Lauren’s Australia Experience

Lauren Jensen

I had the most incredible week in Australia. I’m so happy to have joined Art Processors, Inc., and start representing this incredible studio in North America. Art Processors is an experiential design consultancy specializing in rich, immersive visitor experiences for museums. Using a thoughtful blend of proprietary technology, digital media, and precision spatial design, we create meaningful, moving encounters for your guests. Or as we like to think of it: We use technology to help people fall more in love with your space.

While in Australia I went on a whirlwind tour and was able to visit some of their latest projects in Melbourne, Sydney, and Hobart. I honestly was blown away by the elegance, intuitive design, and incomparable experience at all of the exhibitions.

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 distributing our cased iPods at a minimal and space-efficient stand. 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 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 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 and incredible musician Becky Sui Zhen. 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 duty-free music, the compelling sonic landscape led by location awareness is something that has stayed with me and made my gallery experience 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.

The second exhibition I got to experience was Masters from the Hermitage, also at the Gallery of NSW. Since this exhibition highlights the backgrounds of ten master artists, the app 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 fascinating stories of origin and meaning associated with the pieces. Having majored in Russian and 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 iPod, the guide is such a seamless, elegant enhancement of the exhibition, I can hardly imagine the two ever being apart.

Last but not least, I was also lucky enough to visit the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania, where everything began for Art Processors. 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. Instead of focusing on wall labels, the app seamlessly integrates with the experience, 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 experience just shows how archaic and old school wall labels are. The future for museum design is buried deep in sandstone in Tasmania.

The future for museum design is buried deep in sandstone in 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. The O and Mona together are unlike any museum experience I’ve had in my extensive travels. If you’re hoping to see some of the special works on exhibit that often develop a line or require a ticket, all of that can be managed through the O; I was able to easily keep track of my coveted James Turrell visit 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 (Google this, it was mind-blowing).

These incredible experiences solidified my excitement at joining this innovative, evolving studio. I am so thrilled to be a part of the next chapter for Art Processors, which includes bringing our studio’s expertise and creativity to more cultural institutions across the US. Where should we go next? Who’s ready for a new museum experience?