SINGAPORE: The National Museum of Singapore is exploring the use of data analytics and augmented reality (AR) to better engage with its audiences.
The museum's senior assistant director Jervais Choo said: "We are constantly exploring with different technology and industry partners, how to engage with our audiences.”
“(These are) means that we can use to engage with our audiences, and also to bring out the stories behind the museum and our collection a bit more," he added.
Management of the National Museum, which turns 130 this year, did not reveal how it would use the technology - only saying that it would provide more details when it is ready to launch.
The National Museum is keen to build on the digital model after witnessing how its earlier initiatives have attracted more visitors than ever before.
For example, the museum unveiled Story of the Forest in October last year. The intiative is a kaleidoscopic, interactive digital space that showcases the region's rich ecological history.
In January this year, the museum launched Gallery10, a first-of-its-kind gallery that has no physical artefacts. Instead, it uses advanced projection technology to showcase art and history.
The museum began exploring the digital space more aggressively after completing a major revamp in September 2015.
Since then, it has attracted about a monthly average of 60,000 visitors, about two-and-a-half times more than before the makeover.
“Certainly, digital is a means to expand the reach and scope of the museum,” said Mr Choo. “Through digital, for instance, we are able to do things that we were not able to previously - transcending boundaries, having an understanding of our works extended to people who may not naturally come to the museum."
WHERE COMPUTERS MEET CULTURE
But digital applications within the heritage community need not always be linked to modernity.
Roots.sg is an online repository that helps capture Singapore’s heritage resources, and also lists artefacts from Singapore’s National Collection. It was set up by the National Heritage Board (NHB) in April last year to engage Singaporeans on their heritage.
Roots.sg lists more than 12,000 items from the National Collection, which visitors can view and learn more about online. They include a gold necklace heirloom owned by the family of World War II heroine, Elizabeth Choy.
The gold necklace owned by the Elizabeth Choy's family. (Photo: National Museum of Singapore)
The piece of jewellery was given to her by the wife of Singapore’s governor at the time, Sir Shenton Thomas, in appreciation for Mrs Choy help during the war. She had brought Mrs Thomas medicine while she was imprisoned by the Japanese.
The necklace was donated to the National Museum by Mrs Choy’s daughter, Bridget.
"It was precious to me, because it was given to my mother out of gratitude by people she helped during the war,” said Ms Choy. “But if I had kept this necklace to myself, over the years, the story behind the necklace would be gone, would be forgotten,” she added.
“By donating this to the museum, the history of it would remain, and future generations would be able to see the history behind the necklace, the significance of it."
Mr Choo said the National Museum is happy to receive such items, as it is still an, “object-centric” museum, which leverages on Singaporeans’ artefacts, and adds layers to the existing stories behind them.
Even if the museum does not eventually acquire these pieces, it stresses the need for such stories to stay alive within these households.
KEEPING HERITAGE ALIVE
It is one of the reasons why the National Museum recently hosted a workshop on how to preserve such precious items.
The event was attended by nearly 70 people, who owned items ranging from Peranakan garments to novelty pieces like ear diggers made of real gold. The sharing was led by a team of conservators from the Heritage Conservation Centre (HCC), an arm of NHB.
The family heirlooms workshop entitled "A Lighter Side of History". (Photo: John Leong)
“We cannot handle heirlooms as everyday objects because they may fall apart due to their old age,” said Chuance Chen, an Assistant Conservator from HCC.
While digitising is an accepted method of protecting precious artefacts against the march of time, heritage experts like Mr Chen agree that it is not quite the same as telling a story with a physical object.
“We need to recognise the purpose of heirlooms. Care is better than cure.”