Insights of the 4th Cultural Heritage Conference

Attendance at the 4th Cultural Heritage Conference organized by the Catalan Agency for Cultural Heritage has already become a tradition and an essential event for professionals in this field. It is not only a place to find the latest innovations in the diffusion of heritage, but also a great opportunity to exchange experiences with professionals from different areas and countries.

In this post I will share my experiences during the 4th Cultural Heritage Conference that was held last week. In order to keep the post from being too long, I will only comment on the ideas that have caught my attention and I have found to be more valuable. The recording of all the presentations is available and can be viewed on YouTube, in Catalan and English.

In the morning, while the participants were preparing, I remembered my participation last year in the III Cultural Heritage Conference, dedicated to the study of how to fuse cultural heritage with tourism. Numerous renowned specialists had been invited, including Greg Richards, who gave his brilliant presentation on the motivations and behaviors of cultural tourists.

This year’s conference has been dedicated to immersion, a topic of rigorous current focus. The analysis was focused from multiple points of view: from the construction of new narratives, from the use of 3D tools and, of course, from the perspective of immersive experiences. Keeping with tradition, the conferences were held in La Pedrera and this year they were inaugurated by the Minister of Culture of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Mariàngela Villalonga.

The first speaker José Luis de Vicente in his lecture The cultural logic of the immersive, gave a very broad vision of the history of the phenomenon of immersion from its roots to the latest trends.

Source: Irina GrevtsovaThe main objective of this paper was to dismantle the myth that immersion is a new notion that has come along with the latest technologies. According to the presentation, it would be more appropriate to locate its origins two centuries ago, when the first 3D film systems emerged, such as the Kaiserpanorama of 1880. Later, artists of various genres made extensive use of immersion in their sound works and visual New constructive techniques were also developed for the World Expo pavilions and, of course, the most recent examples of cultural and entertainment products such as immersive theaters and escape rooms. By taking into account the entire context, it is understood that virtual reality corresponds only to a modest role in the global scenario of all cultural experiences. Its obvious success among the public is due to its innovation and its lofty incorporation in numerous industries.

There is no doubt that one of the most striking and discussed immersive space trends are the so-called pop-up museums and the frequently mentioned Ice Cream Museum. This phenomenon receives a lot of censorship from museologists and art critics, because of the “museum” label that appears in its name. And so, the presentation by the first speaker was no exception.

Source: https://www.citylab.com

Some experts claim that the term “museum” is too serious and generates expectations that can cause disappointment in the public. Others do not care at all and believe that the visitor is able to distinguish what kind of experience it is. Recently, the creators of the Ice Cream Museum, meanwhile, have sincerely recognized that it would be more appropriate to not call this space a museum but rather an “experium”, a combination of the words “experience” and “museum”.

While museologists continue to debate the influence of pop-up experiences, they grow extremely fast, such as in the case of the Democratic Tsunami, conquering more cities and territories every day. The main contribution of this type of establishment lies in understanding the new demands of the public and shifting the focus of attention of museum objects and exhibitors towards visitors, their desires and their emotions. The strategies developed from this approach have enjoyed absolute success in the era of the experience economy. Conventional museums, sooner or later, will have to learn to boost their actions to create new sources of income.

If the first presentation showed the general panorama of immersive experiences, the second submerged listeners in the depth of a project to show, from the inside, how an idea is realized.

This is The Lost Palace project, which was awarded such significant awards as the Museum and Heritage Award for Innovation and the First Prize in Heritage Motion.

Source: The Lost Palace, Historic Royal Palaces

The resulting product is an interactive audio guide with which visitors tour a part of a palace that does not exist today. It combines immersive acoustic content, location-based technologies, architectural installations and live shows. The guide allows you to see the city in two dimensions: walking through the busy streets of the center in real time and, at the same time, moving in a different temporal layer by imagining yourself as a participant in the historical events that occurred 200 years ago.

According to Tim Powell, the secret to the success of the project lies in its creative design and development. To carry out the project, a call was opened on its website that allowed a creative group composed of specialists from very different fields to form. Another step, not less important, was the testing of the product before its launch and during its use, which allowed for modifying and adapting the contents to the public’s expectations.

After this second presentation, the topic of the interventions took another course focusing on tools and methods for creating 3D models in cultural heritage. Participants talked about the latest methods and tools of digital scanning of objects and their use. Before delving into the presentations, I will make a brief introduction to this topic.

Thanks to the development of the new technologies, the scanning process has evolved enormously, allowing the replacement of bulky and heavy scanners, which were used autonomously, with mobile phones and cameras that are available to everyone, thus reducing costs practically to zero. Without a doubt, the technique that has taken a prominent place is photogrammetry. As is clear from its name, this method consists in creating the model of an object based on photographs of it. To transfer a physical object from the real world to the digital one, it must be photographed from different perspectives covering a total angle of 360º.

The images taken from archaeological ruins, cities, squares, museums, even microscopic objects, are uploaded to special processing programs, of which the best known is Agisoft PhotoScan. Through simple processes, hundreds of photos uploaded to the program, generate a three-dimensional mold that can be downloaded and used in other programs.

The object transferred to the digital world, by means of three-dimensional photographs, is called the digital twin (Digital Twin). A digital twin is a digital or virtual copy of physical objects and products. It mush be differentiated from 360º photos and videos and virtual reality.

Digital twin of the Hermitage Museum. Source:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIfcdU88jTUyoutube

The theme of the methods and possibilities offered by 3D fixation technology has found wide use among archaeologists. Over the past 10 years this has been the great topic of discussion at conferences dedicated to new technologies and cultural heritage (for example, the Virtual Archeology conference held in St. Petersburg or the Annual Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies that takes place in Vienna).

Cultural heritage, especially vulnerable to destruction, requires digital twins, not only to achieve research objectives, but also so that restoration and reconstruction works can be carried out. Large fires in the National Museum of Brazil and the fire in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris clearly exemplify the need to create digital copies of all the relevant monuments and objects.

There are institutions that have been working in this area for a long time, such as the Department of Digitalization in Scotland. In the Catalan Agency of Cultural Heritage it is a new focus that will be a top priority for 3 years. Albert Sierra in his presentation Catalonia in 3D and the heritage digitalization program has covered the launch of a large project dedicated to the 3D digitalization of cultural monuments and museum pieces, and the museums themselves, located in the Catalan territory.

Siurce: Irina Grevtsova

3D models are also a popular tool among animators and graphic designers. Given the huge current production of 3D content, the need to create an open platform has emerged. This is how the Sketchfab was born where, as with YouTube, users can upload their 3D models, allowing for free access.

Jeanne Lenglet, in her presentation Sketchfab: new opportunities for the use of cultural and historical content in 3D, spoke of the main advantages of using the platform. In addition to uploading models in it, this resource allows you to add additional information, which makes 3D models interactive.

Visualizaon the 3Dmodel in Sketchfab

Unlike Youtube, Sketchfab gives the opportunity to view 3D models and also download them. Erik Lesternal’s paper tells the story of the Hallwylska scanned museum model made using photogrammetry. After uploading it to Sketchfab, the digital 3D models had 158,000 views in Sketchfab and, in total, 17,000 downloads from different platforms. But the most interesting thing happened later when users uploaded 3D models in VRchat, the largest virtual reality social platform, analogous to Second life. In this way, the palace rooms took a new life in the virtual space.

3D model of the Hallwylska museum in VRchat

Users from all over the world, registered under fictitious names and with avatars associated with very peculiar accounts began to visit and inhabit it. Some users added special effects such as glass in the windows or lighting with candles, giving more life to the museum. Little by little, the new museum began to become a meeting place and, more and more, some characters began to tour its rooms. All this amazed the developers, who are now thinking about how you can take advantage of this huge success among virtual users to create new experiences. It is a brilliant example of how to generate virtual social experiences with the main character audience.

It is important to highlight the work of the Catalan Agency for Cultural Heritage whose priority is to bet on the power of storytelling. Taking into account the complicated political conditions in which the agency works today, its intense activity and its contribution of optimism with those who implement innovative technologies in the field of cultural heritage is admirable. In the paper The New Narratives and the Catalan Agency for Cultural Heritage, Damià Martínez presented seven outstanding experiences developed by the Agency over the past few years.

Source: Irina Grevtsova

The conference was closed by Marisol López, director of the Area of Digital Culture of the Department of Culture who, in a concise and developed manner, took stock of the main ideas of the interventions. I recommend that all readers who want, in short, to get all the juice from the papers listen to this.

Immersing myself for a day in a context of cultural specialists, who take their work very seriously, who are up to date with the latest developments and who generously share their experience and professional knowledge, fills me with joy and makes me feel proud of this culturally active Barcelona.