Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

ACMI opens The Story of the Moving Image

A look inside the ACMI redevelopment ahead of its 2021 reopening. CREDIT: ACMI.

Nick Miller, Unreal exhibition comes to life from the shuttered ACMI, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 2020

It’s actually kind of amusing that we still think of the internet as somehow not real, says Seb Chan.

“Museums have been trying to get past this dualism where it’s either in ‘real-life’ or on the web; that somehow the web isn’t real, or social media isn’t media,” says the chief experience officer at ACMI, Melbourne’s closed-for-renovation museum of the moving image.

“It’s not URL versus IRL. Everything is In Real Life. And so we’ve been building a museum that is not just on the internet, it’s of the internet.”

On Tuesday this new museum opens. While the physical renovation of ACMI’s Federation Square site goes on (pandemic restrictions slowed progress, and the doors may not open until February 2021), ACMI will launch the online part of its radical vision starting this week.

The Story of the Moving Image opens on Tuesday – an ‘exhibition’ of three multimedia essays covering Australian TV, Australian cinema, and gaming. They showcase the museum’s new approach: taking visitors down a curated rabbit hole of video and long-form writing, cross-referenced to their collection, and anything else of interest, inside or outside ACMI.

As Chan explains, “There’s a sense of the museum’s responsibility to curate a part of the internet for you, as well as parts of the collection”.

A sneak peek of a video game exhibit at ACMI ahead of its 2021 reopening. Credit: ACMI.

Then next month it opens Gallery 5, a dedicated stream of artworks created for and on the internet, and Cinema 3, a video-on-demand service of cinema classics, revivals and new releases.

ACMI has been closed since May 2019, undergoing a $40 million revamp.

“For five years we’ve been planning this transformation, for our museum to become something incredible, an interconnected physical and digital experience,” says director and chief executive Katrina Sedgwick.

ACMI chief Katrina Sedgwick. Credit: Simon Schluter.

“We were sitting on this treasure, this huge investment in the digital experience… I said to the team, ‘Why don’t we use this time and adapt it into an online exhibition?'”

Sedgwick isn’t concerned that the launch comes at a time when a pandemic lockdown audience is deluged with online content.

“The audience has caught up with the potential, that you can have a very satisfying cultural experience online,” she says. “Human beings are social animals and we want to get past this pandemic and be together again – but in the meantime,we can use the incredible opportunity that digital gives us.

“People want to go somewhere, where a person has curated and programmed an experience, and to be with a crowd of people to share that. What we’ve discovered through this period of lockdown is that digital offers us an invitation to explore incredible cultural content, to have a social experience, to be able to stay connected.”

In an exclusive preview, Chan took this masthead on a tour of The Story of the Moving Image.

Installation work underway at the closed ACMI. Credit: ACMI.

Clicking on the ‘Video Games’ exhibition opens a digital magazine feature exploring the history of computer gaming. There are videos of classic games, a bump out to a documentary on video game music, a link to a page on the classic Dragon’s Lair arcade game in the ACMI collection – and also to a clip from Stranger Things, the only place younger visitors may have ever heard of it.

In the future, Chan says, they hope to piggyback on research by Swinburne and RMIT universities to embed playable games in the online exhibition.

A new in-house technology, dubbed ‘XOS’ or the eXperience Operating System, weaves a connective web between ACMI’s content and the online world – “it encourages staff to think beyond the gallery”, Chan says.

A page on The Family Law, for example, has a magazine-style essay on the hit TV show, but it also links out to streaming services, and to objects, shows, and stories that are historically or thematically related.

“This was the promise of the web,” Chan says. “It has ended up in silos, capturing our attention in ever-tighter circles. Our purpose is to expand, not to narrow.”

The Story of the Moving Image opens on Tuesday at acmi.net.au. Gallery 5 debuts on November 11 with the premiere of Delusional World by Shanghai-based artist Lu Yang.

Cinema 3 launches on November 19, with the Australian premiere of the digital restoration of the modern French classic, Beau Travail, Romanian neo-noir The Whistlers, and Japanese proto-punk drama Funeral Parade of Roses.

See also: Launch of ACMI  multiplatform museum

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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