“Conceptually the museum could visualise what it wanted in terms of the public experience. The means to deliver that was the question. As an example we wanted people to come into digital classrooms and be commented internationally, we wanted a ‘wow’ factor, we wanted interactivity. These are all things conceptually – but to deliver that –well you need interactive projectors, content delivery, videoconferencing.
“Videoconference was a very small part initially – but then we embraced it and have rolled it out in five venues.
“The fibre and cabling was fine – there was enough resilience in there. However when we start talking about the backbone, there was a lot of extra third-party (systems) we needed – people counters for traffic management, digital signage, new servers and infrastructure.
“WiFi is a key area that will probably be the greatest influence on the Museum,” he added. Coupled with a positioning system the wireless networks mean the MCA; “Can pinpoint where you are in a space and with that we have commissioned the development of a system that says ‘well you are at this position in this room therefore these are the art works in front of you and this is the information about that art work’ – that’s on the app.”
He says that the MCA’s executives and board were receptive to his plans once the return on investment was identified. Fortunately it comes at a time when cultural institutions the world over are being reformed by, and embracing technology in order to remain relevant. “I was able to leverage that,” said Warren.
He has also moved the data centre back in house in order to address issues of latency that might have arisen if the MCA was trying to serve up digital artworks which were being stored remotely. “You can get rid of latency by throwing a whole lot of money at it, but there is a threshold you cross. And I said, well for that investment you might as well have it here – it allowed me to build more out of it.
“If you look at whole collection management system – the data centre we have here currently consumes 200 terabytes, expandable to 700 terabytes.” The MCA has also installed a collection management system called Vernon which according to Warren; “Assetises the management of content.”
But serving up a digital artwork isn’t the same as serving up data for a spreadsheet, and artists are prescriptive about how their artwork is handled technically.
Large works are often shipped to the Museum on an external hard drive and usually accompanied by the artist or their own installation team.
“In the case of The Clock (the landmark 24 hour digital artwork which played at the opening of the MCA earlier this year) the artist himself (Christian Marclay) had designed the artwork to work at a certain resolution on particular hardware that we had to purchase ourselves to meet those particular standards.
“Digital artworks are not just about the soft-copy – the best example is Michelangelo’s David – you can’t change the pedestal from marble to brass because then you are changing the artwork. It’s the same with digital content. If it’s built on a particular computer or particular videocard we must maintain that consistency.
“The Clock is running across a set of Macs – we supplied the Macs and the projector and exhibition services, the installation crew built the room around that hardware. The artist then had an installer to install and tweak the work itself to what the artist requires.”