Placing mixed reality in the museum

One of the main challenges of this project is to create two experiences taking place in two augmented worlds located within two museums that have very distinct spatial characteristics. Each experience is to be formed by a temporary installation comprising a set of rooms with specific architectural and scenographic qualities. This means that while the setting of each experience will feel a bit like an augmented set design, or possibly even an escape room, or a complex museum installation, it will, at the same time, form part of the broader visiting experience of each of the two world-leading museums.

To research how to build these spaces, and to understand what place they would occupy within the two museums, the audience research teams in the museums carefully considered exactly how visitors will be arriving at the two spaces, and what they will be encountering before and after each of the experiences. Museum visiting is, of course, part of a spatial, architectural experience, in which, as shown by architect Bernard Tschumi, ‘the very heterogeneity of the definition of – space, action, and movement – makes it into an event, that place of shock, or that place of the invention of ourselves’ (Ibid.: 258, added emphasis). The very architecture of the museum too, then, should be a place of action, of self discovery, and social cohesion.

Project team in Magic Leap headsets undertaking walkthrough of proposed experience

Each of the spaces we aim to build could be described as a world within a world that is transformed, on various occasions, into yet another world. Each of the spaces will in fact be located within one of the museums, and form part of their complex architecture, yet also be augmented through the use of the mixed reality.

To understand how visitors would move within such a complex space, and so have a better sense of the conditions under which the event would be produced, the team conducted a number of walk-throughs, testing how participants, who were team members on this occasion, would behave in narrow spaces when wearing a headset; how they might relate to each other; how easily they would understand and respond to instructions; what the timing of the experience might be; and how they would cope with being asked to take on different roles and acts as onlookers, participants, gamers, learners, teams, or even researchers at different points in time within the same experience.

Project team in Magic Leap headsets undertaking walkthrough of proposed experience

As each experience is structured around a specific use of space and time, it might be interesting to remember that the two terms are in fact strongly inter-related and constitute the fundamental concepts through which we define orientation. Human actions occur in time and through space, and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, space denotes time or duration, and time is in fact a space or extent of time.

Each of the experiences entails the construction of a time present (the fictional here and now in which the visitor is placed), a chronological time (the narrative order of the events), and plot time (the inter-relation between the time present and the chronological time of the fiction), as well as a performance time (marking the duration of the overall experience). Spatially too the experiences will be located within the museums, and, within that, in a number of rooms, which will on occasion appear augmented.

Project team in Magic Leap headsets undertaking walkthrough of proposed experience

The complex hybrid space created by the overlap of these physical, fictional and digital spatio-temporal narrative structures are best described by using Katherine Hayles notion of ‘enfolded spaces’ in which what is witnessed ‘is no longer a homogeneous context for a given spatial area, but rather pockets of different contexts in it’ (in De Souza e Silva 2006: 269). The idea of a folding space cannot but bring back Gilles Deleuze’s theorisation of the fold, as an in-betweenness of spaces, able to represent dialectical opposites such as organic and inorganic, inside and outside (1993: 13). This folding spatio-temporal environment, which can no longer easily be represented in a two-dimensional drawing, or as a chronology, or even a conventional architecture, as it is only live as a mixed reality, constitutes a new kind of place within the museum.

References

  • De Souza e Silva, A. (2006) ‘From cyber to hybrid: mobile technologies as interfaces of hybrid spaces’, Space and Culture, 9:3, 261-278.
  • Deleuze, G. (1993) The Fold, tr. B. Conley, London and New York: Continuum.
  • Tschumi, B. (1996) Architecture and Disjunction, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

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