Type of project: seminar
Where: Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden
When: 26 October 2012
Ada Auf Der Strasse, Artist (SE)
Kristin Borgehed, Musician, Folk Practice Academy (SE)
Lissa Holloway-Attaway, Senior Lecturer, Digital Culture, BTH (SE/CAN)
Elektro Moon Vision: Elwira Wojtunik and Popesz Csaba Láng, Visual/Interactive Media Artists (PL)
Maria Engberg, Senior Lecturer, Digital Culture, BTH (SE)
Susan Kozel, Professor, Digital Media, Malmö Högskola (SE/CAN)
Jacob Lillemose, Curator (DNK), Talan Memmott, Lecturer, Digital Culture, BTH (SE)
Jesper Norda, Sound Artist (SE), Mateusz Pęk, Digital Artist (PL)
Rebecca Rouse, Assistant Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (USA)
Astrid Selling Sjöberg, Musician, Folk Practice Academy (SE)
Daniel Spikol, Senior Lecturer, Computer Science, Malmö Högskola (SE/USA)
Teresa Wennberg, Mixed Media Artist (SE)
Organizers: Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden

Performing Exhibitions: Displaying Digital Art and Media Seminar (Oct. 26, 2012)

by Lissa Holloway-Attaway

Performing Exhibitions: Displaying Digital Art and Media was a seminar that explored exhibition, curatory, and performative practices in digital art and mixed media. A series of questions were circulated to participants for review prior to the seminar that asked them to reflect on and to foreground, in a demonstration and discussion of their own work, how the human actor may become an agent for and a site for driving exhibition practices. Some of the questions that offered inspiration were: How does digitally-mediated art engage human actors, embodied agents, and sensory input? What factors influence exhibition and curatory choices when displaying innovative art, technology and media forms? How do media artists work to enhance and/or perform liveness and human sensation? What questions do researchers explore when working with the aesthetics of techno-human interfaces? Our featured speakers included an international range of artists, curators, researchers, and scientists working across disciplines and media contexts. Their responses to the questions invited a number of different reflections and demonstrations of practice, including dance, music, iPad performance, and interfaces made from fruit. Daniel Spikol, a computer scientist from Malmö Högskola, included the fruit interface in his presentation about art, media, and technology-driven/experience-based practices. He is an academic with experience working in industry, but from an art and computer programming background, he epitomized in many ways the kind of cross-sectionality we hoped to embrace. Suzan Kozel, Professor of Digital Media, also from Malmö Högskola, engaged the audience in a human re-enactment of a phenomenological experience-based media project she is working on to engage affective responses in users. I worked with two folk musicians who research human archives and folk histories in the Baltic region (Kristin Borgehed, and Astrid Selling from the Folk Practice Academy), along with an iPad and some smart phones to demo and “perform” a digital story-telling project we are currently developing to explore “hidden” connections between the Blekinge Region and Lithuania.

Other mixed media and performance-based artist presentations and demos from Ada Auf Der Strasse, Teresa Wennberg, Elektro Moon Vision, and Jesper Norda, and an installation of Baltic Agora by the Polish artist Mateusz Pęk, re-made from a previous Art Line exhibition in Gdansk City Gallery for The Baltic Goes Digital contest (with Klaudia Wrzask) enriched the discussions with concrete examples from art practice. Teresa Wennberg, who has a rich history working with art, media technology and computers, was able to show early “digital” works that pre-dated internet culture. She reminded us of the long heritage of innovation from which we now explore computer-based art practices. Rebecca Rouse, who shares her work in more depth elsewhere in this catalogue, provided another historical perspective on what it means to augment reality and engage users in media, by returning to 19th-century panoramas to find contemporary influences for digital works. Jacob Lillemose also discussed his own experience curating digital work and shared the challenges of exhibiting such works in ways that can fully engage the public as essential components of art-performance. As a whole, the seminar laid a solid foundation for more extended work exploring performativity and media arts “in practice” in a three-day festival coordinated for the following spring, the Mixing Realities Digital Performance Festival.

Lissa Holloway-Attaway, Ph. D., Senior Lecturer in Digital Culture, Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, Karlskrona Sweden

Performing Exhibitions - Displaying Digital Art and Media

Ada Auf Der Strasse - "Performing Exhibitions" -Displaying Digital Art and Media

Panel Discussion 1 - Performing Exhibitions -Displaying Digital Art and Media

Panel Discussion 2 - Performing Exhibitions -Displaying Digital Art and Media

Negotiating immersion and critical distance in panoramic forms from the 18th century to Augmented Reality

by Rebecca Rouse

Context: In October 2013, Rebecca Rouse was a visiting lecturer and participant in the Performing Exhibitions Seminar at Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, where she presented her research on Augmented Reality and its historical relation to panoramas. In the following text, she provides an overview of that research and reflects on digital technologies in relation to contemporary museum exhibitions and cultural heritage.

Contextualizing current research at the Georgia Institute of Technology in mobile handheld Augmented Reality (AR) within the history of technologies of exhibition and display design in the museum can help us to understand the rich possibilities for current AR technologies in museums and at cultural heritage sites. We are lucky to be working in an exciting moment today for exhibition and display in the museum. Particularly in museums of science, history and contemporary art, we find a more integrated approach to uses of digital technologies than has been seen previously. For example, the Miami Museum of Science’s Interactive Theatre exhibit Vital Space (2006) casts visitors in teams battling an infection in a multi-console computer game that teaches concepts about anatomy and disease. The Atlanta History Center makes use of a large-scale interactive map display in an exhibit about the civil war in War in Our Backyards: Discovering Atlanta 1861–1865 (2010). The Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile provides an interactive touchscreen database within a memorial to provide insight into the victims of Pinochet’s oppressive regime (2010). Sander Veenhof’s Augmented Reality Art Invasion at MOMA in New York (2010) allowed the artist to superimpose virtual works within the physical galleries of the museum. Additionally, many compelling examples have been presented through Art Line, such as Baltic Sounds Good, Art & Apparatus, The Baltic Goes Digital, and Telling the Baltic. These projects have likewise implemented digital media in innovative ways to aid expression and storytelling in installation and display design.

What does the plethora of contemporary digital technologies mean for museums today? Just as 18th- and 19th-century panoramas negotiated the discourses of popular entertainment and scientific innovation, new technologies today also straddle both innovation in display and the Disneyfication of culture. How will museums and cultural heritage sites utilize new technologies with this challenge in mind? Museum studies scholars Ross Parry and Andrew Sawyer suggest a trajectory of phases in the evolution of museums’ incorporation of information and communication technologies in their chapter in the anthology Reshaping Museum Space: Architecture, Design, Exhibitions. Parry and Sawyer see museums on a course towards an ever-increasing integration of digital technologies both inside the gallery (explicitly on display) and outside it – in both support roles within the presenting institution, and to engage potential and past museum visitors in their own homes or in classrooms. Parry and Sawyer envision a future for digital media and the museum in which the relationship between on-line technology and on-site experience becomes innate.1

The fascinating history of display design and exhibition technologies referenced by Parry and Sawyer is beyond the scope of this paper. However, one major strategy of display – immersion – will be discussed here. While immersion may seem like a contemporary concept, it has an interesting history that pre-dates the digital. The objective in tracing older examples of immersive strategies is not to trace a lineage, as narrativizing the development of technologies runs the risk of oversimplification. Instead, the aim is to bring an art history approach to bear on the understanding of the virtual art of presentday culture, so that we are not restricted to a technologycentered approach. In other words, art history is vital so that we are not limited to understanding digital art solely through its technological functions. As discussed by Oliver Grau in Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, virtual reality can be understood through the lens of art history as any immersive image environment. This broadens the commonplace technical definition of VR as a fully computational environment to allow for a more nuanced, historical approach.

From the perspective of the museum, there is at first glance a tension between virtuality and authenticity. The museum has a mission of authenticity, and the center of this is often the object – the original, physical object – but as Klaus Müller has suggested in his chapter Museums and Virtuality,2 anything in the museum acquires a type of virtuality because it is curated, and no longer in its original context. This notion of virtuality is related to the concept of framing, which is relevant to a discussion of panoramas as well. Panoramas, like contemporary VR, exemplify the expansion of the frame. On the other hand, most museum exhibits re-frame the object, and in the AR applications for museums and cultural heritage sites being developed today, we see a layering of multiple frames. In terms of creating immersive experiences, removing the frame, which delimits space, also results in diminishing physical distance and “diminishing critical distance,” which Grau has identified as the psychological hallmark of immersion.3

What does immersion and “diminishing critical distance” mean in the context of exhibition or display in the museum environment? Critical distance is often desired in many of these environments, as it is a condition for learning, but engagement is also a necessary condition for learning, and immersion can facilitate engagement. A central question emerges that is not easy to answer: how to strike a balance between engagement and critical distance? Some of the older, pre-digital immersive forms provide interesting examples of how this tension has been navigated.

Grau describes a striking example of immersion in antiquity, the Villa dei Misteri at Pompeii from 60 b.c.4 This room was used by worshippers of Dionysus, and a frieze covered all the walls of the chamber, filling the visitors’ field of view. The image depicts the gods and humans, bringing them together on the same level, and bringing them to the level of the visitor in the room. What is remarkable here is the role of the frame in this example. In one area of the frieze, a girl’s foot is about to lead her out of the painting into the room. In another area of the frieze, across a corner of the room, the implied trajectory of a whip passes through the spectator’s space in the chamber.5 It is notable that this example was created centuries before the development of linear perspective, but nevertheless achieves a measure of the illusion of depth, and immerses the field of view.

Another compelling example described by Grau is the Sala delle Prospettive from 1516 a.d.6 This immersive space was commissioned for the home of a Sienese Banker, Agostino Chigi, a Renaissance-era business tycoon. Grau considers this room “the most remarkable example of a High Renaissance space of illusion [...] [because] three-dimensional architectural features with a real function combine with purely pictorial elements in a total effect where nothing interferes with the illusion or interrupts its effect”.7 However, because this work was based on linear perspective and was created in a square room, there is only one “best view” of the space. This view is from the western entrance, as this was the location used to determine the central vanishing point of perspective for the room.8

This near-perfect synthesis of space and perspectival image brings us to the development of the panorama, which was first patented by Robert Barker, an Irishman, in 1787. The panorama has been discussed by many theorists as pre-cinema or pre-VR. Grau, for example, feels the panorama is “a prehistory of the immersive procedures of computer virtual reality”.9 Even with advances in linear perspective techniques, it was no easy task to create these large-scale, meticulously painted panoramas. In The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, Stephan Oettermann goes into detail about the process.10 The first step was to scout a location, which needed to provide a high central point from which one could have a clear view of the surrounding landscape. Then, a 360-degree scale sketch was made of the view. Next, the canvas needed to be prepared and mounted. This created a complication for drawing perspective correctly, as there were two curvatures that needed to be accounted for, both the cylindrical curvature of the canvas that creates the panorama’s surrounding circle, but also the curvature of the canvas bowing inward, produced as a result of stretching the fabric on its frame. The next step was to apply the outlines of the sketch. This process was difficult as well, because the artists who worked on drawing the outlines were so close to the canvas it was not possible for them to draw in perspective correctly. Therefore, another worker acted as a guide, located in the center of the panorama. He would use a long pointer with a charcoal on the end to mark corrections for the artists working close to the canvas. After the outline of the sketch was completed, paint was applied. Lighting and architecture also needed to be considered. The incremental, laborious nature of this process is reminiscent of the process required today for working with contemporary emerging technologies, such as VR, AR, and others.

Six years after Robert Barker filed his panorama patent, the first panorama rotunda built explicitly for the purpose of showcasing panorama paintings was erected in 1793 in London’s Leicester Square to house the Panorama of London. By this time, the “panorama had developed into a presentation apparatus that shut out the outside world completely”.11 The rotunda was designed to maximize the illusion of the panorama, by first plunging the visitor into darkness at the entrance to the rotunda, then leading them up a darkened walkway or stairs to a dimly-lit space where vellum was stretched over a skylight above. This skylight allowed for variations in light, as from passing clouds, to create the most realistic impression possible.12

An etching based on the Panorama of London survives, although the original painting has been lost. The panorama was taken from a view across the Thames river from Leicester Square from the top of the Albion Mill building. The Albion Mill was an interesting building in its own right. It was the first purpose-built industrial building in the world that was powered by a rotary steam engine, built by none other than James Watt himself. The mill was significant not only because it afforded a high vantage point but also because of the technological innovation of the building itself, as well as the purpose of the building, which was to supply all of London’s milled flour. But in 1791, just two years before the panorama opened in Leicester Square, the Albion Mill was destroyed by a fire, and so it was no longer possible to take in the view of the city from the roof of the mil.13 Fortunately, there was another high place in the city from which one could see a panoramic view of the city of London: St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Imagine – the year is 1793, you are in London, in Leicester Square, and you think, yes, I’ll pay to go see the inside of Robert Barker’s Rotunda building, where there is a huge painting of a rooftop view of London, when you could also see a similar view of London, live and in-person, from the top of St. Paul’s. Leicester Square is not far from St. Paul’s, in fact. But the panorama was wildly popular. The question emerges, why is the panorama, as opposed to the cathedral view itself, a compelling experience? Alison Griffiths provides a discussion of the phenomenon in Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums & The Immersive View:

[...] was it the pleasure of mediation, of seeing someone else’s rendition of what the London skyline looked like? Or possibly the idea of the panorama ‘experience’ as a social event, a destination, where being seen and being able to say one has visited the latest painterly ‘rage’ was as important or worth even more than the sight itself? Or, more pragmatically, was it because the cathedral roof was restricted at the time as a result of renovations?14

Most compelling is a combination of Griffiths’ first and final suggestions – the pleasure of mediation, along with Barker’s shrewd business sense to take advantage of the cathedral’s rooftop renovations as the moment to debut his Panorama of London. The panorama was a great success, and was followed by a Panoramania throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, drawing millions of visitors to the specially built rotundas which popped up across Europe and the UK.15 Panoramas even went on tour to other rotundas, which was no easy feat as there was no agreement on the standardization of dimensions among panorama creators. Additional innovations were added to the panorama to increase the immersive and performative effects: three-dimensional elements like clay figures, effects such as sound, wind and smoke; a live performer acting as a narrator; souvenirs in the form of miniature panoramas; scrolling panorama toys; moving panoramas that simulated journeys or were used in theatre productions or dioramas; and even panorama “rides”.16 Of these panorama rides, both the Cineorama and the Mareorama sound particularly spectacular in the few accounts that detail their presence. Both were exhibited at the 1900 World Fair in Paris. The Cineorama was the first film panorama, and was designed to represent a hot-air balloon flight. Spectators climbed into a viewing platform that resembled a hot air balloon basket with a large balloon base tethered above, and then panoramic footage of an ascent and descent were shown on all sides to give the feeling of ascension.17 While the Cineorama was hugely successful, the other panorama ride, the Mareorama, was less so. The Mareorama represented a Mediterranean sea voyage. Visitors climbed aboard a steamship platform that pitched and rolled, with side-scrolling panoramic paintings to represent forward movement. Fans produced ocean breezes, lighting effects simulated day, night and a lightening storm, and actual seaweed and tar added olfactory aspects to the experience, while actors played the part of deckhands and performers from local ports at stops along the journey. However, like many experiences we create in research labs today that push the envelope of creativity as well as technical capability, the Mareorama never worked reliably, and had more hype than actual visitors.18

Despite these innovations, the basic, painted panoramas remained a popular, reliable favorite. In fact, they were so popular there were even miniature panoramas to take home from the experience – meticulously detailed guides to the panoramas that were known as “souvenir programs”.19 As the panorama’s popularity increased, innovations were added, such as movement and narration. Banvard’s Mississippi River Journey (1852) was a good example of this theatrical version of the panorama. Audiences sat in a darkened auditorium, watched a sidescrolling painted panorama on stage and listened to an accompanying narration. These performances were several hours long, with the panorama scrolling horizontally in real-time to represent the actual experience of boating down the Mississippi river.20 This version of the panorama experience begins to sound pre-cinematic, with an audience seated together in the dark, watching a real-time representation of a river journey, narrated by a charismatic performer. This experience is perhaps not so different from many IMAX films today, such as The Greatest Places (1998), which includes a segment navigating the Amazon River, not to mention a selection of other spectacular and hard-to-reach geographies.

Across all these variations on the panoramic form, it is striking to note the similarities. The stories that are told seem to fall into a few categories: historic battles (reflecting the military connections of landscape painters); far-away places (virtual travel); new technology (railroad, steamship and hot-air balloon journeys). Fiction is notably not represented here. And, interestingly, these are the same types of stories we are drawn to tell with AR panoramas today.

At Georgia Tech, we have been working with Argon, an Augmented Reality browser that is being developed in the Augmented Environments Lab. Argon runs on the iPhone and iPad, and is unique in that it is comparatively accessible to program and allows content developers to retain control over their productions. A panorama mode was originally created by the Argon development team as a developer’s tool, to allow for the testing of locationspecific data in the lab. When it became clear that the panorama mode was compelling beyond expectation, it was implemented as a feature for content presentation. Argon’s AR panoramas can be geolocated or accessed independent of location information, and are interactive in that they respond to data from the phone’s sensors, based on the user’s movement of the device. Each panorama is situated around the user, and the user’s physical movement of turning the device (and therefore, one’s self) provides navigation of the spherical image space. The early prototypes we created even included a project with a hand-drawn panorama, similar in some ways to the traditional, painted panoramas of Barker’s time. The aim was to create an artist’s rendering of the original environment of a museum object, allowing the museum visitor to understand through the partial immersion of AR where the collected object had been located before it was brought into the museum gallery space.

However, in many ways, today’s AR panoramas provide an experience that is not so similar to the experience of the historical 18th- and 19th-century painted panoramas. The AR experience is handheld, and unlike the totalbody immersion created by the historic form, provides only a small window to the virtual space surrounding the user. Today’s handheld AR experience might be closer to something like the miniature panoramas from souvenir programs, scrolling panorama toys, travel guidebooks with fold-out panoramas, or even stereoscopes. One can imagine collecting a set of AR panoramas on an iPhone today, much in the same way stereoscopic views were collected in the 19th century.

Returning to the practices of exhibition and display within the contemporary museum, emerging technologies today bring with them not only exciting opportunities but also significant conflicts. Immersion can result in a lessening of critical distance, and new technologies can also present challenges in terms of accessibility and sustainability. If applied thoughtfully, however, with these challenges in mind, new technologies can achieve spectacular results for the museum visitor. While the experiences designed for mobile handheld AR platforms most resemble older handheld forms like the stereoscope, other AR experiences embody more of the spectacle associated with the original panorama.

For example, London’s Natural History Museum has used AR in combination with video projection in a traditional museum auditorium setting to create a dynamic hybrid experience entitled Who do you think you really are? The museum classifies this as an “interactive film”, but in reality the experience is more complex than this phrase implies. Contrary to the common movie-going experience, pre-filmed narrative segments are combined with interactive segments as well as AR, resulting in an interesting mix that pulls the viewer in and out of an immersive mode, bringing both critical distance and immersion to bear at different points. Using a custom AR system, users interact with 3D models of prehistoric creatures that appear to be projected into the center of the room. Photographs of users are also integrated into the narrative, which centers on the science of evolution and genetics. Multiple screens create a patchwork of narrative trajectories. At the end of the experience, users can email themselves a record of their participation. This personal digital archive can be accessed by visiting the museum’s virtual community online, extending the museum visit beyond the institution’s walls.

This example from London’s Natural History Museum is interesting for many reasons. This particular museum itself is remarkable for its role in museum history alone, but with this AR exhibit and others, the museum continues to find itself at the forefront of innovation in exhibition techniques and the implementation of immersion, critical distance, and interaction. Tensions between virtuality and authenticity are also ingeniously played with; while the 3D renderings of prehistoric creatures may seem overtly virtual, what could be more authentic than a photographic image of oneself that is smoothly incorporated into a representation of the human genetic tree? Additionally, the way this particular exhibit is integrated into the rest of the museum, as well as the way in which the visitor’s physical museum experience, virtual museum experience, and the continuation of those experiences at home are linked through the email sent at the end of the experience is thoughtfully done, and represents a step forward in the innate relationship between the museum and digital technologies envisioned by Parry and Sawyer. AR seems to be a technology that may be particularly adept at addressing the challenge of developing this innate relationship between the digital and physical, balancing immersion and critical distance, and authenticity and virtuality, due to the nature of AR as a technology of overlapping frames.

Rebecca Rouse, Assistant Professor, Communication & Media, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY, USA.

1. Ross P., Sawyer A. (2005), Space and the machine: adaptive museums, pervasive technology and the new gallery environment. In: Reshaping Museum Space: Architecture, Design, Exhibitions, Macleod S. (ed.). New York: Routledge, pp. 45–47.
2. Müller K. (2010) Museums and Virtuality. In: Museums in a Digital Age. Parry R. (ed.), New York: Routledge, p. 297.
3. Grau O. (2003), Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, Cambridge: MIT Press, p. 13.
4. Ibid, p. 26.
5. Ibid, p. 27.
6. Ibid, p. 37.
7. Ibid, pp. 38–39.
8. Ibid, p. 39.
9. Ibid, p. 7.
10. Oettermann S. (1997), The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, New York: Zone Books, pp. 49–59.
11. Grau O. (2003), Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, p. 59.
12. Oettermann S. (1997), The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, pp. 57–59.
13. Oleksijczuk D. B. (2011), The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 56.
14. Griffiths A. (2008), Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums & The Immersive View, New York: Columbia University Press, p. 8.
15. Hyde R. (1988), Panoramania! The Art and Entertainment of the ‘All-Embracing’ View, London: Trefoil Publications, p. 21.
16. Oettermann S. (1997), The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, pp. 63–97.
17. Ibid, pp. 85–86.
18. Huhtamo E. (2013), Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles, Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 313–317.
19. Oettermann S. (1997), The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, pp. 60–62.
20. Huhtamo E. (2013), Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles, pp. 186–189.

Rebecca Rouse (digital media researcher/theater performance studies)