Making the Absent Object Present: Towards a holographic Museum of Modern Art (hMoMA)
Practice Led Research: How artworks can be recorded and viewed in Mixed Reality to enable a holographic Museum of Modern Art (hMoMA).
Mixed Reality (MR) devices now allow 3D 360-degree holograms to appear physically present in the real world. Such devices enable a person to view and walk around a hologram as they would the original, but in their own home or educational environment. Although not the same as viewing the original, the MR hologram provides an alternative experience to the viewer that is very close to reality. My investigations will determine which categories of artwork can be recorded and viewed effectively in MR, and how this may be achieved in a museum or art institution setting.
The primary aim of this research is to enable art institutions to display, in a single gallery space, any recorded object in their collections, or from past temporary exhibitions. This will include artworks otherwise hidden from public view, such as the vast collections now in storage due to limited gallery space, or which are too fragile for public display, or which cannot be conserved for the long-term, such as digital art.
This research will therefore make important contributions to new knowledge for creating a holographic Museum of Modern Art. If implemented, hMoMA will enable present and future generations to experience more of their cultural heritage than is otherwise possible.
Proof of Concept
Delft University in Holland use MR to enhance the visitor experience of a Rijksmuseum exhibit (Maltha, 2016).
“Scan the World is an ambitious initiative whose mission is to archive the world’s sculptures, statues, artworks and any other objects of cultural significance using 3D scanning technologies to produce content suitable for 3D printing”. The British Museum and Tate are contributors to this initiative which currently provides open on-line access to 3D scans of almost 9000 sculptures (MyMiniFactory, 2014).
My research so far, extends these ideas and illustrates some first steps towards achieving hMoMA.
In April 2017, I took part in demonstrating to V&A academics my exhibit Making the absent object present. Wearing a Microsoft HoloLens headset, participants walked around a hologram of my 3D sculpture, displayed in exactly the same place as the removed original (also shown at Tate Exchange: Tate Modern, Kingston University and The Museum of Futures, London).
The original sculpture The holographic sculpture
In July 2017, my MA show exhibit The Refugees’ Crisis allowed participants to freely walk around several oversize holographic images as an integral part of a physical art installation, while listening to a binaural recorded narrative. This was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 iPM programme (BBC Radio4 iPM, 2017).
In February 2018, I spoke and exhibited this again at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University.
The Refugees’ Crisis
Ravensbourne University HoloPortal lab, which is supported by Microsoft and a research organisation (DoubleMe, n.d), have offered the possibility for me to volumetrically re-record the short film in this installation. It will enable the speaking, moving characters to be seen in MR as though they were physically present in my exhibit. However, I first plan to set up and test my own portable Volumetric Filmmaking facility using six RealSense D415 depth sensing cameras, and Realsense SDK.
My PhD builds upon my MA research paper Digital to physical – made to last? Will functioning digital art be part of our future cultural heritage? (Quinn, 2016) which examined the issues involved with the conservation of digital art in the context of our future cultural legacy. Digital art in particular is transitory as most will eventually be lost forever due to decay or technical obsolescence.
The technologies used are expected to develop considerably over the timescale of a PhD, which will give me the opportunity to significantly extend my enquiry. This fast paced development is evidenced by a plethora of recent and expected announcements in the field of Virtual and Mixed Reality from Microsoft, Apple, Google, ODG, Meta and many other advanced technology companies worldwide.
Original Contribution to Knowledge
Most research in the area of VR/ MR is not directed towards artistic endeavor, but to commercial opportunity particularly for gaming or business application.
My research would provide the following contributions to new knowledge, as hMoMA will:
- Make the absent object present and allow users to experience recorded artworks in a way that is very close to seeing the original.
- Make an important new contribution towards providing a record of important artworks for our future cultural legacy.
- Provide an additional advanced form of archival documentation.
- Offer an alternative to conventional digital art conservation.
My research questions and provisional timetable
- What types of artwork can be captured to be viewed holographically? By what means? At what quality? To what extent is the authenticity of the original preserved in the outcome? Painting, sculpture, performance art, born-digital art, interactive art and exhibitions all have different requirements.
- How can artworks be captured in their established setting? Artworks exhibited in a museum, in storage or outside have different demands.
- How can captured artworks be experienced in various settings and by what means? In a museum? At home?
- What is the reaction to hMoMA by all stakeholders? Artists, curators, the general public, lawyers, academics?
- What will incentivise stakeholders to actively support or promote hMoMA in their organisation? To overcome potential resistance to change.
- What other potential barriers exist to hMoMA, including cost and copyright law?
- What other contributing developments and research exists in other universities and institutions?
- Finalise my PhD practice based research proposal.
- What version(s) of hMoMA can be implemented now? Demonstrate what can be achieved using my own artwork(s).
- Approach the V&A and Tate with a view to a research collaboration. Agree to develop metrics to judge results of an hMoMA prototype using an art installation in their collection. This will provide the basis for reflection and critical analysis of the project.
- How does the practical implementation of hMoMA perform against agreed metrics? Carry out an external demonstration using both my own artwork and that of a collaborating institution.
- What further research and development is needed? Determine how limitations and barriers to hMoMA might be overcome, and provide direction for further research, including what is needed for volume implementation.
- Publish results as my PhD practice based dissertation.
- Organise, or participate in, a public exhibition showing the best of what can be achieved with hMoMa.
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