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Smartify at the Van Abbemuseum: creating a multi-layered visit

For its Delinking and Relinking exhibition the Van Abbemuseum staff asked the question: how can we create a layered museum visit in which we give the public the option to research and dive deeper into the multiple perspectives and links within the presentation without overwhelming them?

The museum also wanted to create a simple offer for its public that functioned as an introduction to the museum writes curator Vivien Heyms and Online Communications Manager, Mariët Erica.

In the exhibition we take the visitor on a journey through a century of art in which one discovers new links between artists, artwork and society. We focused on two elements: We wanted to break with the normative of the European/American white, male subject, instead showing artists with different gender and backgrounds.

Second we wanted to make a presentation that was welcoming to a richer diversity of embodied sensations, breaking the centrality of the eye in the museum visit. By adding touch replica’s, scents, or musical interpretations of artworks, we make the exhibition accessible to visitors who have different physical possibilities, being perhaps visual impaired or deaf, and we also offer a richer experience to all visitors who can now use all their senses during their visit.

New way of storytelling

Visitors have become more engaged with the displays through the app

To give the visitors an introduction into all these layers, we created a new way of storytelling. For example, when you enter the first room in the museum, you are surrounded by carpet which goes against the ‘white cube’ and invites the public to use their senses. We also used Smartify for interpretation.

The collection presentation features 35 multi-sensory interventions, representing the first, fully multi-sensory collection display in the Netherlands. Smartify is used to communicating these multi-sensory elements to visitors both with and without visual impairments.

In the app, each intervention has an image description of the artwork. These image descriptions are texts written by a museum teacher experienced in giving guided tours for visitors with visual impairments. They help guide visitors to envision the artworks without having to see them. With tactile objects, the descriptions are accompanied by a manual to guide for touching the objects and explaining what they are feeling. Soundscapes and other audio pieces can be activated via the app as well as the scent interpretations.

More engaged visitors

Loes Janssen – Public Mediation, Van Abbemuseum, said: “It’s great to see that our visitors are more engaged. The multi-perspective approach provides a conversation starter and creates meaningful encounters between our visitors, hosts and guides. Some tours also encourage our visitors to interact with the artworks on show. For instance by writing love letters to their favourite artwork, playing around in our Family Tour and have a multi-sensory experience.”

For the collection presentation we also wanted to share different links and perspectives on the artworks on show. We worked together with a large group of around 50 constituents and partners. Together we created five unique audio tours. Smartify also worked with us to look at all the possibilities the platform contains to fit all our specific tours.  Interaction is very important for the museum. We didn’t want to lose this with our audio tours. Two tours that encourage visitors to interact with the artworks on show are the Love letters tour and the Family tour.

Office of Queer Affairs

In the app, each intervention has an image description of the artwork

In the Love letters tour, the ‘Office of Queer Affairs’ invites you to respond to different contact ads, created as if they were written by the art piece itself. The ads are inspired by lesbian and gay personal ads from the 80s and 90s. After hearing or reading these ads — either by prompts in the gallery space or through the Smartify app — visitors can call a number which leads to a call-menu that asks the caller to leave a response (a ‘love letter’ of sorts). The Office will go through all these love letters and select some to be added to their audio tour.

Karl Moubarak – Office of Queer affairs, said: “We believe that an artwork is not complete until a queer perspective is involved. We also believe that everyone can have a queer perspective. The collection in ‘Delinking and Relinking’ presents a multiplicity of narratives about love, home, identities, and genealogies. We saw this as an opportunity to explore how museum visitors can relate to, reflect on, respond to, or even mirror these narratives.”

Family tour

In the family tour Raisa Fortes, Carolina Calgaro and Patsboem! created a tour in which families have a physical experience as well as a digital. They have to find Blob, a fictional character, that is stuck in different artworks in the museum and tries to find its way home but it just needs some help. Families look for Blob in the different artworks in a playful way combining the live experience with the digital.

They start by immersing themselves in the exhibition by wearing a poncho inspired by the collection and  look for clues (colourful wooden shapes in the museum) that give them hints to find Blob. When they find the art piece where blob is stuck they get an animation in the app of blob and his experience in the artworks.

The nice thing about using the Smartify app is that you can experience the museum in different ways.  In the broader story tour and bodily encounter tour, twenty two people have written their own pieces around the works in the collection.

You can reach these by following a specific tour, or scan one art piece to get all the audio files and perspectives that are linked to that art piece. For example, when the visitor scans Wifredo Lam, Le Marchand d’Oiseaux, they get audio from our introduction tour; a multisensory manual of the feel replica connected to it; as well as a piece written and spoken by Inez van der Scheer, who focuses on the influences of Santería, an Afro-Caribbean spirituality which preserved and empowered the cultural practices of African heritage and cultural practices of black Caribbeans in the face of white exploitation and colonisation.  With Smartify, the public can not only listen to these pieces in the museum, but also listen or read the multiple stories at home.

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