If you want to make the most of your visit to Infinity of Nations, the new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in the Old Customs House at the tip of Manhattan, then download the iPhone app before you enter!
The app, with its illuminating audio clips and visual navigation complements the in-gallery experience of this knock out show, and serves as a rich souvenir of your visit. Together they will give you a fresh perspective on the worldview and culture of Native Americans.
To start with, the app content is awe inspiring – a collection of 60 stunning objects from the NMAI collection, representing Native North, Central and South America. Small but essential maps are provided.
Clear, even delightful, navigation also helps! Primary navigation is by region, mirroring the presentation of the story in the exhibition. In addition to the ten regions, there are two sections that offer a cross-region perspective where examples from many tribes provide a comparative view of Native cultures. One is devoted to Contemporary Native Art, and the other to Headdresses. Here you get to see how one type of object operates as a symbol with so many different meanings.
Once you’ve selected a section/region, such as Mesoamerica, you can use the List or the Case view to explore in detail. In either view you also have a choice to see a small image of the object and read a description, or see a larger image and listen to a narrator tell you about the object.
Choose the audio version!
Not only is the image larger, it’s also so really interesting to hear an expert speak the native names and words. The narration is often accompanied by music or sound effects and the total mix creates a multi-sensory environment that you happily enter for a brief time.
Navigating through the objects by Case diagram is helpful when you’re in the exhibition, and also gives you a feeling for the gallery installation when you’re offsite, even if you’ve never been there.
To set the stage and frame your experience of the content in the app there’s also an Introduction that explains that native historians and community knowledge keepers collaborated with NMAI to interpret the objects. It concludes by reminding us that there continue to be diverse, self-governing native peoples and this exhibition pays tribute to their culture, past and present.
As good as it is, the Infinity of Nations app also left me feeling frustrated, longing for more connection.
Why couldn’t there be larger images to zoom in so we could admire the intense details of these art works? Even in the gallery we can never get close enough to the objects so providing higher resolution images on the app would be a great service.
Why couldn’t there be a search option so we could find a specific object, or see all the garments, weapons or chairs if we wanted to.
Why couldn’t I access links to more information about these evocative objects? Surely NMAI’s site must offer up a wealth of material to feed my curiosity at the very moment when I’m hungry for it.
And finally, why couldn’t I share my enthusiasm about what I’m looking at with other people, on the spot! I would be a walking ambassador for the exhibition and the app if I could send pix via Twitter, Facebook or email.
Also, on the day I attended, the Museum hadn’t put up any signs promoting the app so no one else was using it. Hopefully they’ll take care of that right away.
No matter what, Infinity of Nations is a fine example of how a native app can offer audiences in the galleries or offsite a totally engaging experience. It was produced by Tristan Interactive. The audio content was produced by Earprint Productions.