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Interview with Christina Haak: ‘The digital is always an expansion of the analogue world’

01.06.2017

As part of museum4punkt0 (or ‘museum4point0’), the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is seeking to develop a digital and individualised visitor programme to aid orientation, contextualisation, and interaction. An interview with Christina Haak, Deputy Director General, about digitised museum objects and the challenges of the project.

What do you expect to get out of museum4point0?

All the project participants have great expectations. I do too, of course. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that this is a pilot project – that means, an attempt to create something new. The goal is to address the challenges and opportunities associated with the digital revolution. In this context, we are allowed to experiment. At the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin we already have solid foundations in the digital field. But for us – and for the other participants as well – there will be a lot to gain from regularly comparing notes within the group. That will allow us to profit from the experiences gathered in other projects – both the positive and the less successful experiences. I am convinced that at the end of the project we’ll have developed a range of tools for the museum 4.0, which will be able to be utilised by museums that are not currently directly involved in the project.

From your current perspective, how are museums and their visitors benefiting from digital media and the digital revolution?

Well, the digital is always an expansion of the analogue world. In the museum sector, for example, one of our concerns is making objects and collections globally available, so that they can be used as widely as possible by everybody, regardless of their motivations – by academics or members of the public, by people who are familiar with the objects or people for whom travelling to see the original seems totally unrealistic. But access to museums is one issue. So for art museums in particular, many potential visitors still perceive the barriers to visiting the museums to be quite significant. Digital media can allow objects to speak to audiences in a totally different way, and ideally, to reach a new audience which may not have a pre-existing passion for art.

And what does digitisation mean for your research work?

In addition to global accessibility and knowledge networking, one of the major opportunities has to be related to the fact that knowledge extracted from digitised objects can help us to understand the artefacts themselves: how were they produced? How do we deal with imperfections, and how can objects potentially be reconstructed? Of course, in this area, 3D digitisation is particularly useful. But the fact that we are continually expanding our databanks with our research work, by adding the new data we have attained, is also extremely valuable. The more we know about our objects, the better we are able to tell people about their histories, and also make them accessible right across the world through digital networks.

Now that the funding has been approved: where will you begin?

Projects of this magnitude naturally require additional personnel. That means that at the moment we are first of all putting together a project team. We will also be carrying out user and reception analyses, in order to better find out which programmes and services our visitors are already currently making use of, and what they expect from their digitally enhanced museum visit. This evaluation will significantly contribute to fine-tuning our project.

And what specific project are you planning?

Our aim is to provide our visitors with digital services which help them to orient themselves within our museums, which provide contexts and open up opportunities for individual interaction – tailored to the needs of users and functioning as an optional add-on to the physical encounter with the originals. Here as well, we are able to build upon the work that we have already done in this area. For example, since last year, with the support of the curatorial team of the Preussischer Kulturbesitz, we have been working on an app for the upcoming exhibition ‘Art from Africa in the Bode-Museum’. We plan to use the things we’ve learned through this project (in coordination with the findings of our user research) for our other collections as well.

This interview was conducted by Katharina Fendius and Julia Lerche from the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz.