When exploring the British Museum in Google Art Project, to me, there are two types of different experiences.
The first is the traditional “reading” version. I can see the high-quality photographs of those exhibits on the screen just like I can see them in a printed exhibits album book. These pictures being shown on the screen is quite similar to the reproduction process of shooting a specific painting and reprint the photographic plate for numerous times, in which, to Benjamin, the original painting is art but the reproducing images are not. I’m going to talk about it later in the second type of experience.
The second style of experience is the virtual tour inside the space of the museum. Associating with the idea of Benjamin, with a DVD of The Matrix, I feel that I own this art work of Wachowski, while in the context of a virtual tour, I do not gain the sense of possessing the art works. I think this is what makes the virtual museum tour meaningful, which is that they are not aiming to offering the information of art works in the museum, but offering the experience of walking in a museum. To me, as a consumer, as a visitor, by choosing the virtual tour, I am longing for an experience of visiting a museum by personally because it is clear that if I want to know about the detailed literal and image formation of Rosetta Stone, I will just print its name in Wekipedia.
So, can the museum experience be digitalized? Can the museum function be re-mediated on digital media platform?
To think about this, what I’d like to make sure firstly is that are the things that I see art? Here, by art, I am applying the traditional definition of art that we see in a real gallery or museum from Benjamin with the character of Echtheit? The first thing to clarify is that all that has been shown to us on the screen are the images captured by the lens and are digitalized in the platform. To apply that idea, are digital images of artworks reproductions of artworks? If yes, due to Benjamin, these digital images are not art, aren’t they?
When being in the real British Museum, it is certainly that what we see are “real art” — the original exhibits. While in the virtual tour on Google, all that has been sent to us are digital pixels. To think about it further, take a specific painting as example, do the digitalized painting as an interface to meaning system, as a token of symbols still manage to convey the totally same thing as the original painting hanging on the wall of a gallery?
Besides, in virtual tour, what is controlling the movement trail is our hands. However, in real world, we walk with feet. Even the mode of human perception changes in the long history together with the mode of existence, I myself have not changed that much. Also, limited by technology, the operation in such a virtual tour is not perfectly smooth and easy to deal with.