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August 11, 2015 by Jack Dziamba – New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday
VR and Art in the New Media – See, But Don’t Touch
The video above shows how one can tour the British Museum and the Louvre with Virtual Reality. VR is way that museums use New Media Technology to enhance the visitor experience, and increase the accessibility of their collections. We have written before about how museums are in the forefront of adapting New Media technology to fulfill their mission to make Art accessable to everyone, everywhere:E MUSEUMS LEAVE E BOOKS IN THE DUST: A VIEW FROM TWO DIFFERENT CENTURIES.. Museums are confident that this effort will lead to increased museum attendance and memberships, rather than replace them.
In this post we take a look at the use of VR when actually in the museum itself by focusing on the recent Virtual Reality Weekend at the British Museum.  Can VR, as a New Media tool,  further break down the barriers between the Art and the viewer?  Dusty exhibits, dusty cases, “Do Not Touch” restrictions, the “Velvet Rope” experience, and the Church-like atmosphere are some of the common barriers one encounters in a visit to a museum?
The Google Art Project is a mind-bending use of New Media technology to see famous works of art from museums all over the world. Via Google Art, you can get immensely closer to the art works than you can ever do so in the museum itself. You can have (virtually) nothing between you and your Van Gogh.
Can VR be Tactile?
Still, the tactile experience is lacking. For reasons that are understandable, in a museum,  you can’t touch, let alone pick up, an artwork (for instance, take a painting to view it in a different light, or feel the surface of the Pieta.) This is where we think VR can be enhanced to create an entirely new museum experience. This goes beyond seeing things in 3-D, which however “real,” still seems fake – a trick of digital manipulation.
If VR in museums were to stop at the 3-D effect, and a voice-over, it would be entertaining, but do little to fulfill a museum’s mission to make Art accessible to everyone, everywhere.  For an interesting look at tactile VR, check out this article from the Verge: “We’ve seen virtual reality. It’s time to touch it.”
The British Museum and Virtual Reality
VR at the British Mideum

VR at the British Mideum

In anticipation of the Virtual Reality Weekend at the British Museum Art Daily wrote,

“Through its work with technology partner Samsung, the British Museum is at the forefront of digital learning. The Samsung Digital Discovery Center  was created in 2009 to provideBritish Museum Samsung Digital Arts Center state-of-the-art technological hub for children and young people to learn about and interact with the Museum’s collection. The creation of a virtual reality experience based on the British Museum’s Collection is the latest innovation of this exciting partnership.

The Virtual Reality Weekend on 8 – 9 August will be the first time Samsung Gear VR devices are used to engage families with British Museum collections. Visitors will be able to explore a virtual reality Bronze Age site designed by Soluis Heritage, where they will see 3D scans of objects from the Museum’s collection of this period, placed in their original setting. ”

A Review by Sophie Charara of Wearable gives a description of her visit,

“‘We were able to have a play with the virtual environment created for Samsung’s mobile VR headset- the immersive dome is yet to be installed ahead of this weekend. It’s a quick but extremely accessible VR demo.’

Designed by Soluis Heritage and using 3D scans from the British Museum and UCL MicroPasts project, the app places you in the middle of a settlement of CG prehistoric roundhouses. Using the Gear VR’s touch panel, you swipe forward and backward to move into and around one of the roundhouses, selecting the scanned objects by looking at them and tapping once. The museum’s curator of the European Bronze Age collection, Dr Neil Wilkin, narrates in your ear via headphones (make sure the volume is up if it’s noisy), and you can view the objects from different angles as you tilt and move your head.”


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