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Case Study II Philadelphia Museum of Art
The exhibition `The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master' was held
at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (July 29 October 29, 2000).The purpose of this
exhibition was to educate and present the beauty of the artist's calligraphy, lacquer ware
and ceramics.The exhibition featured more than 100 objects.
Traditional Japanese art was created not just to be observed at a distance, but also to be
touched. In the modern museum setting visitors do not have the opportunity to handle
the objects they see and this prevents them from gaining the originally intended experi-
ences.This is a common problem for museums, libraries and archives because all store
precious items under restricted access.
Is there yet a way that visitors could touch such an object? How can new technologies
help in this? This exhibition gave an interesting answer, presenting in a novel way a pre-
cious handscroll and a tea bowl created in the 17th Century.Two interactive displays
were designed to simulate handling of these objects where tactile investigation is an inte-
gral part of the experience. Specialised multi-media programs were developed by the
International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences (IAMAS).Thus computer technology
helped visitors to feel what it is like to hold a tea bowl or to roll a handscroll and to hear
the poetry that is presented on it.These objects were not the only presented in the exhi-
bition.Visitors could grasp some of the cultural background, possibly getting a better idea
of the culture and atmosphere of Japan in the early 17th Century.
People involved in the project included curator Felice Fischer and Yasuhito Nagahara,
graphic designer at the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences in Gifu.The
curator needed to get across most of these experiences based on touching the objects
without harming them.Two of the objects in the exhibition were chosen for this pur-
pose, the handscroll of Poetry over Design of Cranes (`Tsuru shita-e wakakan') and the
black Raku ware tea bowl `Shichiri'.
The scroll is stored at the Kyoto national museum. It was written in ink with gold and
silver on paper, and is about 34 x 1360 cm in size. Such a scroll was clearly designed to be
viewed in short episodes, section by section.The contemporary reader would not look at
it from a distance but close up, handling it and moving through past, present, and future.
The reproduction of the handscroll maintained its original form and size with dowels
in both ends, as a rolled up scroll of paper. In fact the paper was blank and could be
replaced, and the image was projected by a device attached to a PowerMac G4 over a glass
which was in turn placed above the blank paper the visitors touched.While a visitor
investigated the roll, he was provided with different options for the content being dis-
played: the calligraphic text, the paintings, or both.The role of the dowels was crucial
they contained sensors reporting what was happening with the scroll, respectively what
had to be projected. At the same time, the visitor could hear the recitation of the poetry.
In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, tea bowls are customarily touched and
admired.The Black Raku Tea bowl, named `Shichiri', from the Gotoh Museum (height:
8.6 cm, diameter: 12.2 cm, diameter of foot: 5.2 cm) was chosen as the second object for
the innovative display.
Human Interfaces
This case study is based upon materials from the Web pages of Philadelphia Museum of Art
( and IAMAS in Gifu, Japan (
both sites visited on 08/01/2003.