Thoughts on my work at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

So, for those of you who don’t know, I did work this semester with a fine group of students designing a multimedia installation at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, which is housed in a mill on (one of the supposed) waterfalls that started the industrial revolution.

The idea that I had from the start of the semester was that we would gather interviews, photos, poems, and artwork from the surrounding community to compile into a triptych video (using final cut) to go on display at the museum. As Elln Hagney, Mark Auslander, and I spoke more and more, we developed the idea of projecting it onto the waterfall itself, juxtaposing the creative economies that occupy Waltham now on top of the industrial economy that gave rise to the town. My conceptualization was of echos- the echos of time, the echos aura, the echos of people- projected onto the waterfall, which never echos but is always sounding anew (just like you can’t step in the same river once, the waterfall is neither initial nor echo). There is, of course, a lot that I could say about this concept, but my intention is to focus on the exhibit.

As the weekend for the exhibit quickly approached, the students in Mark Auslander’s Museums and Public Memory course gathered information and helped with creating the individual frames of the triptych in iMovie (the intent was to give students experience in utilizing FREE media software for making innovative exhibits), with myself compiling the final triptych in Final Cut with the keen eye of some students watching my every move, and a fellow grad student telling me why I couldn’t get the audio working right. As we worked, we manipulated various scenes and their audio to create a flow between the collection of interviews, photos, art works, and poems that we recieved. As we were working, I added the sounds of a mill (with the approval and scrutiny of a great group of students) behind the audio so that the mill (representing old labor economy) and the art (representing present creative economies) were joined by the waterfall (neither past nor present). Brilliant you say, I agree.

Elln Hagney (the greatest museum worker that had ever lived, at least at the CRMII) had done a great amount of work setting up a festival to go around our exhibit. It included performance artists, a possible appearance of the Olde Time Bike club (whatever their name may be, I’ve forgotten), and other great events. We were completely set, but then…

You guessed it, rain. It loomed over our initial date AND our rain date. So, with much grumpy-ness, the class agreed that they would like to have a celebration inside of the museum.

At about 4am the morning of, I woke up realizing that the projection we had designed was for outside. No big deal, except for the brilliant metaphor that I had created about past, present, blah blah blah no longer worked. More bothering was that we had machine sounds in a place that had THE MACHINES, and no waterfall. That morning, I re-vamped the entire project (unbeknownst to the class).

I created a second version of the projection that was slightly higher def. so that it could be projected on the brick wall, and using a second projector, onto the floor. I then replaced the black background frame of the triptych with a waterfall. I had happily restored the metaphor (excitedly, because it takes a lot of thinking to come up with metaphors).

I then extracted the machine noise. Why, you ask? First, to make way for the waterfall sound. But, in essence, I had been reading a lot of Baudrillard (serving size: 80 pages a day (based on 200 page a day diet) and feared that the hyper-real (the machine noises) were trumping the atmosphere that the projection was being shown in. I was absolutely lucky. The installation of this media exhibit was actually able to pull in the museum (which for those of you who know me is an important aspect of my work). While the projection was running on a continuous loop, the machines could be running- it was amazing- providing the machine noise, acting as part of the installation. The students were stoked, and the work most certainly paid off (even though media work never seems like work for me).

The lesson I learned- sometimes, it pays to have rain days. While it may seem that you’re pulling a contingency plan out of your arse, you’d be amazed by what your mind thinks without you thinking.

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