Digitalisation, but how?
PLATEFORME 10 – the new neighbourhood for the arts in Lausanne – is growing upwards. The three museums, which will move into the new location in 2021, are already planning, programming and working on a joint digital presentation. “PLATEFORME 10 digital” will complement the new exhibition space in the digital sphere. Its essence will be building not with concrete, but with algorithms.
Lausanne is not just getting a new museum near the train station; it is being given a new landmark, a museum quarter with restaurants, bookstores, cafés and plenty of leisure space spread out over 22,000 square metres.
The Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts (mcb-a) art museum, the Musée de l’Elysée photography museum and the Mudac design museum will be just a stone’s throw from one another by 2021. Their spatial proximity is meant to inspire an exchange between the arts.
A virtual exhibition space
What can the digital dimension contribute to this exchange? How can the exhibitions be expanded with these new tools? And how will culture be conveyed in this context in general?
These are just some of the questions that Manuel Sigrist and Marco Costantini are asking themselves. The former is responsible for the web and new media at the Musée de l’Elysée, the latter is the curator at the Mudac design museum in Lausanne. Since 2016, they have been working with a colleague from the mcb-a art museum and other partners on a joint digital project, the “PLATEFORME 10 digital”. Engagement Migros initiated the project and wants to promote dialogue on how the three museums can jointly use the digital dimension in future art education. The objective is for a common virtual space to be built for the three museums before they move into the new buildings at Lausanne’s train station. At the same time, the digital aspect serves as a catalyst for cross-house collaboration in terms of content. The dialogue between the three disciplines will also subsequently continue to be available offline.
Digital construction is complex
After two years of work on the project, however, it is clear that digital construction is also complicated and unpredictable. There is still not much empirical data available on what audiences want. Algorithms, the building material of the digital world, have the advantage of being infinitely flexible. But technology is still a long way from meeting all demands.
In Lausanne, too, technology quickly brought the utopians of digital art mediation down to earth. Because in order to be present in virtual space at all, the works of art first have to be in digital form. And that's not easy.
Technology, the great hurdle
The great hurdle on the way to a digital presence is a reality check in the form of technology. It is about discovering what is both possible and in everyone’s interest. The innovative project partner of “PLATEFORME 10 digital” is the spin-off Artmyn, which emerged from EPFL. With the help of hundreds of photographs that are being scanned into software, the tech company is capturing the works of art virtually in three-dimensional form, creating a digital copy. The fact that the materiality of the works is also being made clearly visible is unique worldwide.
A pilot project shows what this could look like: the virtual copy of a photo collage of René Burri about Jean Tinguely. In digital space, the work can be moved and details zoomed in on as desired.
In the first months of the project, the museum representatives and Artmyn tested what kind of works can even be digitised at all using the existing technology.
The initial insight after the tests were completed came with sobering news: works larger than 30 x 30 centimetres did not yet have the desired quality.
A second finding, which mainly affects the digitisation of the works of the design museum: acceptable digitisation has only been possible for flat objects such as photos, pictures, stamps, jewellery and plates. Vases, lamps and other larger objects cannot yet be digitally copied satisfactorily using Artmyn technology. The next step of the Lausanne museums will therefore be to test other technologies.
And a third realisation: everything always takes much longer than expected. Any further demands on the quality of the digital copy must first be technically reprogrammed and recalculated. The museum curators, who have the last word on the results of the digitised objects, are reluctant to cut back on the materiality and colour of the digital copies.
“We want to create interactive meeting spaces.”
Once the works of art are available digitally, Manuel Sigrist and Marco Costantini have many ideas on how the works from the three museums could meet digitally. Many images, objects and photographs were created at the same time, refer to the same historical events, perhaps even belong to the same art movement or refer to past related movements.
Online, countless links could be made, stories could be told, new worlds could be discovered. Because for Manuel Sigrist it is clear: “Simply digitising works of art and putting them online cannot be the goal of digitisation.” And Marco Costantini adds: “We want to create interactive meeting places, offering a dimension that goes beyond what the new museum quarter will be in the future.” The technical term for this is UX – user experience.
More than 30 works from the three museums have now been digitised. A form of presenting and communicating these works together in a digital space is being exhaustively developed and programmed. Explanatory videos have already been created from the first digital works of art. The Lausanne group wants to enhance them and make them even more professional. “We are gaining important experiences,” says Manuel Sigrist, who, like his project partner Marco Costantini, is involved in a digitisation project for the first time.
“We are gaining important experiences.”
“We could not all have known what technological realities we would encounter in implementing such a 3D digitisation project,” says Alexandra Müller-Crepon, project manager at Engagement Migros. Despite all the difficulties, the project has already achieved a lot, she adds: “‘PLATEFORME 10 digital’” is doing pioneering work. The joint experiences are not only opening up a new basis for future cooperation for the three museums, the findings of the project are also of interest to other museums.”
Sharing knowledge with other museums
That is why Manuel Sigrist and Marco Costantini, with support from Engagement Migros, are organising for April the first international symposium on digitisation in museums together with colleagues from Swiss museums and keynote speakers from all over the world. Because museums everywhere are working to answer the same questions: digitisation yes, but how? What are the goals and tasks of digital innovation in museums?