A week-long tour of Art Processors’s Australian digital experiences

Lauren Jensen

When Lauren Jensen joined Art Processors as Director of Sales for North America in late 2018, we thought, what better way to get her up-to-speed with the rich and immersive visitor experiences we create for museums than to send her to the very museums we collaborate with so she can see our tech for herself? So we flew her to Australia, and this is her first-hand account of her experiences with our tech.

I’ve been involved in technology and the museum sector for several years now, so when I started my role as Director of Sales for Art Processors in North America, I wasn’t expecting to see anything that new.

But I was so wrong.

During my first week on the job, I visited Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart, met my new Australian-based colleagues, and got to use the technology Art Processors has created for Australian museums within the context of the spaces they were designed for. I was blown away by the elegance, intuitive design, and incomparable experience at each of the exhibitions I visited, which I’ll talk about in more detail below.

Using a thoughtful blend of proprietary technology, digital media, and precision spatial design, Art Processors creates meaningful, moving encounters for museum guests. Or as we like to think of it: We use technology to help people fall more in love with your space.

John Russell, Art Gallery of New South Wales

In Sydney, I visited two projects at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The first was a special exhibition for highly underrated Australian impressionist John Russell. I walked up to the gallery entrance with my colleagues and was greeted by a friendly staff member who was distributing our cased iPods, with a digital guide Art Processors had developed for the exhibition.

Not realizing we had anything to do with the guide she was handing us, the staff member proceeded to share her own experience with the guide and showed us how easy it was to use, and how she found it added additional layers to the gallery viewing experience. I was additionally impressed by the quality headphones provided with the iPods, compared to many subpar experiences I’ve had elsewhere.

The digital guide automatically knows which room of the exhibition you have entered and presents “floating” images of the works on the walls, with the pieces in nearest physical proximity to you floating to the forefront.

With the elegant use of location awareness, the guide bypasses the need for the exhibition to have wall labels — everything you want to know is easily at hand in the app. With one click you can listen to the audio stops available for many of the pieces in the collection, and even in between audio commentary, there is a beautiful soundtrack, which carries you through the rooms, changing theme as you enter each new gallery.

The lush sonic experience was scored specifically for this exhibition by Art Processors producer Becky Sui Zhen, who is an incredible musician. I was amazed to learn that many of my colleagues have backgrounds in music, including composers and performing artists.

Having heard so many tours before using generic royalty-free music, the compelling sonic landscape led by location awareness is something that has stayed with me, and made my experience at the Art Gallery of New South Wales all the more magical.

The design of the guide simultaneously provided guidance and freedom of choice, so you always feel you are choosing what you want to learn more about and where you want to go next, but you are never lost.

Masters of modern art from the Hermitage, Art Gallery of NSW

The second exhibition I experienced was Masters of modern art from the Hermitage, which was also at the Art Gallery of NSW. Since this exhibition highlighted the backgrounds of 10 master artists, the digital guide was designed to feature the complex stories and themes around their artwork rather than focusing on just the work itself.

The galleries were bustling with people of all ages taking in these amazing works, as well as the fascinating stories of origin and meaning associated with the pieces. Having majored in Russian and having spent time in St. Petersburg at the Hermitage nearly a decade ago, I felt myself transported back to one of the happiest times in my life enjoying the rich cultural heritage of the encyclopedic Hermitage.

Whether visitors download or borrow the guide on an iPod, the experience is such a seamless and elegant enhancement of the exhibition. I can hardly imagine the two ever being apart.

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and The O

Last but not least, I was also lucky enough to visit the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania, where Art Processors’s journey began with The O.

The first thing that struck me about the museum, beyond the breathtaking architecture (you literally descend into a cavern, surrounded by a 240-million-year-old, 12-metre-high sandstone wall), was that the art had center stage. From room-size to miniature, every piece of art is its own story.

The O, a location-aware digital experience, plays a key role in the MONA experience, with the vast majority of visitors opting to use the app either on their iPhone or on a museum-owned iPod. The app replaces wall texts and labels — it 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.

Instead of focusing on wall labels, the app seamlessly integrates with the experience and you get to decide how much information you want. You can access videos, the collector’s (David Walsh) witty comments, and my favourite, “Art Wank”, which gives you curatorial insights.

The O also allows visitors to join exhibit queues virtually. When Mona first opened to the public in 2011, visitors often had to wait in line up to an hour to view the Mummy and Coffin of Pausiris, a special exhibit.

In the lead up to the opening of James Turrell’s light installations at the museum in 2017, Art Processors developed virtually queuing technology for The O, which allows visitors to “line up” and receive a notification when it’s their turn to enter an exhibit.

I was able to easily keep track of my coveted James Turrell queueing time while still being able to enjoy the new Pharos wing, which included my favorite installation, 20:50 (1987) by the UK artist Richard Wilson. It was mind-blowing.

The experience, for me, showed just how archaic and old school wall labels are. The future for museum design is buried deep within the sandstone of Tasmania.

The future for museum design is buried deep within the sandstone of Tasmania.

The O allows visitors to see what’s around them and choose what they want to learn more about, not prescribing a path or pushing any one interpretation of a piece on you. MONA and The O together are unlike any museum experience I’ve had in my extensive travels.

Art Processors: innovative, mind-blowing and evolving museum experiences

These 3 incredible experiences at museums Art Processors has collaborated with solidified my excitement at joining this innovative, evolving company. I am so thrilled to be a part of the next chapter for Art Processors, which includes bringing our expertise and creativity to more cultural institutions across the US.

Where should we go next? Who’s ready for a new museum experience?

If you want to learn more about my experience, please feel free to reach out at lauren@artprocessors.net