ARtSENSE and Manifest.AR: Revisiting Museums in the Public Realm through Emerging Art Practices
Roger McKinley, UK, Areti Damala, UK
A large section of the cultural heritage sector not usually thought of as Cultural Heritage is the contemporary and temporary art galleries and spaces. Many such institutions do not have traditional collection mechanisms nor permanent artefacts and exhibitions, but rather a rolling programme constantly in flux. This represents a new challenge in terms of a systemised approach to learning and public engagement strategies, but also offers an opportunity to propose new learning and engagement mechanisms through the prism of its one unique selling point– the artistic creative engagement of artists and art practitioners. This paper examines the potential of Augmented Reality for the museum and gallery visiting experience focusing particularly on the ways through which AR as an emerging technology may inform emerging art practices all by encouraging public participation and engagement with art.
Keywords: museum, galleries, New Media Art, Augmented Reality, public engagement, visitor experience
What we find changes who we become. – Peter Morville
1. Augmented Reality, public engagement and new media art
Contemporary and new media art and artists typically occupy an interstitial place with respect to dominant or systematised approaches to heritage culture. As ‘insider-outsiders’ they simultaneously contribute to those structures and practices and critique them. A number of contemporary artists have started investigating the territories normally bound within carefully controlled systems by means of emerging technologies. They are generating new artistic modes of production that provoke and encourage a shift in established ways of creating, exposing, sharing and providing narratives.
Within this more fluid framework, several questions arise: How do we approach the processes of artistic creation in ways that embrace social technologies to personalise the museum and gallery experience? In this context, how does either the “invasive” or lightweight and potentially ubiquitous nature of AR technologies shape contemporary new media artistic creation? Can AR assist in passing from the “I” of the Artist to the “we” of participation to reshape the relationships between the public and the museum and gallery space? How can AR effectively expand the exhibition space outside the gallery’s walls and into the city? And how can all of the above change our perception of what may actually constitute a Museum?
This paper explores the design and curatorial strategy behind the upcoming exhibition, “Turning FACT Inside Out”, featuring multiple mobile AR artworks, interactions and installations conceived by the international artists’ collective, Manifest.AR and commissioned and curated by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool, UK. The exhibition and the work presented in this paper is taking place within the European ARtSENSE research project that explores the potential of Adaptive Augmented Reality for enhancing the museum and gallery visiting experience through the combined use of visual, audio and physiological sensors.
2. The gallery as research centre and “laboratory”
FACT, Research, Innovation and the FACTLab
Historically FACT has operated three pillars of operation: an exhibition-based public facing programme, a less visible but highly successful Collaborations and Engagement programme, and a service provider for the arts sector in the UK for equipment, advice and production facilities (FACT, 2009). The “research” element of FACT would generally sit across the staff or the invited artists and evolve as part of a pre-determined programme. This is not deep or speculative research, but research for the purpose of providing support material for an innovative programme.
FACT, however, is changing its relationship to research; through an initiative called FACTLab we want to put emerging research as the central driver for the programme. FACT has identified three overarching themes that it wishes to address in the next five years under the Header of Human Futures. These are Health, Citizenship and Work and a number of key “Ennobling Questions” that drive the research forward:
- The Dispersed Artist and Audience: Participation, Creation and Engagement in the Public Realm –what is the State of the Art and how do we go beyond it?
- The Games We Play: through customs learned on-line, such as gambling and video games, will engaging with the everyday, become better, deeper and more fun?
- Social: how will shared experiences model new forms of learning, being human and extending our notion of society and limbic systems?
In the FACTLab, as well as generating new artworks and ideas we incubate and grow existing projects to increase their impact and reach. To be of value, research outcomes should have a genuine, measurable positive impact on the quality and experience of civic life and learning through art. Mike Stubbs, FACT’s CEO, sums up the context of this effort in the UK environment:
Recently government policy has attempted to de-prioritise the arts and humanities within secondary education through the EBac, which is counter productive when so much hope is placed on the creative and digital industries digging us out of recession into growth. Further galvanising individuals on the importance of giving young children exposure to arts experiences and alternatives to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects is thus crucial, and will need to take place in spite of the formal school education system. (unpublished FACTLab mission document)
Furthermore, one of the key parameters that the FACTLab wants to address is the possibility that:
The exhibition experience needs to start before the public has left their homes. The navigation of the exhibition becomes an interactive electronic experience, physical spaces endowed with the connectivity and interactive potential of virtual phenomena such as AR, with the aim to announce a new way to experience the public realm through an innovative digital portal. (ibid)
3. The ARtSENSE Project
The participation of FACT in the European co-funded ARtSENSE project is providing an exciting framework for approaching the issues raised above through another angle (www.artsense.eu). ARtSENSE (Augmented RealiTy Supported adaptive and personalized Experience in a museum based oN processing real-time Sensor Events) is a three-year European co-funded project implicating seven technological and three museum and cultural heritage partners. The goal of ARtSENSE is to examine the potential of Augmented Reality for the museum and gallery experience. The project introduces new wearable technologies for sensing continuously and non-intrusively the user’s context (visual context, eye-tracking, audio tracking, 3D spatialisation, physiological sensing) in order to determine the user’s current interests. The visitor is equipped with a pair of AR see-through glasses able to track his or her gaze and eye-movements. The visitor can use natural gestures to interact with the multimedia content delivered to the view through the glasses in the form of virtual overlays (Figure 2). Audio augmentations are also provided, as well as 3D sound effects, while the acoustic and affective attention of the visitor is continuously monitored through the use of audio and acoustic sensors. Thus the visitors have the feeling that physical objects are directly responding to them; the artworks become active artefacts that react on users’ attention and engagement levels. This leads to the new generation of mobile museum guides based on the novel concept coined by the consortium, called Adaptive Augmented Reality (A2R).
The ARtSENSE project provided an extra opportunity for the investigation of core questions related to public engagement, gamification and shared experience using Augmented Reality not only within but also beyond the museum and gallery walls. The project features a collaboration among a large team of museum professionals from three totally different yet complementary Cultural Heritage institutions from Spain (Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas – MNAD), Paris (Musée des arts et metiers – MAM) and the UK (FACT).
In Madrid, the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas (MNAD) chose to augment an 18th century tiled kitchen from Valencia (Figure 2). The room is decorated with everyday life scenes featuring the preparation of a chocolate party. The predominant figure is the House Lady who coordinates the tasks performed by the household servants. Many different types of food, tools and kitchen utensils and domestic animals are depicted, framed up and down by a garland of flowers. There is a large variety of visual and non-visual content that can augment this artefact: from iconographic parallels (costumes, dresses, jewellery, tools and recipients) to cooking recipes or music of the same period, the possibilities seem to be endless. The particularity of the ARtSENSE approach resides in the fact that due to the eye-tracking mechanism the augmented content will appear in relation with the very particular detail a museum visitor may be contemplating (like for example the tray with the sorbets that the servant at the left carries). Each figure and detail has the potential to act as an entry point to a story that is narrated in all four kitchen walls, once it attracts the visitors’ visual attention. Animated dialogues among the depicted figures as well as 3D sound effects may also act as entry points for the augmented visit. Throughout the full visit, the bio-sensing equipment monitors the psychophysiological impact of the augmented museum visiting experience in terms of activation, cognition (level of mental effort) and valence (level of positive or negative feelings towards either a physical object or the multimedia content delivered).
The Musée des arts et métiers in Paris (MAM) is characteristic of the challenges that science and technology museums present in terms of museum education and communication. The “artifact” to augment is the laboratory of Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier, featuring the equipment with which Lavoisier realised the experiment of the synthesis of water. This is a difficult exhibit to decode, with many parts of the original equipment used (including the connections among them) missing. As stated by the MAM museum professionals, the main goal here is not only to augment the exhibit with multimedia contents related with the life and work of Lavoisier but also to make the visitors “visualize the instruments, weigh the gases, connect the gas meters to the balloon, create the spark and repeat on their own Lavoisier’s experiment.” The main motivations, aspirations and needs from an Adaptive Augmented Reality system as identified with the participation of a large team of museum professionals from MNAD, FACT and MAM are presented in detail in (Damala & Stojanovic, 2012).
4. The “FACT” case study
During the first life-circle of the project, the main focus was on encouraging synergy among the cultural heritage professionals and technological partners so as to identify requirements and needs that would be then transformed to meaningful augmented visiting experiences. FACT, however, presented an even more challenging case study since no permanent collection exists, as is the case with the permanent, well established and internationally significant collections of MNAD and MAM. The solution to this challenge was two-fold:
- Think of the building itself as an artifact – with its own history, context and relationship to its public;
- Create a new work of art that interrogates both the problem and the technology.
Both proposals were put forward to the consortium. FACT suggested a number of different artworks that had been part of the building’s construction as artifacts to “augment.” The starting point should be an artifact with a deep and rich set of additional materials that would be extensive enough to give multiple variables for different levels of “personalised” engagement, and be granular enough to satisfy the expert and the casual visitor alike in an adaptive way.
The VIP signature pillar
The VIP signature Pillar reflects both the context and the history and the relational meaning of the building to its public (Figure 3 and 4). The Pillar is an ad hoc document of “Very Important Person” (VIP) visitors to the FACT building, with signatures from film directors, artists, musicians and actors that have visited and worked with FACT. The pillar provides an indication of the breadth and scope of practice that goes on in the building. It is a way to document the passage of these guests, and a fun and “punk” approach for these auteurs to leave their mark on the building. Moreover, it is generally the case that each of the signatures has been “captured” in some way on camera and in interview. This enables FACT to underpin each signature with rich media content and make the user engagement with the proposed ARtSENSE technology a deep and valuable one. The visitor equipped with the system would be able to get to this rich media content in a novel way and there was enough content to be able to adapt to the users’ level of engagement and supply them with appropriate material.
This first scenario was relatively straightforward; the second scenario required a more lateral approach.
Commissioning an Artwork
Though FACT is very experienced in commissioning artworks that incorporate technologically challenging elements and presenting them to the public, ARtSENSE was a little different: here was a research project where the technology would be constantly under evolution. FACT had to find artists who were not only proficient with emerging technology in line with the core aims of the project – developing a biologically integrated adaptive AR system – but who would be willing to be part of the experiment and the project itself. The vision was that the successful artists would bring a new approach and by default open up new and exciting avenues that had previously not been considered.
It was important that the artists understood the concepts behind the work before we undertook to commission them. To this end, PhD researcher Aneta Krzemien working on the role of new media in art, culture and society at the turn of the 21st century, helped us to identify a number of artists whose work was a good fit with the curatorial and technical framework of the research. The consortium decided that the work of artists collective Manifest.AR was the most appropriate to take forward.
AR and the museum and gallery experience: Why Work With Artists?
Encouraging the synergy among researchers and artists when it comes to emerging technologies has already been identified as a strategy of mutual benefit for both of these worlds (Grasset et al., 2007). The Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam has also presented examples of collaboration with artists working with AR (Schavemaker et al., 2011). Within the context of the ARtSENSE project, FACT identified several important additional motivations for doing so.
As a primary driver, artists are curious about the experience of being in the world, about what is hidden and what can be revealed, while ARtSENSE is about an adaptive curiosity in the artifact: it is about new experiences of it in its setting. Artists too are adept at working across different media and finding ways to make them work together to give unique experiences. They modify what exists in unique ways across different media – print, video, paint etc. ARtSENSE is about making emerging technologies work together across different sensorial inputs and outputs. Artists also embrace new tools as they emerge to interpret the world and make a difference to the way we experience it – the first carvings, the fresco technique, oil paint and the camera are examples – while ARtSENSE is about new tools that help see further and deeper around an artifact. Artists reveal the hidden and personal world of experience in a non-didactic way; they leave an ambiguous territory for the viewer to inhabit. A journey through an artwork is always an open and personal one and ARtSENSE is about making the invisible visible through a personalized and adaptive journey – exposing the hidden content the museum holds. Artists create culture but the experience of art itself is unique and personal and ARtSENSE is about people’s cultural heritage delivered in new ways.
FACT’s vision when putting forward the proposal for this ARtSENSE artwork commission was that the collaborating artists would contribute and enrich both the consortium and the public’s understanding of how this research work can have a presence and impact in the Digital Public Space as a valuable new site and illustrate what is an often under-represented and misunderstood key practice in the artworld: the shift of the loci of artistic production from the “I” of the artist to the “we” of participation.
5. From the ‘I” of the artist to the “we” of participation
Artworks and contemporary modes of artistic creation that use public engagement to create the artwork itself are increasing and give rise to several key questions: “Who is the author?” Is this form of “engaged practice” creating a new notion of the “dispersed” artist that breaches traditional physical and pedagogical boundaries? How does it challenge traditional curatorial practices?
Until the later half of the 20th century, the individual artist was firmly at the heart of the process of artistic creation. Though he or she might employ other professionals to fabricate or assist in the construction of work, the core “vision” of the work was essentially a translation of the individual artist’s unique perspective and conception. But something happened in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that changed this, and for some artists the focus of their practice became rooted in participation and engagement with their public.
There follows a brief resume of the development of this practice and some key terms that define the shift.
Participatory Art has a clear history dating back to the 1960s with the “Happenings” created by Alan Kaprow and the work of the Fluxus movement and John Cage. Video Artists such as Peter Campus, Steina and Woody Vasulka and Bruce Nauman of the 60s and 70s often used live video feeds which incorporated the audience into the artwork.
Interventionist Art as continued by the Fluxus movement into the 70s picked up many participatory approaches to making art. At times they took on intervention in examples like the bed piece by John Lennon and Yoko Ono – who, rather than using physical media to present their work, employed their own notoriety to use the broadcast media to disseminate their novel form of protest for them. “Abbie” Hoffman, a few years before, had employed dramatically disruptive tactics including throwing cash at traders in the “bear pit” of the New York Stock Exchange, attempting to levitate the Pentagon during an anti-Vietnam protest and (as part of the Yippie movement) putting forward a pig (“Pigasus the Immortal”) for the US presidency. His brand of theatrical protest chimed with the Digger Movement at a time where improvised theatre-based practice included free food and medical drugs distribution, collective living and “Free Stores”.
Within the web era, participatory media and social media art are terms associated with works that are built up through Internet or mobile device participation. Through the near-ubiquity of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and tablet PCs in the industrialised west and east (and increasingly the emerging economies of Africa), this practice has been on the rise. Global corporate giants such as Google, Apple and Microsoft certainly helped to engineer a place for social media art by making this form of Human Computer Interface user-friendly, affordable and everyday to the public and by proxy to the art world at large. Their tools and platforms create places where audiences expect novelty, interaction and surprise. The Yes Men, Vuk Ćosić, Jodi, Cory Archangel, Maurice Benayoun, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Superflex – in particular the highly successful tenantspin project that has been in operation since 1999 – are all artists working in this field with whom FACT has worked with and commissioned. The term “engaged practice” is sometimes applied to practitioners in this territory and can be traced back to both the Diggers cited above and the historic work of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. The “Blurring of Art and Life” that Alan Kaprow extols in his popular book, Essays from the Blurring of Art and Life was played out in Boal’s critique of power through his theatre activities in South America and Africa years before:
In truth the Theatre of the Oppressed has no end, because everything which happens in it must extend into life…(it) is located precisely on the frontier between fiction and reality – and this border must be crossed. If the show starts in fiction, its objective is to become integrated into reality, into life (Boal, 1992).
Similarly the practice of Relational Aesthetics (RA), coined in 1998 by French curator/theorist Nicolas Bourriaud (Bourriaud, 2002) to define an artwork that could be created in the relationships among a group of people in approximated every day circumstances (cooking meals, having parties, shopping), is applicable here. Much-cited artists in this field include “social sculptors” Rirkrit Tiravanija, Vanessa Beecroft and Philippe Pareno. RA became, for a short time, an exciting and hip departure from the static gallery experience but seems to have fallen out of favour more recently as some of its more active exponents became more critical: “(The practice of RA)…provides people a way to not actually look. It’s a catch-all for a generation of humans who are alienated from day-to-day experience. You give them a pill they can swallow and suddenly they can experience things.” (Gallerist Gavin Brown, phone interview to the New York Observer 2007 published in an article by Andrew Russeth 9/15/11 12:00pm The Fall of Relational Aesthetics , http://observer.com/2011/09/the-fall-of-relational-aesthetics/).
Finally the term Locative Media is a practice by artists such as the Electronic Disturbance Group, who in 2009’s Transborder Immigration Tool infamously provided GPS-based tools to assist in finding life-saving water spots for those crossing the US/Mexico border; Blast Theory (with the Mixed Reality Lab at Nottingham University), whose works Rider Spoke, performed at FACT in Liverpool 2010, and Can You See Me Now? created city-wide gaming scenarios that encouraged stranger collaboration; and C5, whose Quest for Success project on San Jose (2006) played out in a city-wide game critiquing corporate development processes. A number of key resources and organisations support and exemplify this kind of practice including Rhizome (http://Rhizome.org) and Turbulence (http://Turbulence.org). There is also a possible intersection here among pervasive gaming theory and design, and art as theory, philosophy and practice (Montola et al., 2009).
All of the works cited above in some way influence the work of Manifest.AR (http://www.manifestar.info/). Manifest.AR are an artists’ collective based across the world who work with the medium of augmented reality. The group are relatively young as an organization, having endorsed their own AR Art Manifesto as recently as the 25 January 2011. The group currently comprises eight core founding members and 20 affiliated members.
Their own augmented reality interventions into public and private spaces from the Museum Of Modern Art in New York – where they created a whole new floor of artworks without the permission of the Museum – to the Venice Biennial, the Mexican Desert and Silicon Valley, have involved levels of discovery thorough mobile technology that encourages ambulatory investigation. Their works are usually created and framed by social contexts, and are always interactive and participatory, often in a “live” dynamic. In working with FACT they also took on board the FACT-specific interest and practices of working in and with the community of Liverpool.
Manifest.AR’s art practice is always relative to site; site as social space; site as architectural sign; site as political event; site as community memory; site as picturesque landscape; site as global issue. Augmented reality, a medium which itself suggests inversion and knows no physical boundaries, renders the institution permeable, spatially and symbolically. The categories of body-mind, the institution-city, and the virtual-physical are crisscrossed and reconfigured. FACT is revised as a laboratory medium for experiments in mind, matter and community. – draft press release for Turning FACT Inside Out (unpublished), Will Pappenheimer, 2012
6. Turning FACT inside-out
The first iteration of the collaboration between FACT, Manifest.AR and the ARtSENSE consortium will be presented in the “Turning FACT Inside Out” exhibition in June 2013. FACT’s existing and historic public realm work has demonstrated value in long form projects embedded in a variety of communities and interest groups and “alternative” spaces, but how can we create a more adaptable and open public realm, capable of responding to the evolving needs of our public, the building users and communities? In essence Manifest.AR was asked: “How do we really use the digital public sphere?”
The following section provides an overview of the projects conceived and developed by Manifest.AR that will be demonstrated as works in progress during the “Turning Fact Inside Out Exhibition”. They will take place in FACT as well as in the city of Liverpool.
Tamiko Thiel and Will Pappenheimer’s project, “Biomer Skelters,” deals with plant-based ecosystems and the quest for aggregating reforestation in Merseyside (Figure 6). This project takes the form of a multi-player game played with mobile devices. “Biomer Skelters” provides a virtual system that is designed to work as an ecosystem propagator through the monitored states and activities of those participating in the project through biosensing. Participants wear a Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) device attached to their hands. The device is connected to a mobile phone that monitors their levels of activity. Participants can then “plant” permanent virtual objects according to their GPS location. The proposal includes a gaming element in that two different types of flora, one set of indigenous species, and another of imported or “foreign” origin, can be located as an AR element in the real space, i.e. the flora is digitally “planted” at a specific location and also “found” there by others. A physical representation of this engagement in the public realm appears in the gallery context on an Internet-connected monitor that displays the map of the plantings, which the artists have called a “mARp.”
In John Craig Freeman’s project, “EEG Things We Have Lost,” participants are asked to imagine something they have lost (Figure 7). A device attached to the head measures the EEG activity of the brain of the participant and uses their engagement levels to pull into focus an augmented reality object or “augment” randomly pulled from a database of “lost” objects. This database of virtual objects is built up from vox-pop style interviews with the Liverpool public. The lost objects are located via GPS and represented as AR objects where the actual interviews took place. In a faux laboratory setting, these AR objects are instantiated and controlled through meditation and attention using a simple EEG device.
The gallery as laboratory brings a certain frisson to the public participatory approach of the Manifest.AR proposals and is in keeping with FACT’s investigative approach to public engagement in the creation of artwork:
The laboratory metaphor, with its waiting room and the individual experiences of each semi-isolated biosensing room, functions both practically and evocatively as a probing into the interior vicissitudes of memory, judgment, association, expression and anxiety measured as exterior body signs. Manifest.AR employs this context cautiously, fancifully, critically and generatively. The monitoring and measurement of body signs in Manifest.AR’s laboratory is used to project and instantiate augmented reality objects that suggest both a creative use of these technologies as well as the questionable undercurrents of surveillance. With both possibilities of these artistic experiments at play, augmented reality attached and emanating from the body sign, a cyborg relationship no doubt, functions as the possibility of virtual materialization or externalization of the even more elusive interior of the human psyche. The inside is out. – Manifest.AR project proposal e-mail
Within the laboratory setting Will Pappenheimer’s and Zachara Brady’s “Sky Writing” (Figure 1, 5 and 8) uses gestural recognition software to enable the public to generate drawings as augments visible from a screen placed inside a controlled space. These are then placed virtually beyond into the “real” sky above FACT and the city of Liverpool. The augments can be viewed using a GPS enabled mobile device from anywhere with a one mile radius of augment as if they had been created by aeroplanes as skywriting. Will has already developed a pure mobile version of this where smart phone users can use an app to create the artworks with their fingers.
John Cleater reworks the classic Rorscharch tests using new forms and images evolved through biosensing and AR in his proposal “I must be seeing THINGS” (Figure 9). Again pulling from a database of AR objects of increasing complexity, the participants’ engagement level is measured through an EEG device as they look at one of John’s drawings in a book in front of them. Then, layered via a tablet device between the participant and the physical drawing books, an augment or “reading” of the image is displayed. The more the viewer is stimulated by what is instantiated, the more often the AR image will be replaced by one of greater complexity.
Sander Veenhof’s proposal does not take place in the city space or in the “laboratory” of the gallery, but rather in the temporary space of the conference setting. He proposes a novel way to invigorate conferences by using lulling public engagement and interest and visibly translating this into a proposed augment visible to the audience. Wearing modified heart rate monitors, a small number of “Human Conference Sensors” measure the level of excitement that the conference presenters are stimulating. Below a certain threshold and augments, visible to the audience but not to the presenter, are pulled up on a screen. These augments will be pertinent to the conference, but designed explicitly to re-invigorate the audience (Figure 10).
In Mark Skwarek’s proposal, “Future Slave,” the participant is ensnared in a slave relationship with technology (Figure 11). S/he is forced to cover a specified part of the city with augmented advertising spam while being monitored by his or her personal mobile devices. The proposal includes a soft “shock” device – the vibrate of the phone – if the participant is not working fast enough in generating the augments. Additionally, if the Future Slave attempts to leave his or her designated area, an alarm will go off alerting those around them that they are attempting to “escape”. The participant uses a mobile device such as an iPhone or iPad with voice recognition to create the augmented advertisements. Voice recognition converts the request into a 3D model at that particular location. By connecting the advertisements to real promotions and corporations, Mark turns this slave “game” into an agit-augment event with the public as a critique of marketing processes that co-opt consumers into working for them through brand loyalty, logo display etc. In the future, however, the balance of power is shifted and the element of free choice is relegated to history.
Manifest.AR summarise their approach thus:
In this exhibition, Manifest.AR takes up this dynamic of human interiority and exteriority, and links it, via new frontiers of physiological computing to augmented reality…The artworks are formed by Liverpool’s public issues, its memory and history as much as they tap very personal psychophysiologies to propagate virtual objects onto Liverpool’s city streets…The results of this generative mixture populate the continuum of the building and the surrounding city; there is no virtual boundary. – e-mail from John Craig Freeman
One of the strong features of these original proposals was the way that they embraced both a biofeedback control mechanism and a game-playing mechanism within and beyond the building. As the biosensing part of the ARtSENSE project was being run by Liverpool John Moores University, it made sense to go forward with the proposals that embraced this most directly.
8. Discussion and conclusions
Manifest.AR’s use of social and augmented reality technologies creates a perceptual shift in the experience of the exhibition space itself. The visitor is invited to be part of the work, as co-author, and an intimate bond between visitor and artwork is established. Visitors, like gallerists and museum professionals, have nostalgia for the social space where art exists despite an inversely proportional relationship between the amount of content that exists in the interstitial space of AR and online, and the need for an embodied artifact. The reductionist logical end to this scenario is the dissolution of the museum setting itself.
Museum visitor figures tell us that there is still a need for a space in which artifacts are physically sited: the artifact still seems to command, in the unquantifiable language of art, a magnetism, aura and presence that pulls an audience to it. Technology, deployed in the way we are describing here, is still “after the fact” of the object, playful and to an extent superfluous and disposable. We can do without it and simply gaze and accept the old order of the object and its established order of interpretation: the professional hierarchy.
But let us imagineer the future. Contemporary art practice is redolent with artworks that only exist in interstitial space, but AR artists such as Manifest.AR, because of the territory which their practice operates, necessitate a physical location. How their work is related to site – social, economic, locative is at the heart of their practice. It is site-specific in the fullest sense of the phrase. Is there a museum of the future where the objects themselves no longer reside in the library for objects that Museums are? Can the museological trajectory be reversed and the objects once again be located in the public domain, in situ? We can access books anywhere, anytime we are connected to the internet. Objects would be the next logical step. The visitor can access an AR object anywhere the visitor is – they are loco-engaged. In other words they are still a visitor, but through the digital sphere and in their own space simultaneously. The AR object can be placed in the context of its actual original position. In this vision, with immersive augmentation as well as AR, the Museum building becomes redundant and the need for preservation a moot point. The visitor is not in a controlled space with real objects but in an augmented space with virtual objects that is contextually appropriate. The definition of visitor changes – the relationship can now be managed exclusively in the Digital Space.
If the museum sector is to evolve to survive in our increasingly connected world, we hope that the work discussed here, to some small degree, can indicate the way.
This research was funded by the cooperation programme of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission FP7 – ICT, Call 6 – Project Reference 270318. 2. A big thank you to all of Manifest.AR and to Will Pappenheimer and John Craig Freeman in particular for his help with the historical context.
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