The nature of an object can change dramatically depending upon who you talk to. Even the simplest things, like a paper cup or a fire extinguisher can become fascinating, priceless, or horrifying, depending upon their individual history.
Museums have gotten in the habit of providing hand-held devices that explain the history and significance of their collections. It is quite common to see visitors strolling through galleries with headsets on, connected to plastic chucks of technology, that, at a push of a button, explain who made it, why it is important and any number of details that pertain to the object in front of them.
PDL has no problem with this practice. Quite the contrary. They recognize how powerful a tool these audio tours are in shaping the visitor’s perception and understanding of art. With the right narration, one could turn a bland painting or abstract sculpture into an exciting, accessible, potentially thrilling revelation. PDL loves the concept of transforming the public’s perception of an artwork through use of audio narrative. They just aren’t so keen on sticking to the truth.
In PDL’s first run at an unauthorized audio tour, they took on the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection with great enthusiasm. From Rubens to Motherwell, Duchamp to the Porcelain Room, PDL offered their own perspectives and narratives with the intent of making you look at the artwork in an entirely different light. Some took creative liberties with the origins of the art (like Dan Flavin's Untitled-to Donna, a neon sculpture which we encouraged was actually a public tanning bed), while others were simply creative responses to the art (like the Porcelain Room, whose audio accompaniment consisted of 2 minutes of porcelain being smashed on a concrete floor- at first a few tinkles, symphonically swelling to a cascade, as you stood there, peering at the precious objects behind glass all around you).
PDL burned fifty CDs and spread them around Seattle, encouraging people to download it onto their iPod or MP3 player and take their walking tour through the museum’s various galleries. We also spent several "First Thursdays" hanging out in the SAM lobby wearing bright blue blazers, with a beckoning sign and a dozen of so CD players from Goodwillwith track-specific maps that we checked out to curious bypassers. We relished the sight of people engaging typically inaccessible modern art with smiles on their faces, or bursting out laughing in the more uninspiring corners of the antiquities collection.
Below is a small sampling of some of the works from the SAM tour. There is no substitute to being in the museum with headphones on, face to face with the real thing, but it is a way to get a better understanding of PDL’s approach to the traditional audio tour.