Curating in the digital world: The changing relationship between artists, curators and tech companies

Installation view of giant reproduction of the board from the Australian game Squatter at Mona (Simon Denny, 2019). Image: Jesse Hunniford/Mona

Mona’s most technologically ambitious exhibition blends visitor interactions, augmented reality, and The O.

Technology is an intrinsic part of our lives — it’s impossible to separate it from ourselves. Yet, it’s this intersection between physical and digital spaces, where the mining of minerals and data meet, that New Zealand artist Simon Denny peels back in his new exhibition, Mine.

Partly inspired by the Museum of Old and New Art’s subterranean setting in Hobart (it’s carved into the Triassic sandstone of the Berriedale Peninsula) and the visitor data the museum collects via The O (the first experience we created, and the experience that made us), Mine explores mining as a reflection of hope and anxiety about the environment, development, and technology.

It’s the first time The O is part of an artwork and not just the supporting act, bringing together artist, curator and tech company for Mona’s most technologically ambitious exhibition.

It’s also an example of how technology, when used innovatively and collaboratively, not only enhances the visitor’s experience of an exhibition but can support an artist’s vision.

Simon Denny: Mine

Mine is a theme park of mining, data collection, and augmented reality. It explores the political and environmental significance of mining, and also the role of work and value throughout human history, and in the rapidly changing technological present.

Installation view at Mona (Simon Denny, 2019). Image: Jesse Hunniford/Mona

It includes a giant version of a classic Australian board game, life-size replicas of machines and products used in automated mineral mining, and a human-sized Amazon worker cage. The final room features an assemblage of sculptures by a variety of artists selected by Mona.

Installation view of Simon Denny’s 3D model of a blueprint of an Amazon worker cage Image: Jesse Hunniford/Mona

As visitors walk around the exhibition, they can scan AR markers using The O for augmented reality experiences that bridge the physical and digital.

Installation view of AR marker at Mona – Simon Denny, Mine, 2019 Image: Jesse Hunniford/Mona

One of the AR experiences you’ll see throughout the exhibition is the King Island brown thornbill, a bird species facing imminent extinction. The thornbill’s habitat has been damaged, perhaps irrevocably, by industry and climate change; but hope for the bird’s regeneration lies in gathering data about its habits and movements in the ecosphere. Such data gathering requires technology that itself relies on the continued extraction of minerals from the earth…

It’s the proverbial canary in the coal mine of climate change.

installation view of King Island Brown Thornbill renders 2019 Image: Jesse Hunniford/Mona

Augmenting reality with The O

The O’s inclusion in Mine is something of a paradigm shift for us at Art Processors.

The vast majority of visitors to Mona use The O app either on their iPhone or on a museum-owned iPod. In addition to letting visitors join exhibit queues virtually, it has replaced traditional wall texts and labels — its indoor location technology can locate a visitor wherever they are in and around the museum and tell them about the work on display right in front of them.

We strive to make our technology invisible to visitors for a seamless experience. Mine, however, draws The O out from the shadows to enhance, measure and complicate the visitor experiences in the exhibition’s physical spaces.

 Game Boys is Patricia Piccinini’s hyperreal sculpture of two children playing console games. Image: Jesse Hunniford/Mona

Mine taps into the real-time data The O collects from visitor interactions and the museum as a whole, feeding it back into the exhibition’s AR experiences.

Leveraging an in-house resource

Mine is the biggest show to date for 37-year-old Denny, who has had major shows at MoMA PS1 in New York and the Serpentine Gallery in London, and represented New Zealand at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. His previous work has interrogated cryptocurrency, capitalism and surveillance.

It’s also the result of a two-and-a-half year collaboration between Denny, Art Processors, and exhibition curator Jarrod Rawlins.

“Simon Denny’s deep interest in how technology shapes our lives, combined with his unique sculptural aesthetic, makes for an exhibition experience unlike anything we’ve done before at Mona,” says Rawlins.

Art Processors is undeniably a largely unseen driving force behind the unique Mona visitor experience, providing an in-house tech resource for the museum (Mona owner David Walsh is our Director, after all).

It’s through this close relationship with Mona that we were provided the unique opportunity to be part of the creation process for Mine, from collaborating on the exhibition design to managing the space, creative conceptualisation and integration with The O.

This kind of seamless collaboration between artists, curators and tech companies like ours is something we’ll no doubt see more of as institutions like Mona and artists like Denny continue to explore the use of new technologies, like augmented reality, in their works.

Simon Denny: Mine, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, 8 June-13 April 2020. The exhibition is curated by Jarrod Rawlins and Emma Pike.