Museum Without Walls

Karolina Ziulkoski

Museum Without Walls is a model for site specific museums. It provides immersive experiences with no physical interventions: the content is all digital and triggered on site only, bringing information and meaning to historical sites.

Must museums have rooms and walls? From this question came the concept of “Museum Without Walls”, a model for heritage areas. The museum exists entirely in the digital realm, and is experienced only on site. History is told in parts using different technologies - each tells the tale most suitable to its characteristics. For this proposal the case study is São Miguel das Missões, Brazil, a former jesuit mission, and the chosen media are video mapping and augmented reality. The daily projection serves as a collective nighttime experience that depicts the epic final battle of the mission. The augmented reality app allows for deeper individual exploration, intimately displaying daily life in the mission.

“Exhibits not only provide an opportunity for visitors to look but to think, to explore, to wonder, and to investigate” (Olofsson, 166). This project aims at educating the visitors of São Miguel das Missões about life in the mission, how it was during the pinnacle of the reduction and what led to its end. However, more than that, its goal is to do so through methods that are fun and engaging. Based on Levi-Strauss’ magical thought, visitors learn by context, association and previous experiences, as opposed to a formal education model (qtd. in Graburn 179). Indeed, for Falk and Dierking, the museum visit is an interchange between three contexts: personal, social and physical – visitors continuously create each context, and the interaction among these result in their experience (2). Research “suggests that the experience of exhibits is fundamentally produced in social interaction between visitors” (Lehn 1353). Most people choose to visit a museum in groups, so a large part of their attention is devoted to their social group (Falk and Dierking 41). Interaction among a group, and even with other visitors, shapes the way in which people understand an exhibition. Social interactions play such a large role in a museum visit that they are rarely forgotten, and, sometimes, they are the most recalled factor many years after the exhibition experience (Falk and Dierking 54). A museum experience is shaped by the social context – interpretation and learning outcomes are very much the results of a group outcome (Falk and Dierking 54). This research informed the products chosen to compose the case study for Museum Without Walls, as well as visitors' behavior and current events on site. The existing daily light and sound show has been showcased for thirty years and features notable Brazilian actors, such as Fernanda Montenegro, the only Brazilian to have been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Therefore, it is reasonable to renew the spectacle and incorporate it as one of the museum's features. The show is already known by visitors as something they should attend do during their visit, and is a highly social and communal experience - like going to a concert, for example. However, on their visit to the site during the day, there's no aid for their visit. School groups have guides, but everyone else is essentially alone and there's no information, even labels, on site. This provides an opportunity for a second component for the museum. Considering the literature review above, and site observation which points to the fact that the audience visits the site in small groups, there should be a product to allow for education about the site in a fun way, but that also connects to the intimate context these small group visits occur. People already have highly technological devices, like smartphones. To use the visitor's own device is not only more practical, but also reduces costs and gives the visitors themselves more freedom - it's their device, they can use it at their own discretion. The technology then chosen to be used in a mobile and tablet application for use in site is augmented reality. According to Kipper and Rampolla "Augmented Reality is taking digital or computer generated information, whether it be images, audio, video, and touch or haptic sensations and overlaying them in a real-time environment" (1). Essentially, it allows the user to see the real world in their screen with the computer generated content on top of it. In this particular case, it can provide a view of how the mission was before becoming ruins. The most important, however, is that the Augmented Reality technology is attached to a context: it works by providing an image it recognizes or GPS coordinates. So the application will only deliver content when in site only, serving as an aid and not an alternative to a visit to the actual site. Although mobiles and tablets are more and more being used as a tool for individualization, many applications can be used in groups. Parents use smartphones with their children; one tablet can serve an entire group at the same time in many museums educational programs. As long as the application is built having in mind that it can be used by a small group of people it is absolutely feasible for groups up to 4 people to share it, making it a social experience.

The audience is very broad, as such in a case like this - man and women from all ages. Three groups are recurring visitors: school classes, elderly visitors and couples, with or without kids.

User Scenario
During the day, visitors use their smartphones to visit the site in their own pace, with freedom to choose between the augmented reality visit and the audio guides. It can be shared in a small group; no need for each person to have their own device. The application is meant for use on site only, so, if they delete it later, it's not an issue. At night, they come back to the site (or just stay) for the projection mapping show.

With the products that comprise the museum already settled - the existing light and sound show and the idea of an augmented reality application, the project developed in a very straightforward direction. For the light and sound show the best option available was projection mapping. This technique turns objects into display surfaces for video projection by spatially mapped them. It allows the use of the existing script and sound narrative and update it with visuals, using the church ruins as a canvas. The most important issue here is the content. The majority of projection mapping events so far display only visuals with no narrative. The process here happened the other way around: the sound narrative guided the visuals, complementing them when a narrative is not enough; for example, when the narrator speaks with the architect of the church it is possible to show the original building. The script tells the history of the epic battle which led to the end of the reduction. It is dense and abstract, very theatrical. Therefore, the visuals do not need to be literal and there is artistic freedom. The application development started with augmented reality, as stated before. Using GPS coordinates, it displays the original settlement with an accompanying narration explaining the daily life at the mission - since the projection mapping event deals with an epic story and the issues related to spectacle for a large audience, the application, for its context of use (small groups with a small device which is owned by the individual using it) allows for a more intimate approach, suitable for chronicles of everyday life. For the content, interviews were conducted with Prof. Nadir Daminani, head of the Center for Missionary Culture at URI, the local university. This is the first part of the application; there is another one, which displays interesting stories from the community. For this interviews were conducted with local people. The stories they shared were incredible; however, early on there was the preoccupation of how to deliver these narratives. Some people are great storytellers, while others not so much. So the decision was, before starting the interviews, to produce these stories with actors and sound effects in audio only, in a way that their stories guide visitors through the site. The inspiration for the audio guides comes from Janet Cardiff's walks, which make the audience feel the story being told is actually happening around them. This inspiration is very artistic; however, since the light and sound show sets a theatrical precedent, the audience is used to this kind of approach as opposed to an educational tone. The user experience design of the application is very simple: the first screen offers the option to choose between the audio guides or the augmented reality visit. The design is entirely done with illustrations. The color palette displays earthy tones, and the use of textures in unusual places - like an indian pattern as hair - deliberately steers away from a child illustration, although not completely unappealing to them, as they are a significant part of the audience as well. All of the design components from both parts, projection mapping and application - illustration, colors, texture, discourse tone and style, video visuals - are thought to be complementing and consistent, so that the audience understands they are part of a single project, where each product tells the story more suitable to it.

This proposal represents new possibilities for museums inside historical sites – it is a model adaptable to the history and stories each place might have; it allows visitors to see the history of a place without needing to visit a site and then a museum about the site. More than a technology, it is a concept. Technology can be replaced at any time; what is important is the way content is being delivered without physical interventions. But most importantly, this project represents a concept of a museum without physical boundaries. Instead of having small objects out of context inside glass boxes, the content of the museum are the stories, heard within their original context. They are free to move within the site and visit it in their own pace. This project was developed through the lens of the visitor and their experiences, from the analysis of how the audience behaves in a museum setting, resulting in a museum that will enhance their experience. Instead of making visitors fit an institution’s expectations, the audience sets the directions for museums’ proposals. In a time where almost all cultural institutions have learning as one of the primary goals, it makes no sense to develop programs and exhibitions without understanding your audience’s behavior first. As David Dean already affirmed, without people, there are no museums.