Mar 23, 2017
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Filmmaking and New Media at the Museum
by Steven Middlestein
SF filmmaker Lise Swenson working on footage for the de Young's first mobile app, 'dYinterpretations: A Journey through the de Young.' photo: A. J. Bates, Marquis Photography
How would you like to “Re-experience the museum in the present with me as the guide with flashbacks to actual events that happened on site just as (in a) narrative film?” asks San Francisco filmmaker, visual artist and educator Lise Swenson. Well, now you can ever since directed, co-designed and co-produced the de Young Museum’s first iPhone app DYinterpretations, which is a new perspective into the de Young. Swenson, the de Young’s filmmaker-in-residence, says.
"dYinterpretations: A Journey through the de Young with Filmmaker Lise Swenson" is a reinterpretation of the de Young Museum through the lenses of many artists and affiliates of the de Young. It uses interviews, performances, site-specific work and behind-the-scenes impressions from artists, museum staff and community members to present an alternative view of the nation’s fourth most visited art museum. Although designed as an interactive on-site mobile experience, it is also suitable for gaining insight before or after a visit.
“The truth of film is that it is viewed now---our work is always received and perceived in the moment that it is viewed, even if the time frame is the 1600s or next year,” Swenson says. “This makes 'dYinterpretations' like a film, when you meet the players. It is now … the present, just like narrative. I feel like my best work is a reframing of truth, presented as a “story.”
Travelling back in time to be at the de Young with the artists and performers makes the app come alive and draw in the viewer. “But, be patient when you are downloading, as it’s so content rich it can take up to 45 minutes to download,” Swenson says.
App creation is a career option for filmmakers, says Swenson. For her, the app concept began to germinate when she began her filmmaker residency at the de Young Museum in 2005. Swenson has interwoven her film directing and producing proficiency with her thoughtful web design and art installation experience to dive into app design.
Swenson’s process was to follow her own course of inquiry with the artists, who were invited to the de Young to respond to the site and provide their viewpoint of the different areas in the museum. The artists were asked for their buy-in to be interviewed and for Swenson to film them. Swenson used an approach that she developed in the 1990s when working with a high school continuation program RAP, the Real Alternative Program (RAP), from which she founded the media literacy program TILT.
“I needed to be accepted by their community in order to gain their trust and confidence,” Swenson says. “That was the only way to be able to move forward with any integrity and honesty.”
It’s this approach of encouraging community members to tell their stories and, then, transforming their stories into a fiction script that resulted in the film "Love between a Boy and Girl," produced by the teens in RAP, and in "Mission Movie" (released in 2004), her first feature length social justice film.
Swenson utilized five years worth of archived footage of ephemeral installations, interviews and commissioned original work to create the app. The app is a video-driven linear tour of the de Young that has three ways to navigate the 17 chapters of content. You start inside at the main doors to the museum and you make a loop through the first and second floor galleries, concluding your journey in the Wilsey Court with a jazz concert. The user can also navigate in a non-linear fashion through a list of categories and maps of the museum.
And, unlike other more straightforward art museum apps, that feature the voice of the expert discussing the qualities of a specific work of art, this app brings in a myriad of voices from outside the museum.
Utilizing new technology and creating mobile apps is becoming commonplace in the museum world, but the de Young’s app differs from the traditional model. “As far as we know, it’s the first artist interpretation museum app,” says Sheila Pressley, de Young Museum director of education. “Typically fine art museum apps are more a curatorial explanation of the pieces of art. Our app provides a one-of-a-kind, exceptional look into the de Young with the artists acting as the guides. The de Young prides itself on being a 21st century museum, which is all about audience engagement with artists.”
The app is produced in conjunction with the de Young’s public program’s team and is built and constructed for the de Young by Kiyo Kubo of Spotlight Mobile.
"This app is itself a work of art,” Kubo says. “Plus, it preserves special moments at the museum. For example, I may not have been here to witness Shinichi dancing in the courtyard, but now I can stand in that same space and experience the same performance. It’s quite powerful." Spotlight Mobile has created more than 40 museum apps.
The "dYinterpretations" app features seventeen chapters with interviews and installations by internationally recognized artists Andy Goldsworthy, Kiki Smith. Sculptor Ruth Asawa (including an interview with her daughter Aiko Cuneo, who shares rich information about Ruth's artistic background), Catherine Wagner, Tucker Nichols, Mike Arcega and others.
And, the app includes music and performances by composers Marcus Shelby, Babatunde Lea, Meklit Hadero, Todd T. Brown and many more artists. In addition, the app provides inside information about works from Africa and indigenous works of art from Alaska from master percussionist and spiritual healer Onye Onyemaechi and Yup'ik visual artist and performer Chuna McIntyre.
The app celebrates many of the de Young’s commissioned visual artists and composers, many who have come into the museum under its Cultural Encounters initiative, which presents multidisciplinary public programming at the de Young every Friday night. "We wanted to find ways to make our Cultural Encounters commissioned artists more permanent in the de Young's cultural landscape and this app has provided a wonderful way to keep their voices and projects active," says Renee Baldocchi, director of public programs at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Over the past three years, nearly two-dozen artists and arts groups have been commissioned to create site-specific works and installations in response to the de Young’s permanent collection. Through this experience, the museums have come to see that the success of a commissioned project is directly related to the depth and intensity of the partnership between the artist(s) and the museum. “It is our goal to build more long-term relationships and provide artists the opportunity to create more in-depth works of art such as what we've been able to accomplish with the 'dYinterpretations' app,” Baldocchi says.
The app consists of 17 chapters. Each chapter has between two and five drill downs. There are three ways to use the app – navigating via a video-driven linear tour, navigating by category (region, a specific collection, the building) and navigating via maps (a specific location). "dYinterpretations" can be purchased for $2.99 at the iTunes store.
Stephen Middlestein is a writer and editor living in Oakland.
Posted on May 11, 2011 - 03:04 PM