Chuspas at the AMNH #focusgallery

posted on 02 Apr 2013 19:31 by BGC DML - Kimon
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Today I went with Nicola Sharrat's class Weaving through the Past and into the Present: 10,000 Years of Andean Textiles to the textile archives at the American Museum of Natural History. Nicola is our current AMNH post-doctoral fellow (following in the footsteps of of Aaron Glass and Erin Hasinoff) and is working on a fascinating focus gallery project that centers on chuspas. //Chuspas are personalized bags made for the carrying of coca leaves that have been made for centuries in what is present day Bolivia and Peru. Nicola and I have been talking since she arrived last semester about these bags and how we might be able to leverage digital media in the gallery as a way to elaborate on the story she is trying to tell through her exhibition.

Today was an exciting day because we got to actually see the bags under the guidance of AMNH staff. It was particularly important for all of us to see these bags up close as we start to envision what shape an interactive will take and they were a great reminder of how the physical and material characteristics of the objects are the starting point for digital work. As we looked at the bags we noticed the different weaving techniques, styles in relationship to geographic origin, varieties in color and size and a wide array of iconic figures and visual motifs that were more or less prominent depending on the bag.

My personal favorite moment was when a student turned to Nicola and myself and asked what digital framework we would be working with and how the bags would be arranged in such a digital format. Nicola and I happily looked at each other and replied that that was up to the students to think about and that we would be asking and answering those questions together in class starting next week, continuing throughout the semester, and then really working in earnest to prototype digital models during the tutorial this coming fall. The student looked a little intimidated at first, but once she realized that the possibilities were open and that she would be able to participate in an intelligent design process I could sense her excitement growing. It was a great moment that reminded me of how unique and valuable the focus gallery experience is. The ability to work with highly knowledgeable professionals on really interesting objects and be immersed in both the analog and digital sides of the process of exhibition development is an opportunity that is clearly one of the highlights for BGC students. Looking at the real materials that will inspire the digital work that will take shape in the months to come really brought that home to Nicola, the students and myself today.

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