Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, December 7

Gapers Block

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The inventive Museum of Contemporary Art has opened a new exhibition, Massive Change, questioning the role of design in understanding (and mitigating) our use of the earth's resouces. I was glad I went, and was fascinated by what I saw as a presentation of data and design as art (such as the nifty Twike and earthquake piece). But I felt disappointed when the exhibit didn't question the elements of design that mattered, and overall found the show slightly shallow.

The MCA deserves a lot of credit for redefining "Contemporary Art" -- this exhibit contains none of the typical objects that make up "art" as there are no sculptures, paintings, or artsy photographs in the gallery. What unfolds as you explore the different rooms is the consistent exploration of uses of design to improve sustainability or understand sustainability. And that was something I found difficult, as each new gallery had only a slight connection to the next and there was little unity in the overall presentation. Also, the exhibit feels corporate at times, with nice promos for HP and Patagonia for their use of printers that compost or using recyled materials, without necessarily questioning how their previous bad designs have contributed to toxic e-waste or unrecyclable plastics.

My favorite area -- the data visualization gallery -- demonstrated what thinking beyond Powerpoint could do to understand significant problems: a pulsating earth does a much better job of demonstrating earthquakes than a Richter scale, and the map of Canada's air traffic had my attention for a long time. Ultimately, I think the exhibit might have bitten off more than it could chew, and covered a very broad area without getting deep in any specific one. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Can an MRI be beautiful without understanding what it tells you? Yes -- the role or intersection of data in art is field worth exploring, and that's the level this exhibit heads towards. I would have liked more depth, but it got off to the right start.

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