This Indian designer’s interactive project wins an international prize in Italy

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New Delhi | Published: April 21, 2019 1:47:19 AM

The award comes with a 10,000-euro (Rs 7.85-lakh) grant.

art, indian art, modern artWhen it is switched on and is aimed at a sculpture, the artwork comes to life to tell its story. The effect is achieved by machine-learning algorithm

Arvind Sanjeev doesn’t want museum-goers to wear headsets when they plunge into the past to view sculptures and paintings. “It is anti-social if everyone is wearing headsets,” says the interaction designer from Kerala. “There is no collaborative environment.” At least one top international museum agrees. The Marino Marini Museum in Florence, Italy, has handed over its first Playable Museum Award—instituted to imagine the museum of the future—to the Indian designer for his interactive project that relies on a mixed-reality storytelling platform.

Sanjeev’s project, christened Lumen, was chosen for the inaugural Playable Museum Award from a field of designers from around the world who were asked to rethink the connect between people, artworks and museum through technology. The award comes with a 10,000-euro (Rs 7.85-lakh) grant, to be utilised for creating a new way of viewing at Marino Marini, the first museum for contemporary art in Florence.

“The Playable Museum Award is a challenge that emerged from the ever increasing need to change the way we consider museums, also to attract and engage the new generations,” says Marino Marini Museum president Patrizia Asproni. “We want to become a hub of innovation and experimentation, a museum-laboratory that is a centre of thought, where prototypes and ideas are created and then passed on to other museums,” adds Asproni, who presented the award to Sanjeev at a ceremony held on March 25 in Florence.

Lumen won the nod of a jury of international experts for enabling visitors to create and tell their stories through magical interactions with the environment and space of a museum. Resembling a normal flashlight, Lumen combines a projector and camera with depth sensors in a simple tool. When it is switched on and is aimed at a sculpture, the artwork comes to life to tell its story. The effect is achieved by machine-learning algorithm. “Lumen takes advantage of advanced machine learning and projectional mapping technologies,” says Sanjeev, who lives in the southern Swedish city of Malmo.

Lumen was born in a laboratory in Denmark where Sanjeev, who was born in Ernakulam to scientist parents, studied for his master’s in interaction design. “It was my design thesis,” says Sanjeev. At the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, Sanjeev played with torches and flashlights for days before he came up with the idea of merging a scientist’s curiosity with people’s affinity for stories. Lumen uses the yolo darknet machine-learning platform to classify objects that are subsequently processed by an algorithm capable of generating overlapping stories on objects. Storytellers, who research on artworks, and game designers complete the project personnel.

“The idea was that when detectives solve a murder, they find hidden evidence by pointing a flashlight at objects, say, for fingerprints or DNA in a tea cup. The same way, if a flashlight is shone on a work of art, like a sculpture, we can understand a lot about it and the artist behind it,” says Sanjeev. It helped that he had teachers at his Copenhagen institute who had worked on the Microsoft HoloLens project. “It took 10 weeks to make Lumen and my teachers liked it,” he adds.

“Lumen is, at the same time, a project of creative creation and advanced engineering,” says Asproni. “It is a ‘magic torch’ that uses mixed reality, that is augmented and virtual reality together, to make the work (have a) dialogue with the visitor and, therefore, overcome the filter that is created between the visitor and the work of art. The most extraordinary thing is that this competition of ideas comes from within a museum of contemporary art in a Renaissance city that looks to the future,” she adds.

Situated in the heart of Florence, the three-storeyed Marino Marini Museum, housed in a 12th-century building, has, among others, 183 works donated by famous Italian sculptor Marino Marini shortly before his death in 1980. The museum, which is collaborating with international personalities, cultural leaders, innovators, makers and futurists to rethink the museum and its spaces, calls its Playable Museum Award “one of the tools that we use to meet our goals”. It has already announced the second edition of the award. Sanjeev’s Lumen will be ready to roll out by then.

Faizal Khan is a freelancer

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