Senior curator in MoMA’s department of architecture and design, Paola Antonelli is also a verb. She said so herself in describing her approach to curating, in general, and particularly preparing for her upcoming summer show, Talk to Me, opening on July 24. “Emilio Ambasz once said there were different categories of curators and one is “to hunt and gather” and I definitely fall into that one, always hunting and gathering to bring back design to nurture you,” Antonelli said in an interview at her MoMA office, a glamorous perch with a sculpted felt wall and a bean bag chair to keep visitors off their toes and on their asses.
The curator described how Talk to Me would show how performance, communication, and interaction are supplanting function as the main job of design. And while we are accustomed to the many metaphorical ways that things speak to us—say, a treasured knick-knack—increasingly, they literally talk as part of their job, complete with conversational ticks. A radio, for instance, might sneeze to clear dust from its speaker. “The new generation expects things to comment about everything,” Antonelli said. “Little kids tap on t.v. screens expecting them to respond.”
In this gabfest, everything’s talking at you, from a wi fi diving rod by British designer Mike Thompson and artist Kacie Kinzer’s Tweenbots that roam the streets depending on the kindness of strangers to read their destination on a flag and point them in the right direction to appliances that announce their energy use to a low-cost eye-tracking system being developed through open-sourcing to help the paralyzed write with the movement of their eyeballs. It’s a round-up of unusual suspects. And as we have come to expect from Antonelli and her team, including curatorial assistant Kate Carmody, it will round up the silly and the sensational, the polemical and provocative (a machine showing transsexuals how to menstruate, including a dance video), the comfortingly obvious (Metro Card machines) and the always breathtaking (BIX, the display skin of the Kunsthaus in Graz by architects Peter Cook, Colin Fournier, and their Spacelab team.)
Interaction of all sorts, according to Antonelli, depends on design, and to get the message across, designers write the scripts. “I may be putting words in their mouths, but that’s my job,” she said gamely, confessing that talking interfaces and machines communicating has been a long obsession dating back to Max Headroom, the fake A.I. puppet and mascot of the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s.
But don’t take my word for it. Talk to Me MoMA already has a blog dedicated to tracing the steps, sources, and research going into the show. Antonelli wants to hear from you, too.