Friday, October 06, 2006

"Land-markings" misses the mark

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of a new exhibit at New York Federal Hall. "Land-markings" brought together research efforts of social scientists from the US Forest service with urban ecologists and architects from the New School to present data on Americans' collective response to 9/11. They examined the creation of "living memorials" from multiple perspectives with ultimate intention of extracting a kernel of truth about the changing relationship between people and their landscapes.

Now, I can't think of anyone more interested in this topic than me. I wrote over 100 pages on it just last year! I really, really wanted to like this exhibit, but it failed to interest even me. Sadly, it faltered on both the design and content fronts. Design-wise, it was organized by subtopic arrayed around Federal Hall's rotunda. Each area featured a little TV with a segment of a narrated power-point presentation. Unformatted, the little videos neither introduced the topic coherently nor came to any clear conclusions. Like any good lecture, museum exhibits should have arguments and they should use the tools they have on hand to clearly present those arguments.

Sadly, despite it's intriguing name and description, "Land-markings" had little more to offer than carefully segued photographs of gardens and forests and narrative obfuscation. Charts and graphs were left unexplained; memorials were presented like an annotated list and I left without feeling like I'd learned anything more than how not to create an exhibit based on academic research.

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