Museums and galleries immediately began offering virtual tours. Here at Tallinn Art Hall, we offered a solution in the works already since fall 2019. We wanted to give our differently-abled visitors and those living in other parts of the world the opportunity to experience our art content from their homes. The new social distancing regulations catalyzed the development of the platform, spearheaded by former director Taaniel Raudsepp, in collaboration with designer and programmer Sven Erik Raju, director and cinematographer Elen Lotman, video operator Ivar Taim and video producer Madis Tüür. As the shooting of exhibitions happened during the pandemic, the filming crew had to work remotely through live streaming themselves to adhere to social distancing rules.
The goal was to create a very easy to use, intuitive, and manageable interface which viewers could use without going through a webinar on how to navigate it. The resulting interface responded to the necessities of showing art exhibitions when travel was not possible and to making exhibitions more accessible. As one of the oldest art institutions in Estonia, Tallinn Art Hall has been putting together international exhibitions since 1934, and the virtual exhibition platform will bring our programming even closer to the global audience. When conceptualizing the interface, it was essential to think about how it could give viewers the fine details of the artwork and the experience of the space they were in. How to give viewers the impression that they could almost touch the exhibits?
The solution was inspired by the cinematography of Jim Jarmusch’s films, where the director begins by showing an overall view with a slow-moving camera. By filming the exhibitions so that they would give the impression of an exceptional experience, and overlaying this with an interactive system that was easily accessible, the team created a prototype that had both a minimal amount of user interface and showed all the details of an exhibition. The navigation buttons are overlaid on top of the video, which allows the viewer to select the language (offering Russian, Estonian, English, and Estonian Sign Language) and move through the different sections of the exhibition. Since Tallinn Art Hall exhibitions are very different from out another, the resulting interface had to balance different layers: between the navigation, wider shots of the room, views of an artwork or a series in its entirety and closeup shots, showing the texture and material or giving the viewer the option to play embedded videos.
The interface experience resembles an actual visit to our exhibition space, and for this, the inspiration provided by films was vital. The best films enhance human perception, and the goal here was not to create another work of art but to create access to art, to make it accessible to everyone so that it would also be sharable, scalable and open to be repeated in any art institution in the world. For this, the cinematographer translated depth cues and her knowledge of human perception into camera movement. Creating a very smooth camera movement, the team did not want to add anything herself, but to make the exhibition as accessible as possible. The result was a series of high-resolution video walkthroughs, shot from fixed positions, creating spaces as by moving a camera similar to a film or a video game.
Transcending space and advancing the possibility of allowing people to be in spaces they cannot travel to, our virtual exhibitions platform is a project that continues to be open for further development and collaboration. Our ultimate goal is to publish the cinematography guide and code with free access, which could be used by any cultural institutions worldwide who may be interested.