When Modern Technology Meets History - How Museums Are Creating Interactive Experiences

When Modern Technology Meets History - How Museums Are Creating Interactive Experiences

Sally Yoon is an IPilogue Writer and a 3L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Museums have long been a source of education and inspiration, but technological advancements have allowed for exhibitions that display a unique intersection of modern technology and history. Exhibitions incorporating the use of AR and VR technologies enable visitors to “step in” to a painting of a historically important moment in time and absorb educational content through interactive games. Museums have become some of the world's most innovative content creators, capturing the attention of individuals of all ages.

Engaging, accessible and a springboard for creative projects

What exactly does it look like when a museum embraces technology? In 2021, Athena Art Foundation, Colnaghi Foundation, National Portrait Gallery and Megaverse collaborated to launch the “Living Portraits” series. The series features digital, interactive versions of the gallery’s portraits in place of their traditional, static counterparts. Brought to “life,” the portraits tell their stories in an engaging and authentic style. The first portrait in the series featured Jem Belcher, a 19th-century bare-knuckle boxer and butcher who speaks of his accomplishments as one of the best boxers of his time. Additionally, these digital portraits are more accessible to a wider audience, including those with visual impairments.

Augmented reality (AR) has also been utilized to explore various perspectives. Last year, LACMA collaborated with Snapchat in the Monumental Perspectives Collection to explore LA community histories through AR. As a part of the collection, Sandra de la Loza’s “What the Willow Whispers” is an AR animation to portray what has been lost and “a vision of new ecologies in the future.” The piece revives native plants in South Los Angeles and illustrates how the land is linked to time and history with the transition of seasons.

(Caption: Sandra de la Loza, What the Willow Whispers, 2022, in collaboration with LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives, © Sandra de la Loza, image courtesy of Snap Inc)

A new box of legal issues

Museums will need to consider new issues as they explore new technological media. For example, they will need to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of allowing visitors to use various AR apps and tools to customize works. While some argue that such acts would be a defilement of fine art and would prefer that works are preserved in more controlled environments, others see that these technologies offer opportunities to study works in greater depth. Loic Tallon, Digital Chief of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, agrees with the latter viewpoint: “[t]he museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, and study works of art … if someone is making an AR experience out of the collection, I see it as pure mission fulfillment.”

Furthermore, copyright infringement remains a key issue that can easily be complicated when it comes to these technologies. For AR works that may be the product of multiple copyright holders, the museum must make sure that proper steps are taken to locate and obtain all permissions or licenses for the use of the work. In this process, it will be important to discuss with artists the extent to which their work is original and what is sourced from third parties.

Annually held conferences such as the “Digital Exhibitions Summit” by MuseumNext, bring together members of the world’s leading institutions, to continue exploring the ways technology can be integrated in exhibitions in the future. If you love both history and technology, chances are your local museum has something for you.