The growing trend of immersive digital exhibitions has suddenly become a worldwide phenomenon. The proof of this is the opening in 2018 of two digital museums: the MORI building Digital Art Museum in Tokyo and the l’Atelier des Lumière in Paris. Different in their content and their technological characteristics, both museums present precursors of the great changes that the world of museums will experience in the near future.
Recently I was fortunate to visit one of them, the MORI Digital Art Museum in Tokyo. The concept, the rooms full of diverse multi-sensory experiences, the immersion and the active participation of the visitors, makes this museum unique. At the same time, according to visitors’ comments, its innovative format requires special attention in terms of its management and some aspects of design.
In order to introduce MORI in more detail, I will share my experience in two parts: first, I will describe experiences and how emotional components were created. Then I will complement my presentation with the detailed analysis of other fundamental aspects, which are rarely studied such as design, accessibility, management, etc.
MORI in numbers
Designed for the celebration of the 2020 Olympic Games, in less than a year, it has turned Tokyo into the mecca of digital art. During the first 5 months more than a million visitors have visited the museum, 30% them are foreigners, mostly Millennials and instagramers, attracted by the opportunity of experiencing new sensations and being the protagonists of “instamoments”.
Remember that the museum has also been known for its powerful technical and digital equipment: 520 computers and 470 projectors are located over a total area of 10,000 m2. According to the experts, each one of the digital installations is worth between 1 and 2 million dollars.
Factory of unforgettable emotions and experiences
When you enter the world of MORI, you immediately realize that it is not perceived as a traditional museum. In MORI there are no objects, no showcases. There are also no audio guides, maps or classic exhibition rooms. Because of the impression it gives, the museum resembles a huge factory that produces emotions and unforgettable experiences.
The “exhibition” space looks like a labyrinth composed of a series of rooms and halls, separated by black mirrors and curtains, in which each of them a unique experience is hidden.
One of the keys to understanding the success of MORI is the new concept “Boardless”, developed by its creators, the teamLab art team. According to the authors, “digital art has been liberated from the constraints of material substance. The feelings and thoughts that were incorporated into an artwork through a physical medium can now be directly transferred to visitors through experience.”
They refer to the general concept of the museum and, specifically, to the virtual and immersive art projections that fill in many of its rooms. Thanks to the use of special algorithms, the projections remain in a constant state of change and movement. Entering and walking through the rooms and their facilities, the visitor becomes an integral part of them. The absorption and perception of art “from within” is produced by putting the person inside the installation and activating his sensations. By “living” the experience of art installations on their own bodies, visitors change from passive observers to become creators of their own experiences.
This new approach in the conceptualization of the exhibition space has a direct impact on the behaviour of the public. Visitors, immersing in a virtual environment, completely lose touch with the real world. They circulate at their pleasure and freely through the museum rooms and are carried away by emotions. The absence of “museum norms” of behaviour gives the impression of complete freedom and liberation. In the museum, a climate of joy, enthusiasm and positive emotions prevails.
Richness and variety of artistic installations
According to the creators, in the first digital museum, there are 50 artworks on display. But, in fact, not all of them are digital. There are many analogue works of art. In many of these, the immersion is achieved by means of mirrors or thanks to the three-dimensional shape of the work. Below I describe some important installations dividing them into two collections: digital and analogue.
Collection of immersive digital installations
From the point of view of innovation, intensity of experience, immersion, and participation of the visitor, this collection represents the richest and most intense experience. All these installations clearly express the concept “Boardless”.
Forest of flowers is a digital installation, in the state of continuous movement that welcomes visitors just entering the museum. It occupies almost all the space of the entrance. Small rooms submerged in the gloom are separated by mirrored surfaces that create a kaleidoscopic effect.
The digital projections bath not only the surfaces of the walls and floors in colour, but they are “printed” on the faces and clothes of the visitors as well. The multimedia projections recreate the world of flowers using multiple colours and textures. Installations, in constant movement, react to the movements and actions of the visitors. The unique collective visual image of the artwork, is complemented by the music of Hideaki Takahashi that influences the atmosphere of the rooms and, of course, the mood of the visitors.
The installation The animals born in the flower forest, consist of animals of flowers, going outside from the rooms of the Forest of flowers and that move along the main hall of the museum on the first floor, being the leitmotiv of the whole museum. Flowers grow from the bodies of animals, flower, wither and die. When people touch them, the petals disperse, reminding us of the fragility of the world.
Another example is located in the hall of the Universe of water particles. It is presented in one of the central rooms of the museum. Interactive videos are projected on all surfaces, which create an effect of total immersion.
In this artistic work, the main element is a cascade of water that falls on stylized stones and then its currents are dispersed on the horizontal surfaces of the room. The waterfall is a favourite background for taking photos that are posted on Instagram since all visitors want to capture this unique experience.
After leaving this experience many people photograph the surrounding landscapes composed of interactive groups of birds, projected along the perimeter of the hall, and the rivulets of water in motion, on the pavement.
The museum also has immersive digital installations that do not imply any interactivity, as is the case of the Universal Cave, located on the first floor of the museum. It can be seen in this video.
It is projected into the three-dimensional space of “a cave”, with an immersive effect that works if the visitor goes inside. The visitors are allowed to watch the video from a distance.
This projection is the one that is often used to promote the museum. The musical composition created especially for it and the dynamic flight of birds in three-dimensional space make it one of the most emotional.
Collection of immersive analogue installations
In this second group, the immersive effect is achieved by the kaleidoscopic effect of the mirrors.
Forest of resonant lamps
This work of art is of an analogical nature and its main element is lamps of different colours hanging at different heights in a rectangular room formed by mirror walls, which makes the space infinite.
The visit is carried out according to a strict schedule in which every 5 minutes a new group enters. This does not prevent queues from forming with over an hour of wait time. According to the authors, the light of the lamps must react to the movement and touch of people. Actually, from my experience, the light changes when the public enters the room. In fact, while you are inside the installation, the lighting remains static, which impoverishes the experience.
The concept of the glass Universe is very similar to the previous installation. Mirrors are also used, this time even on the pavement and roof, and the work is also experienced from inside.
When entering the room, visitors enter the three-dimensional installation and can move along a predesigned route. The installation consists of an infinity of vertical lights forming a sculpture that personifies the universe. Evidently, touching the LEDs is not allowed.
According to the authors, the movement of visitors affects the light particles and changes the installation. In my experience, the spectrum of light was programmed and changed according to musical compositions. In general, this sculpture generates a very deep visual experience due to the possibility of submerging within its structure.
Space Light Sculpture
The last example is the Space Light Sculpture. In this experience, the main elements are light and music.
Unlike the previous examples there are no physical elements. The installation consists of dynamic movements of light bulbs according to the rhythm of electronic music. The performance is programmed and, although the visitors are inside the room as in other the analogical examples, they are passive spectators not involved in the artwork process creation.
MORI also has many game rooms created for children and other spaces for creativity. These and other important aspects, we will continue discussing in the next article about the MORI.