I was very happy to be invited to be part of a workshop at the United Nations (written up on Good, Form & Spectacle). Naturally, I took along Nandi from the Museum in a Box to share the idea with colleagues over there. Interesting too, how the path of a museum object can reflect information about its owner(s).
Today we’re giving the box a brain.
Can the box know what’s in it? Can it know when you pick something up? Can it tell you what it is?
Adrian has brought his magic box of tricks, and his own (amazing) brain.
We are using RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tags to identify the different objects.
The RFID stickers were a bit big for most of the objects, so we stuck them on plinths so we could attach the tags.
Then Adrian did some magic…the RFID reader senses the tag, the Arduino reads the tag and sends it to the Raspberry Pi (some readers can speak directly to Pis, but we didn’t have one like that).
And now when you put the Rosetta Stone on the reader you can hear what it is and a translation of the text.
Now we’re going to record the names and label text for all the objects.
And we’re (well, Adrian is) going to set up an infra-red distance sensor to allow us to play different translations of the Rosetta Stone (a different language plays depending on the distance).
The options are endless…
Could people add something to the object and send it on to someone else?
Can we put different boxes in close proximity and they talk to each other?
Can the box collect stories? or responses to stories? or answer questions?
Our fourth day publicly prototyping Museum in a Box was centered around the idea that what you see in an object – be it a miniature 3D print or the original object in a museum – rarely tells you the whole story.
The former gives you an idea of the shape of an artifact, the latter adds scale, detail and information on colour and material. You might even be lucky enough to have one of those museum labels nearby to give you even more data:
But this doesn’t always give you a great sense of what these objects meant or mean to the humans that made or used the object. In our research on our 4th object in focus, the Figure of Nandi, we learned that these iconic statues have been part of Hindu religious ceremonies for thousands of years – and are still celebrated today.
As I lean forward to softly hum my wishes in His ears, I feel myself detaching from the chaos of the world outside. It is like stepping into a quiet room – filled with peace, pin drop silence. […] It’s in those silent moments, I feel His power… and a connection is established – me with the divine, me with myself…
And, me with the Nandi!
The significance of Nandi bull in religion is huge. Nandi bull is the animal that is often associated with the Lord Shiva. Nandi Bull was a great devotee of the lord and would always be seen with him.
… and how much of this spiritualism and life is presented to us as at the Museum?
So that was the simple idea underpinning today’s exhibition – the two sides of an objects life: the one you are presented with in a Museum and the one that exists in real life:
Final thought: it is really fun to be thinking and making non-digital displays of these objects! I highly recommend a hands on craft prototype day to anyone!
With Museum in a Box, part of our intention is to put the experience of curation, tactile examination and learning through exploration literally into people’s hands – and what form these physical artifacts take is a fairly involved decision and one that we are interested in exploring.
On the other hand, with our upcoming residency at Somerset House in mind, we wanted to go ahead, print a set of objects and explore the possibilities of 1,000 year old artifacts shrunk down to pocket size with modern tech. So we printed our first set of objects, which you can see in the above photo: Scan the World models printed by iMakr’s My Mini Factory.
3D printing a set of museum objects for human interaction comes with a bunch of interesting considerations, informed by a variety of needs and seeing our first set has got me thinking about a few of them…
3D printing is an amazing development in manufacturing but is currently still pretty expensive. Quotes from several printers in London for a set of print ready models (meaning the digital 3D files are in the right format, cleaned up, ready to go) came in at £200 – £300.
The expense, among other things, results from a) 3D print services charging by the hour for use of their printers – the bigger the print, the longer it takes, the more it costs and b) a finer print resolution (say 0.05mm layers) takes longer to layer up than a rough resolution (say .3mm per layer). Here are some pics to illustrate what I’m talking about. Those quotes were for “economy” i.e. lowish resolution prints, by the way.
In the interests of making this a more affordable enterprise, we asked iMakr to fit our prints into a much tighter budget and they succeeded by balancing the two factors above. Which brings us to…
As mentioned above, how much will prints cost is a relevant question, but maybe more importantly we need to figure out what is a good size print for a pair of human hands to touch and manipulate and for human eyes to examine. Printing at life size would defeat the purpose of miniaturizing a museum to fit in a box, printing too small means that things feel less substantial and, even worse, might break in the course of printing or use, like our tiiiiny Bodhisattva Tara:
While this may at first appear to be a big failure, this is part of the learning process we have undertaken, plus, even before we’ve begun, we have our first 3D print conservation project!
Definition & Accuracy
What kind of a 3D print is a good 3D print? Does it need to look and feel 100% historically accurate to be useful?
Consider the print we got of the Rosetta Stone: As you can see, the print is fairly small, much smaller than the original which stands at 114.4cm / 45in. It’s the right general shape but at this scale it’s impossible to make out the hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek figures carved on the original. Heck it’s completely the wrong colour! Do these things make it less valuable or usable?
As a replica for study it may have it’s shortcomings, but as a key, a talisman to unlocking a world of digital data and a physical artifact around which conversations can take place … it might just do 😉
All in all, I think we’ve made a great first step in our research and with our lovely prints we can explore the issues detailed above and more.
If you have any ideas, questions or suggestions about the topic of this post or our Museum in a Box – please drop us a line!
We’ll be at Somerset House tomorrow afternoon after noon. I’m sure it will be a dog’s breakfast, so you might consider waiting until Thursday to visit. (But, we won’t turn you away.)
We’re in The New Wing, next to the Civic Shop. It’s unlikely anyone will have heard of The Small Museum until we’ve finished, so might be best to use the Civic Shop as your marker.
Harriet has laid out a useful overview of the sorts of things we’re thinking about as we embark into the unknown of The Small Museum Version 1 – you can see them photographed below. A very basic point of focus is that perhaps our central element should be the people who come into the room, and not the (very small) objects.
Long shortlist of ideas:
- We’ll have 10 objects. We have about 10 days. Perhaps we focus on one object per day.
- We want to explore context around each object. It’s not about showing tombstone metadata, but giving visitors a sense of what the object is and where it normally lives. Object as witness.
- The space needs to be really dynamic. One thought is to use brown paper as our surface on the table and draw ideas all over it. We could add dates/times to paper to log their creation date/time (and potentially reproduce or replay).
- We’re going to have a printer and a projector.
- Use the BERG-tough technique of design-by-video during or after the event to expand on ideas.
- Keep a count of how many people enter the room. (In a non-creepy way, or maybe in a really obvious, large, public way.)
- Design at least two different boxes/housings for the museum in a box. Today we have a nice round Royal Doulton box that is fine for starters.
- Design at least one RFID/NFC style interaction with one object. You place an object on a spot and something happens.
- Tiptoe along the line of lo-fi, minimum viable museum and something that looks a bit designed, or thoughtful.
Here are Harriet’s guides for the things we’ll be thinking about.
Also, yesterday I discovered the fantastic Pop-Up Museum, out of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Of course it already exists! There’s a fantastic How-To Kit available there to help think through other stuff we’ll undoubtedly miss.
I must admit though, while I don’t necessarily want to reinvent every wheel, it feels important to stumble around a bit and find our way through doing stuff and talking to people. That’s half the fun anyway. Not knowing what the hell is going to happen on any one day, but working to a basic plan is… invigorating!
Exciting news! Thanks to Cassie Robinson, The Small Museum is about to get its very first public airing as an idea. We’re going to be doing a two-week residency at Somerset House, just next door to Cassie’s Civic Shop in The New Wing. (There was a project called the Civic Bureau in that space, but that project has now ended, so we’re going to pop in for the end bit. Great that the space won’t go to waste!)
I’ll be joined by Harriet Maxwell and Tom Flynn for most of our two weeks, and hopefully you. Our simple plan is to take a different tack each day. We’ll have a handy device with us, a new R&D project out of Good, Form & Spectacle called Museum in a Box. It’s a 3D-printed set of 10 objects from The British Museum. We’ll use this box and its contents in the space to explore ideas around content, representation, interaction and visitor participation.
If you’d like to come and visit, do please let us know! We’ll be tweeting from @thesmallmuseum if you’d like to follow along.
We’re jumping in the deep end. Luckily it’s quite a small room.