Multimedia Technology: A Companion to Art Visitors

Multimedia Technology: A Companion to Art Visitors

Giuseppe Barbieri (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Italy) and Augusto Celentano (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-044-0.ch019
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Abstract

This chapter describes the design and use of multimedia technology for personal guides and public projections for two exhibitions on ancient and contemporary art. The authors discuss the critical issues, suggest approaches and solutions, and evaluate the results. In both exhibitions, the researchers designed personal guides on Apple iPod touch devices, with rich information structure and rich multimedia content. In one of the two exhibitions they also implemented a narrative path in the exhibition rooms with large displays and projections. They evaluated the guide design with questionnaires and automatic tracing of device use. This chapter reports the project outcomes.
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Introduction: A Historical Perspective

Compared to what has occurred for almost all other expressions of human creativity, the enjoyment of a work of art has remained essentially unchanged for over two centuries. To make a few examples, we acknowledge that the way we listen to music has deeply changed from the late eighteenth century; at that time photography was in its infant life; cinema would come one century later; radio and television have reached a mature stage in the second half of the twentieth century, and only at the end of the last century the Net has started to gradually—albeit permanently—change our way to access information. Also the way we read, which is the most ancient and widespread cultural experience, has deeply changed in the meanwhile.

In the visual arts domain the last radical invention concerning the fruition of works of art is due to Tommaso Puccini (1749-1811), superintendent of the Uffizi collections in Florence, Italy. In the middle of the eighth decade of the eighteenth century, he decided to affix a “card” next to each work in the Gallery; the card, a tag labeling the artwork, was telling the author's name, the subject depicted, the date of execution, the techniques used, almost anticipating the golden rule of the five W of the Anglo-Saxon journalism (even if Why? remained in the background).

The invention of Puccini is definitely a turning point in our way to approach art. Until then the relationship with art was mainly set on aesthetic parameters; the visitor directly facing artworks was mainly concerned in admiring masterpieces, perceiving the richness and variety of a collection, making small personal discoveries. Later on, the visitor’s attention was increasingly drawn to matters related to knowledge rather than to pleasure: finding authorship attribution (who made this work?), identifying complex subjects (what does it represent?), detecting relations (who or what has influenced it?), as well as distinguishing original work from replicas and copies.

The way art was accessed before the Puccini’s invention was elitist in private collections and shared in public places like churches and other buildings of worship; both certainly ensured a great involvement of users, demanding for opinions and making art fruition a personal experience. The Puccini’s invention caused users to approach the knowledge side of art rather than its emotional side, favoring those users who were able to recognize the style of an artist, to solve an uncertainty about anonymity, to specify a date or an influence. Indeed, the historical artistic knowledge has been built on such a ground, as long as the taste of the public approaching art was going through refinement. As a consequence, the work of art has increasingly become an object of study, the “document” of a specific culture and not only the confirmation of the classical style; knowledge and reflection have replaced enjoyment and immediate experience.

The concepts that have driven the study of art dynamics in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were justified by the demand that art regain a social centrality after the storm of the French Revolution and the Napoleon season: due to the sudden weakening of the former ruling classes and the deletion of countless religious orders, a millennial population of art clients disappeared; the training protocol of an artist had radically changed, no longer held in the shop of an older master but within academic institutions, thus changing the attitude towards tradition; substantial changes occurred in the dynamics of the art market.

Such a situation has forced the artwork into a kind of still aura, almost acting as a shield and obstacle in its fruition. Curiously, such a sacral esteem has been mainly rooted in highly advanced countries, like USA and Japan, which have rarely felt the need, even in recent years, to apply the growing technological resources to achieve a more engaging and participatory fruition.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Navigation: In the field of information searching and browsing navigation is the activity of moving among information units, often structured as web pages. The term navigation has also suggested the term orientation to denote the recognition of a virtual position in the set of information units and the surrounding information reachable by traversing links associated to specific information items.

Touch: Screen: A display that can detect the position of a touch within an active area, hence acting also as an input device, similar to a mouse or to a tablet. Touch screens are popular due to their use in smartphones and personal devices. An evolution of touch screen is the multi-touch screen able to discriminate the simultaneous touch in several points of its surface.

Multimedia Guide: A multimedia guide is a handheld device able to display multimedia (e.g., audio and video) content related to a museum, an exhibition or a collection. Multimedia guides can be designed to be used off-site or on-site, i.e., during a visit. Their popularity is growing in the tourism domain, and some museums and recent exhibitions are beginning to use them as a replacement of the audio-only portable guides.

Content Management System: A system able to store, organize and select multimedia material to be included in a software application to present it in a variety of formats, structures and styles. Content management systems are often, but not always, used with web servers to dynamically provide the web pages content to clients according to several selection criteria.

User Logging: The recording of a set of user actions, often by means of automatic recognition of events related to user activity, e.g., touching a sensor or moving into a controlled area.

Human Computer Interaction: A discipline at the intersection between information technology, psychology, design and ergonomics, studying and evaluating the interaction between people and computers in terms of representation, operational metaphors, tools and systems. Its importance has boosted with the growth of personal, portable and multimedia application.

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