The John Chamberlain exhibition at the Guggenheim, “Choices,” closes a week from Sunday, but this Tuesday was the opening of “Artobots,” the completely brilliant and outrageously awesome hack of the Guggenheim’s audio tour. The Audio Tour Hack team have elegantly and cleverly interpreted Chamberlain’s heavy, masculine, twisted car metal sculptures as the aftermath of a Transformers war. Yeah, those Transformers.
Download the hack onto an MP3 player or phone from the Audio Tour Hack website, go to the Guggenheim, and press play when you enter “Choices”: it’s a perfectly-synched alternative to the audio tour provided by the museum. They’ve matched the museum’s audio tour symbols and numbers on the “Artobots” audio tour, so you’ll know when to hit pause.
As soon as you say it, it’s hard not to see the hunks of brutalized aluminum as the detritus of a giant robot hybrid battle, and the Audio Tour Hack team are truly committed to this vision. In the world of their tour, the year is 2038, and Guggenheim exhibit is in commemoration of the victory of the Decepticons over the evil Autobots in their “conquest for the Hudson.” Your guide for the “Artobots” tour is “Patricia Redgrave, senior professor at Harvard, and expert on the art of the Decepticon War.” (She has a British accent. She sounds very authoritative.)
I talked to Hal Kirkland, the creative director, writer, and art director behind Audio Tour Hack, who was also one of the guys behind the Store Buyout art project.
Did the idea of audio hacks come first, or did the idea for Artobots come first?
The concept for audio tour hacks came first. It was part of a larger idea and creative strategy to make art galleries and other cultural institutions more interesting and accessible. I had actually visited the Guggenheim while on a reconnaissance mission for the audio tour hack project when I saw John Chamberlain’s incredible sculptures. The further I walked up the Guggenheim spiral the harder it was to shake their visual link to the Transformers. I’m sure plenty of others have thought the same. I think I even posted a photo on Facebook describing it as an exhibition commissioned by the Decepticons. A day or two later it dawned on me that this was the perfect way to launch the wider project of Audio Tour Hack. That was roughly around two weeks ago.
The immediate answer is more audio tour hacks. You’ll be seeing two more in the weeks to come and hopefully many more after that. To make this first project happen at all I had to recruit some pretty amazing and very talented people. Each one of them is now part of the collective called Audio Tour Hack and I’ll say one thing, everyone has some pretty ambitious plans. The team so far involves Mark Svartz, Catherine Bolton, Wilson Brown & Sean McGovern & Pedro Botsaris (Antfood), Kate Williams, Samar Zaman, Azin Shamma, Ashkan Farhood, and Fabienne Feltus. I’m really excited about what this team is capable of.
What kind of feedback have you gotten?
It’s been great so far. People have really latched on it and from what we can gather genuinely like the idea of hacking culture. I think people are responding positively because we’re creating new access points to already incredibly creative work. By adding an alternative content to existing art and/or ideas we are hopefully inspiring a wider audience to look at things differently rather than at face value or how they’ve been told to.
Of course, maybe people like it simply because it features Transformers.
The Audio Tour Hack is not a snarky commentary on the Guggeheim nor on Chamberlain’s work, nor a jab at the Transformers franchise. It’s just an art project that is intended as “a respectful homage to all three.” It’s clever, and it’s charming, and it’s just really cool.
So I guess you know what you’re doing this weekend.