Jake Barton: The museum of you

This is Charley Williams. He was 94 when this photograph was taken. In the 1930s, Roosevelt put thousands and thousands of Americans back to work by building bridges and infrastructure and tunnels, but he also did something interesting, which was to hire a few hundred writers to scour America to capture the stories of ordinary Americans. Charley Williams, a poor sharecropper, wouldn’t ordinarily be the subject of a big interview, but Charley had actually been a slave until he was 22 years old. And the stories that were captured of his life make up one of the crown jewels of histories, of human-lived experiences filled with ex-slaves. Anna Deavere Smith famously said that there’s a literature inside of each of us, and three generations later, I was part of a project called StoryCorps, which set out to capture the stories of ordinary Americans by setting up a soundproof booth in public spaces. The idea is very, very simple. You go into these booths, you interview your grandmother or relative, you leave with a copy of the interview and an interview goes into the Library of Congress. It’s essentially a way to make a national oral histories archive one conversation at a time. And the question is, who do you want to remember — if you had just 45 minutes with your grandmother? What’s interesting, in conversations with the founder, Dave Isay, we always actually talked about this as a little bit of a subversive project, because when you think about it, it’s actually not really about the stories that are being told, it’s about listening, and it’s about the questions that you get to ask, questions that you may not have permission to on any other day. I’m going to play you just a couple of quick excerpts from the project. [Jesus Melendez talking about poet Pedro Pietri’s final moments] Jesus Melendez: We took off, and as we were ascending, before we had leveled off, our level-off point was 45,000 feet, so before we had leveled off, Pedro began leaving us, and the beauty about it is that I believe that there’s something after life. You can see it in Pedro. [Danny Perasa to his wife Annie Perasa married 26 years] Danny Perasa: See, the thing of it is, I always feel guilty when I say “I love you” to you, and I say it so often. I say it to remind you that as dumpy as I am, it’s coming from me, it’s like hearing a beautiful song from a busted old radio, and it’s nice of you to keep the radio around the house. (Laughter) [Michael Wolmetz with his girlfriend Debora Brakarz] Michael Wolmetz: So this is the ring that my father gave to my mother, and we can leave it there. And he saved up and he purchased this, and he proposed to my mother with this, and so I thought that I would give it to you so that he could be with us for this also. So I’m going to share a mic with you right now, Debora. Where’s the right finger? Debora Brakarz: (Crying) MW: Debora, will you please marry me? DB: Yes. Of course. I love you. (Kissing) MW: So kids, this is how your mother and I got married, in a booth in Grand Central Station with my father’s ring. My grandfather was a cab driver for 40 years. He used to pick people up here every day. So it seems right. Jake Barton: So I have to say I did not actually choose those individual samples to make you cry because they all make you cry. The entire project is predicated on this act of love which is listening itself. And that motion of building an institution out of a moment of conversation and listening is actually a lot of what my firm, Local Projects, is doing with our engagements in general. So we’re a media design firm, and we’re working with a broad array of different institutions building media installations for museums and public spaces. Our latest engagement is the Cleveland Museum of Art, which we’ve created an engagement called Gallery One for. And Gallery One is an interesting project because it started with this massive, $350 million expansion for the Cleveland Museum of Art, and we actually brought in this piece specifically to grow new capacity, new audiences, at the same time that the museum itself is growing. Glenn Lowry, the head of MoMA, put it best when he said, “We want visitors to actually cease being visitors. Visitors are transient. We want people who live here, people who have ownership.” And so what we’re doing is making a broad array of different ways for people to actually engage with the material inside of these galleries, so you can still have a traditional gallery experience, but if you’re interested, you can actually engage with any individual artwork and see the original context from where it’s from, or manipulate the work itself. So, for example, you can click on this individual lion head, and this is where it originated from, 1300 B.C. Or this individual piece here, you can see the actual bedroom. It really changes the way you think about this type of a tempera painting. This is one of my favorites because you see the studio itself. This is Rodin’s bust. You get the sense of this incredible factory for creativity. And it makes you think about literally the hundreds or thousands of years of human creativity and how each individual artwork stands in for part of that story. This is Picasso, of course embodying so much of it from the 20th century. And so our next interface, which I’ll show you, actually leverages that idea of this lineage of creativity. It’s an algorithm that actually allows you to browse the actual museum’s collection using facial recognition. So this person’s making different faces, and it’s actually drawing forth different objects from the collection that connect with exactly how she’s looking. And so you can imagine that, as people are performing inside of the museum itself, you get this sense of this emotional connection, this way in which our face connects with the thousands and tens of thousands of years. This is an interface that actually allows you to draw and then draws forth objects using those same shapes. So more and more we’re trying to find ways for people to actually author things inside of the museums themselves, to be creative even as they’re looking at other people’s creativity and understanding them. So in this wall, the collections wall, you can actually see all 3,000 artworks all at the same time, and you can actually author your own individual walking tours of the museum, so you can share them, and someone can take a tour with the museum director or a tour with their little cousin. But all the while that we’ve been working on this engagement for Cleveland, we’ve also been working in the background on really our largest engagement to date, and that’s the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. So we started in 2006 as part of a team with Thinc Design to create the original master plan for the museum, and then we’ve done all the media design both for the museum and the memorial and then the media production. So the memorial opened in 2011, and the museum’s going to open next year in 2014. And you can see from these images, the site is so raw and almost archaeological. And of course the event itself is so recent, somewhere between history and current events, it was a huge challenge to imagine how do you actually live up to a space like this, an event like this, to actually tell that story. And so what we started with was really a new way of thinking about building an institution, through a project called Make History, which we launched in 2009. So it’s estimated that a third of the world watched 9/11 live, and a third of the world heard about it within 24 hours, making it really by nature of when it happened, this unprecedented moment of global awareness. And so we launched this to capture the stories from all around the world, through video, through photos, through written history, and so people’s experiences on that day, which was, in fact, this huge risk for the institution to make its first move this open platform. But that was coupled together with this oral histories booth, really the simplest we’ve ever made, where you locate yourself on a map. It’s in six languages, and you can tell your own story about what happened to you on that day. And when we started seeing the incredible images and stories that came forth from all around the world — this is obviously part of the landing gear — we really started to understand that there was this amazing symmetry between the event itself, between the way that people were telling the stories of the event, and how we ourselves needed to tell that story. This image in particular really captured our attention at the time, because it so much sums up that event. This is a shot from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. There’s a firefighter that’s stuck, actually, in traffic, and so the firefighters themselves are running a mile and a half to the site itself with upwards of 70 pounds of gear on their back. And we got this amazing email that said, “While viewing the thousands of photos on the site, I unexpectedly found a photo of my son. It was a shock emotionally, yet a blessing to find this photo,” and he was writing because he said, “I’d like to personally thank the photographer for posting the photo, as it meant more than words can describe to me to have access to what is probably the last photo ever taken of my son.” And it really made us recognize what this institution needed to be in order to actually tell that story. We can’t have just a historian or a curator narrating objectively in the third person about an event like that, when you have the witnesses to history who are going to make their way through the actual museum itself. And so we started imagining the museum, along with the creative team at the museum and the curators, thinking about how the first voice that you would hear inside the museum would actually be of other visitors. And so we created this idea of an opening gallery called We Remember. And I’ll just play you part of a mockup of it, but you get a sense of what it’s like to actually enter into that moment in time and be transported back in history. (Video) Voice 1: I was in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Voice 2: I was in Cairo, Egypt. Voice 3: Sur les Champs-Élysées, à Paris.
Voice 4: In college, at U.C. Berkeley. Voice 5: I was in Times Square.
Voice 6: São Paolo, Brazil. (Multiple voices) Voice 7: It was probably about 11 o’clock at night. Voice 8: I was driving to work at 5:45 local time in the morning. Voice 9: We were actually in a meeting when someone barged in and said, “Oh my God, a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center.” Voice 10: Trying to frantically get to a radio. Voice 11: When I heard it over the radio — Voice 12: Heard it on the radio. (Multiple voices) Voice 13: I got a call from my father.
Voice 14: The phone rang, it woke me up. My business partner told me to turn on the television. Voice 15: So I switched on the television. Voice 16: All channels in Italy were displaying the same thing. Voice 17: The Twin Towers.
Voice 18: The Twin Towers. JB: And you move from there into that open, cavernous space. This is the so-called slurry wall. It’s the original, excavated wall at the base of the World Trade Center that withstood the actual pressure from the Hudson River for a full year after the event itself. And so we thought about carrying that sense of authenticity, of presence of that moment into the actual exhibition itself. And we tell the stories of being inside the towers through that same audio collage, so you’re hearing people literally talking about seeing the planes as they make their way into the building, or making their way down the stairwells. And as you make your way into the exhibition where it talks about the recovery, we actually project directly onto these moments of twisted steel all of the experiences from people who literally excavated on top of the pile itself. And so you can hear oral histories — so people who were actually working the so-called bucket brigades as you’re seeing literally the thousands of experiences from that moment. And as you leave that storytelling moment understanding about 9/11, we then turn the museum back into a moment of listening and actually talk to the individual visitors and ask them their own experiences about 9/11. And we ask them questions that are actually not really answerable, the types of questions that 9/11 itself draws forth for all of us. And so these are questions like, “How can a democracy balance freedom and security?” “How could 9/11 have happened?” “And how did the world change after 9/11?” And so these oral histories, which we’ve actually been capturing already for years, are then mixed together with interviews that we’re doing with people like Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and you mix together these different players and these different experiences, these different reflection points about 9/11. And suddenly the institution, once again, turns into a listening experience. So I’ll play you just a short excerpt of a mockup that we made of a couple of these voices, but you really get a sense of the poetry of everyone’s reflection on the event. (Video) Voice 1: 9/11 was not just a New York experience. Voice 2: It’s something that we shared, and it’s something that united us. Voice 3: And I knew when I saw that, people who were there that day who immediately went to help people known and unknown to them was something that would pull us through. Voice 4: All the outpouring of affection and emotion that came from our country was something really that will forever, ever stay with me. Voice 5: Still today I pray and think about those who lost their lives, and those who gave their lives to help others, but I’m also reminded of the fabric of this country, the love, the compassIon, the strength, and I watched a nation come together in the middle of a terrible tragedy. JB: And so as people make their way out of the museum, reflecting on the experience, reflecting on their own thoughts of it, they then move into the actual space of the memorial itself, because they’ve gone back up to grade, and we actually got involved in the memorial after we’d done the museum for a few years. The original designer of the memorial, Michael Arad, had this image in his mind of all the names appearing undifferentiated, almost random, really a poetic reflection on top of the nature of a terrorism event itself, but it was a huge challenge for the families, for the foundation, certainly for the first responders, and there was a negotiation that went forth and a solution was found to actually create not an order in terms of chronology, or in terms of alphabetical, but through what’s called meaningful adjacency. So these are groupings of the names themselves which appear undifferentiated but actually have an order, and we, along with Jer Thorp, created an algorithm to take massive amounts of data to actually start to connect together all these different names themselves. So this is an image of the actual algorithm itself with the names scrambled for privacy, but you can see that these blocks of color are actually the four different flights, the two different towers, the first responders, and you can actually see within that different floors, and then the green lines are the interpersonal connections that were requested by the families themselves. And so when you go to the memorial, you can actually see the overarching organization inside of the individual pools themselves. You can see the way that the geography of the event is reflected inside of the memorial, and you can search for an individual name, or in this case an employer, Cantor Fitzgerald, and see the way in which all of those names, those hundreds of names, are actually organized onto the memorial itself, and use that to navigate the memorial. And more importantly, when you’re actually at the site of the memorial, you can see those connections. You can see the relationships between the different names themselves. So suddenly what is this undifferentiated, anonymous group of names springs into reality as an individual life. In this case, Harry Ramos, who was the head trader at an investment bank, who stopped to aid Victor Wald on the 55th floor of the South Tower. And Ramos told Wald, according to witnesses, “I’m not going to leave you.” And Wald’s widow requested that they be listed next to each other. Three generations ago, we had to actually get people to go out and capture the stories for common people. Today, of course, there’s an unprecedented amount of stories for all of us that are being captured for future generations. And this is our hope, that’s there’s poetry inside of each of our stories. Thank you very much. (Applause)

97 thoughts on “Jake Barton: The museum of you

  1. As if a memorial site wasn't enough, now a museum being built for the attacks at the world trade centers. I can't belive the amount of time and funds the US are spending to memory the event, I'm not saying it wasn't a horrible event, but twelve years have passed and it is time to move on.

  2. Why is this necessary?? The NSA is already recording everything we do… they don't need this too, this is just duplication for them.

  3. I wonder when they're going to build a memorial for all the war crimes they committed, like the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo tortures.. or… is that not in the past enough (maybe because it's still happening)?

  4. There have been way larger dissasters like the Tsunami in 2004 which killed around 230,000 or the earthquake at Haiti in 2010 which took 159,000 lives, in comparrison only a little under 3,000 died at the world trade center, but the rest of the world still have to hear about it.

  5. Well those two incidents you are talking about are of course horrible events and should be recognised more. But its important to remember 9/11 because it was a man made religious terrorist attack -in the name of god. Without religion this attack would probably not have happend. We need a more secular world with reason and science to guide us. Not magic books that justifies flying planes in to buildings or start wars.

  6. I agree with without religion the attack probably would not have happened, but not for the reasons I presume you are implying. Religion allowed men to have the conviction to kill themselves along with innocent people because they believed they would be rewarded afterwards, but the actual motive behind the attacks is clear from Bin Laden's own testimony. His motive was striking back at the US for its abhorrent manipulation of the Mujahideen and its meddling in Middle Eastern affairs.

  7. You are probably right about that. But the mindset behind it is still christian vs muslim, and bin ladin declared holy war against United States. Wiki motives: Western support for attacking Muslims in Somalia, supporting Russian atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya, supporting the Indian oppression against Muslims in Kashmir, the Jewish aggression against Muslims in Lebanon, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, U.S. support of Israel,] and sanctions against Iraq.

  8. So this presentation was actually about this 911 museum… looks awfully like official story PR and endless heartstring pulling… on that subject. Sickening.

  9. A venture into the absurd when you see the efforts gone to "remembering" – are we all amnesiacs? Must our grandchildren be aware of this event when Gulf War IV kicks off? The question gallery – is there where I get to think autonomously about questions like: WHERE WERE YOU AT THE TIME OF THE TERROR? Quite a forensic examination and a dangerous and highly selective line of narrative to take. What is the historical and ideological context? Will Bin Laden be "explained?" CIA actions in Afghanistan?

  10. I concur with creeta 🙂 i can tell you how to tell that 911 story better, just put up the photos of the usual suspects, PNAC signitures & project members for starters

  11. And then you get the argument that if we do that, then why not a memorial for every causality of war. And then you go from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand to several millions – if not more – who you need to then research and what not to reach this level of poetics.

  12. it's true, i think they wanted to include individual stories of 9/11 because, without them—and in the traditional way history is related—there are always huge pieces missing. but without the stories of iraqis and afghanis, those who survived the war, those who survived guantanamo and abu ghraib (or who didn't)… there are still huge pieces missing.

  13. Global terrorist attacks are committed in the name of religion because they see us as the evil and actually believe they are the good guys dying for their beliefs. Attacks on the west are the result of ongoing unresolved conflicts in we have become involved.
    When our armies occupy a country they present the flag on their uniform and instead they fight in the name of a country, and not religion – but what’s the difference?

  14. The west only get involved in war if it’s in their best interest, usually out of greed to obtain a resource a country possesses.
    We need to understand what is happening and why, because peace will only be achieved over generations, by ending these conflicts & educating all the people of the world to think for themselves.
    Then we won’t have armies of people going to war over a politician’s ulterior motives, & we could spend our time exploring space together instead of fighting like children.

  15. Yes there are a lot of reasons why people fight, patriotism and religion are two of them. And often they are correlated. Ultimately we make our decisions from what we believe in, that is why its important that what we believe in is actually true. And we only get there through science and reason.

  16. Go fuck yourself. 3 thousand innocent people lost their lives, including people I knew personally. It has caused so much pain to so many people, and you have the balls to say that? Also please don't reply to me with your petty 'facts' or speculations. I've heard them all and there is no truth to them whats so ever.

  17. Science & reason yes, education in general really.

    The world's ignorance could be cured through education, but we still need to understand where each other are coming from.

    We can't blame terrorist attacks on religion that just puts an unnecessary label on human conflict. Attacks occur because groups of people feel cornered by war, & their misguided willingness to retaliate brought them to believe killing would be a noble act that would somehow help their cause & bring peace to their people.

  18. Another giant step in human storytelling. Hopefully this method can be incorporated to share both the good and the bad, and not just one or the other. Hopefully it can share the many sides of one story and create a broader vision of events and how it impacted our kind.

  19. Will the NSA spy on that too, or the DEA use it to bust people or CIA/politicians use it for statistical leverage over the people or it be sold to corporations.

  20. Great, inspiring video. But I wonder about the technology reliance. You know what's great about meatspace museums? The artifacts don't bluescreen out on you.

  21. I assure you it's sarcasm. It scares me more that there are people who truly feel this way or worse…it's what I found so ironic watching this talk. Speaking objectively, there are millions of people in the world content to believe a guy was the son of God and walked the earth over 2000 yrs ago bc of a couple of biased documents. With the Holocaust and 9/11, there are actual eyewitnesses, survivors, liberators, people who saw or suffered through it all firsthand one way or another, and some…

  22. think those people basically put their heads together and came up with this massive lie to tell the world, It baffles me that people refuse to acknowledge firsthand experiences…I just can't get my head around it…I can't.
    BTW, if you have a couple of hours, search for Worse Than War on here, it's a really great documentary about WHY humans do what they do or have done what they've done when it comes to genocides and ethnic cleansing. I have both books this guy wrote, they're really good.

  23. Perhaps more than the issue of 9/11, this TED talk shows the sudden turn that museums are taking today, and hopefully will continue to in the future. I really hope other modern museums will incorporate the idea of putting real stories, first hand, into their museums.

  24. Yeah, i remember where i was when i watched them fall down…
    Then i went onto a forum and listened to a year of American asshats (ie: prettymuch everyone) frothing at the mouth and saying "TURN THE WHOLE MIDDLE EAST INTO A SAND BOWL".
    So yeah, thanks for the education on your shit culture America.
    I will never ever visit your fascist shores and get fingerprinted.

  25. As much of a tragedy 9/11 was I think that the U.S. is responsible, the men that flew those planes into the WTC weren't mindless fanatics, they came up with a complex plan and sacrificed their lives that day. No human would do that unless they felt they had a good reason. No human would do that unprovoked. If you go around the world fucking people over sooner or later they're going to fight back

  26. Would it be okay to be way to Overzealous over such a thing.
    Its like another WWII museum, hell, we have enough already.
    Now this, they just finalized one, hell, they are building a new building too.

  27. Thanks for the clarification. I it looks very suspiciously fake outlined like that. Out of focus would be everything not just his cut out figure. Anyway I accept it.

  28. I have no problem with Americans being so obsessed with such a painful event, and even treating it as a sort of disaster porn. But questions like "how did 9/11 change the world?" and assuming that people worldwide had important and painful reactions to the event is US-centric to say the least. 9/11 wasn't an attack on humanity, or the world. Most of the planet was unaffected. 9/11 was a targeted attack on the US. And I don't want this dude to assume it was an attack on me, because it wasn't.

  29. Wouldn't you put that museum in those countries. Please don't say stuff like this on a video like this. This is for 9/11 victims, I can't fathom how many people died over there and if you're bitter I apologize for that but please PLEASE not here. People have family members who died as a result of terrisiom I know you probably feel strongly about those people but this is for the AMERICANS that died, not the middle easterners that died. Go on a video about them to say something like that.

  30. Stop. You sound extremely ignorent and rude. Why would you write something so harsh on a video like this. I'm sure if something like this happened in your country I'd feel heart broken as well. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm a caring person.

  31. why? I feel like this would be a good idea for closure so they CAN move on. Who cares about how long ago this happened. These People Need Closer TO Move On.

  32. I was just asking if they were being sarcasitic or not I do not want to get into this debate on weather this is moral or not its going to hurt people but it may educate others so you need to step back from the high ground and look at the bigger picture also think about what you are doing if you are arguing over the internet

  33. I know you have a point, it is a point that needs to be addressed, but this is not the place for it Philip. I really do respect you bringing up the deaths that this event has brought about, yet there needs to be a place for the innocent people that died in this horrific event. Hopefully in the future there is a museum for the hundreds of thousands that have died. In the mean time let this very poignant talk represent the sadness and impact 9/11 had on individuals both there and around the world.

  34. So, you're a hate America firster. How about a museum exhibit for the millions of women beheaded, stoned, imprisoned, persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan? How about a museum for the for the millions gassed, tortured and killed by Hussein in Iraq? How about a museum about asses like you?

  35. Tell me exactly how all of those issues are solved by US military action? The US has been in the Middle East for decades now, and have those things gotten any better? Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds was facilitated by the CIA who knew he had chemical weapons, but wanted him to use them on Iranian troops which he did, so they were complicit in Hussein's ownership and use of these weapons. It was only after he invaded Kuwait which is our oil buddy that we intervened. Go back to sleep.

  36. I disagree, this is exactly where it needs to be brought up. Too many Americans have a twisted view that the lives lost on 9/11 are a justification for the military action taken in the Middle East, and that is not an acceptable position for a country that claims to stand for "justice."

  37. Tell that to all of the innocent families holding their dead children from drone strikes in the Middle East. Would you tell them to their face to quit their crying?

  38. American's NEED to see the damage that their military intervention has caused in the Middle East, otherwise this will happen over and over again. I knew people that died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, so don't think it doesn't hit close to home for me too. That is why I am enfuriated that the US government used 9/11 as an excuse to garner American support for their heinous actions in the Middle East, and why anyone who was affected by the attacks should be furious they were used for this.

  39. Yeah exactly. None of those things really are specific to a Christian/Muslim conflict. He didn't hate "America's way of life," like many Americans say over and over and it nauseates me. He hated America because the US government used the military against his own people. If the US had just stayed out of the Middle East, 9/11 would have never happened.

  40. How is this guy not more excited about his presentation?

    This is that rare trifecta of Technology, Education AND Design. This is an awesome and inspiring project.

  41. people dont want to hear the truth, its complicated, makes them feel dumb when they dont understand it and its just so much easier to repeat talking points (be they of any persuasion). your comments are all good, without turning into ad hominem, good to see not ALL comments on youtube are braindead fuckups. dont let the haters get to you

  42. What wonderful projects, amazing use of technology, design and content to creat a more meaningful experience and bring us closer to the most intimate strings of human nature and soul.

  43. It's incredible how technology can evoke emotion! I love the interactive museum but I fear the censorship in the 9/11 museum! I highly doubt they will present the truth instead of just pushing the party line of disinfo propaganda! I best part off 9/11 was there was no gun violence that day and for me besides seeing a life's history of prophecy being fulfilled was I watch two swans fornicating in the river! It was also great to give the sky a break from chemtrails and jet planes!

  44. I dont know many truths and I am convinced media is to control what we know and control what we persive… I was a kid when 9/11 happened… I thought n still think.. what courage and anger they had to do this…. why they attacked?

  45. This sounds like building something to justify the fact that they bombed themselves and blamed it on someone else. They will have the economic reasons and the view point that they did it to bring people together. In which I say feck you! This is a terrible way to bring people together it's short term and people help people all the time with out needing to be bombed to recognize it. I find this sad. I think the real people who did this bombing of the towers should be ashamed!

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