Have you ever been to a gallery or museum exhibition where only the front of a sculpture or ornament is visible in the display cabinet? Perhaps there is a dawdling family of six, gawking at the intricacies of the 2nd Century Roman bust. Maybe it’s a gaggle of slow moving art students analysing every crevice of a Greek vase.
Regardless, it can be a frustrating experience for the curious inquisitor. Firstly, getting a close-up vantage point amongst the crowd for an uninterrupted view, then that awkward moment when you peer in on such an angle that your head hits the glass.
What if you could explore the item with your fingertips from every angle in life-size scale? Wouldn’t it be something to view the inside of a crown of jewels or an extinct specimen from every point of view?
Hands on experience with the Myth and Magic exhibition. Credit: National Gallery of Australia
We’ve joined forces with the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to create a new way for visitors to interact with the artefacts currently on show in the Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibition; showcasing the intricate sculptural art of the Sepik River region.
The art of the region uses many different materials including: timber, pig tusks, feathers, shells, bone, hair, teeth, fur, and clay. It is often because of the age, fragility, and pricelessness of these materials that we are required to stand behind red rope and glass to appreciate and explore the relics.
To overcome this issue our Data61 research team, in collaboration with the National Biological Research Collections and the Atlas of Living Australia, developed a new 3D content deployment platform using open web standards to transform the physical exhibits into fully interactive digital sculptures.
Visitors can interact with the touch screen and view the artwork close-up, from the bottom or the back, and learn more about the intricate details and the culturally significant features: like symbols and materials.
Of course the digital version won’t replace seeing the real thing, but the additional information will complement and enhance the experience.
3D modelling allows visitors to check out all the nooks and crannies of these Papua New Guinean artefacts. Credit: National Gallery of Australia
This technology isn’t entirely new. We have used 3D scanning capabilities to great affect with InsectScan, a way for researchers to easily capture digital 3D models of tiny insect specimens in full colour and high-definition. Building on this existing technology for the NGA’s Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibit is one way we are improving and tailoring our work for other organisations and institutions.
The NGA is just the most recent example of our work with the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector, and we have been working with a number of organisations to embrace digital innovation.
Science is often the inspiration for art, from van Gogh’s Starry Night to the physiological sketches of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, so we’re excited to continue that tradition and build on this symbiosis of disciplines and extend the understanding of art in microscopic detail through advances in digitisation technology.
So, if you’re in Canberra before 1 November, make sure you head down to the NGA to check out the Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibition and let us know what you think of the real and digital artworks in the comments below.