The Sample Room: a Responsive Exhibition

Lightning Talk
Daniela De Angeli, University of Bath, UK, Selma Franssen, Digital Leadership Institute, Belgium, Martin McCarthy, Crawford College of Art and Design, Ireland, Katie Hobbs, Royal Pavilion & Museums, UK

Museums need to conserve as well as to communicate and exhibit the human heritage. However, the majority of most museums’ collections are in storage, not accessible to the public. Exhibition space is limited and some objects are so fragile that they cannot be displayed. But it is increasingly important for museums to display more of their collections, using objects out of their storage. Moreover, museums are moving more and more towards a visitor-centred approach, where people are not simply passive viewers but are actively involved in the curatorial process.

“The Sample Room” is a space that displays objects already at the museum’s disposal but usually stored away. Visitors could connect to artefacts forgotten in museum storage using novel technologies. Two objects from the museum storage vault were exhibited in a designated space called ‘The Sample Room’, and personalised historical profiles for each of these artefacts were created. Historical profiles gave artefacts a personality that visitors could explore using an app on an iPad located in the space.

Artefacts in The Sample Room had the ability to respond to visitors behaviour – if an artefact received attention from visitors, it would demonstrate positive emotion by moving or speaking and revealing more information about itself. Also, each artefact was connected and aware of each other’s emotional states. So, if one artefact was receiving more attention than another, the neglected artefact one would become jealous and compete for attention. The artefact that received the most attention from visitors would be able to bring a ‘friend’ of theirs in storage out to join them in The Sample Room. As a result, the collection is constantly evolving and influenced by visitor behaviour. Thus, The Sample Room is an example of how visitor behaviour and activity can be made a part of the curatiorial process, creating something we called ‘responsive curatorship’.

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