“Anne” and the Intelligent Museum

The decision was made to create a museum – but not an ordinary museum of artifacts and documents. As Simon Wiesenthal expressed, it must not only remind us of the past, but remind us to act. This Museum should serve to prevent hatred and genocide from occurring to any group now and in the future. The daunting task was to create an experience that would challenge people of all backgrounds to confront their most closely-held assumptions and assume responsibility for change.  –Museum of Tolerance, A Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum

The quote above can be found on the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) website in a section discussing the vision and history for the museum. Traditional museums contain and maintain ‘artifacts and documents’ but the MOT goes further and hopes to inspire action through their objects. This quality to spark action with the use of objects is an important part of being an ‘Intelligent Museum.’ The objects are not the main reason for people to visit a museum and the museum should actively “use information to create understanding (McDonald and Alsford, p. 73).”  In the newest, permanent exhibition Anne, the museum attempts to engage the visitor into possible action utilizing their collection and digital media, specifically interactives.  The museum hopes the visitors will become active participants to connect with the life and story of Anne Frank and continue her legacy through social action.

The interactives in the Anne exhibit encourage the visitors to become active participants within the exhibit. McDonald and Alsford state on their paper on the Intelligent Museum that, “Participation is recognized as an aid to the learning process (McDonald and Alsford, p. 77).” For example, in the last room of the exhibit, the visitors gather in a social space to have the opportunity to continue to learn about Anne’s remarkable actions and her legacy through shared pledges.

This video shows visitors engaging and interacting with multiuser touchscreens:

The exhibit is mindful of the museum as a social environment and accommodates multiple visitor interactions with the interactives at one time. With these multiuser touchscreen tables, visitors can choose a topic based off the themes presented in the exhibit based off Anne’s diary. Topics involve challenges and social issues that persist today such as promoting human dignity, earning respect, fighting discrimination, keeping faith, etc. If the visitor becomes inspired to pledge an action based off the established topics, he or she can actively share this pledge on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Also, as soon as the pledge is made, the person’s name and statement of commitment to action appears on a screen next to the touchscreen tables. Every pledge is shared and collected to become part of the exhibit and becomes part of a larger conversation.

An Intelligent Museum encourages active participation and engagement of its visitors which the MOT encourages in its integration of digital media. But the collaboration and sharing of ideas and action ends at the museum. The MOT does not use social media to deepen engagement or continue the discourse it initiated in the exhibit. The conversation ends with a tweet or Facebook post.

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Shared tweets but conversation ends here.

The exhibit can continue this discourse through the use of the virtual space and keep the discussion between everyone on-going. As McDonald and Alsford state “Contemporary concerns, changes and challenges plaguing society on all fronts — cultural, technological, environmental — make it more important than ever that museums be responsive and relevant to the information needs of society (p. 72).” Throughout the Anne exhibit, the visitor confronts the challenges Anne faced as a victim of the Holocaust and also as a human being.  This exhibit makes those issues relevant and meaningful to their visitor successfully. The exhibit hopes to inspire change for the betterment of all society through the encouragement of active participation on shared networks.

But social media and the museum’s webpage could potentially open up the conversation between the museum and its visitors and also visitors between visitors. This virtual space could continue to provide ideas of social change and action and follow-up with visitors on the status of their pledges. By utilizing social media and the museum’s webpage, this could extend the conversations beyond the museum’s physical site and the museum could turn into a better Intelligent Museum. This would continue the learning process and keep their visitors active participants to meet museum’s vision of visitors assuming responsibility for change. This shared and extended network can remind them of the same quote by Anne Frank that they saw before they exited the museum: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

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The visitor exiting the exhibit with an inspirational quote from Anne Frank
Photo Credit: Matt Construction

Analysis of “Anne” Exhibit

As you descend down a flight of stairs in the Anne, you start to hear Anne’s diary narrated by actress, Hailee Steinfield. Anne’s diary comes to life as you hear the “voice” of Anne with the tone she conveys through her written words. This video of the Director of the Museum, Leibe Geft, speaking about Anne provides an overview of the exhibition and emphasizes the importance of using Anne’s own words to drive the exhibition.

Driven by Anne’s voice, part of her story is told in an immersive room. To enter the room with other visitors, the visitor must pass through a replica of the bookshelf in the Annex. As I entered the room, I imagined how it must feel to pass through a bookshelf and into a smaller space and not knowing when you would be able to leave. When the projection starts, Anne is brought to life through an intimate life-like video of her life in the Annex. You can see the Annex as it once was and the events are reenacted different rooms. You feel as if you are in Anne’s room writing in her journal as she shares different emotions and experiences.

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Image of the immersive theater
Photo Credit: LA Times

The 260 degree screen, the appearance of 3D objects, cued lights, and music create an effect that you are in the Annex with Anne and her family and acquaintances. Anne’s handwriting that appears across the screen and documentary footage add to her story and connect to the history of the Holocaust as told by Anne. By the end of the fifteen minute video, I could not help but feel impacted by her story and felt emotional. Once I looked around, I noticed I was not the only one teary-eyed. Other visitors and I had all gone through Anne’s journey in the Annex together. Through the use of a visceral and immersive experience, Anne’s story became personal and real. As Elana stated in my interview, we need to go on Anne’s journey in a personal way and this allows the visitor to learn more about her life and the historical events taking place at the time.

The museum wanted the visitor to create a personal connection to Anne and make her story relevant. Also, the exhibit encourages participation from the visitor instead of passively learning about Anne and the Holocaust. After learning about Anne’s story and her tragic fate, the museum gives the visitor an opportunity to participate in continuing Anne’s legacy and make a pledge based off the universal themes touched on by the exhibit. Four multiuser touchscreens display floating leaves and text encourages the visitor to touch to activate.

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Director of Museum and guests engaging with the multiuser touchscreens
Photo Credit: Daily News

The themes to create a pledge include: honoring identity, promoting human dignity, earning respect, fighting discrimination, keeping faith, etc. On the bottom, there are options to post the pledge through social media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter or through your personal email. Meanwhile, a mounted screen next to the touchscreens display who has made a pledge.

The interactives encouraged social interaction by allowing up to four users per screen and by connecting the submissions to social media. As Elana mentioned in my interview, she hopes the pledges serve as a type of reflection and hopefully Anne’s legacy will carry on through the visitor. I noticed people as a group browse through the content on the screen but noticed most people did not submit a pledge. But the themes are reiterated through the touchscreen and this reinforces the exhibit’s messages. I think the touchscreen tables allow the visitors to reflect and regroup after the exhibit successfully. Although, I do not think the museum follows through with encouraging active participants after one’s visit. The conversation between the visitor and the museum to carry on Anne’s legacy stops after posting a pledge. Once a tweet or Facebook post is submitted, the museum does not engage with the visitor.

I think the museum could engage with its visitors after their visit by creating a space on social media and their website to share everyone’s personal pledges and create suggestions on how to carry out one’s pledge. Elana says their social media is evolving and I hope they can utilize their online outlets to encourage others to enact their pledge and share when one follows through on one.

I believe the museum effectively makes Anne feel like a close friend through the use of the immersive theater and other elements of the exhibit but does not fully realize its vision to create active participants during and after their visit. Engagement with visitors after the exhibit can help continue Anne’s legacy and her story.

Interview on “Anne” Exhibit

I interviewed Elana Samuels who is Director of Volunteer Services at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Elana recruits, trains, and works with volunteers. She supervises a wide range of age groups at the museum. She works with youth in a program called MOTivating Teens/ Youth, college interns, adults, and Holocaust survivors. Elana attended multiple trainings for staff which discussed the Anne exhibit and highlighted the artifacts in the exhibit.  She facilitated trainings for volunteers in preparation for the new exhibit.  Elana provided insightful context about the new Anne exhibit. She shares her idea of visitors as active participants and how this new exhibit engages visitors.

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Elana Samuels, Director of Volunteer Services

Margarete: Why the story of Anne Frank? And why a separate exhibition within the museum?

Elana: I think that makes a lot of sense. The story of the Holocaust is a very part of who we are and what we do. We use the history as a way to introduce some important concepts of respect for diversity, understanding when sadly a government decides to identify and annihilate a population. The history of the Holocaust and those lessons I think are very relevant and what we do as a museum is we take those historical lesson and try to apply them to our contemporary world but through personal stories. And so for me, the story of Anne Frank is a very unique way actually continuing this important process. Anne is probably the most well-known victims of during WWII of the Holocaust. She was a Jewish child and I think that was important for the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to ensure in telling her story we give that context because for many people.  Anne and her diary take on of a more universal perspective and we wanted our guests to understand was the only reason Anne and her family and the other people in the Annex were forced into hiding and ultimately captured, betrayed, sent on to the concentration camps was because they were Jewish. So, the Jewish part of her story was something we felt we needed to be an honest presentation within a larger context.

M: Who is the museum’s audience? I find that teenagers could really relate to the topics highlighted from Anne’s story.

E: Most of the museum’s audience is young people. So, they welcome approximately 140,000 youth to the museum each year for their core, tolerance center, holocaust exhibits. The museum feels that Anne is a voice that speaks to young people and can connect with her. Many of the issues a young teenager and being a daddy’s girl and conflict and stress with mom is very normal, budding attractions and awareness of sexuality: all so relevant to a young person maturing and growing. I hope she speaks to young people but also to adults, in a way that we should listen to children. Otto Frank, when he read Anne’s diary he said this was an Anne he didn’t know, and perhaps parents don’t really know their children in the exhibit. This is a message that maybe we need to listen more, and ask more questions and respect those answers.

M: I noticed the virtual tour of the Anne Frank House within the exhibit. Can you tell me more about your relationship with the Anne Frank House?

E: The museum developed a relationship with the Anne Frank House and a partnership has involved.  The Anne Frank House have been supportive and cooperative in developing the exhibit for the museum by  lending primary artifacts, creating incredible handmade facsimiles of  Anne’s diary and her pages (who not just wrote in diary, but wrote in over two hundred loose leaf pages) can see how that Anne edited her writings. Her hope was that it would one day be published. Also, the Family Foundation, Anne Frank Fond out of Basel, Switzerland, is the family foundation that has ownership over Anne’s legacy. They have also been a partner in this exhibition.

Elana did not work directly with the development with the interactives in the exhibit but she provided some thoughts about having interactives in the exhibit.

E: Creating an interactive, educational experience is perfectly consistent with the museum’s message and methodology because we are a museum that we believe the visitor needs to go on a journey and needs to personalize the story and be involved in this process of learning. With Anne’s journey, you get to listen (i.e. the voice-overs) you get to look at artifacts and you learn more about who she was.

She would like for visitors to use the interactives as a type of reflection as they either write in their answers to questions on the screen and/or when typing in a pledge. She hopes Anne’s legacy will continue with them when they make a pledge and after walking through the exhibit. Through the Anne’s own words and encouragement of the pledges, the visitor can hold on and perpetuate those themes and messages.

M: I talked to Elana more about the pledges people can share through social media. I addressed the fact that when a person submits a pledge online (i.e. respect nature), other people cannot see the pledge online.

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My attempt to make a pledge in the exhibit and share it through Twitter

M: I asked her about how then a visitor can continue this action after their visit. Also, if there are plans to monitor if the visitor is carrying out their pledges.

Elana said the museum’s website and use of social media is still evolving.  She hopes the visitors will continue with the pledge and Anne’s legacy. She explained to me there is an “interactive corner” that connects to the pledges called the “Action Lab.” It does not directly mention the Anne exhibit but there is a place for visitors to answer questions and suggestions to become involved connecting to the overall theme of tolerance.

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Interactive Corner on the front page of the Museum of Tolerance Website

Elana shared maybe in the future it will be possible to add the pledges to the website but as of right now there are no plans to do so.

M: There are videos playing throughout the exhibit to tell Anne’s story and voice-overs of Anne’s diary narrated by actress Hailee Steinfield. I asked her why the museum wanted to integrate the videos and audio in the exhibit.

Elana said the videos and voice-overs lead the path. Anne, in her own words, is the propelling force which is important. The visitor is led by diary and writings, in other words the “work.” Many of the objects in the exhibit are facsimiles of Anne’s diary and other writings on loose-leaf paper.  By the audio, the exhibit comes alive through Anne’s own words. The videos played in the exhibit gives the visitor insight of more of the stories from the people involved in Anne’s life, like her last living relative, her first cousin Buddy Elias, and her father, Otto Frank. Documentary footage and interviews give an honest and complete way to share Anne’s story.  Also, they reveal elements of stories not told before to add to Anne’s story.

M: I asked about the interactive screen with the styluses that visitors can write their own responses. I asked why that was placed in the exhibit, why does the museum want to know answers about people’s personal likes and dislikes.

Elana said the museum wants to be sure the visitors have the opportunity to engage in multimedia exhibit. She thinks this makes Anne more personal. Anne was an ordinary young person with hobbies and she liked to eat ice cream, she was like other young girls. Elana hopes the visitor makes their own connection. For example, visitors learn about Anne’s  passion for writing and ice skating. The visitor can relate to hobbies but the interactive allows the visitor to add their personal responses. They have the opportunity to say, “But I like to do this….” and share their response.

Elana adds, as the visitors listen to the voice of Anne and contribute their own responses, they are not passive listeners but active participants. Hopefully, the exhibit conveys to the visitor that they can carry on her story, carry on her legacy.

A big thank you to Elana for her time and thoughtful responses.

Interactive Multimedia Exhibit: “Anne”

Anne Frank wrote in her famous diary along with her attached photo, “This is a photograph of me as I wish I looked all the time. Then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood…” The Museum of Tolerance opened their newest permanent exhibit, “Anne: A Premier Experiential Exhibit,” on October 15th and fulfilled Anne’s wish with a mural of her portrait facing the streets of Hollywood, CA.

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Anne Frank has arrived to Hollywood, Façade of the Museum of Tolerance
Photo Credit: Benny Chen/Fotoworks

The new multimedia interactive exhibit requires a separate ticket to experience an intimate look into Anne Frank’s life before, during, and after WWII. Visitors can choose to see the museum before or after their visit or choose to only visit the Anne exhibit. The Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance and Simon Wiesenthal Center created this exhibit and received support and help from the Anne Frank Fonds and the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.

The museum asks the visitor to be an active participant through the use of interactives. WIth the help of outside developers, two identical interactive screens with two styluses attached to each are placed in between displays of Anne’s hobbies and favorite things.  A quote from Anne is displayed on the interactive screens and visitors can choose personal questions to answer which relate to the themes in the displays such as, “What is your favorite hobby? What is your favorite birthday gift?” With a stylus, the visitor can share his or her name, a response to the question, and his or her age. The visitor can see other people’s responses that have been recorded previously. Also, the questions are presented in a non-linear way as and shift in a random order.

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Example of the display cases in the exhibit
Photo Credit: Benny Chen/Fotoworks

At the end of the exhibit, a room with four interactive multiuser touchscreen tables invites visitors to make a pledge to take action. The room entitled Action Lab allows four users per interactive table at a time and visitors can submit a pledge through a touchscreen keyboard that connects to the themes of Anne’s writings. The visitor can choose to share their pledge on the Museum’s social media websites, either Facebook or Twitter. A screen on one wall displays pledges made by visitors.

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Action Lab, Multiple visitors use the interactive tables while a screen in the back show visitors’ pledges Photo Credit: Benny Chen/Fotoworks

The museum creates a sense of Anne’s personality and shares the themes of her writings as shown in the interactives even further through an interactive theater. The visitors together as a group enter the room through a replica of the bookshelf in the Annex. A fifteen minute dramatization with real documentary footage and narration of Anne’s voice by actress Hailee Steinfield provokes emotional response and also educates the visitor.  The curved 260 degree screen immerses the visitor as moving images of the annex seem to be in the room with the visitors. Cued lights and sounds create a feeling of being in the Annex.

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Visitors inside the theater with a 260 degree screen just beyond the replica of the Annex bookshelf Photo Credit: Benny Chen/Fotoworks

The museum makes Anne Frank personal and relevant to the visitor by sharing her story in an intimate way. The visitor learns about Anne’s personality, her favorite things, her hopes and dreams, her fears, etc. through objects and the immersive theater.  With the use of multimedia the interactives, the museum allow visitors to share their feelings or reveal their personal favorite things and people and also view other visitor responses. After the journey of Anne’s emotional story, visitors can continue Anne’s legacy and pledge to take action. The interactives create interaction between the visitor, the museum, and other visitors by sharing everyone’s responses within the exhibition and social media websites. The museum asks the visitors to be active participants by sharing their personal responses and pledging to take action.

Multimedia Midterm

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) started in 1961 as a memorial room by survivors of the Holocaust. From the beginning, the museum’s mission has been to educate the public about the Holocaust and to commemorate survivors and those who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Over the years, the location of the museum fluctuated between various buildings in West Los Angeles. In 2010, the new museum unveiled a new, permanent home nestled in Pan Pacific Park. With this new building, the new museum built exhibitions with the latest technologies as an attempt to enhance the museum’s collection.

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Facade of the New LAMOTH building
Photo Credit: Melissa Roth for the New York Times

Out of the many technologies integrated in the museum, I focused my critique on the introductory room of the museum. As you enter the first room of LAMOTH, you encounter a large multiuser, touchscreen table with floating images at the surface and large black and white portraits, walls of text, and tangible objects in display cases surround it.

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First view of the introductory room
Photo Credit: Dexigner.com

To sort through everything in the room, the visitor must use a free portable audio guide provided by the museum.  Through the use of an iPod and a headset, the audio clips on this guide informed the visitor of the title, “The World that Was” and the theme: to showcase the lives of European Jews before WWII and rise of Hitler. I became personally overwhelmed by having to switch from looking at objects with an audio guide, to reading text, and then switching to a video.  All of these things pertained to the Holocaust but it was difficult to remember the theme of the room and they seem disparate, unfocused categories. Also, the visitor becomes reliant on a technological device, the audio guide, instead of using the collection to tell the theme of the room.

A visitor using the audio guide in the first room

A visitor using the audio guide in the first room

With the museum collection along the walls, the focal point of the room was the interactive table entitled, the Memory Pool. The placement of the table in the middle of the room begged visitors to interact with it and cannot be avoided.  Hundreds of photos appeared and disappeared near three orbital sources of light.  The table contains thousands images of survivors and refugees of the Holocaust, people exterminated during the Holocaust, or objects pertaining to the Holocaust.  The table acted as a “knowledge repository” for the museum’s database of testimonials, stories, and objects. Vannevar Bush (2001) envisioned compressed databases because humans make a “record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual (p. 143).” The memories in this repository will outlive the individual because it is archived in a digital record. Within the images itself, hyperlinks are added when touching an image’s link to show “related photo” which demonstrated Bush’s idea of creating a record to retrieve information based off associative links. The hyperlinks reveal direct associations like place, community, and universal concepts humans can relate to in the form of more images.

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While using the table, I enjoyed looking at personal documents.

The museum effectively utilized components of hypermedia to provide associative links and rich metadata for visitors to browse through with the Memory Pool. But the table represents a part of the museum’s collection and does not enhance the room. Instead, a technological medium becomes the focus of the room. Also, it does not link to the museum collection in a direct way. The visitor can learn about various individuals and their lifestyles before the war but it does not show a clear connection to the objects, images, and wall text.

Although not an enhancement to the room, the Memory Pool attempts to engage visitors by using components of interactivity. The large multiuser component of the table encourages a social environment.

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Visitors interacting with the Memory Pool table
Photo Credit: LAMOTH

About fourteen people can look at the images simultaneously or verbally discuss one image together.  Also, if someone chooses the “related photos” link, their particular interests, in the form of images, will float over to other users. In a way, it becomes a form of interaction as people interests cross each other’s space. At that moment, the table becomes a communal representation of people’s interests.

To activate the table, it requires the interaction of the visitors to reveal more information. In Roy Ascott’s “cybernetic vision,” the “machine” should “draw the spectator into active participation…(pg. 97).” Once the user touches an image he or she needs to drag the picture down towards the edge of the screen and the image reveals data. The table (machine) responds with feedback and reveals the person’s name in the image or related to the image, the date taken, the location of the photo, and a brief description. At the bottom of the description, visitors have the option to read more about the photo and learn more personal information about the image in a form of a story or testimonial either by that person directly or a friend or relative of the person in the image. The user can also choose to see related photos of the image and the form of feedback becomes multiple images appear around the primary image.

Here is a video of one visitor interacting with the Memory Pool in the museum:

The museum utilizes the multimedia concept of interactivity through active participation and feedback to attempt to engage the visitors. The visitor chooses the image that personally interests him or her and begins a dialogue with the interactive table. The table becomes “dependent on the total involvement of the spectator” (Ascott, 2001, p.98) to have a conversation.  The feedback attempts to provoke an emotional response from a person by revealing personal testimonials from people rather than the voice of the museum. The interaction of the personal stories and images hopes to give a face to the people involved with the objects on display in the museum. But then the interaction ends there, it does not spur creative thought or action.

The Memory Pool touchscreen attempts to engage the visitor with concepts of interactivity and hypermedia but does not fulfill its mission to enhance the visitor experience with technology in the introductory room. The placement of the table in the middle of the room encourages people to interact with images relating to people of the Holocaust and even with other people in the museum. But the table does not enhance the theme of the introductory room or the tangible objects surrounding it. Instead, the table serves as a database of thousands of testimonials to provoke an emotional response and/or educate of the visitors but feels disjointed to the rest of the room and the whole museum experience. The museum becomes too dependent and reliant on technology to attempt to tell its story. The reliance on the audio guide to gain more contextual information reinforces this idea. What happens if a visitor does not use the table or audio guide? Elements of the room should strongly tie to the theme or enhance a theme and not rely on a couple of sources. Unfortunately, the prominent use of technology with multimedia components engages the viewer but does not enhance the experience.  Overall, the room overwhelms the visitor and tells an unfocused story.

Telematics: A Critique of Two Projects

At the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, the “Voices of Liberty” installation showcases not physical objects or artifacts of the past but the stories and testimonials of Holocaust survivors, refugees, and people who made the U.S. their new home. Equipped with a headset and an iPod touch, the visitor can travel at his or her own pace to nine universal themes designated by circles with communal seating.

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Once a person has entered a zone, a story relating to a particular theme plays on their iPod with a picture of the person appearing on the screen. Photo Credit: Voices of Liberty website

The setup of the room directs the visitors’ attention to a view of the New York Harbor, Statute of Liberty, and Ellis Island: the same place many of the stories took place.

In the “Keeping History” section of the exhibit, the visitor has the choice to contribute their own personal story or share the journeys of their ancestors arriving to the U.S on a computer kiosk. To make it all-inclusive, visitors are also invited to reflect on their experience of listening to other peoples’ stories. In conjunction with this installation in New York, people can go online to contribute their stories.  With everyone’s contributions, this creates a collective database of everyone’s stories stretching decades of time and multiple generations.  By adding an online component, people can communicate their personal stories with each other and “do not need to be in the same place at the same time” to add to the museum’s collection of journeys to the United States (Ascott, 2001, p341).

In 2008, the Exploratorium in San Francisco sent their museum scientists to China to set up a live-feed of a solar eclipse. Visitors were encouraged to stay at the museum to watch the feed, enjoy the provided entertainment, and learn more about a solar eclipse. Also, the Exploratorium broadcasted the live-feed of the solar eclipse with educational information from China to an online audience through a webcast.

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Thousands of people watched the eclipse either in person, online, or at the museum all at the same time. People could share their experiences with pictures through the museum’s Flickr page or post written responses on another webpage. Just like in the “Voices of Liberty” exhibition, people did not need to be in the same location or even in the same time zone to share their experience.

Through the use of technology, people were able to share their experiences collectively in their respective location. The Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Exploratorium acted as facilitators to connect people with a reinvented “social bond (Levy, 2001, p. 372).” The Museum of Jewish Heritage setup the room purposefully to look out at a particular location, allowed people to share stories either on-site or online, and inspired people with meaningful, personal stories. The Exploratorium invited people to share the moment of a solar eclipse in San Francisco, created a webpage for anyone to watch the live-feed, and encouraged people to tell their story through pictures and personal posts online.

Through the utilization of telematics, people shared moments of awe and amazement while watching a solar eclipse at the same time. People shared similar stories of their journey to the U.S. and connected with others.  For example, one of the common feelings in the testimonials is loneliness. This public forum could bring comfort and solace by reading other people’s similar stories and connecting to how others felt in a similar situation. Roy Ascott (2001) reinforces this by stating that a person can have a “more informed perception, by enabling her to participate in the production of global vision through networked interactions with other minds, …other sensing and thinking systems across the planet (p. 340).” With today’s technology, we do not have to feel alone because of the use of telematics and this “global vision” can make us feel closer than ever to each other. Meaningful and all-inclusive projects and exhibitions can connect people from remote locations and facilitate a dialogue through digital outlets to allow everyone a chance to contribute and make his or her experiences matter.

Immersion: A Critique of Two Projects

On UNESCO’s World Heritage list, Mogao Caves located in Dunhuang in Western China are a valuable resource that tells its story through the narratives found in the murals, architecture, and statues.  For a span of a thousand years, the site at certain times served once as a place of meditation for hermit monks then became an integral part of trade and commerce on the Silk Road and evolved into a larger religious site for Buddhists. To preserve this ephemeral site, the Mogao Caves limits cave access and the amount of visitors.  With these conservation efforts in mind, the City University of Hong Kong’s ALiVE program created Pure Land to explore the caves without traveling to the actual sight.

In a 360 theater, ALiVE creates an immersive virtual reality environment by activating a person’s senses, such as the 3D images with 3D glasses, textural sounds, life-size scale of statues and murals, and a physical controller.  Immersed in projections of the caves and equipped with VR tools, the visitor can feel as if they are at the Mogao Caves.

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Visitors immersed in the digital projection of the Mogao Caves Photo Credit: CNN

In the 1960s, the building Anne Frank once inhabited with her family and acquaintances to hide from the Nazis in WWII was at risk of being demolished.  With conservation efforts, people can visit the building Anne Frank lived in for two years and wrote her world famous diary.  The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam reaches the maximum capacity per day.  The Secret Anne Frank Annex website was made for more people to tour virtually. The website enhances the building with fuller stories like audio narration of Anne Frank’s personal diary and interactive sections to click on. For example, the Anne Frank house is unfurnished and empty but the visitor of the website can see images of the rooms furnished with the personal objects of the people lived there.

This video shows clips of the superimposed photos of the annex furnished:

Through this realistic virtual tour, the website engages the viewer emotionally to make the visit real and believable. The non-linear nature of the tour allows the viewer to become immersed and lose oneself.

The Anne Frank house and Mogao Caves are both ephemeral places with conservation efforts.  VR environments have been created to immerse the viewer to simulate as if at the actual sight. Sutherland, on immersion, states, “If the task of the display is to serve as a looking-glass…it should serve as many senses as possible (p. 225).”  Pure Land utilizes the visitors’ senses to create this “looking glass” of the caves. A realistic tour of the annex creates an emotional engagement with the viewer as he or she encounters personal narratives.

Although both of these virtual realities simulate the “actual place,” there may be something missing.  Pure Land may give a similar experience but the viewer may miss the same feelings of meditation because it is out of context.  Immersion artist Char Davies mentions “bittersweet” feelings of a possible demise of “traditional places” replaced by VR environments (p. 300).  VR offers an alternative for the actual site because it creates a similar experience of being there but the actual site may provoke different feelings and experiences.