address issues of technology and interactivity, the fluidity between these disciplines that Hyperlinks aims to express is difficult to grasp without the aid of weighty wall texts. Many of the projects are worth seeing on their own, but the show fails to establish those connections it so loudly, if vaguely, touts. Further, it ignores many of the social and environmental issues one might expect from an exhibit of this kind. Hyperlinks does witness, however, the the extent to which technology has inserted itself into our daily experience—a question too complex for the show’s eclectic projects and utopianism to answer.

Jeremy Stephen Shedd

Jeremy Stephen Shedd studies visual culture at the School of the Art Institute.