So much of our time is spent online that it's easy to forget which of the worlds we inhabit was only developed in the last half-century. Each has its own set of rules, and consequences if we break them. When we type in a URL that does not exist, for example, we are directed to an error page. When we commit social gaffes or do something exceptionally awkward, we can publicly headslap ourselves by posting the anecdote to FMyLife.
It's this convergence of the material and virtual worlds, and their limitations, that a new exhibit at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), 404 Error: The Object is Not Online, examines. Curated by Web Editor Lev Bratishenko, the exhibit exists both digitally and physically, and in so doing explores whether we can sync the two domains.
The exhibit centres on a table in the museum's octagonal gallery, with a webcam suspended above it. Web viewers can watch visitors interact with objects from the CCA's vast collection, as their cursors' trajectories are projected onto the table below. The exhibit includes the smallest object in the CCA's collection: a photograph too tiny to view unaided. In person, a magnifying glass is provided, and online, one can zoom in and out. Some of the CCA's oldest material is on display as well, objects that are "slowly committing suicide," according to Bratishenko. Soon these objects will be too fragile to touch, existing only in digital form.
The CCA employs itself as a case study of what happens when a cultural institution tries to move its collection online. While buildings are delineated by physical constraints, the web, seemingly limitless, presents its own limitations. Problems arise when we try to flatten a three dimensional object into a two-dimensional image. For example, we give up its materiality, along with its tactile and olfactory properties. Bratishenko believes that one day we'll have a perfect one-to-one of the digital and material, but wonders whether that's the most interesting way to be.
404 Error: The Object is Not Online runs at the Canadian Centre for Architecture until February 13, 2011. Curator Bratishenko is available to chat Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m.
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