Movers & Shakers Give New Context to History and Art through AR

The creative activist collective Movers and Shakers shares their experience testing out AR possibilities for museum artifacts and live events.

Movers & Shakers is a collective that uses augmented reality to contextualize history in public spaces, schools and cultural institutions. Through NEW INC’s Museum Technology Track supported by the Knight Foundation, we partnered with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit (MOCAD) to create an augmented reality app that is suitable for small and mid-sized museums.

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Our app will empower museums to share media content both in and outside the walls of the museum. It will also allow visitors to see 3D scans of artwork from their homes, and can activate site specific murals in public spaces. This tool provides curators with a simple, engaging way to spread ideas, provoke conversation, and promote upcoming shows. At the same time, visitors can experience a new, convenient way to see the work of their favorite artists outside the museum, and absorb a different quality of information during their visit. 

Our app will stimulate museum engagement in three ways. First, it will incentivize visitors to view content that can either supplement existing exhibits or shed light on artists that curators wish to feature. Second, it gives visitors unprecedented access to 3D scans of artwork, either from collections or upcoming exhibits. Finally, it provides curators and artists with a tool to engage with a broader audience in public spaces and spark cultural conversations outside the walls of the institution.  

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We visited Detroit several times to brainstorm with curators Larry Ossei Mensah and Pat Elifritz with the goal of learning about their curatorial needs, how MOCAD engages with the public through programming and how we can use augmented reality to amplify upcoming exhibitions. 

MOCAD was interested in converging two separate channels - their in-person museum programs and their web platform for video content, Daily Rush - in an attempt to cross-pollinate physical and digital engagement. In response, we aimed to create a two-way street through democratizing access to museum works for the broader public and bringing Daily Rush to life in the museum space. Augmented reality provided us with the perfect tools to tackle this situation. 

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Our first solution was to place 3D scans of artworks that are currently on exhibit at MOCAD in public spaces so that the broader public might engage with artworks in a new context. We made this happen using image-based augmented reality, which works by placing a physical image in space. We chose to anchor images on the walls of buildings or establishments.

Once the app recognized these specific images and generated the 3D artwork on the user’s phone, the artwork was anchored in space so that users could explore the artwork from multiple angles, as if it was actually there in real life.

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Our second solution was to create an AR exhibition of Daily Rush inside the MOCAD exhibition space, so that visitors could immerse themselves in the video content. This application gives the Daily Rush content a whole new existence outside of the web, and it allows viewers to get a more intimate experience with the works.

We piloted this second solution during Detroit Art Week in June 2019 in partnership with performance artist Helina Metaferia, who presented a video installation at MOCAD in AR concurrently with her performance. We’ve learned that the clearest way to offer visitors a compelling experience in the moment is to provide devices rather than requiring them to download an app. Therefore, after people watched Metaferia’s amazing performance piece in the MOCAD theater, they were able to use iPads that we set up in order to experience her three-channel video installation, Passage of Dreams, in AR.

We feel that extending the artwork into a portable AR experience that defies the barriers of the museum experience can have a lasting impact on viewers and can cultivate a lasting link between the viewer, the artist and the museum.

Author: Movers & Shakers

NEW INCmuseum technology