TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.1 Background of the study
1.2 Thesis statement
1.3 Objective of the study
1.4. Significance of the study
1.5 Literature Review
1.7 Definition of key terms
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 VR Applications in Museums: History Overview
2.2 Museological Trends Accelerating VR Technology Adoption
2.3 Challenges in the Museum Innovation Process
2.4 Strategic Partnerships for Digital Projects in the Art and Cultural Sector
3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.1 Institutional Analysis of the Tate Modern, the Hermitage Museum, the National Museum
3.2 VR Exhibitions Production
3.3 System Thinking Framework
3.4 Field Study
3.5 Limitations of the Study
4. DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
4.1 The Tate Modern
4.1.1 Institutional Analysis
4.1.2 The Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier
4.2. The Hermitage Museum
4.2.1. Institutional Analysis
4.2.2 The Virtual Jupiter Hall
4.3 The National Museum of Singapore
4.3.1 Institutional Analysis
4.3.2 The DigiMuse Programme..42 ii
5. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
5.1.1 In-house Value of VR Exhibitions
5.1.2 Online Value of VR Exhibitions
5.1.3 Outreach Value of VR Exhibitions
I take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all practitioners for their time to talk to me and their generous shares of their knowledge and vision.
My great thanks to my thesis supervisor, Sunitha Janamohanan, for her support for my master research that helped me to move forward with my thesis, especially in times of uncertainty. I am grateful for her meaningful feedback on my work and for the valuable suggestions that guided me in my academic growth.
I also thank Sylvain Levy for his visionary insights that inspired me and were especially important to find a direction in choosing a topic for my research. I highly appreciate the opportunity to experience virtual reality art exhibitions with the kind support of Roy Koo.
Last but not least, I am very grateful to my husband Salvatore Albani for providing a stress-free, supportive, and loving environment, where I could pursue my passion. I thank my father, sister and brother for their moral support to believe in myself.
This thesis presents a detailed a case study analysis of three VR activities ‘Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier’ at the Tate Modern, ‘Jupiter Hall’ at the Hermitage Museum, and 'DigiMuse programme’ at the National Museum of Singapore in the context of museological trends and global market. Specifically, it lays the foundation for understanding and analysing the two aspects of this immersive technology: first, how VR applications in museums have fostered the development of partnerships between art and tech worlds which can be understood as a new collaborative ecosystem, and second, how this new type of advanced technological exhibitions can empower to capitalise on these partnership opportunities while achieving museum’s mission. Importantly, this new form of cooperation has an economic component which ensures value creation, in this case, for VR projects, whether in-house, online or in different hosting venues.
The attempt is to integrate the findings to demonstrate how VR technology can become a new channel to achieve museum’s objectives while remaining relevant and sustainable, and suggest a list of important factors to consider for an effective use of VR in museum practice. The present research aims at addressing the gap in the current academic literature by providing an analysis of VR in museum practices, in order to guide future designs of museum VR exhibitions. The thesis provides a solid foundation for further studies of this new collaborative ecosystem between the cultural and technological worlds.
1.1 Background of the study
Virtual Reality (VR), understood as a computer generated three-dimensional (3D) environment, where the objects interact with each other and with the environment allowing to create a sense of “immersion” in digital space, has been incorporated in museum programmes since 2015 (Maslov, Cigainero). Recently, it has received an interest among arts and cultural institutions as an effective means to engage audiences, communicate specific cultural messages (Carrozzino and Bergamasco), providing a better overall experience in museum as VR stimulates a deeper involvement of visitors enabling to absorb concepts and information easier and faster (Osberg), yet interactively and unpredictably. Thus, VR has become for museums a new digital tool for strengthening museum’s capacity to meet the audience needs such as “learning, aesthetics, celebration, sociability, and recreation” (Kotler xxi), carrying out the traditional mission to serve the public, to conserve, interpret, and preserve their collections. In addition, VR technology can potentially help museums overcome a number of limitations such as display artefacts that can not be presented, either due to lack of space or due to their fragility, but also in visualising environments, constructions or objects that no longer exist, be partially preserved or cannot be easily visited (Sideris and Roussou in Lepouras and Vassilakis).
Even though the state-of-the-art technology applications and art exhibitions correspond to different communication paradigms, an increasing number of museums keeps experimenting how to render these empathy machines an effective tool in holistic storytelling, art and culture education alongside of museum artefacts (Pokel). Early adopters of virtual technology in the art and cultural sector have mostly focussed on providing global access provisions for audience reach, which has entailed to incipience of the concept “museum without walls” (Hooper-Greenhill 152-153). A significant number of museums have created interactive ‘virtual tour’ experiences with Google Indoor Street View technology, including more advanced applications such as 360-degree panoramas, where e- visitors walk through ‘virtual museum’ on personal computers or smartphone VR headsets via museums’ websites or mobile applications and explore art works in a greater detail. However, these experiences stay in two-dimensional (2D) space without a hight level of viewer interaction. But what is remarkable nowadays is how museums are incorporating three-dimensional (3D) VR experiences into their programmes to make them more engaging. These VR exhibitions can be created based on 3D models of collection objects or archive materials reconstructed and placed in their original historical settings to be viewed at dedicated VR Stations. Importantly, a VR system is able to create a sense of “immersion” in digital space. There is a range of VR headsets which is mostly employed in museum facilities: the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift enable to provide highest quality of VR experience whereas mobile VR experiences available via Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View.
VR capacities to transcend time and geographical boundaries and to allow a deep educational and emotional impact seem to help museums to address issues aligned with the evolving role of contemporary audiences, their participative style of engaging with art and culture, interactive communication and involvement (Adair, Filene, Koloski 2011, Ivey and Kingsbury 2008, Poole 2011, King, Stark, Cooke 2016, Walmsley, Franks 2011, Thornham, Popple 2013). Indeed, this competitive world demands to measure a museum not only by its collections and exhibitions, but also by the experiences and value it produces (Kotler xxiv).
One of the transformations in traditional museum management was significantly induced by the new technologies. Traditionally, the production of museum exhibitions has been prerogative of curatorial and programming teams, however the design of virtual exhibitions requires a multidisciplinary expertise which enforces museums seek outsource partners among technologists and creatives. One can mention that, in August 2017, the HTC Corporation, a Taiwanese consumer electronics company, launched Vive Arts that is a multi-million dollar global VR programme to invest in the arts and culture sector. Interestingly, the idea comes from museums needs for innovative offerings. Since its launch the programme has become in such great request that HTC Vive receives proposals from museums around the world everyday (Chang). Several projects have already been implemented in partnerships with the Tate Modern, London’s Royal Academy of Arts, Taipei’s National Palace Museum, National Museum of Natural History in France, Washington D.C.’s Newseum and others. The Vive Arts program is meant to fund museum proposals related to VR exhibitions by providing “technical and content advisory assistance, as well as marketing support” (Vive Arts).
The disruptive impact of VR is noticed not only in publicly funded museums and art galleries but also in the private art sector. Namely, in 2017, some prominent art collectors created permanent homes in a virtual space for their family collections such as the DSL collection of Chinese contemporary art and the Kremer Museum of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings. These innovative and transformative initiatives are linked to the concept of democratization of arts with the idea to reach …as many people as possible. . . opening up the arts to those who would not normally have access to them; it is about enhancing the quality of life for a wider section of the community through the promotion of an appreciation and understanding of artworks (Bailey, Miles, and Stark 49).
Building on this, the ongoing developments appear to blaze a trail for more democratic approaches in museology where art and tech worlds cooperate together cohesively to facilitate better social inclusion and individual transformation. Importantly, in today’s technology-driven world, collaborations between art/cultural institutions and tech/creative industries are essential for exploiting the potential of VR.
As partnerships and collaborations in the museum world became a central topic in policy discourses and academic literature, arts funders and policymakers increasingly call to be more innovative in encouraging to re-evaluate their financial strategies and acquire a new set of skills to enhance capacity (McCall and Rummery, Ranade and Hudson, Bakhshi and Throsby). Hence, drawing on this theoretical observations, the focus on the interrelation of latest technologies, strategic planning, marketing, partnerships is seen as a convenient means of narrowing the scope of this thesis.
1.2 Thesis Statement
This thesis presents a detailed case study analysis of VR projects in museums in the context of museological trends and global market. The study specifically explores the two critical aspects of this immersive technology that influences the museological theories and practice: first, how VR applications in museums have fostered the development of partnerships between art and tech worlds, which can be understood as a new collaborative ecosystem, and second, how this new type of advanced technological exhibitions can empower to capitalise on these partnership opportunities while achieving museum’s mission.
1.3 Objectives of the study
The present research aimed at contributing to empirical knowledge about the use of VR in museum practices, in order to guide future designs of museum VR exhibitions. To that end, it firstly demonstrates the relation between VR and current museological trends. Secondly, this thesis presents a case study analysis of three VR activities - ‘Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier’ at the Tate Modern, ‘Jupiter Hall’ at the Hermitage Museum, and 'DigiMuse programme’ at the National Museum of Singapore. By investigating innovative practices of cultural institutions, I intend to identify the factors that influenced decisions of these museums to implement such projects, and also to understand the real effect and specific contribution to a new collaborative ecosystem between the cultural and technological worlds. Moreover, this new form of cooperation has a strong economic component which ensures value creation for VR projects whether in-house, online or in different hosting venue.
These organisations were selected for the analysis because they represent the most significant internationally recognised museums containing large collections of art and cultural artefacts. 4
Importantly, these museums were ones of the first cultural organisations that incorporated VR into their programmes and implemented it with outsourcing forces. Hence, these VR activities represent a means of forging multidimensional partnerships, enriching the cultural proposal and educational programmes.
1.4 Significance of the study
The thesis addresses the gap in the academic literature by identifying the influential factors for museums’ decisions regarding their VR applications. The critical point is that museum professionals have to consider outcomes of a specific VR project within their organisation walls, evaluate social, cultural and commercial aspects of it, availability of funding, competency and expertise. Planning a VR application at a museum is to take into consideration how a production team can achieve the organisation‘s mission and goals as well as how can make a commercial success. Within this context, the findings of this research suggest a list of important factors to consider for a more pervasive and effective use of VR technology for cultural purposes.
1.5 Literature Review
Chapter 2 presents a detailed literature review comprising an analysis of academic scholarship on four important topics, covering 1) history overview of VR applications in museums, 2) museological trends accelerating VR technology adoption by museums, 3) challenges that preclude the effective use of VR, 4) strategic partnerships for digital projects in the art and cultural sector. Based on literature review, the chapter outlines a significant framework which helps to analyse the museum’s strategical efforts and an emerging collaborative ecosystem. In summary, the chapter illustrates important transformations driven by new technologies which provide new communication tools, yet earning opportunities for museums.
The methodology section, chapter 3, describes the main methods employed in this study, such as 1) institutional analysis with focus on their digital communication strategies and ability to attract 5 sponsors, 2) analysis of VR activities in three museums, comprising literature analysis and focused semi-structured interviews with museum representatives as well as their tech and the role of the creative partners who have been involved in VR production process, 3) ‘system thinking’ framework that helps to structure the analysis, and 4) field observation. The latter includes my personal experience of these three VR exhibitions which helps to understand the quality of production, viewers perceptions and their interactions with the content.
1.7 Definition of key terms
Definitions related to VR technology that mostly used in this thesis are well described in the book 'Storytelling for virtual reality: Methods and Principles for Crafting Immersive Narratives’ by John Bucher.
Virtual Reality refers to an entire field of computer technology in which enforcements, individuals, and experiences are replicated and presented for user interaction. All concepts seem to circle around the idea of an artificial yet realistic experience through technology (321).
Interactivity refers to the concept of two things working together, having influence with, and responding in some way to one another (314).
Immersion refers to the deep mental involvement user experiences while participating in a particular piece of media (314).
Tilt Brush is a room-scale 3D painting virtual reality application developed and published by Google. The software was released for Microsoft Windows in April 2016 (Wikipedia). Tilt Brush teamed up artists, painters, cartoonists, dancers, designers, and other creators for the Tilt Brush Artist in Residence program.
360-Degree Video keeps the viewer in a fixed point surrounded by approximately 360 degrees of video. This approach is considered less immersive than traditional VR, where the viewer can move within the digital world. Even though often referred to as VR, 360-degree video itself is not considered Virtual Reality (309).
2 Literature Review
2.1 VR Applications in Museums: History Overview
Although the use of VR is widespread in such specific sectors like gaming, medicine, training, in latest years this immersive technology has been rapidly gaining positive reception also in the field of art and heritage. There are various applications of incorporating VR and other interactive mediums to complement existing exhibits making them more engaging. Even though VR- expositions and art exhibitions correspond to different communication paradigms, an increasing number of museums experimenting how to render these “empathy machines” (Milk) an equal tool in education and holistic storytelling alongside of museum artefacts (Pokel). These interactive systems stand as an effective response to the need to combine the educational mission of museums with the ability to emotionally involve their visitors (Barbieri, Bruno, Muzzupappa).
VR-technologies in museums began to be used in early 2015 (Maslov). Based on the analysis of the 100 of the most visited museums of the world (Art Newspaper), 19% of them have incorporated VR technology (Maslov) inside museum exhibitions, whether as educational tools or as stand-alone artworks. This illustrates the scalability in the use of immersive technology for cultural purposes, considering that VR equipment such as headsets appeared in the consumer version only in 2016, and for this short period of time museums have already tested this technology, in some cases quite successfully. Indeed, 30% of those decided to leave their VR-exhibitions on an ongoing basis (Maslov). Worth noting that even such giants as the British Museum, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Tate Modern, St.-Petersburg’s Hermitage have adapted themselves the latest disruptive technologies despite of the multi-level hierarchy. These existing examples indicate a major moment of recognition for this emerging industry as a whole.
One of the fist arts and cultural organisations that offered a VR experience was the British Museum. In 2015, it held the ‘Virtual Reality Weekend’, which is an event where visitors could use a Samsung Gear VR to explore a Bronze Age roundhouse and view 3D-scanned exhibit artefacts.
‘VR-weekend’ proved to be extremely popular, attracting over 1,200 visitors during the two-day event (Rae and Edwards 1).
In 2016, MoMA featured the innovative technology in an exhibit dedicated to VR-cinematography. Part of the Sundance Institute’s Slithering Screens showcase, the short film “Collisions”, produced by world-renowned film director Lynette Wallworth, describes a story about a tribe of the remote West Australian desert, which was living nomadically in the 1950s. It mixes live action with animation to recreate the moment when the character recalls an atomic bomb devastating the land around him (Knowles). The VR exhibit was housed in the theatre displaying immersive video in big audience settings.
Another remarkable case of VR’s incorporation as an integral part of the larger art exhibition was ‘Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier’ held at the Tate Modern from 23 November 2017 to 2 April 2018. An immersive experience allowed viewers to step inside the Italian artist’s studio, learning more about how he worked and his distinctive style and techniques, and get a taste of what life was like for Modigliani in early 20th century Paris. Even though the VR room had nine Vive headsets available for visitors, there was a 20 minute queue noticed by journalists (Cater). The VR experience is viewed in-gallery by approximately 3,500 visitors every week (Preloaded). This demonstrates how Tate expertise and academic research were effectively translated into a VR experience accessible to everyone.
One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, the State Hermitage Museum, provides its worldwide visitors to experience its new virtual reality educational entertainment platforms. This VR projects include 3D models of the famous exhibition halls — the Italian Skylight Room and the Jupiter Hall, and also a 360-degree movie about the history of the Hermitage starting from time period of Catherine The Great. One of these exhibitions, the Jupiter Hall, has been travelling across Russia as well as it was presented to the international public in Taipei and Singapore.
In March 2018, the National Museum of Natural History in Paris opened a permanent room, dedicated to VR, housed in the Gallery of Evolution that includes five VR stations. New media solution becomes an educational tool to promote scientific knowledge (National Museum of Natural History). Visitors are taken to explore connections between species and zoom in on creatures. In this case, the technology is the only tool available to employ the concept that “restrained to the traditional means of physical objects and text” (Cigainero, Eur. Museums Get Advent. VR). As the main expenses of VR exhibition production associated with the cost of hardware, it was revealed that the VR room at the National French Museum of Natural History overall cost 350.000 euro including renovation, hardware, programming (Cigainero, Email). It is known that the project was supported by the Orange foundation, Dell EMC and HTC Vive (Natin. Museum of Nat. Hist.) and only 70.000 euro of the total cost was covered by the museum (Cigainero, Email).
In the current context of museological research and practice, the benefits of VR in museum environments for education have been investigated with positive outcomes (Zoubola et al., Rae and Edwards, Lepouras and Vassilakis, Di Blas and Poggi), and this immersive systems have all the potentials to become a very effective means to communicate cultural content (Carrozzino and Bergamasco), providing a better overall experience in museum as they stimulate a deeper involvement of visitors increasing their ability to absorb concepts and information in short time (Osberg). In fact, the advantages of Computer Assisted Learning Environments for the formal learning lies in their specific effect at emotional, perceptual, cognitive and metacognitive levels (Economou and Pujol).
In addition, VR technology can potentially help museums overcome a number of limitations they face such as display exhibits that cannot be presented, either due to lack of space or due to their fragility. It can also help in cases when there is a need for visualising and simulating environments, constructions or objects that no longer exist, be partially preserved or cannot be easily visited (Sideris and Roussou in Lepouras and Vassilakis).
2.2 Museological Trends Accelerating VR Technology Adoption
After an initial discussion about the relation between VR and cultural education, the literature contains current museological trends accelerating latest technology adoption. Previous studies indicate a significant shift associated with public behaviour and expectations as the modern-day audience member is no longer just a visitor but also an active participant. Scholars widely discuss the evolving role of audiences, the new style of communication with them, and the potential of a digital space for generating new ways of engaging with art and culture as well as for audience outreach (Adair, Filene and Koloski 2011, Ivey and Kingsbury 2008, Poole 2011, King, Stark and Cooke 2016, Walmsley, Franks 2011, Thornham and Popple 2013). The quest for museums hence is to understand recent-day visitors expectations in order to be able to interact with them successfully (Bearman and Geber 392). Chasing these calls from an ever-changing environment, it is important to comprehend that the digital world, which is interactive and networked by its nature, enables to meet the needs of art encounters appropriately as it provides “a dynamic space for two-way engagement” with art and culture as a complementary experience to physical visits (King, Stark, Cooke 76), and even as “an alternative reciprocal model of engaging with things” (Hogsden and Poulter 81).
Analysing the social changes, Rectaus suggests that museums have become “multiple-use cultural centers” with social interactive activities, offering not only education, but also entertainment (172) This key formula is known as ‘edutainment’, an interface between absorption and active visit (Izzo 532). Another conceptual idea (Jung and Dieck) of using VR within cultural heritage places is to create an environment of value co-creation as part of the experience. This is expected to increase the competitiveness of cultural heritage places as well as to enhance the connectedness among visitors. In other words, academic studies and museum practices demonstrate the ability of digital interactive experiences to disrupt conventional forms of appreciation of the arts, customise the visitor experience, enhance the value of that experience, and use the novel interaction paradigms to approach the general public.
Another trend which encourages art and cultural institutions to embrace the latest technology is the fact of declining visitor figures (Lepouras and Vassilakis). The penetration of technology in our lives has had a significant impact on how people choose to spend leisure time, and VR seems have captured especially the interest of young people (Garcia-Cardona, Tan and Prakoonwit 2017, Statista 2011, Poser 2015). A recent survey on strategies implemented in major museums worldwide with regard to the digitization process shows that the use of interactive technology applications had a significant impact on the public: 48% of the museums employing it has demonstrated an increase in physical visits (Izzo 532). Furthermore, the results of the study of museum exhibit engagement (Jung and Dieck) demonstrate that using VR technology and the concept of value co-creation can prove to be valuable for attracting new target markets, enhancing visitors’ experience, create positive word-of-mouth and revisit intentions.
It is important to underscore the noticeable trend associated with technology’s role in scaling up museum’s capacity to develop innovative financing strategies. This is fundamental in the context of a changing funding environment where museums face greater accountability for government backing, with increased emphasis on public value and efficiency, as well as growing pressure to find new ways to exploit their earnings potential. The economic crisis has made it more difficult to attract sponsorship and philanthropic donations (Bakhshi and Throsby 206). Consequently, arts funders and policymakers increasingly call on museums to be more innovative forcing them to re- evaluate their strategies.
According to the economic analysis of innovation in arts and cultural organisations by NESTA in 2010, digital technologies provide with opportunities for museums to expand their audience reach as well as open new avenues for creating new sources of economic and cultural value, and stimulate new business models (Bakhshi and Throsby 208, 211). NESTA scholars suggest in addition to online donations to diversify revenue, as a web-based content may provide significant income. The exposure of a given organisation’s brand through a web exhibition or show, and distribution of related content through third-party websites such as iTunes, may also have a positive effect on future revenues in other more indirect ways. Bolton and Carrington whilst suggest museums to adapt innovative debt and equity instruments, such as “patient loans, quasi-equity and venture philanthropy” (Bakhshi and Throsby 212), which are increasingly common in the social enterprise sector. However, academic research illustrates that museum professionals struggle with the challenges in strategic management due to lack of financial planning skills and the paucity of data (Bakhshi and Throsby, Bolton and Cooper).
Moreover, the use of new technologies calls on arts and cultural organisations to develop new digital strategies, expanding the ‘virtual capacity’ as well as providing new information and content to the public. Early adopters of virtual reality in the art sector have focussed on utilising the technology as a means to extend access to collections and special exhibitions. A recent example is the Google Art project, a website where a number of major art museums in Europe and the US have created “virtual tour” experiences: 360-degree panoramas enabling the e-visitor to walk through and view high-resolution images of works in their collections. These developments led to the concept of ‘museum without walls’ (Hooper-Greenhill), and to the idea of an entirely virtual museum (Styliani et al.). However, these initiatives stayed in a two-dimensional environment that is flat and less interactive. Hereafter, 2017 distinguishes a deeper penetration of immersive technology into museum practices as new products entered the market democratising the arts and transforming the enterprise in the areas of education and collaboration.
A few prominent private collectors launched VR museums by converting their real art pieces into a virtual space. One of them is the DSL Private Virtual Museum founded by the Paris-based couple Sylvain and Dominique Levy. The collection contains 350 works from leading Chinese avant-garde artists which is one of Europe’s top 5 Chinese Contemporary Art collections (DSL Collection).
Following the global trends of the forth tech revolution, Sylvain Levy reveals a new idea of extending the notions of art spaces. His point that VR is the next frontier for building authentic experiences with audiences, especially the millennials: “The new generation’s brain is moulded by moving images and their eyes are shaped by, they do not look at art the same way we look at it” (Vive arts). In order “to democratise art”, which is always has been deemed as an elitist matter, the DSL collection has a holistic strategy to nurture the overall ecosystem. In a personal interview Sylvain Levy emphasised that democratisation for him is not looking at art through the numbers, but bringing “art to people in a way they can feel themselves”. The philosophy behind this transformative project is to create “something that timeless” in order to be impactful and relevant in the future. The collector stressed that the DSL is a nomadic collection which means that it goes where people are instead of waiting for people to come (Levy).
Importantly, it attempts to develop multiple perspectives on creative activities, in particular, in collaboration with art and educational organisations. These opportunities offer a glimpse of possible applications of VR in the art of tomorrow, stimulate an academic research in the VR field in relation to arts, design, film, reinforce more productive creative collaborations between students, arts institutions and creative industries. Beside museums and schools, the private collectors partner with medical community facilitating VR museum tours in hospitals across Europe. The goal is "to inspire people, to bring food for their thoughts, to enable to look at things differently” (Levy). Sylvain Levy emphasised that it is vital to make people understand that art is a part of the world, and we have to connect art with other dots such as science, technology, politics, fashion, design, life style (Levy).
Another family of art collectors who flowed in the VR mainstream in 2017 is Kremer. A 74-piece collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish masterpieces has been converted and placed in a perfectly designed virtual space by a world-class architect.