The Keith Haring Glass Project is the first-ever integration of wearables into the interpretation of a major art museum exhibition. It represents the forefront of experimental cultural interpretation and explores the early possibilities of visitors utilizing wearable technology. Wearing Glass through Keith Haring: The Political Line created an entirely new kind of hands-free, augmented journey through the artist’s work with images, audio, music, video and testimonials, triggered by beacons and choreographed as real-time happenings.
The content is choreographed for both the ear and the eye. When images appear onscreen on a handheld device, the visitor has a certain amount of agency – they can choose to engage with them or not. But with Glass, when those same slideshow images automatically pop into their peripheral vision, the visitor has no choice but to see these images as they are in their line of sight. The creators had to experiment with when it felt “right” for an image or video to pop into frame, how long the image should stay there, and how long a person needs to register and absorb the media before it disappears was part of the creative decision-making process.
Visitors can wander through the galleries, and walk up to an object beacon triggering a pop up message on their Glass inviting them to engage with that artwork. Using the unique gestures of Glass to control the interactions, the user taps once to activate the content – launching an intricate audio landscape, such as the sounds of subway trains and New York City streets, which then merge cinematically into eyewitness accounts of those who saw the artist at work, delivered via the bone conductive stem of the Glass.
As the audio portion of the story unfolds, visuals appear before the visitor’s eyes, projected onto the Glass screen, providing appropriate context and comparisons – judiciously timed as a cinematic journey for the greatest impact. For example, as visitors explore a gallery of subway graffiti made by Keith Haring, photos of the artist making the works are triggered,, timed with eyewitness accounts of amused subway riders who encountered Haring’s graffiti on their daily commutes. Deeper into the gallery, a CBS newsreel is activated, showing transit police arriving and arresting the artist for defacing public property. As the artist is arrested onscreen, the visitor is immersed in the actions of the event in the same moment. When the video concludes, visitors are faced with the artistic evidence that sparked this arrest – the graffiti drawings hanging on the gallery walls. When faced with dense imagery, important details are isolating on the Glass screen to direct the visitor’s attention during the exact moment the visitor is hearing about them. This experience is what visitors always hoped for with a screen-based tour; providing the right combination of choices and context, control and immersion. Now, seeing photos and details at eye-level with the artwork removes a layer of distance, no longer separated by looking up and down at device. The cumulative experience is of a sense of wonder and magic, as the Glass device seemingly responds to the visitor and their interests, revealing the compelling stories within the artworks just when you need them.
Wearable technology can make the viewing experience more intuitive and natural, removing the push culture of screens, which leads to a much more exploratory mindset while in the galleries. Combined with Beacon technology, this interaction is no longer a futurist’s dream. Wearable platforms themselves are evolving and improving. The project at the De Young broke ground with its implementation – and appropriately so, by sharing the story of a daring, rule breaking, creative artist who took risks himself.