October 25, 2011 / 9:04 PM / 6 years ago

NY exhibit showcases devices to help people interact

4 Min Read

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Graffiti equipment for paralyzed artists and bacteria that diagnose human illnesses are just two pieces in a museum exhibit about devices that help people interact with one another and the world.

"Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects" at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) includes pieces designed to appeal to both casual museum goers and design aficionados.

"There are people who are wandering through on their way to see another exhibit, and don't realize what the show is about, and often get really excited," said Kate Carmody, a co-curator of the exhibit with Paola Antonelli.

"We've also had a lot of app designers, theme designers, people who usually aren't represented in museum shows who come here ready to participate on that level."

Many pieces in the exhibit which runs through November 7 serve a practical purpose, such as the hard drive that stands up when it senses liquid. Others offer a means for people to communicate with their bodies.

EyeWriter was designed to allow a paralyzed graffiti artist to paint using eye movements, and scientists at Cambridge University in England have developed bacteria that identify illnesses by turning bodily waste different colors.

Even age-old religious practices are included in some of the designs. The Prayer Companion scrolls world news on a ticker tape so nuns can pray for the latest catastrophes and an Islamic prayer rug lights up when its user is facing Mecca.

A chart resembling a food pyramid titled "Hierarchy of Digital Distractions" breaks down the way social media and communication technology consume our time with "actual work" at the bottom.

And another piece called Call Me, Choke Me is a collar that tightens every time its wearer receives a call or text message. Its German designer, Gunnar Green, links the idea of being constantly sought after with erotic asphyxiation, which he explains both contain elements of pleasure and pain.

Other items are what Carmody calls "design for debate."

Artificial Biological Clock allows women to put in information about their health, finances and relationship status to determine the ideal time to have a child.

Some of the items in the exhibit, such as the Prayer Companion, are in use, while others are meant to be conversation pieces.

One of the biggest trends that Carmody identifies in communication design is making technology to be customizable and easy to share.

"Designers are no longer putting projects out there just to be consumed," she said. "They're putting them out there to either spark a conversation, or with instructions so people can make their own."

Nicholas Papazoglou, a 26-year-old New York resident who visited the exhibit, said a lot of the technology on show can be incorporated into daily life.

"It reflects what we're looking at, and what we do with our time," said Papazoglou who works in a law firm.

The exhibit is the first at the museum to use QR codes - the black and white squares that lead smartphone users to web pages. Audio guides are also available and there is a blog for people who can't make it to the museum.

"They (the QR codes) were becoming a symbol of a lot of this work -- space between the virtual and the real, and allowing people to communicate between the two worlds," Carmody explained. "We wanted to use the show as a guinea pig for that, and we also have a lot of projects that incorporate that."

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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