Coming Soon to a Museum Near You: Emerging In-Gallery Digital Media

Mairin —  December 14, 2012 — 4 Comments

One of the benefits of museum work is getting to live in some of the most interesting cities in the world. I’ve just made the trip across the pond and have landed in London, at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

One of the highlights of my first couple weeks here has been seeing the blockbuster (literally) exhibit Hollywood Costume currently on at the V&A. I was blown away by the amount of A/V in the exhibition and how it brought the show to life. Costumes are displayed on headless mannequins. Some mannequins have screens showing the actors faces installed above them while others have stills from the movie showing the actor in the costume projected behind them. Doctored footage shows how a different costume would have changed the Bourne Ultimatum escape scene in the London underground…there’s really too much A/V content to list. Likewise the Royal Ontario Museum’s temporary exhibition Ultimate Dinosaurs which I visited while in Toronto shortly before moving to London has loads of digital media in it (reactive walls, multi-user interactive game, and an interactive timeline).

Digital Media in Museum Galleries

After seeing these exhibitions I’ve been pondering how digital media is used in the galleries. I’ve been considering how we can increase the use of digital media in the galleries to engage our visitors and bring the objects to life. These two exhibitions are examples of this type of digital media. A way to make the average physical visit to the museum more interesting (Howard’s article calling museums boring still haunts me I suppose).

I started a discussion on the Museums and the Web Group on LinkedIn. If you are a member I suggest checking it out as I received a lot of really thought provoking and interesting responses to my question – what interesting digital media is currently in-galleries and what might be coming soon. Here is a short and certainly not comprehensive, list of what I have gathered.

1)    Gesture Based Computing

Ever played Dance Central? I had a fun afternoon playing this with my sister whose husband had an Xbox. The console picks up your movements and awards you points for following along to the dance moves on screen. Xbox is able to pick up body movements thanks to something called Kinect. Kinect is a motion-sensing input device made by Microsoft. It was made for the Xbox games but it has also been adapted for Microsoft PCs. Microsoft released a software developing kit allowing developers to create Apps for Kinect in June 2011. There are some interesting projects that have been created using this technology (some examples: a robot created by Philipp Robbel of MIT that responds to human gestures, MIT Media Lab is working on creating an extension for Google Chrome that allows the user to control browsing using hand gestures, and Topshop in Moscow had a Kinect Kiosk that overlayed clothes onto a live stream video of customers).

So far museums have provided demonstrations (ex The Museum of Science, Boston) of how Kinect works but have not, as far as I know, incorporated it into exhibitions. I’m sure it won’t be long though!

2)    Reactive Digital Walls

This is somewhat similar to Kinect. It is a digital interface that responds based on a person’s movement. The ROM’s Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit featured a few reactive digital walls thanks to Meld Media. The exhibition has digital walls showing dinosaurs in their northern and southern hemisphere habitats that react to visitors thanks to body-scanning technology.

3)    Immersive Multimedia

These digital walls can be immersive like at the Hong Kong Museum of History’s major exhibition The Majesty of All Under Heaven: The Eternal Realm of China’s First Emperor. The museum created a multimedia digital zone which includes an immersive video and audio experience transporting the visitor to the Mausoleum of Qin Shihuang. It uses 32 projectors that create a panoramic view of the mausoleum as it is constructed, destroyed, discovered and restored.

4)    Participatory Digital

This category is perhaps not coming soon…it’s already here. It’s a way to incorporate the visitor voice into the museum. An example is The Night at the Museum evening event at museums across France and parts of Europe that incorporated twitter walls displaying tweets with the hashtag #NDMTW. This was back in 2010 and has been done in many more museums since. It seems that this is typically event-based and not a permanent fixture.

5)    Augmented Reality

I’ve written about Augmented Reality at the ROM and the learning implications. Now that I’m in London I’m excited to see the Science Museum’s AR app where James May from Top Gear appears in miniature to tell stories about his favorite objects in 9 galleries. Because it’s pretty easy to create thanks to user friendly applications like Junaio this has already likely come to a museum near you. But as we continue to experiment with it AR will become more and more engaging. In particular more and more combinations of storytelling, gaming and AR integrating museum objects.

6)    3D Interactive Application

The Petrie Museum (one of the UCL museums in London) recently had an exhibition showcasing many of these 3D interactive applications. The museum showed applications including laser scanning, augmented reality and 3D object reconstruction. You can read their blog post about the exhibition Digital Egypt: Museums of the Future.

How do you think these kinds of in-gallery media affect the visitor experience?

Mairin

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Mairin has worked in Digital Programmes at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England and in Education at the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA, USA. Mairin is a graduate of the University of Toronto's Masters of Museum Studies and is passionate about digital interpretation.

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