Awaken exhibition augmented virtual reality University of Melbourne

Throughout his 50-year career, anthropologist Donald Thomson collected thousands of First Nations belongings while living in remote communities in the Cape York Peninsula, Arnhem Land and the Western and Central Deserts. Now part of the Donald Thomson collection, the belongings provide rich, multi-faceted insights into the living culture of Australia's First Nations people.

To showcase the belongings as part of the Awaken exhibition, the University of Melbourne asked Art Processors to create an accessible technological solution that blended the physical and digital worlds, enabling museum visitors to explore the collection anew.

Exploring the relationship between people, place and content is central to all the projects we take on at Art Processors. For this contextually and technically complex project, we sought to push the boundaries of extended reality technologies and exhibition design to create a culturally sensitive and insightful museum experience.

Challenge

How can extended reality technologies ‘awaken’ the untold stories and generational knowledge of Australia’s First Nations people? Genevieve Grieves, exhibition curator and Melbourne Museum’s Director of First Peoples, had an overarching vision for Awaken that focused on inclusion and community. Our challenge was to find the best way to showcase that vision by using our expertise in exhibition design and extended reality.

Approach

With help from The Mulka Project and representatives of the remote communities, we captured 360º audio-visuals of the landscapes where Thomson originally sourced the belongings. Working closely with the University’s Faculty of Arts along with the Digitisation Centre and NExT Lab, we explored various approaches to the 3D scanning of the belongings. Virtual reality and Oculus Go headsets transported visitors to the far-flung reaches of the Northern Territory and Queensland where they could see and hear the belongings in their remote environments.

Solution

We created a context-based virtual reality museum experience that used film, video, audio, AR, VR and 3D technologies to synchronise time and place, sound and vision, awakening old and new connections between the belongings, the communities, the country, and museum visitors. A technically and culturally complex project, we collaborated closely with stakeholders including institutions, museums, remote communities and technicians. The success of the project was ultimately delivered by this diverse group of participants coming together, often virtually over vast distances, to contribute their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to realise the exhibition’s goals.