Augmented and virtual reality make art even more immersive Augmented and virtual reality make art even more immersive

Augmented and virtual reality make art even more immersive

                                                    

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It is reasonable to worry that technological innovation could threaten our first-person experience of art, mainly accessed through museums and galleries. For example, might the ability to hold exhibitions in virtual reality keep us away from museums, instead only offering a digital surrogate?
On the contrary, so far experiences suggest that the digital realm offers new ways to enjoy art and culture. One example comes from the Open Heritage project launched by the non-profit association CyArk, which since 2003 has been involved in the digital conservation of the world's most important monuments and archaeological sites.
Digital restorations
In 2016, one of the main temples in the ancient Burmese capital of Bagan was seriously damaged by an earthquake. Fortunately, a few months earlier CyArk had mapped the entire site in 3D, both inside and out, using technologies such as 3D laser scanning, 360° stereoscopic videos, and aerial photos taken using drones.
All this means that you can still visit the temple of Bagan remotely, via an application that also offers virtual reality. Visitors can walk around the site as if in a kind of video game, but ones whose aim is education and cultural conservation. But Open Heritage doesn't just offer the wonders of the temple of Bagan. Using the application, it is possible to learn about and visit 25 world heritage sites from 18 different countries, including Pompei, the Al Azem Palace in Damascus (Syria) or the Mayan archaeological complex at Chichén Itzà (Mexico).
Virtual reality can also be used to create immersive and original experiences in traditional museums. For example, in 2018, London's Tate Modern held a retrospective on Amedeo Modigliani, which included a VR experience. Visitors to the exhibition could use special viewers to enter an interactive 3D model of the great Italian painter's Parisian studio. In doing so, the could experience first-hand the environment and the atmosphere in which Modigliani worked, how he arranged the paintings he was working on, or even simply the furniture in his studio or the colours on his palette, all recreated down to the smallest detail.
This one example shows how virtual reality ought not replace visits to the museum, but instead can further enhance them, offering new ways to appreciate the world of art and to understand the artists themselves. But there is probably an even more important aspect: How new technologies can make culture more inclusive and open to all.
Art for everyone
The ability to put on a visor and immerse yourself in a virtual exhibition can be a game-changer for people who struggle to leave home due to a disability. Likewise, digitally recreating an important archaeological site such as Machu Picchu can offer an incredible experience for people who will never have the chance to actually visit Peru. Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, can help people with poor eyesight to discover the subject of a painting for themselves by providing additional information that enriches the artistic and cultural understanding for all.
Developers of this kind of inclusive solution are among those invited to take part in the competition L’arte che accoglie (Art that Embraces). The TIM Foundation launched the competition in June 2019 to identify a model of inclusive technology for use in Italian museums, in an attempt to significantly reduce perceptive, sensory and cognitive barriers. The competition aims to support projects that use cutting-edge technologies, such as AI algorithms, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, and multi-sensory pathways. The overall objective is to add further value to art and to maximise access to it, using new and alternative methods that make art accessible to everyone.
So what role does augmented reality play in all of this? Similarly to VR, augmented reality – which adds a digital layer on top of the physical world – has the potential to significantly improve some experiences of art. Its main potential use is not inside museums, but in the open air when visiting culture-filled cities. Thanks to applications like City Guide Tour, you can use your smartphone to view all the monuments you see during your visit and find out their name, history, features, other visitors' opinions and much more.
So, by enabling virtual visits to amazing but hard-to-reach places, digitally enriching monuments in the world's greatest cities, and making culture accessible to all, the fusion between the real and the digital will not be detrimental to the world of art, but instead make it even more vibrant and engaging.