Gillian McIntyre | Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada

T-Waterfall: Facilitating Public Dialogue in Exhibitions Through Social Media

ocial media is primarily used by museums as a marketing and communication tool. In 2012 an exhibition of work, by the artist Iain Baxter&, presented the opportunity to experiment with using social media to create meaningful dialogue between the artist, visitors and the institution. Iain Baxter& is a senior Canadian contemporary artist. Collaboration and contingency are central to his working method and in 2005 he legally changed his name to Iain Baxter&, the addition of the ampersand underscoring that all art transpires in relation to and in partnership with a viewer/receiver.

As the strategies we implemented were experimental we conducted extensive visitor studies throughout the course of the exhibition and adjusted the components as necessary, according to the findings. This required the AGO to be nimbler than usual, with a team of staff members working closely together.

The main components were:

  • A triple screen video presentation at the entrance of the exhibition inviting visitor response and introducing the main issues in the exhibition – the environment, consumerism, collaboration and Canadian identity.
  • An ampersand-shaped table in the heart of the exhibition with five tablets, each with their own Twitter accounts. A looped video presented the artist asking thought-provoking questions. A second large screen displayed the Tweets. The resulting T-waterfall – a visible stream of visitors’ responses and reflections – was constantly updated as people sent tweets form inside and outside the building.
  • QR codes linking to an online catalogue of his work developed at York University
  • A live webinar with the artist took place on Earth Day in this space.

The goal, through these strategies, was to engage visitors in discussion around the exhibition inside the gallery and on internet. The artist regularly joined in the conversation and there were 23,633 tweets during the run of the exhibition at an average of 22 an hour.

In this session we will discuss the successes and challenges of this experimental project from the perspective of the institution, the artists, visitors and the T-waterfall designer.