Suddenly, in front of our wide eyes, waddling gently on the waxed floor of the National Museum of Natural History of Paris, a dodo. Not fearful at all, this very big pigeon, The hooded raphus of its Latin name, moves its clawed paws towards us, in the most perfect indifference of the visitors who stroll that day in the room of extinct species. We would almost pinch ourselves, impressed by the formidable beak which protrudes from this mass of white feathers 80 centimeters high; we even take a step back before reasoning with ourselves.

Come on, none of this is real! The good-natured dodo who seemed to come out from behind a window is a 3D image, projected on the screen of the augmented reality helmet that we put on before following the exhibition “Revive” of the great gallery of Evolution. “The last dodos disappeared from Mauritius in the 17th century, eliminated by sailors who hunted them for food,” the voiceover slips into our earpieces, as if to bring us back to earth. Still, the feeling of immersion in a parallel reality was effective; We won’t soon forget this improbable encounter…

Over the past ten years, more and more museums, historic buildings, and even municipalities have embarked on the path of so-called “immersive” experiences. Renewed interest by the collateral effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which caused the number of visitors to fall between 2019 and 2021 in proportions never before reached: less 41% at the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in Paris, less 33% at the Mucem in Marseille, minus 49% on the ramparts of Carcassonne… To bring back lovers of art and heritage, but also to attract new visitors, younger or unaccustomed to pushing the doors of museums, digital is a major asset, supposed to make access to knowledge and knowledge fun. But it has a price: count at least 15 to 20 euros for an “experience” which sometimes only lasts thirty minutes…

With or without 3D headset

Alongside the traditional audio guides and visit applications that can be downloaded to our smartphones, new, more sophisticated tools have appeared. Thus at the Arche de la Défense, it is equipped with a virtual reality headset that visitors can make a jump in time and space to discover the cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, from its construction until the fire; same thing at “Virtual reality cabinet” of the large gallery of Evolution, where it is possible to dive to the bottom of the arctic sea, surrounded by killer whales and lion’s mane jellyfish. The only limit to these experiences: the minimum age, generally 10 years old, to be able to put on a helmet. People prone to vertigo may also be disturbed by virtual reality devices.

More accessible, in “hands in pockets” format – without tablets or headphones – immersive exhibitions based on projections of works are also multiplying, as at theAtelier des Lumières, in Paris. Here, one enters a large empty hangar, where only two large cylinders stand. Placed on a seat, or directly seated on the ground, we discover projected on the walls an XXL-size visual and sound animation of the works of Cézanne, which highlights in particular the play of colors and the brushstrokes of the Post-Impressionist master. The visitor who lets himself be carried away can have the impression of floating in the painter’s canvases; the less concentrated will take selfies with works in the background whose title they may not have remembered.

Mixed reactions

Made-to-measure for an audience far removed from “classical” culture? Not only, as proven by Constance, 71 years old, a New Zealander who loves galleries and museums, crossed at the end of a session of ” Cézanne, lights of Provence ” : ” I loved ! I enjoyed the experience so much that I stayed in the room to watch the movie twice. The absence of additional information, labels, or even a voiceover did not bother her. In front of the Collège des Bernardins where the exhibition is being held, on the other side of the Seine, Brigitte and Anne, two friends in their fifties and fond of exhibitions, are more divided on the interest of their visit to ” Notre-Dame de Paris, the expanded exhibition – it closed its doors on July 17 – for which the visitor receives a small tablet broadcasting animations in the style of video games, sensitive to his movements – if he raises the tablet to the sky, he can thus discover the carpenters building the original “forest” of Notre-Dame de Paris. “With the tablet in our hands, we were a little cut off from what was around us, but we weren’t in Notre-Dame either, it wasn’t really ‘immersive’, regrets Brigitte, who works in the sector. of training. The information was interesting and documented, but we could have downloaded the program on our own tablets and watched it quietly from our armchair at home. »

The important thing is the content

“The expression immersive exhibition is a bit overused today,” comments Carole Benaiteau, museographer at the Institut de France. First, because an immersive exhibition does not necessarily require digital tools. I am working today on the domaine de Chaalis, in the Oise, for a redevelopment of the medieval site, but also of the park, the rose garden, the orchard… We can say that the visitors who come there will live an immersive, total experience, and yet without digital tools! On the other hand, the proposals which consist in projecting canvases in large format, as at the Atelier des Lumières, for example, are not really exhibitions. It’s another way of apprehending the works, non-didactic, since you don’t learn anything about the names of the paintings, or the context of their creation. But if there is an audience, there is an interest! Nicolas Potier, heritage curator and director of tourism and heritage for the city of Sens, shares this opinion: “More than the technologies used, the important thing for a successful exhibition is the content, the ideas, the scenario. In an immersive exhibition you can have a great time, but sometimes also learn nothing. But what matters to us is to deliver knowledge, it is the essence of our profession. Virtual reality or augmented reality can help, but the most important thing is the information delivered to the visitor. The bottle doesn’t matter, as long as you have the intoxication… of knowledge.

Augmented reality VS virtual reality

Augmented reality

Three-dimensional images are projected on the transparent visor of the helmet: they are added to the physical and real environment of the exhibition.

Virtual reality

By using a full-face helmet, the visitor is immersed in a three-dimensional reality other than that which surrounds him.

Exhibitions to discover

“Eternal Our Lady » Until September 22, 2022, at Espace Grande Arche, La Défense, Puteaux.

« Grand Large, meeting the giants of the high seas » All year, at the Nausicaá National Sea Center in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Revive extinct animals ” and the ” virtual reality office » Open all year, Wednesdays, weekends, and school holidays, at the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, in Paris.

« The Mona Lisa, immersive exhibition » Until August 21, 2022, at the Palais de la Bourse in Marseille.

« Machu Picchu and the treasures of Peru » Until September 4, 2022, City of architecture and heritage, in Paris.

« Between vines and lights » From July 1 to September 10, at the Bouvaude estate, in Rousset-les-Vignes.

“Ramparts and Lights” From July 15 to September 10, in Carcassonne.

“Venice the Serenissima” Until January 2, 2023, Careers of lights, in Baux-de-Provence.

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