[LINK] Future of museum and military multimedia in Canberra

Tom Worthington tom.worthington at tomw.net.au
Mon Aug 30 08:47:17 AEST 2010

The National Museum of Australia (NMA) Yiwarra Kuju Exhibition features
a painting by Rover Thomas and an 8 metre interactive multimedia
display: <http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/yiwarra_kuju>.

The Museums Australia ACT Chapter organised a "Hands-on demonstration 
and debate: The future of museum multimedia" last week, as one of a 
series of events associated with the exhibition. The video makers and
multimedia artists involved described the origins of the project and the
design choices made. I felt a little out of place being about the
non-museum person there, but had the sense I was seeing history in the 
making, with a change in the way museums work happening before me.

In my view, this one multimedia display is of more value, and more
significance, that the whole of the rest of the NMA, its building and
collection. This reminded me of several years ago when Australian
universities formed AARnet, to provide networking services. AARnet when
on to foster the development and use of the Internet in Australia. While
the universities see AARnet as a minor service function, it is perhaps
the most useful and valuable service universities have ever provided to
Australia. Similarly, this one multimedia display is enough to justify
the cost of setting up NMA, even if the Museum never does anything else
of value.

One frustration with the event was that I did not know exactly who all
the people speaking were, as they were not listed on the museum's
invitation. The first speaker was a film documentary maker, who
described how the project worked with local people to record interviews.

Then "Michael", the multimedia display maker, discussed the table top
multi-media presentation. He showed previous examples, including the
"numbers" display at the Berlin Jewish museum

and the timeline at the Churchill war rooms in London
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churchill_War_Rooms>. He pointed out that
this form of display allowed for social interaction between people as
well as with the system.

One subtle difference I noticed with the NMA display is that the screens
are staggered, not in a neat straight row, like Berlin and London.
Michael pointed out that his was a multi-touch display. This allows a
more free-form use including control of images. He also pointed out that
the staggered display arrangement provides nooks for people to stand in.

Few people may see the Canberra exhibition. This is partly because it 
has been very poorly promoted and also because the display is limited to 
the physical exhibition in one room in one place. The exhibition is 
intended to be sent around
Australia, but even so few people will get to see it. There is a web
site associated with the exhibition, but this does no more than hint at
the significance of the paintings and the multimedia
<http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/yiwarra_kuju/>. The obvious next step
would be to create an online version of the interactive display and also
a conventional linear documentary film version.

The display devices used are made by a start-up company in Finland
co-founded by Professor Giulio Jacucci at Helsinki Institute for
Information Technology (HIIT) <http://www.hiit.fi/%7Egjacucci/>.
These are "MultiTouch Cell" units from MultiTouch Ltd of Helsinki
<http://multitouch.fi/products/cell/> (Australian agent: Lightwell,
Chippendale, Sydney <http://www.lightwell.com.au/>).
The units feature a backlit LCD display (better than front projection
units) and have a smaller bezel than the Microsoft Surface product,
allowing multiple units to be placed together for a bigger display

The MultiTouch units appear to be reasonably robust and might provide
useful for command and control facilities in military and emergency
headquarters, such as the new Joint Task Force Headquarters (JTFHQ)
Afloat, to be installed on the Canberra class ships HMAS Canberra and
HMAS Adelaide
The US 7th Fleet may also wish to re-equip the Joint Operations Centre
on USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19)

Also these displays might be used in the new emergency centres being
built by the Victorian and ACT governments. At tens of thousands of
dollars each, these screens are relatively inexpensive. The units have
survived six weeks use so far by the public (including children), which
is a severe test.

The design for this display was first prepared on a full scale paper
mock-up on the floor. At this stage the value of having the screen
tessellated became apparent. This provide more space for people to stand
around the display. The modular nature of the display could also prove
useful in military and civilian command and control applications, where
separate units could be reconfigured as required.

Another interesting aspect of the design was the use of audio. Each unit
has its own audio and so there could be competing sound, but in practice
this works. This could also be useful in command and control
applicators, with staff naturally gravitating to the relevant display,
but still being able to hear what is happening around them.

One improvement which could be made to the multimedia display, and the
whole exhibition, would be to make it less isolated. I was reluctant to
enter the imposing front door of the exhibition. When I entered the
exhibition I felt as if I was in a big black box, cut off from the
world. It seemed odd that an exhibition about a very bright desert was
shown in a dark cave. Perhaps there could be some live input to the
display, from the stock route in real time and from people around the
world looking at the same display.

At question time the issue of extending the interactive display online
was raised by several people. Also the use of mobile devices was raised.
It seemed obvious to me that a version of the multimedia display should
be made available on the web and that it would make a compelling
application when displayed on an iPad or similar multi-touch device.

At question time, I pointed out that because of the title of the
exhibition I was expecting a few old stock whips and this was taken up
by one of the panellists. Apparently "Canning Stock Route" was intended
only as the subtitle. But the title of the exhibition is not in English,
and so will be meaningless to most of the Australian public. This is the
single point on which the exhibition could fail. Perhaps the ACT
government and non-government tourism promotion bodies should step in to
promote the display while it is still in Canberra. This exhibition has
the potential to be more popular than the blockbuster Musée d'Orsay
exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia:

Another interesting question was if the format of short idea snippets of
video would displace longer linear film documentaries. This is an issue
I was interviewed about recently regarding text
The film maker explained that the video snippets are designed to
standalone but also be joined together to be a longer film.

One disappointing aspect of the event about the exhibition was the video
recording. The session was recorded, but this was done with one camera
and some poorly placed radio microphones. This distracted from the
event, with audio feedback and the camera continually swivelling around.
It seemed a shame for the NMA to invest so much in an event about
multimedia and not correctly use microphones and cameras. Perhaps NMA
needs some advice on how to hold a live event incorporating multimedia.
The National Library of Australia do this very well with their
Innovative Ideas Forum:

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM, TomW Communications Pty Ltd. t: 0419496150
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617, Australia  http://www.tomw.net.au
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Computer Science, The
Australian National University http://cs.anu.edu.au/courses/COMP7310/

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