Museum Memories

Just last month I visited the Twelve Apostles with my family. On the way there, my 11 year old cousin turned and said to me; “I don’t know why we’re driving all the way there, when I can just look at a picture of it from my computer”. I know, the Twelve Apostles aren’t technically a Museum, but this example (I hope) still gives you an idea as to how peoples- especially the younger generations, mindsets are changing.

To me, Museums don’t necessarily have to be big, beautiful buildings that display different artefacts from the past. Architecture has been described as ‘frozen history’ and when you look at Sigiriya, a cultural heritage site in Sri Lanka, that is exactly what it is. The ancient rock fortress belonged to King Kashyapa who was believed to have ruled the country from 473-495 CE. It is 1800m high and is quite a challenging climb with 1200 steps to the top. Although they did recently build a Museum at the site that gives the visitors some insight as to how the fortress would have looked at the time, the architecture and nature that surrounds the fortress is honestly one that cannot be described. It is a definite must see if you ever visit Sri Lanka!

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SriLanka_Sigiriya_LionRock_Shuttershock_106127852 by Roderick Eime CC BY 2.0

Places like this I think still manage to attract visitors because of the simple fact that you are there in the moment and this helps you to connect on a much deeper level with a country’s history. It is important that historical structures like these be preserved so that we are reminded of the colourful history that a country possesses. I would love to see if in the future, a virtual reality tour of Sigiriya would actually have the same effect on me.

The rise of the digital age means that people’s attention spans are getting smaller and places like Museums are finding that they have to keep up with changing technologies in order to keep visitors interested in what they have to offer.

Looking back at my visit to the Natural History Museum in London two years ago, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The Museum successfully manages to engage it’s visitors with moving footage displayed on screens and touch screen images that you could click and play around with if you wanted more information on what you were seeing.

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Photograph inside the Natural History Museum in London. Taken by Anithra Ratnayake, September 2014.

There was even a Earthquake simulator that recreated the supermarket scene during Japan’s 1996 Kobe Earthquake. It isn’t as if the simulator tells you what its like to really witness an Earthquake of that magnitude, but it still succeeds in giving visitors at least a glimpse of what it would have been like for people at the time.

I think that is where Museums like the Natural History Museum have got it right, in order to truly engage visitors the usual pattern of just looking and reading aren’t really going to cut it anymore. With all the technology that is available in todays society people’s expectations are much higher, and in a way engaging visitors through simulators and virtual reality has an almost confronting nature to it, that actually gives you a glimpse in to what it must have been like to experience a particular event or period of our history.

I’ll leave you with the short video I made of my experience at the Natural History Museum; bear in mind its short because I didn’t actually have many pictures to put together. However, I think that this is a true testament to how effective the museum is in grabbing the attention of their visitors. Trust me, it takes a lot for me to put my phone down!

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2 thoughts on “Museum Memories

  1. Great blog post, Anitra, and enjoyed the well-composed accompanying video. I agree that physical experience in time and space vs virtual reality is hard to beat. For instance, the experience of viewing a film in a cinema adds a special dimension to the enjoyment of a film which is difficult to capture in home viewing, let alone in VR. I recall watching Pulp Fiction at a Harvard Square cinema when it first came out. Experiencing ones own spontaneous responses to the film along with other members of the audience made it a memorable and unique experience. It is similar to the difference between watching a show with canned laughter vs one with a live studio audience. The latter experience is richer by far. It is hard to create the combustible atmosphere created by sheer chance and spontaneity that real life brings. As for Sigiriya, I am with you there, too. It would be hard to capture the sounds of the howling wind and surrounding wildlife, to feel the warmth of the sun on ones skin as it rises early morning (the best time to climb), to feel the exertion and thrill as you scale the rickety ladder up the Rock and as you hang onto the shaky rail clamped rather loosely to the rock face in two-way traffic as you traverse the facade of the rock, to smell all the smells of the earth, and to capture the random spontaneous and varied occurrences that one enjoys through interaction with real people and in communion with unalloyed nature cannot, I believe, be easily matched or replicated without actually being there. On the other hand, as perceptions and realities become remolded over time, VR will likely add another experience of being that will be maybe more conveniently available and more desired. I think it will be conducive to creating imaginative and fantastic new worlds which may explore our subconscious in ways we cannot explore physically. However, what we value as a society may change. Will we prefer fantasy over what we know now as real life? For instance, as people’s ears have changed with the advent of MP3 and Digital music, now high fidelity recordings are less preferred by many in the younger generation. I recall how before, if you could hear the rustle of paper or the breathing of a musician, that made one feel the recording was more authentic. However, for newer generations, this might be perceived as an annoying and unwanted attribute. Further still, it has become the norm for pop artists to employ autotune to fill out less musically gifted voices or to add more power, thus removing the nuance and individuality which was once appreciated in earlier times. Voices of artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan might grate on the nerves of the generation born into the era of auto tune. And so it goes…

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