This blog post is based on the lecture ‘Analogue to Digital: Transforming Heritage Spaces’ delivered by Dr. Angeliki Chrysanthi on October 6th 2016 as part of the AFF601 Digital Humanities Theory and Practice’ course.
Transforming Heritage Spaces, is a complicated and yet also a quite simple topic . It broadly deals with the idea of re-interpreting the Heritage Space through a mix of technologies both physical and virtual and ultimately has as its aim the user/visitor experience.
In her lecture, Dr. Chrysanthi examined some of the key concepts that are underpinning current developments and pointing towards the possibilities that are opening up as a result of technological change. Technological transformation has offered a completely new way to explain and/or curate the physical space and also to recreate cultural physical spaces. Using a mix of augmented reality and virtual reality, the layers of time and space that separate a user from the object, place or space that they are encountering can be stripped away, or rather have an overlay cast upon them that creates a different perspective.
At this point it is necessary to differentiate between the digital transformations that are possible in dedicated heritage preservation institutions, such as museums, exhibitions and institutions as opposed to transformations that work upon a site or place of heritage, or ‘in the field’. Dr. Chrysanthi referred to locative-media as offering huge possibilities in both areas, but particularly for in the field applications. The term locative media is credited to Karlis Kalnins, in 2003 while working at the Centre for New Media, in Riga, Latvia and he coined the term to distinguish artistic or cultural use of of location-based services from the corporate world’s increasing use of the same location recognition technology.
Locative media allows for a recognition of a user’s location in physical space and the transmission of media appropriate to that location and taps into what Mark Weiser, in 1991, called ‘ubiquitous or disappearing computing’. Although Weiser’s term pre-dates the mobile device revolution, his prescient view of the future tech world where we are always on grid did point to the possibilities that ubiquitous computing would have –“Ubiquitous computers… reside in the human world and pose no barrier to personal interactions. If anything, the transparent connections that they offer between different locations and times may tend to bring communities closer together. (‘The Computer for the 21st Century’, Weiser)
It is when making use of Augmented Reality, that locative-media delivers its strongest user experience. Augmented reality differs from Virtual Reality in that it delivers a real time direct or indirect view of the physical world enhanced by computer generated media. As far back as 1965 when Ivan Sutherland developed the first Virtual Reality headset, Virtual Reality (VR) has been presented as distinct other, a separated space from real ’reality’. But in the late 1990’s a definition of a computer world that ran parallel to and sometimes merged with with the physical world began to change both the concept and the boundaries of VR. Drawing on the term as used by author William Gibson in his 1982 short story, ‘Burning Chrome’ several commentators began to popularise the notion of a ‘cyber’ or computer space but none so effectively or presciently as John P. Barlow in 1990 ‘ one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone. You can see what your neighbors are saying (or recently said), but not what either they or their physical surroundings look like. Town meetings are continuous and discussions rage on everything from sexual kinks to depreciation schedules. Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions, they are all connected to one another.” (Crime and Puzzlement, Barlow)
In her lecture notes, Dr. Chrysanthi pointed to the developments of VR, AR and Ubiquitous Computing as having created the new paradigm of Hyper Reality, where the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds are broken down and the virtual can overlay across the physical in more and more realms. In their 1994 paper, ‘A TAXONOMY OF MIXED REALITY VISUAL DISPLAYS’ Paul Milligram and Fumio Kishino outlined the Virtuality Continuum and placed at the centre the notion of Mixed Reality, where the real and virtual worlds are balanced and allow for interaction with either ends of the continuum.
It is here now that we finally see the possibilities for Transforming Heritage Spaces coming to fruition. With the power to overlay every form of media, including newly emerging forms such as 360 views, onto the real world, there is the possibility to allow for limited immersion ‘in the field’ where real world interactivity is still vital. But even in the preserving institutions the mixed reality model allows for continuously adapting narratives to unfold, such that each user can experience a different aspect of an exhibition which adjusts to meet their expectations and their physical location.
The Virtual Reality model allows for users to walk thru virtual museums and follow a curated narrative that is still very much of their own design, they may even interact with other users in avatar form, but with current technology there is still the loss of real time interaction and the risk of niche learning. As the model changes these dangers will lessen but at the moment the ideal form of transformation occurs in the Mixed Reality sphere.
Overlay projects such as London ‘Street Museum’ or ‘34 North 118 West’ provide a working example of how the digital overlay can transform the real world without the need to physically alter the streetscape or risk damage to ancient monument sites. ’34 North 118 West ‘uses GPS data and an interactive map that triggers live data through movement in downtown LA. According to one of its creators, Jeremy Hight “the narrative is embedded in the city itself as well as the (in way the) city is read. The storyworld becomes one of juxtaposition, of overlap, of layers appearing and falling away. Place becomes a multitiered and malleable concept beyond that of setting and detail, to establish a fictive place, a narrative world. The effect is a text and sound based virtual reality, a non-passive movement, a being in two places at once with eyes open.”
The embrace of the Augmented model has seen the preserving institutions moving forward with multimodal storytelling exhibitions. A prime example is ’The CHESS Project’ which has utilised interactive augmented reality tools that allow for the use of personalised interactive stories, 3D virtual renderings that are activated on handheld devices through locative tracking and this according to Dr. Chrysanthi points towards a new paradigm of museum functioning. To create the ‘CHESS Project’ at the Acropolis Museum a vast array of computing and visual technology was combined with focussed narrative development and user feedback – ‘Unlike traditional museum guides, the CHESS App tells each visitor a dedicated story, focused on the exhibits most relevant to their interests and mood, with as few or many details as preferred. Stories can be enhanced with multimedia, 3D and ‘augmented reality’ games and in some cases objects talk and invite visitors to interact with them’. – from ‘Making Museums a mobile, personalised and interactive experience’
At the conclusion of her lecture Dr. Chrysanthi pointed towards the convergence of the digital reconstruction/recreation modelling at sites such as Çatalhöyük in Turkey and the growing power of adaptive technologies as providing huge scope for creative design in exhibitions and preservation spaces. The Analogue to Digital shift has allowed us to ‘reinstall’ context into the physical world and move us closer to the presentation of our cultural heritage in seamless, enjoyable and educational experiences.
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“Making museums a mobile, personalised and interactive experience.” Greece Alive. Horizon 2020, 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
Miligram, Paul, and Fumio Koshino. “A TAXONOMY OF MIXED REALITY VISUAL DISPLAYS .” IEICE Transactions on Information Systems 12th ser. E77.D (1994): n. pag. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
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