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portrait of Nicholas Jarrett

Nicholas Jarrett

Marketing Campaign Manager , Europeana Foundation

The GIFT Project: Give and take in the museum experience

In our final article of our GIFT series we interview one of the GIFT consortium project leads, Bogdan Spanjevic. As General Manager of NextGame, a Belgrade-based company specialising in playful projects and digital advertising, Bogdan talks with us about how appropriation models have been tested, adapted and played with as part of GIFT, and how the museum has been brought to cinema audiences via their #OneMinuteMuseum initiative.

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How did you become involved with the GIFT project? 

Seven years ago, Anders Sundnes Løvlie, now Principal Investigator of the GIFT project, and I participated in the making of Random Friends, a hybrid street game, that was played simultaneously in Trondheim, Norway, and Belgrade, Serbia. It was a game about two countries in Northern and Southern Europe that do not belong to the European Union. So the first contact between Anders and me was as game designers. 

Random Friends was a so-called ‘critical game’ that explored our attitudes and understanding of the European Union from an external perspective. Several years later, Anders invited me to join the GIFT consortium and here we are – participating together in the EU H2020 project GIFT, this time from a different perspective. I find this is quite a symbolic circle – where the EU acts either as a conceptual or administrative frame for our research.    

Can you tell me a little about ‘appropriation’ and how it has impacted your work? 

Readers of the other articles in this series will be familiar with how the GIFT app is based on the creative use of gifting, i.e., giving... However, we’ve also been working on projects based on taking. By ‘taking’ I mean – appropriation, as a method of personalisation and transformation of artworks.  What do we take with us from a museum visit? Is a museum object confined to a museum or exhibition context forever, or can it be decontextualised and made ‘mine’ by personalising it? Can it be ‘mine’ in a much deeper and more profound sense than the concept of material and legal ownership? When considering appropriation we tend to raise many questions... and so are trying to provide some answers. 

Unlike well-known appropriation models where artists re-use existing objects and materials to create new artwork, we have focused on appropriation carried out by visitors. We have tested different personalisation methods and techniques to make a museum visit a strong emotional experience, where museum objects are perceived as something that belongs to our personal and intimate emotional space. In this sense appropriation is not understood as an artistic method or cultural policy but as an approach that connects our emotions and experiences with the museum exhibition. We developed a special museum web application called Sensitive Pictures to enable visitors to establish such connections. 

Sensitive Pictures creates an intimate emotional museum experience by leading visitors on a journey through their personal memories, hopes and thoughts.  Using the app, visitors choose which emotions they would like to explore… (e.g. love, passion, nostalgia, etc.). Each emotion is connected to a different museum object and evoked by specially-designed audio content to connect museum stories with personal memories. During the experience, visitors think about their feelings and try to understand and describe them. As a result, each visitor takes their own private path through a museum collection based on their emotions, perceiving museum objects as milestones in the personal journey. Sensitive Pictures highlights the uniqueness of our encounters with art, which are subject to our own experiences, knowledge and emotions. 

We also brought an educational aspect to Sensitive Pictures by providing experts’ insights about every museum object. This part of the app is also designed to fit into the emotional context of the whole experience.  

Where can we experience Sensitive Pictures for ourselves?

We are currently testing Sensitive Pictures in the Munch Museum, Oslo. The Munch Museum is a perfect lab environment for this kind of research – dedicated to the oeuvre of a man who thought that his paintings were the equivalent of diary pages, making them extremely personal and thus universal. Additionally, the museum was open to initiatives, research and learning about new methods of visitors’ engagement - which has been very important in the development of this experiment. 

Testing Sensitive Pictures at the Munch Museum in Oslo
Testing Sensitive Pictures at the Munch Museum in Oslo

Nottingham University’s Mixed Reality Lab has developed a special emotion-detection prototype that uses a camera to analyse facial expressions and link them with corresponding emotions. As a final part of the Sensitive Pictures experience, visitors are invited to have a conversation with an avatar of Edvard Munch. First test results show that many visitors perceive this part of the experience as the most exciting - being faced with Edvard Munch who, just as any of us would during our everyday conversations and meetings, tries to understand what the person he is talking to is feeling during the conversation. Each visitor receives a small personal gift after the experience based on their unique emotional feedback. Participants can then judge for themselves whether a computer is able to understand human emotions.   

What are the next steps for this project and are there any ways people working in museums can get involved?  

Each component of the Sensitive Pictures project could be adapted to other museums and cultural heritage institutions.  We have also developed a universal storytelling application that can be used for simple creation of stories in any museum. So with several strong storytelling tools to choose from, we welcome and invite museum professionals to get involved and discover how to apply them in their own institutions. We’re happy to share our experience and knowledge with people who work in museums as well as with culture lovers who are curious and willing to participate in a unique emotional  adventure.  

At the end of the day, our collaboration with museums, Mixed Reality Lab, ITU and other partners is probably the most important aspect of our work. Thanks to Munch Museum and its staff, we learnt a lot about their work, challenges and needs, and how we can collaborate to improve visitors’ experiences. As previously demonstrated by the ARTcodes projects for the National Museum of Serbia, we create custom-made experiences based on visitors’ emotions and stories, to transform the museum experience into a two-way street we can travel together. 

You’ve also taken some of the appropriation theory and tested it in an environment away from the museum. Can you describe this process? 

In December 2018, we contacted the National Museum of Serbia and one of the biggest cinema halls in Belgrade – Kombank Dvorana. Together we created a special cinema experience based on our findings from tests with the Munch Museum and the Museum of Yugoslavia. We made four 60-second movies called #OneMinuteMuseum – a unique cinema advertising format shown on screen before the feature film, each dedicated to one piece from the collection of the National Museum of Serbia to promote national art heritage. 

Each movie aimed to take viewers on a completely personal journey through their hopes and fears, by using stories about museum objects as movie trailers that were played at the end of the cinema advertising block before the main movie. They were a complete surprise for the first-time viewers. Played in six halls of a large cinema complex, they were seen by almost 50,000 visitors during the first few months.

Two movie posters from #OneMinuteMuseum, copyright CC BY-NC-ND Kombank Dvorana

Images: Courtesy of the National Museum in Belgrade, Copyright: Kombank Dvorana (CC BY-NC-ND), Design: NextGame

Two movie posters from #OneMinuteMuseum, copyright CC BY-NC-ND Kombank Dvorana

How do you see this kind of technology connecting various art forms in the future?  

The National Museum had a vision and a modern strategic approach to engage and expand their audience through new and innovative channels. And Kombank Dvorana was eager to join forces with the National Museum to promote culture. Therefore it was a win-win situation. It’s very important to create partnerships that open new communication channels, so it’s not just about technology - it’s about mutual understanding and partnership. Technology comes after that.

The #OneMinuteMuseum project is a highly evocative and persuasive guided fantasy that takes viewers on a journey through their imagination. With an educational part as well, it strikes a good balance between emotion and information. Although we’ve really just begun working with this format, it’s obvious that the possibilities are literally endless. By connecting museums and cinemas (and television and other media), and making strong emotional, poetic experiences inspired by museum objects, we’re able to produce a very special kind of content with great media potential. That potential is still to be explored and developed, which is an extremely exciting opportunity for us.

GIFT @ Europeana 2019

Bogdan will be joining other members of the GIFT project at Europeana 2019 and you can hear all about the project so far, the research underpinning it and test some of the tools yourself at GIFT @ Europeana 2019. Book your ticket and select GIFT @ Europeana 2019 to guarantee your seat.

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