November 15, 2021
When the Smithsonian’s historic Arts and Industries Building opens to the public Nov. 20 with “FUTURES,” visitors will be able to speak directly to the future—and, shortly after, have real-time holographic conversations across the world with people in Doha, Qatar. “FUTURES” is the Smithsonian’s first major building-wide exploration of the future, a part-exhibition, part-festival that will reopen the nation’s oldest U.S. National Museum for the first time in nearly two decades.
“Hi, How R U ? 😎”is a portal that proposes a new futuristic form of communication, enabling spontaneous connection across huge distances and languages to bridge cultural differences. When the exhibition opens, visitors will be able to share a message for the future—of hope, wisdom, love, remembrance, or even advice or warning— and leave a holo-recording behind as a form of time capsule. Beginning in December, visitors will also be able to interact in real time with passersby at a paired portal site in the bustling district of Msheireb in Doha, Qatar, a sustainable smart city, allowing guests at each portal a unique opportunity for cultural exchange.
The concept is inspired by time capsules and their ability to preserve a unique moment in the present for future generations. The term “time capsule” was first coined at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where metal tubes were filled with objects, texts in many languages and communication devices, all preserved for citizens of the distant future to discover. “Hi, How R U ? 😎”aims to recreate the experience using today’s forms of communication. Visitors’ abstracted avatars will first appear on WhatsApp-style visuals and emoji-filled texts. They later become blurred messages overlaid against FaceTime screens, Instagram direct messages, then email, fax and telephone conversations before culminating in a beeping visualized morse code—communication tools that have built upon each others’ progress over time.
“Hi, How R U ? 😎”is housed within the exhibition’s “Futures that Unite” hall, a space devoted to exploring the many ways people relate, connect and embrace collective humanity. “With the holo-capsule in ‘FUTURES,’ we’re celebrating the power of human connection,” said AIB curator Ashley Molese. “One of the greatest wonders of our lives today is our ability to instantly meet each other across space and time. As we make decisions about the future, we’re able to offer visitors a poignant and delightful case that we should place the greatest value on one another.”
The installation will use new transparent OLED screens from LG Display, not yet commercially available, to create the illusion of holography, with custom written software to allow for avatar building in real time. Infrared sensors will “read” visitors body language and animate the conversations.
“It’s a form of time travel,” said Wouter Westen, founder of Circus Family, an Amsterdam-based collective of artists and designers. “’Hi, How R U ? 😎’takes you from present to past by showing these communication methods that revolutionized human connection, all through incredibly advanced technology that speaks to how we could communicate in the future. It invites you to ask yourself, ‘What do you want to say to the future, before the portal is sealed? And what kind of future do you hope is there to receive your message?’”
The project is supported by the Embassy of the State of Qatar to create avenues for artistic collaboration, cultural connection and understanding across the globe. The Smithsonian portal’s sister site in Msheireb, an innovative, fully sustainable development in historic downtown Doha, is scheduled to be up through the run of “FUTURES” into July 2022, as part of the Qatar-U.S.A. Year of Culture.
“As we prepare to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between Qatar and the United States, a central goal has been mutual investment in the future — from sustainable development projects and advancements in technology, to deepening arts and cultural exchanges and fortifying our bilateral partnership,” said H.E. Meshal Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States. “The holo-capsule will connect Americans and Qataris like never before, serving as a symbol of our commitment to continued dialogue between our nations. We are honored to work with one of the United States’ most cherished cultural institutions, the Smithsonian, to bring this inspiring project to life and look forward to sharing it with the people of Washington, D.C and Doha.”
Established in 2007, Circus Family is an Amsterdam-based artist and design collective focused on bringing challenging projects to life through graphic design, moving image, music and interactive technology. Curious about how people choose to behave and interact with what they see, they strive to create new formats for the exploration of moving imagery.
“FUTURES” is the Smithsonian’s first major building-wide exploration of the future and will temporarily reopen its oldest museum for the first time in nearly two decades. The part-exhibition, part-festival, designed by award-winning architecture firm Rockwell Group, will celebrate the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary with more than 150 awe-inspiring objects, ideas, prototypes and installations that fuse art, technology, design and history to help visitors imagine many possible futures on the horizon.
On view Nov. 20 through July 6, 2022, “FUTURES” will be open every day except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with extended hours until 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Admission will be free, and no timed tickets are currently required. For more information and to plan a visit, the public can go to aib.si.edu.
“FUTURES” is made possible by a select group of sponsors and supporters: Amazon Web Services, Autodesk, Bell Textron Inc., Jacqueline B. Mars, John and Adrienne Mars, the Embassy of the State of Qatar, David M. Rubenstein, and SoftBank Group. Major support is also provided by the Annenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Kevin S. Bright and Claudia W. Bright, and Robert Kogod. Additional funding is provided by Accenture, John Brock III, Events DC, First Solar, Wendy Dayton, Charlie and Nancy Hogan, the Suzanne Nora Johnson and David Johnson Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, MedWand Solutions, National Football League, the National Football Players Association, and Oracle.
About the Arts and Industries Building
The Arts and Industries Building (AIB) opened in 1881 as the country’s first National Museum, an architectural icon in the heart of the National Mall. Its soaring halls introduced millions of Americans to wonders about to change the world—Edison’s lightbulb, the first telephone, Apollo rockets. Dubbed “Palace of Wonders” and “Mother of Museums,” AIB incubated new Smithsonian museums for over 120 years before finally closing to the public in 2004. “FUTURES” is a milestone first step in the long-term plan to renovate and permanently reopen this landmark space. For more information, visit aib.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.