My sister and I spent last weekend traveling to midwestern museums. Coincidentally we noticed a phenomenon of people posing next to art or architecture in a way to visually combine their physical body with whatever they were standing next to. For example, we stopped at a park as we entered Wisconsin. Travelers were standing next to a sign created in the shape of the state of Wisconsin. For their photos, they replicated with their body the shape of the state. At the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, visitors were positioning their heads in “clever” ways through the mobiles of Calder. (She and I did so too in the gallery opposite the Calder gallery.)
At the Art Institute in Chicago people took shots outside on the steps by the lions. My sister and I discussed how people work to arrange themselves for pictures with the Eiffel Tower coming out the top of their heads, or visually “pushing” the leaning tower of Pisa to an upright position. This is surely human nature and hooks into a shared point of view. The simple humor at the juxtaposition is universally understood. How intriguing this is! We intuitively understand and have a shared joke because the subject in the photograph interacts with the artwork or the architecture.
In a post on her blog, Museum 2.0, Nina Simon, also documented this cultural pattern and suggested how museums can build on it to create an engaging experience for museum visitors. It’s a great post for creating “participation” in a way that nudges the visitor into doing something he or she is eager to do anyway. Nina uses great examples from her trip to Taiwan and talks about how this is a topic at workshops she leads. She gives ideas on integrating it into museums.
Actually it is an idea that could be used in a participatory way for many organizations, or even as an intellectual jumping off point for academic environments for discussions about shared cultural understandings and why we are universally and cross-culturally called to mashup with a piece of art or a sign on the highway.
It would make a fun, engaging exhibition, too.
And, here is a sign I found on a highway in Minnesota that just begs to have some social interaction participating with this sign… Talk about mixed messages…