I was somewhat surprised to read in Stuart Jeffrey’s paper that, in the context of digital archaeology, that ‘there is little broad community engagement with digital visualisation (Jeffrey 145)’ and interested to read his views both on the potential for engaging multiple audiences and the impact he envisages, in terms of what he refers to as a potential Golden Age of heritage visualisations.
Jeffrey sees the ‘aura’ of the digital object as fundamental to how it is perceived by audiences and he is concerned with and argues for ‘the potential for digital objects to manifest, or accrue, auratic qualities’ (145). While interesting intellectually, the consideration of the potentiality for aura to migrate from an original to a 3D visualisation brings little to the central question of audience engagement, because, I would argue that what is most important in terms of engagement is the point of interaction with the audiences rather than the question of what may be inherent or may have migrated to the object.
Cultural theorists talk in terms of the ‘meaning’ of cultural objects. Tilley, for example, sees meaning ‘not of objective fact, but of social construction, the ideological basis of which can be unravelled, or ‘de-constructed’(Pearce 4). All things, whether physical or digital, have the potential to have meaning for audiences and that meaning can change over time (in the life cycle of the object) and across cultures and within different communities of interest. Audience engagement work in cultural organisations considers the location of meaning, not solely within the cultural resource or object itself, but crucially, it ‘emerges fully in the interaction between that resource and the person engaging with it’(Council of National Cultural Institutions (Ireland) et al. 17).
Projects such as Roscommon 3D, amongst others, demonstrate that there is interest as well as the potential to engage audiences as co-producers in heritage visualisations. The inherent novelty of 3D visualisations, or the very weirdness that Jeffrey finds problematic, can act as a vital hook to engage potential audiences but unless planned for there can be a danger that the visualisation itself can become the focus of interest, rather than the original that it is attempting to represent.
In order to know the potential for the use of 3D visualisations in audience engagement, we need to interrogate the notion that there is little broad community engagement with digital visualisation and consult with potential audiences to find out why and how engagement could happen meaningfully. Without this, the quest for a golden age seems to be more about those within the digital heritage world than about the potential audiences. Without front end evaluation, it will be difficult to assess not only the potential for heritage visualisations as a resource for public engagement but also the impact of any engagement projects.
Council of National Cultural Institutions (Ireland), et al. A Policy Framework for Education, Community, Outreach (ECO). Council of National Cultural Institutions, 2004.
Jeffrey, Stuart. “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation.” Open Archaeology, vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 2015. CrossRef, doi:10.1515/opar-2015-0008.
Pearce, Susan M., editor. Interpreting Objects and Collections. Transferred to digital pr, Routledge, 2006.