In an attempt to discover exactly how people will interact with gallery spaces in the future, the National Gallery in London has launched a new project that will undertake research in this field. In a collaborative effort that is being run in conjunction with King’s College London, the National Gallery announced in September that it would initiate a novel research partnership. The project is named National Gallery X, something that alludes to the fact that the nature of the so-called ‘gallery of the future’ is not yet known. Museum professionals at the National Gallery aim to come up with new solutions to many of the issues that large galleries, and other public spaces, face when presenting their artefacts and works of art to the public.
A High-Tech Project
According to the National Gallery, the joint project with King’s College London will allow them to develop the sort of research techniques needed to launch future gallery spaces. This will be achieved by better establishing which technologies truly enable visitors and, conversely, which ones do not lend themselves to a better gallery experience.
The National Gallery X project, sometimes referred to simply as NGX, is essentially a collaborative research and development scheme that is focussed on which of all the potential of new technologies of the future will be used by forward-thinking galleries down the line. As such, the National Gallery has set out its stall to state that it does not want to be a late adopter of such technological advances, ones that have been worked out by other institutions. In short, it is aiming for a high-tech approach to public engagement and to be at the forefront of the sector, leading in the direction that other museums will follow. What are the current things that NGX is focussed on?
According to the powers-that-be at the National Gallery, NGX constitutes an ambitious programme which deals with technologies that are, “at the forefront of current digital innovations.” NGX is set to combine, for example, some of the main immersive digital technologies that are currently used in the entertainment sector, such as large-screen video displays, digital projectors, high-tech audio playback systems, motion capture technologies and virtual reality interfaces for visitors. Alongside these sorts of established digital systems, the National Gallery hopes to develop some unique visitor technologies by drawing upon the currently experimental systems that are in development at King’s College London.
The Director of the National Gallery, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, said that the project will help to answer the question of what the museum of the future will look like. “How will technology be integrated into it?” he asked. “NGX will allow us to find some answers to these fascinating questions [in collaboration with]… some very smart partners.” He pointed out that only by artists, museum professionals, academics and technological innovators coming together can such developments come about.
A Creative Approach
According to the National Gallery, NGX builds upon a, “rich and long-standing relationship” that the gallery has enjoyed with King’s College London. The gallery claimed that each institution had a strong commitment to curating in a modern manner as well as benefiting from staff with artistic expertise. Indeed, the project will build on such in-house experience by hosting a number of residencies from well-respected artists and cultural thinkers. In some cases, these are planned to be short-term interventions but others will be longer that will run for more substantial periods of time.
The NGX studio will be the home of the project, a space that is located next to the main National Gallery exhibition area. This space will be where many new technological inventions are tried out for the first time insofar as working out how they might be applied to museums and galleries. The National Gallery said that such a dedicated space would allow them to try out new kinds of visitor experiences over the course of the next ten years or so.
The studio was launched in late September in front of a number of well-known guests who are experts in the field of technological development, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, for example. From day one following the launch, the NGX studio was taken over by an immersive audio experience to show just how it could be used. This installation was an audio response to ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway’ one of JMW Turner’s most famous paintings which made a comment on the, then, up-and-coming technology of the day, the steam locomotive. This audio project utilised technology developed by a Professor of Signal Processing, Zoran Cvetkovic, who works at King’s College London. The whole thing was set to music that was composed by Peter Wiegold. Further residencies and collaborations will be announced in November.
Support for NGX
The government said that it welcomed the attempt to innovate in the sector and that NGX could prove to be something that will shape the entire industry in the future. The Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, Nicky Morgan, said that the project demonstrated the UK’s reputation for being a world-beater in the field of arts and visitor experiences as well as augmenting the stature the country has around the globe for being a leader in cutting-edge technology. “Our ‘Culture Is Digital’ project is all about promoting more collaborative efforts in the field of culture and technology,” she said. The minister went on to add that such innovations should attract more diverse audiences to the arts and that NGX was an excellent example of the approach in action. “I hope that this will encourage other museums and galleries to explore new ways to reach the public,” she added.
Professor Evelyn Welch, King’s College London’s Provost and Senior Vice President, echoed the minister’s sentiments. “This is an exciting project to take on with the National Gallery,” she said. “It builds on our shared vision [to find]… creative collaborations where culture, digital creativity and King’s research intersect,” she said. According to Welch, the project will help students and researchers to think differently about art and the way the public engage with it.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.