Samurai at Leisure Taken into the Digital World

Over the past months, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a big impact on how cultural institutions uphold their mission to provide access to cultural heritage to the community. In this situation, a number of new ways to explore art and culture have appeared. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture collaborates with more than 2500 museums and galleries around the world to give everyone access to virtual experiences of those institutions.

This topic was an inspiration for me to design an interactive platform that could showcase the content of a physically existing exhibition at the RISD Museum—Samurai At Leisure. The goal of the project was to translate the physical exhibition into a digital world, having in mind further questions: What can be done digitally that can’t be done physically? What new possibilities and features the digital translation could bring to its physical equivalent?

Many decisions I considered during the design process were based on the differences between physical and virtual exhibitions. The key takeaway from my analysis research was the fact that digital exhibitions have no limits of space in terms of storing information about their objects. Consequently, the unlimited space of the digital world can provide an opportunity to explore more related content.

A significant inspiration for me was Design Real, which sparked my interest in treating the exhibit as an entry point into the world of additional information. Design Real was the exhibition at Serpentine Gallery that presented objects in a clear, open space and was accompanied by the website. The website became a resource for visitors who want to read more about presented objects.

My idea came from the need to engage the users with the curatorial selection of the objects presented at the exhibition. The goal is to take the current flatness of the collection to something which sparks the imagination of the viewer and inspires them to explore the world beyond these objects.

From the Home Page, with all exhibits arranged in the same order as in the original physical installation, the user can choose one of the works in Samurai At Leisure to read more details about the object. Then, by hovering with a cursor over image, the user can explore details of the artwork. By clicking on the detail, they can access the second layer with more information and related keywords to the exhibit. At the menu bar on the top of the website, the user can also access the Index page with all keywords on the platform that are related to the exhibition.

Exhibit Page with interactive image, which can be explored by hovering over the details
Keyword Page with more information about the detail of the exhibit
Index Page with all keywords related to the exhibition

The project was an interesting opportunity for me to explore new ways museums and galleries can provide new features and tools for exhibitions by translating them into virtual form. In this case, the virtual exhibition of Samurai At Leisure can become not only a parallel to physical space, but also a new tool of exploring the collection. An artwork becomes a starting point into an exhaustive world of related information. With this idea, the exhibition becomes a database for a potentially infinite digital world not limited by physical space.

Marta Jeż is a graphic design student at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. See more images related to this project on her Behance page.