Augmenting the Museum: Innovative (and Subversive) Trends of Mobile Apps in Museum Contexts


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Augmenting the Museum: Innovative (and Subversive) Trends of Mobile Apps in Museum Contexts
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Tinnell, Kim
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presentation given at Southeastern Museum Conference (SEMC) Annual Meeting - Spotlight on Student Research Session

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University of Florida
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Augmenting the Museum: Innovative (and Subversive) Trends of Mobile Apps in Museum Contexts Kim Tinnell, Museum Studies Graduate Student, University of Florida SEMC Annual Meeting Spotlight on Student Research Session October 25, 2011


Since their introduction in 2008, mobile augmented reality browser apps have radically reshaped the way some museum professionals think about the museum visitor experience. Broadly defined, these apps use GPS to transform the world into a space for exhibiting and contextualizing objects; collections can be geo tagged to an exact location, allowing smart phone users to experience the physical environment around them overlaid with digital content. Furthermore, many of these apps, such as Layar provide free platforms for generating and managing content, and thus stand as a feasible option for museums faced with budget cuts and overall lack of resources. In this presentation I am going to focus on examples of apps that have been taken up in the museum world that help solve three areas of concern relevant to the goals of museums in contemporary society. These areas are access to collections, contextualization of objects, and participatory visitor experiences.


Museum of London : Streetmuseum Augmented reality apps can change the way museums allow access to collections. Only a small percentage of museum collections can be physically displayed at once I think most museums estimate they have between 1% and 10% of their objects on view at a time. Augmented reality apps provide a platform for museums to show more of their collections in a way that is more engaging than simply digitizing a collection and putting it online. Museum of London has set a great example with their augmented reality app Streetmuseum Streetmuseum GPS system, which picks up sites close to the user within a certain radius within London. The user then clicks on one of user gets information about the piece from the collection such as the artist, year of the work, and other information about the site. Images taken from: are here app/index.html


unexhibited Images taken from: looking into the


The W arhol Museum : Layar The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has developed a similar augmented reality project using Layar The Layar Reality Browser is an augmented reality app that situates a user within his or her surroundings by displaying real time Layar is a free app and individual time images from Warhol Museum, can be found in locations in both in Pittsburgh and New York City. Images taken from: http:// /connect/mobile/


The second issue that augmented reality apps help solve is contextualization of objects. The traditional means of contextualizing objects in museums have long been the subject of criticism, in part because of the necessarily short, generalized, and passive nature of standard mediums such as the wall label, audio guide, and even docent tours. Mobile augmented reality apps can be an effective medium for addressing multiple audiences allowing visitors to customize their museum visit based on their own interests or age level.


Powerhouse Museum : Love Lace The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia (a museum dedicated to science and design) developed an augmented reality app for their exhibition Love Lace The exhibition features lace works by 134 artists from around the world. With exhibition content as intricate and captivating as lace, you can imagine that the curators and educators were hesitant to clutter the walls with a lot of supplemental labels and materials. So the museum developed an app that allows visitors to view special context such as artist statements, behind the scenes videos, interviews, and additional images of the works scanning Quick Response codes (known as QR codes) throughout the exhibition. The option to browse without having to scan QR codes is a good feature because it allows someone to revisit the content of the exhibition after leaving the Image on the left and center taken by Kim Tinnell, image on the right taken from: lace. html


The Getty Villa : Tour The Getty Villa also has an app available for tours that are catered toward different audiences. Although this is not strictly an augmented reality app, I felt it was worth mentioning since it can be a model for other institutions to develop augmented reality projects that serve the same purpose. With this app, the visitor has the option of which have a lot of time. The tours are also available in Spanish. Image taken as a still from: http:// =SIzV7aD1yGw


In his book Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience John Falk identifies five types of museum visitor identities: facilitators, rechargers, experience seekers, hobbyists/professionals, and explorers. He puts forth some ideas on how to attract all of the different visitor identities and then fulfill their needs once they are in the museum. However, he recognizes that it is difficult to put all of his suggestions into use without giving the visitor an information overload. Developing an augmented reality project that allows visitors to customize their visit could serve all the different visitor visitors to customize the content they experience: A facilitating parent might like a family tour and interactive activities; rechargers could enjoy music selections paired with certain works in the collection; experience seekers could experience a highlights of the collection tour; hobbyists/professionals could benefit from audio and video interviews with curators or suggestions for further reading; and a scavenger hunt could be designed for explorers.


At the MoMA New York : We AR in MoMA Augmented reality projects also provide an opportunity for participatory visitor experiences. In October 2010, an augmented reality experimentalist and a media artist organized an augmented reality exhibition called We are AR at MoMA at the Museum of Modern Art in New York without consent or knowledge. The exhibition was only visible to those using the smartphone application Layar and allowed users to see additional works created by artists working in digital media from around the world. In this case, the exhibit was met with enthusiasm from the MoMA staff because it is in direct line with the mission to create a dialogue about Modern and Contemporary Art with their visitors. Image taken from: http:// /


London : The Invisible Artist However, other uses of augmented reality apps have the potential to subvert, undermine, and jeopardize the Goto developed The Invisible Artist using the Layar app that guides visitors through what he sees as the exclusionary Contemporary Arts, The Royal Academcy of Arts, and the Tate Modern, the Invisible Artist appears, complaining project opens up a dialogue between museums and the public by questioning the authority of museums and who decides what goes in them. Images taken from: artist.htm


Whether museums like it or not, these apps are everywhere and some allow visitors to intervene into the curated space by posting their own digital content among the objects in a museum. Ultimately, the examples covered in this presentation suggest that more museums should educate themselves about the potential for these apps to enhance and extend the museum visitor experience. Augmented reality content can be developed and hosted using free apps such as Layar and technologies such as QR codes. Perhaps most importantly, all this can now be done without any knowledge of computer programming. At the same time, museums need to be aware of how these technologies can become a source of potential controversy and conflict and be prepared to respond.