In a new interactive exhibition, the future museum MOD. explores a range of elusive questions that exist on the periphery of our consciousness – such as data privacy, climate change and the knowledge hidden beneath the earth’s crust.
“There are known facts,” US politician Donald Rumsfeld said in 2002, of the conflict unfolding in the Middle East at that time.
“We also know that there are known unknowns,” he then said, making the premise murkier.
“But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know that we don’t know,” he continued, adding even more silt to the puddle.
This last concept – the unknown unknowns – is fertile conceptual ground. It is information that exists in a mysterious layer, beyond our peripheral vision. These are things we don’t even know exist.
If ever there was an institution to tackle such a concept, it would be MOD., whose latest exhibition INVISIBILITYseeks to explore some of the known unknowns of our society – and perhaps, in the process, glimpse an unknown unknown.
Senior Exhibit Director Lisa Bailey guides us through the collection, which consists of 13 exhibits spread over several floors. She explains MOD. arrived at the concept through public debate.
In 2019, MOD. organized a series of roundtables involving young people and professionals working in research, arts and cultural institutions, with the aim of facilitating discussion on subjects that interest them.
“And from those conversations, we drew different themes,” says Lisa City Mag.
“There were people who were very passionate about the impacts of climate change and also thinking about data privacy, and being online and this whole idea of our information and whether we have the right to hide online.
” Under the aegis of INVISIBILITYwe explore all these different themes.
There are a range of striking displays under the climate change banner, including a series of brilliant interactive displays created by Melbourne artist Yandell Walton. The first is an interactive piece titled “Uprise,” which is an impressively large, slowly lapping wave.
It sits above a trio of screens showing a stunning reef system that, at the touch of your hands, transforms into a crumbling, bleached-out ocean graveyard.
Another screen shows drifting wreckage, such as empty milk jugs and face masks. When you touch these objects, they explode into microplastics. Another display includes melting ice shelves.
Lisa says it’s important that INVISIBILITY is interactive, because the experience of affecting work “really connects people to impacts”.
The following gallery asks questions about internet privacy. A large neon sign asks “Excuse me, did you drop this data?”
A work by international art collective Tactical Tech includes a physical representation of the ethereal tentacles connecting your iPhone to the global telecommunications network, as well as a playful phone book with pages filled with passwords. We notice that someone used “daddy47” to encrypt their device.
“[Tactical Tech are] very interested in unpacking and making it visible to people when and how [data companies] share their data, unwittingly or not,” says Lisa.
Another gallery explores what lies beneath our feet, with collaborative works created by University of South Australia geoscientists Tom Raimondo and Alicia Pollett and University of South Australia artists Peter Walker and Agnieszka Woznicka.
It was at this stage of the tour that we were joined by MOD. director Kristin Alford, who says understanding geology can help us prepare for the future.
“While the latest science on climate change shows things are looking pretty dire, our exhibits also demonstrate that we each have a part to play,” she says.
A long screen takes the viewer down a hole, which we are told is underground at the Nullarbor Plane. This geographic site, a limestone slab, was connected to Antarctica 50 million years ago.
The solution to protecting one of the largest uninhabited, ice-covered landmasses on the planet could be found by tunneling into the southern coast of our own country.
This exhibit also deals with a known unknown, introducing viewers to the concept of “deep time.”
It is a term, coined by American writer John McPhee in 1981, which alludes to the insignificance of daily human life compared to massive geological developments.
It speaks of the human tendency to short term thinking, focusing on productivity and the economy while ignoring longer-term issues, such as the toll of human activity on the environment.
While knowledge has power, understanding humanity’s role in the long-term health story of our planet is often rendered invisible, Kristin says.
INVISIBILITY runs until November 2022 and explores other themes, such as artificial intelligence, Australian Aboriginal leadership and biometric data. Free entry.