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Focus on… Jerome Chee and Rachel Wong – ArtScience Museum, Singapore

An iconic museum in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum offers new experiences and exhibitions where art meets science and technology. Since 2021 its VR Gallery has been a perennial immersive operating room offering continuous virtual reality content. Here’s a look back at the installation with curators Jerome Chee and Rachel Wong.

What is your name and role in the organisation?

Jerome Chee and Rachel Wong – we are both curators in the Museum’s Public Programmes team focusing primarily on moving image works.

Could you explain the purpose and history of the ArtScience Museum?

ArtScience Museum was established in 2011 at Marina Bay Sands as Asia’s first museum dedicated to exploring the intersection of art, science, technology, and culture. Having showcased a wide variety of exhibitions throughout the years, the Museum is a crucible for innovation and new ideas, and has since grown into an iconic cultural landmark in Singapore. In recent years, we introduced visitors to new frontiers of the museum experience with the launch of our permanent VR gallery in 2021 and purpose-built screening room ArtScience Cinema in 2022.

⁠How do you approach the presentation of innovative works to your public? How does it fit into the overall program?

We generally don’t consider artworks based on how technologically innovative they are – instead, we are interested in exploring how virtual reality (VR) can be a key tool in shaping empathy, curiosity, and new ways of seeing. We tend to also consider how each artwork offers a new perspective to existing exhibitions we have, and how that can value-add to the overall visitor experience.

The programming of our VR experience “The Starry Sand Beach”, co-produced with Lucid Realities, in the VR Gallery of the ArtScience Museum was a real achievement for the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, and represents an excellent model for out-of-home distribution of our VR content. At the Muséum, we aim to co-produce and distribute immersive nature stories to the widest possible audience, to raise awareness and engage people in the service of Life. And the ArtScience Museum is one of the flagship venues for international immersive culture, and one that focuses on Art and Science. We are therefore grateful and proud of this first collaboration, and look forward to continuing it in the future.

(Stéphanie Targui, Head of Digital and Audiovisual Innovation, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle)

What is the place of more narrative content in a world of science? How does the museum team contribute to this, if at all?

To us, narratives are just the same ideas/stories told from different perspectives. The museum plays a facilitative role in highlighting conventional narratives, but also highlighting contrasting or supporting narratives which paint a cohesive picture for visitors to look at certain issues and themes through different lenses.

How was the VR Gallery conceived, and how does it work and how is it curated?

The VR Gallery was conceived as a desire to make immersive technologies more accessible to the general public. The mission is simple – to use VR as a vehicle for empathy, curiosity and new ways of seeing. We approach the curation based on the relevance of the work to our current exhibitions, or how timely the topics are during that point in time. Aesthetically, we select works that constantly bend the rules of storytelling.

Works showcased at the ArtScience Museum:
On site, how are VR exhibits organised for the public? What are the reception features, the mediation and the equipment? What is the average number of visitors per VR exhibition? Do you propose a specific ticket to get access to the VR space and/or bundle ticket including the visit of the museum?

The gallery houses 20 custom-designed podseats that ‘cocoon’ visitors within a safe space to encounter VR. We have 20 corresponding VR headsets which visitors are then guided to wear so that they can experience the VR work. There is also at least one Visitor Experience team member stationed during each session to guide visitors through the process and assist them where needed. Additionally, we dim the lights in the gallery and play soft, relaxing music to keep the atmosphere light – since VR can be sensory-sensitive, we try as much as possible to make the experience as easy and as intimidating as possible. Visitors have to purchase a separate ticket from exhibitions to experience the works at our VR Gallery and our sessions throughout the day are usually sold out.

What kind of dialogue do you engage with the public around the works presented? What are your plans for future immersive exhibitions?

We prefer to cultivate natural dialogue amongst visitors as opposed to a prescriptive institutional approach – we notice that immersive experiences can be communal in nature and the magic is in our visitors sharing about their personal individualised experience and learning from one another. Our immediate future plans are to ensure we keep VR accessible and enjoyable for people to have a pleasant first foray into the art form.

Photo © courtesy of ArtScience Museum, Singapore


© Unframed Collection – 2023

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