“Museums are no longer object containers”
Since his childhood he was drawn to the world of comics and cinema, and he became to work in graphic designs in the early 80’s. In 1992 he managed his first work of video art. Since then, he has produced and directed films of every kind from fiction and animation to documentaries. His works have been awarded in film festivals around the world, even representing Spain in two international art biennials.
Ángel Tirado Higuero is the Head of the Media and Interactive Production Department of ACCIONA Producciones y Diseño (APD). He is currently managing productions for important museums in Europe, Asia and the Middle East like the National Museum in Oman, Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center in Yekaterinburg (Russia) and Al Shaheed Garden Park Museums in Kuwait.
In this interview, Ángel gives us his valuable point of view about the incorporation of new technologies in the actual model of museums, and also tells us about his work on the Heritage House Museums in Doha, Qatar, which was currently inaugurated and which will bring about a real technological revolution in the Arab country.
How is it to work for a museums that is 6000 kilometers away, and even working for several at the same time, filming in different countries? How is your everyday life?
The key is the human team surrounding you. I am lucky to be supported by a group of great professionals who know their work very well and feel great passion for each of the projects we carry out. One of the advantages of our work is that it is not the least routine. Each project is different and it has its own challenges and its own peculiarities. This keeps us motivated to learn and develop.
The essential part of working in international projects is to become familiar with the culture and the local sensitivity as soon as possible. Despite the internationally standardized language and procedures in the audiovisual industry, we sometimes find ourselves working in countries that, for one reason or the other, do not have much tradition of audiovisual production or that do not have the infrastructure that we take for granted in Europe. This obligates us to become more resourceful and to propose strategies that allow us to achieve our goals.
Having managed audiovisual projects all over the world, who better than you can explain us the differences, if any, between working in Spain and working in an Arab country such as Qatar, Oman or Kuwait.
One of the most positive aspects of this profession is that it allows you to visit countries in a way that you could rarely get to know otherwise. It allows you to have your own view of their cultures and their people, and it gives you the privilege of sharing diverse experiences of the culture, art and science with internationally known experts. It is true that you may find differences in their habits and customs, but they are not relevant in everyday work. The truth is that we have many things in common with the Middle East countries at both the cultural and human levels.
Furthermore, the Arab culture is profoundly hospitable and welcoming. During the works we have carried out in the Gulf countries these past 5 years, we have always felt a closeness that has made our work easier even though we spoke different languages.
During the last few years there has been a great revolution in the museums due to the inclusion of new technologies. Where are the trends moving towards?
It is true that museums have experienced a great revolution in the last years. But if we keep in mind that the purpose of museums, apart from preserving certain heritage, is essentially to communicate, we will understand this revolution. The same thing happens in our daily life. It seems logical that the technological revolution that we have undergone in our lives in the last 20 years also reached the museum world.
On the other hand, we must bear in mind that museums are installations that must last and that should not become obsolete in a short period of time. This is related not only to the audiovisual language used but to the technology itself. If we integrate greatly advanced technology but that it is still underdeveloped, we will see how in a question of months it will be overthrown by more progressive applications. The same thing happens to regular users with devices like cell phones. For this reason, when we apply new technologies in a museum, we adapt them so that they do not “go out of date” and they remain valid as long as possible. Currently, the museums’ trend is to strengthen the visitors’ interaction with the contents. The aim is to make the experience more accessible and personalized. In this way, we increase the museums’ appeal and we manage to make the visitors’ experience more significant. In this regard, there have extremes like the museum Wu Kingdom Helv Relic of Wuxi in China, where every space is interactive, and others in which the old interactive screens are still being used. It depends on the museum’s discourse and its intention when it comes to developing the concept of the “museum”, which sometimes is the result of the vision or the concept of the designers and of the clients.
For the visitors, which are the benefits of interacting with the pieces as opposed to watching them exhibited in the display cases?
Museums are no longer object containers. Interaction does not only allow the users to delve into the contents in a way that is more personalized and suitable to their need for knowledge, and sometimes even allows the audience to have more interesting experiences. The impact of the content and the information is greater when the information is received in an interactive way.
Focusing on the project at hand, in general, what did the project of the Heritage House Museums in Doha consist of?
This is a project located in the privileged area of the Msheireb, at the heart of Doha. An area that will become the center of social and cultural activity of Qatar. The project is very interesting for many different reasons. From the point of view of the content: they are four traditional houses from Qatar turned into areas of thematic expositions. The history of the petroleum industry in Qatar, the day-to-day lifestyles, the historical heritage and, my favorite, “Bayt Jalmoud”: a house dedicated to explaining and interpreting the history of slavery in the Indian Ocean area. A project that surprises for being brave and innovative, and because it helps us to raise awareness of a problem that 30 million people in the world suffer.
What is the visitor going to find in this museum?
It is a project in which tradition and modernity are combined in a well-balanced manner. The context centers on the old houses that have been restored to show us the daily life of people in Qatar less than a hundred years ago, in the origins of Qatar. This content, which is different in each of the four houses, is represented through every kind of expository resource, among which the innovative use of audiovisual and interactive technologies stands out. The design is respectful with the context in which it is found, and the resources are integrated with elegance along the exhibition. I believe we should highlight the beauty of the different spaces and how they show characteristics that stimulate the visitor’s interest, with each one keeping their own personality.
I would like to highlight two of them. One is entitled “With their bare hands” which shows, by an immersive multi-screen projection of 12K, the history of the pioneers in the industry of petroleum in Qatar. It shows us the hard working conditions and how the nation of Qatar was built with their effort. It is an audiovisual which, more than telling a story from a purely narrative point of view, tries to convey emotions and sensations to the audience. The other is an interactive projection on a circular disk 5 meters in diameter called “Media Dish” that allows up to 6 users interacting at the same time, only by using their expressions. From this projection they can access to audiovisual information of a virtual model of the Msheireb neighborhood that emerges from the desert’s sand. It is, so to speak, an interactive prototype in which each concept comes to life, and in which the more users participate in it, the more interesting the global experience is.
Tell us which one became a bigger technological challenge and why.
We constantly find ourselves having to solve more complicated and innovative concepts. Our working area is a very interesting field in which we can test the latest technologies for capturing images and projections on large formats. In both cases we had to deal with finding solutions on how to record or create images of such a large size. In the case of “Media Dish”, we also had to develop a technology that allowed us to capture the expressions of 6 visitors at the same time and which respond in real time with the necessary speed.
When we develop this type of project, we have to make sure that, even though we deal more with experiments and prototypes than with products that can be found at a commercial level, the functioning and the response is reliable and stable.
To finish up, could you tell us which has been the biggest challenge you have come across in a museum?
More than in a museum, I would like to mention one of the most important challenges we have had to deal with in another field of our work, in an international exhibition. It is in these kinds of projects, due to their special nature and because they are brief, where we really work with the most advanced technology. In this case, we were dealing with the Saudi Arabian pavilion that we produced for the Shanghai Expo in 2010. The difficulty was in how to create and project an audiovisual on a 1400 m² ovoid screen. At that moment, the biggest one in the world. To find a solution we had to form a multidisciplinary team in which we had some of the most important professionals of the production of IMAX images, planetary projections’ specialists, and experts of cinema special effects, among others. In this project we pushed to the limit all of the technology available at the time. Fortunately, the work was rewarded with many awards and the pavilion was reprieved, so still today it can be visited in Shanghai.