MODA explores role of text in modern life

Photo by Monica Jamison

From Twitter to textbooks, text is omnipresent in students’ lives, but rarely do most people acknowledge or question its influence. The new exhibit at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA), “Text Me: How We Live in Language,” examines the role of typographic expression in reflecting, documenting and influencing modern life.

According to curator Debbie Millman, “The condition of our communication reflects the condition of our culture, and our ability to communicate — our ability to speak, our ability to text, our ability to write — is what helps us define our world and express our reality.” Millman is a designer, writer, brand strategist and host of the podcast “Design Matters.” Curating an exhibition had been a dream of hers for years.

The exhibit includes text in a variety of mediums from fine art to household goods to videos. Demanding attention in the first corridor of the space is a dining table suspended from the ceiling. Under each plate sits a napkin covered in topics that no one wants to talk about at dinner, such as “Are you still together with your boyfriend” and “colonoscopy results.”

To explore the theme of living in language, the subtle organization of the exhibit as a home continues. In the large room at the end of the corridor, the space separates into a bathroom, bedroom and den. A tub filled with sand meant to be written in by visitors, a mirror covered in words and urinals each containing a word comprise the bathroom-themed area.

In the central bedroom area, a tall bed frame has a blanket embroidered with the words “her story is strange.” A mannequin is draped with a dress made of long, unfurling strips of fabric that spell out words one letter at a time. This piece by Lesley Dill, titled I Dismantle Suit, is usually an active piece, dressing a person on stage, but is statically displayed for
this exhibit.

In one of the most striking pieces, the entire back wall is covered in black with blocks of white text by Timothy Goodman over it. His painfully relatable commentary on modern love is made more impactful by the format of this display.

The den or living room space contains shelves with books, graphic novels and vessels with text on them. One book on display has been cut and reassembled to form a sculpture of interlocking lines of text. An interactive computer installation, “We Are Family,” offers visitors the ability to display entered text in a font comprised of small squares of violent or inappropriate gifs.

The other main room, off of the main corridor, is dark to allow a greater impact of the digital pieces. One long wall is covered in a screen displaying a story. As visitors enter the room and move their arms, text is thrown across the screen matching their movements. On the opposite wall, a powerful series of videos plays, including a man eating letters and a recording of the frustrations of Google Translate.

Creatively using space, the exhibit extends into the actual bathroom of the museum. A shower curtain hangs, bearing a long, stream of consciousness style love note from the shower to the person showering. The gift shop also contains pieces of the exhibit, including a bench with letter shaped holes in it so that the shadows spell out words.

Within the normal exhibit space, high pillars and beams have been used to display works of a street artist, and the aforementioned suspended table hangs from the ceiling, using the building’s former life as a parking deck to the exhibit’s advantage.

Through innovative use of space, the thematic vehicle of the home and a mix of traditional and new media, “Text Me” successfully examines the role of text, leaving the viewer reflecting on societal and personal implications of communication and design.