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Visiting Invisible Museums

Jeannette Andrews, Invisible Museums of the Unseen 2020


2020 seems to be all about the power of unseeable things—whether that is microscopic droplets in the air or the intangible relationships between people. Within that context, artist Jeanette Andrews investigates invisible forces in an interactive audio artwork available to anyone with a charged smartphone, access to Chicago parks, and a pair of headphones. We're breaking down the steps to engage with this artwork-in-an-app to ensure the easiest experience for anyone who's curious.

What is it?

Invisible Museums of the Unseen is an interactive experience by Jeanette Andrews that is available in Chicago parks and is hosted on the Gesso app. Gesso is a company that makes “audio-first, geo-responsive digital guides” to bring people closer to their environment and to the objects around them. Andrews collaborated with Gesso to create hidden museums in Chicago's parks, each dedicated to the mysterious forces that act upon us.

Where is it?

Download the Gesso app on your smartphone. You can open the app within any of these parks to access the following galleries:

  • Invisible Museum of Soundwaves in Winnemac Park
  • Invisible Museum of Gravity in Lincoln Park
  • Invisible Museum of Air in Washington Park
  • Invisible Museum of Reflections in Douglass Park

When is it?

This artwork is part of The Long Dream and available on November 7 through the exhibition's close on January 17, 2021. Your park trip will take approximately 25–45 minutes, depending on your unique choices.

How do I use it?

  • Using a smartphone, scan the QR code or visit gesso.app/download to download the Gesso app.
  • Open the app and click “always enable location.” You will be prompted to set up an account.
  • The app will automatically bump you to Chicago if you’re in the city and will show the Invisible Museum closest to your location. If you’re outside of Chicago and want to take a peek, tap the city name at the top of the app, and choose “Chicago” from the pull-down menu.
  • Charge your phone and bring a pair of headphones with you to the park you choose.
  • Once you physically arrive at the park, the app will instruct you on how to begin your experience.

Can’t access the app?

If you are unable to download the Gesso app or make it to the museum, you can find the audio tours on the Gesso website at the links below. The scores are meant to be enjoyed in nature, so seek that out however is possible for you.


Visiting Invisible Museums video still

Hear from the artist in this video about the work.


[music playing]

  • JEANETTE ANDREWS: In my first work of audio art, the medium itself is invisible. And it was also my hope to create unseen sonic architecture, where the participants themselves could actually activate spaces to both contemplate and explore the body's relationship with the invisible forces that surround us and to consciously draw perception to them in this sort of reflective, reflexive sensing one's sensing idea. And, given my background as a technically trained magician, it has long been an interesting goal of mine to focus viewers' and participants' attention back to the amazing and beautiful moments and mechanisms of daily life.

    I always begin my research with science. And I spent months doing research to be able to write the piece. And so, for example, when I was doing a lot of the work leading up to the Invisible Museum of Gravity site, I looked at really everything from the history and philosophy that kind of went into different perspectives on the gravitational force, and then everything from the vestibular system, which is within your inner ear, and is how you sense the exact position of your body and your limbs in relationship to the ground, and that’s done via gravity, to then kinesthetic illusions that are related to how astronauts experience microgravity and gravitational waves, so many different things.

    I also really deeply reflected on the phenomenological works of philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as he deeply explored the relationship that we have with the perceptual field itself. When thinking on the invisible architecture for the work, I had this vision of sort of a glass museum being dropped onto urban locations that then could facilitate a sense of physical and intellectual discovery as people wander the spaces, and that then the natural forces surrounding them would be sort of posited as either museum artifacts or art objects. This would also emphasize that to each of us, our bodies act as the sort of central, fixed, yet constantly shifting pillars of perception.

    As people wander through each park/museum site, participants can interact with a different sonic rendering of the idea at hand and how it impacts their body or the environment around them. For example, at the Invisible Museum of Reflections, there is the Wing of Echo and Location, where I created a piece of sinewave speech, which is essentially a really abstract form of speech that then is repeated over and over and over again. And as a participant moves their body through the space, almost by magic, that abstract sound starts to sound like a single specific word. And then throughout time, it morphs to sound like completely different distinct words, even though they’re still listening to the exact same clip of sound, which I think hopefully really demonstrates how the context in which we hear something literally shapes and informs what we hear and how we understand it.

    At the Invisible Museum of Sound Waves, I did a lot more fieldwork there. And I took physical measurements of natural items in the park, such as the width of a tree trunk, individual blades of grass, the height of fence posts. And I thought of each of them as wavelengths. And then I converted those to frequencies and then converted those to musical notes.

    And I had the amazing violinist Billie Howard play each of those tones. And so the participants will actually hear each of these tones of the physical items, these natural items that pass into and out of their view in the park space. So I was really trying to explore this relationship between space, hearing, and vision.

    One of the things that excites me the most about the work is that it is truly a different experience for everybody. People experience the wings of the museum in different orders. And the galleries appear for different people in different locations throughout the park. So it has this kind of elastic architecture that I envision kind of forming into every single person who experiences it.

    I really hope that people get more of, I think, hopefully a sense of sort of infinite number of invisible processes that are happening around us every day. For us to experience any piece of the world in the way that we do, there’s just so many things that are going on. And our brain has to take shortcuts to be able to process anything that’s happening around us. But I hope in the work to just draw people’s attention back to any little aspect of some of these invisible forces just to hopefully show how beautiful and incredible they are and how deeply intertwined they are with our bodies and our perception of the world around us.

    I’ve heard from a lot of people that it has the sort of meditative, relaxing quality, which I think hopefully acts as sort of an antidote to the rest of our experience right now, and also that idea of hearing these sort of mysterious, kind of esoteric, unknown words and phrases. And a lot of the audio is very textured and layered and overlapped and not readily sort of accessible. Then with whatever is coming into the visual field creating this third thing, which I think just from a philosophical standpoint I love in the sort of Hegelian synthesis kind of way.

    But I think for me, thinking about— it’s such an important part of the work, because I feel like for us to have any moment where then we can really deeply reflect on our experiences, I think the only way, at least for myself, that that usually is able to happen is for some sort of external trigger to happen that maybe we don’t fully know or understand what that is. But within our own minds and with every single person, you’re going to bring to it a whole wealth of your own experience and knowledge and background that’s going to be totally different for everybody. And so hopefully creating those sort of mysterious little triggers for people then will, for everybody, set off different little things in their mind that then we’ll be like oh, well, this maybe allows me to focus on this in a different way.

    One of the things in having it be a site-specific work was really thinking, kind of taking that quite literally. So, for example, at the Invisible Museum of Gravity, I did a lot of calculations to figure out exactly what the— what’s known as the predicted gravity is, because the gravitational force on Earth is not uniform. People just think OK, it’s just what it is. And you drop something, it accelerates at 9.8 meters per second, done.

    It’s not quite true. It is also based on your elevation above sea level and a number of other things. And so I actually did a bunch of calculations to figure out within that wing, where that wing is situated in Lincoln Park, there is a predicted gravity at that exact location. And so then that a number is woven into some of the audio of the work. And part of it is also discussed a little bit.

    And I did a similar thing at the Museum of Air, which is at Washington Park, talking— there I calculated the exact atmospheric pressure, which also has a slight variance based on elevation and on temperature. So I made some broad— well, I took the exact— calculated the exact atmospheric pressure. And there’s a variance of about one ten thousandth of a standard atmosphere based on the range of temperatures that will be predicted for about the three months that people will experience it.

    I mean, I’ve done months and months of research for this. I mean, just I’ve been working on this piece 12, 14, 16 hours a day, seven days a week for the last I don’t even know how many months. But I looked at everything from kind of taking a historical trajectory, look at how the science, how what we understand as the science of gravity has evolved, everything from, of course, Newton and we think of that, and so many beautiful visuals with Newton and the apple, which that story is actually a little different than people kind of think of in pop culture, and kind of thinking on that, which then is woven into some of the narrative elements of the work, to then really looking at— once we— once there was the discovery of gravitational waves with the LIGO Lab and looking at how gravity is actually the structural framework of spacetime itself, which was really important for me in this, of thinking— again, I think— well, we just generally think of OK, gravity, I drop this thing. Boom, done. That’s gravity.

    It’s like no, it’s actually what is forming our idea of spacetime. So that’s re— to me, I mean, it’s really deep and really riveting. And so I feel like— then that kind of got me into looking gravitational waves. And actually, I had a magazine. I had an addition of Scientific American from when the first results started to come out that I picked up in an airport in I think 2013. So I dug out of this old issue of Scientific American.

    And then I’ve been doing a lot of research on some of the theoretical work that’s being looked at right now as it pertains to gravitons and if gravity could potentially exist as a massless particle, which then involved me learning a lot about how bosons work and things like that. So yeah, so it just was really trying to understand everything from sort of our cultural understandings of this and the idea that we think of gravity as something that keeps us maybe rooted to a place, like home, to then really everything, kind of going much more— much more down the rabbit hole of contemporary science. And thankfully, a lot of my original script from the gravity research was fact-checked by Luciano Ristori, who is one of the world’s leading particle physicists.

    And he’s the chief research officer at Fermilab, which is the National Particle Accelerator Laboratory— National Particle Accelerator Laboratory, oh my gosh, there’s an outtake for you. And I am happy to say has been one of my dearest friends for the last 10 years. So at least science is all there.

    I’m so incredibly grateful to all of the amazing partners, collaborators, and friends that have been there with me for every step of the way. And I hope you get the opportunity to explore one of the Invisible Museum sites. And please know that I will be there with you in spirit as you explore and discover our structures in air.