Indigenous storytelling through augmented reality

Augmented Reality for Josh Muir Exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery

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What’s On Your Mind? Bendigo Art Gallery + Josh Muir

A warning to First Nations viewers that the following content contains the image and words of a person who has passed away.

Josh Muir’s inaugural solo exhibition for Bendigo Art Gallery, What’s On Your Mind? was a personal and intimate exploration of the artist’s self-discovery and struggles with mental health.

While it's a long way from more traditional Indigenous art styles, Muir views his bold neon installations and digitally rendered graphics as a modern take on Aboriginal storytelling.

First Nations Curator, Shonae Hobson thought that Muir’s colourful aesthetic would translate well into an augmented reality (AR) experience, and so Art Processors was brought on board to be part of a year-long collaboration to create an artistic and digital journey through the artist’s mind.

New pathways for connection

Combining elements of audio, animation and graphic design, the exhibition explores Muir’s experiences as a young Indigenous Australian in a contemporary world, highlighting important conversations about mental health, addiction and how art can be used as a means of healing.

Over a year, we worked closely with Muir, digital animator Isobel Knowles and Gallery staff to develop an augmented reality layer and immersive soundscape that could provide an extra dimension to the artworks.

AR, soundscape, music and narration were created alongside the final works for the exhibition, making the technology truly integral to the exhibition—the immersive experience reveals hidden subtext to the works and grows the visitor’s engagement with the exhibition.

By using AR and audio to expand on his work, Art Processors also helped opened up the exhibition to a wider audience whilst still giving Muir ownership over the personal and powerful stories he wanted to share.

“The stories and the narratives are still there—it doesn’t matter what medium the artist is working in, it’s always going to be inherently Indigenous and it’s about living cultures today,” 

First Nations Curator, Shonae Hobson.

Revealing subtext through technology

Photo of Augmented reality on iPad looking at artwork at the Josh Muir Exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery

“Attention spans and patience are a lot shorter than they once were,” says Muir. “I’ve had to consider capturing the attention of a young audience. So, they can absorb information in short episodes, using the iPads, moving through the exhibition so it flows.”

The AR moments within the exhibition are each linked with the eight physical works hung on the gallery walls—the artworks themselves act as the triggers for the experience (as opposed to a distracting and clashing QR code). This provided a seamless alignment with and transition from the artwork to the AR experience and back again.

We also used sound to enhance the immersive quality of the experience. Each work is accompanied by a bespoke, unique music track that incorporates Muir’s own narration about his culture, history and struggles with mental health.

Art Processors are very future-forward and forward-thinking. They have afforded another means of interaction, rather than a more traditional way of engaging. I feel like I’ve made an investment in my future with augmented reality. I feel, too, that this is going to be an exhibition that determines my future career as an artist.

Josh Muir, artist

Sharing stories with a wider audience

Muir’s work draws from youth culture and appeals to a young, digitally-savvy audience.  

“I’m sharing a narrative through an augmented reality interaction, through animation and composition of different chapters I have highlighted.”

The AR elements of the exhibition encourage a wider audience, particularly a younger one, to engage with Indigenous art in a way they probably don’t expect.

We also made sure there were as few barriers as possible to visitors starting the experience. Easy to use technology with a minimal digital interface meant more visitors could enjoy the AR experience regardless of their technical capability or their physical requirements.

“We’ve had heaps of school kids and young people in, who heard about it on the radio. They just love it when they’re in the space.”
Bendigo Art Gallery Director Jessica Bridgefoot

Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honour Elders past, present and emerging. We respect their deep, enduring connection to their lands, waterways and surrounding clan groups since time immemorial. We cherish the richness of First Nations Peoples’ artistic and cultural expressions.