BRUNSWICK — Pablo Picasso gave people permission to imagine things from different perspectives.

It’s helpful to keep Picasso and the lessons of cubism in mind when experiencing a pair of coordinated installations at the Walker Gallery of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Together, they turn on its head the concept of a gallery as a place to display and view art. When people walk into the gallery, they enter the artwork itself and activate it by their motions and gestures.

One of the pieces is a series of four large-scale, site-specific drawings by Linn Meyers, “Let’s Get Lost,” which sprawls in mostly black acrylic ink across the gallery’s curved walls. The drawings look like contour lines on a topographical map. The other piece is a sound installation called “Listening Glass,” created by a team of sound artists to work in direct coordination with the drawings on the wall.

To make the pieces work together, visitors download an iPhone app and use their smartphone as a wand. With the app open and the phone’s camera able to read and sense the drawing, visitors create their own music by gesturing over the lines, as if strumming the strings of a guitar.

Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin museum, has reimagined the gallery as the body of an instrument – the image of Picasso’s guitar comes to mind, she said – and the lines on the wall as its strings.

“What we are doing, in a way, is asking people to enter the guitar and make music from the inside,” she said. “Picasso gave us the idea to view things from different perspectives. These artists give us the opportunity to occupy the space of the artwork and transform it into something unique. They thought of the gallery not as a space where sound and visual art would come together, but they thought of the gallery as an instrument that could generate further creative response.”


That distinction is important, said Meyers, who is based in Washington, D.C., and serves as artist in residence at Bowdoin during the academic year, a program funded by Halley K. Harrisburg, a 1990 graduate of the college, and her husband, Michael Rosenfeld. She worked with these same sound artists, the husband-wife team of James Bigbee Garver and Rebecca Bray, on a previous piece in Washington. There, Bray and Garver created a sound installation in response to Meyers’s drawing.

This one is not in response to the wall drawing, Meyers said. It is in conversation with it.

Working closely with Garver, Bray and app designer Josh Knowles, Meyers conceived the wall drawing with technology in mind, considering such issues as the quality and thickness of her lines, as well their color and how those factors affect the iPhone’s ability to read them. The contrast between the color of the lines and the color of the wall also factored in the artists’ considerations and decisions. They wanted the camera to see what people perceive with their eyes and turn those perceptions into distinct sounds.

George Bradt of Portland takes a photo of his friend Annie Wong interacting with one of Linn Meyers’s “Let’s Get Lost” drawings.

They worked in concert with one another and adapted as they learned along they way, with Meyers focused on the drawing, Knowles collecting and sorting the iPhone camera data, and Bray and Garver weaving it all together with the expression of individual sounds.

These were not painters in the studio spilling oil on canvas in jubilant exultation of free artistic expression. The artists huddled over laptops and engaged in serious conversations about technology and attempted to build a complicated puzzle that walked the narrow line between brilliance and novelty.

The ultimate test will be how people respond. It’s an experiment, with the results to be determined over the time the installations will be open not for view, but for admission to the creative process. “We’ve created an arena in which you as a participant can create art,” Garver said.


The app that Knowles designed uses the phone’s camera to read the wall and elicit sound responses on the phone. The app turns the phone into a baton and each visitor into a conductor. The motion of the phone and the angle of the camera results in the sounds of guitars, pianos, bells and voice.

Amanda Banasiak, a junior at Bowdoin College, moves her phone over the lines of a drawing at an exhibit at the Bowdoin College Musueum of Art in Brunswick on Thursday. The drawing, titled “Let’s Get Lost,” is paired with an interactive audio experience called “Listening Glass,” where users download an app to their smartphones. Different sounds result as the phone is moved over the lines of the drawing. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Nearly all the sounds come from each individual phone, so the volume has to be turned up. A few sounds in response to a single blue line in each drawing – all the other lines are black – come from speakers in the room. The size and egg shape of the Walker Gallery, constructed in the late 1800s in the Renaissance style, influenced how the artists designed and built their pieces. Typically, the gallery is home to paintings on the walls, sculpture in the alcoves and objects on pedestals on the gallery floor. For this installation, they cleared the space, giving room for visitors to move freely around the perimeter, cellphones in hand, reading the images and creating music – or just a jumbled cacophony of noise.

The juxtaposition of the classicism of the gallery space and the newness of the technology adds an interesting tension. The artists considered a number of spaces in the museum to present their work and settled on the Walker Gallery because of the intimacy of the space and its opportunities. More than any other space, its oval shape lent itself to the idea of it becoming an instrument that people could play. Frank Goodyear, who co-directs the museum with his wife, suggested the installations might inspire the creation of the Bowdoin Cellphone Orchestra – where tall people will be especially welcome so they can quite literally reach the high notes.

People can come in, look and listen as others activate the space, but both pieces are designed to be interactive, working together at the response of visitors. People who do not have iPhones or do not want to download the app can borrow courtesy phones at the front desk.

Linn Meyers at work on the site-specific drawing “Let’s Get Lost” in the egg-shaped Walker Gallery at Bowdoin.

The pieces will co-exist for nearly a year, giving composers and choreographers and others the chance to create music or dance and generally experiment with the potential of the installations. Both pieces are meant to push the boundaries of art and technology. The exhibition will be entertaining for visitors, Goodyear said, and instructive to students across a range of disciplines, including the visual and performing arts, as well as technology and other related subjects.

As an academic institution, Bowdoin is in a comfortable place to experiment and take chances – and in that context, these art works are no risk at all, she said. As artist in residence, Meyers will work with students throughout the academic year to explore the potential of the art and technology and whatever comes next. “The idea of getting lost has so much to do with the creative process and having the courage to be in a place you don’t know,” Goodyear said.


Said Meyers, “We want to encourage a kind of exploring and getting lost that visitors to art museums do not experience.”

Goodyear wrote her thesis about the intersection of art and technology, so this project was a natural extension of her academic interest and expertise. She and her husband worked with Meyers at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and were encouraged to build on their relationship based on their prior experiences with her. A financial gift from David and Barbara Roux, parents of a recent Bowdoin graduate, paid for the installations.

Amanda Banasiak, a junior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, moves her phone over the lines of a drawing at the Bowdoin Museum of Art. Linn Meyers’s series of four drawings, “Let’s Get Lost,” is paired at the museum with a sound installation called “Listening Glass,” where users download an iPhone app to their smartphones and wield their phones like a wand, producing different sounds as the phone reads and senses the drawing.

“They’re longtime friends of the museum, and they wanted to give us the opportunity to experiment with something,” Goodyear said. “They provided the funding that was very open-ended but with the encouragement we try something new.”

Ultimately, the museum gave the artists space to play and where visitors, students and the artists themselves can learn together.

Despite the prospects of people wanding over the ink drawings with their phones and possibly smudging the lines, the larger conservation issues likely will be technological. As iPhone technology evolves, so will the app. And early in this process of experimentation, the artists have discovered how older iPhones react differently than newer ones. “That’s part of the fun of getting to know the piece and learning how the software works with it,” Goodyear said. “We really are excited to have people come in and test it out and perform with it. If musical groups want to engage this, we are wide open to providing those opportunities.”

There’s a social element at play, as well. Cellphones are isolating, causing people to look inward and down. This piece encourages people to look beyond their phone and use it as a tool for aesthetic engagement.

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