Decode is the V&A’s first exhibition of digital design, open until 11th April. The work dates from 2003 (Listening Post, installed in the Science Museum) to the present day, with a few pieces specially commissioned for the exhibition.
To cut to the chase: it’s a fun exhibition. The curation splits the works into three: Code, Interactivity and Network, and it’s the interactive pieces that engross the visitors the most. The trio of Ross Phillip’s Videogrid, Mehmet Akten’s Body Paint and Sennep+YOKE’s Dandelion, each given their own little booth, are the crowd pleasers, whilst other pieces that require deeper interaction, such as We Feel Fine, are left untouched (this particular instantiation, with keyboard and mouse, feels particularly unfriendly). Elsewhere in the V&A, other large pieces are on show – Audience, Flow 5.0 and Mirror Mirror. All feel better for being less cheek-by-jowl with other interactive artworks.
The non-interactive – those designated “Code” in particular – feel older, and many could have been made at any time from the late 90s until now. The rise of Flash as web novelty, screen saver, audio visualiser means that these pieces feel lightweight, like sketches, especially presented on small screens in the gallery. On the interactive side, there are many pieces using a mirror analogy, some are exquisite, such as Daniel Rozin’s Weave Mirror, but as a collection it shows a fledgling field just getting acquainted with its media (The Times is less sympathetic).
For works that are meant to be interactive, several cannot cope with the high throughput of such an exhibition, and it’s hard to tell if some of the pieces are working at all. As some of the exhibits are interactive, everything gets poked, as there’s no clear indication of how to use or approach several of the pieces. It led me to think that we almost need icons, like on the back of a video game, to indicate intention:
I particularly feared for Troika’s Digital Zoetrope, being manhandled by many visitors, whilst House of Cards was just watched, as there was almost no clue that it was a touchscreen.
So, enjoyable, if left with a slightly shallow feeling. It feels like a last hurrah: the end of the beginning of the web, electronics and screens as art media. Audience and Mirror Mirror have to stand out, both for being approachable without instruction, and for causing viewers to explore and learn the system’s behaviour, rather than being purely reactive work.
I wrote it up for Wired, and came to about the same place – it’s fun, and worth seeing, although reactive pieces like “Make-Out” were struggling, either because of the light or the numbers. Quite an undramatic framing of “We Feel Fine” – it looked almost like a help point rather than an exhibit. On the whole I enjoyed it, though.
i visited on friday and wrote up some similar thoughts.
forgot to mention “we feel fine” which has been done a horrible injustice.
I haven’t seen it yet, but why is it we feel (for I agree with you in a sense), that these almost retrospective exhibitions are trying to draw a line under something?
email: chris is at anti-mega.com