Early in the planning stages for the Vishnu exhibition, Joan, Shelley, and I began talking about building a tool that could offer an engaging entry point to Vishnu’s many avatars. Each avatar has individual traits and a wonderfully complex set of narratives, but teasing out the distinctions between them can be tricky if you’re new to Sanskrit names and Hindu traditions. The result is a series of iPad kiosks that offer a kind of supplementary path through the show.
A major inspiration here was the Walters Art Museum’s Heroes project, profiled eloquently by Nina Simon. Our challenge was to find ways to take the basic concept and adjust it to a new context (for instance, it was more appropriate to be accompanied by an avatar than to identify directly with him), and expand it into a multi-part project.
At the first set of stations, visitors can choose to be connected with an avatar, see a summary of his traits, and take a tag bearing his image.
Vishnu’s avatars have been depicted in incredibly diverse styles and media for thousands of years, in both high art and popular culture. (The exhibition even includes a small section of Vishnu-related movie posters). We were fortunate to be able to incorporate Sanjay Patel’s illustrations here, to provide a playful introduction to the avatars. Sanjay’s a Pixar animator and illustrator known for his striking, modern depictions of Hindu deities, and his images brought this project to life.
Inside the exhibition there are stations in front of specific artworks, where visitors can check in and use the touchscreen to try to pick out the avatar from a large group. (More difficult than it sounds!) The reward is a special piece of trivia about the object.
At a final set of stations, people can share which artwork depicting the avatar they enjoyed the most. Shelley’s team created a special leaderboard to collect and share this information. These will be active throughout the show’s run, displaying live updates about how people are using the interactive in the galleries. We were totally thrilled to see a lot of people using it this past First Saturday.