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Virtual Reality and the SAMA Collection

The SAMA Collection counts over 300 art pieces, and is still growing. Because street art is in principle temporary in nature, the digital component of the collection is an extremely important one. Nieuw-West is being redeveloped with new build, and dated houses are being demolished or renovated. As a result, about 70% of the collection has already lost its physical form. SAMA actively digitalizes the works of art in the rapidly changing urban environment. In doing so, SAMA explores the use of new technologies, like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, with the aim to safeguard the collection for the future, and present it to online visitors and make it available to researchers.

Digital heritage

SAMA is exploring the use of Virtual Reality to document or ‘preserve’ street art in its local context. Since street art is site specific being part of its surroundings, SAMA considers 360C-photography as a suitable way to document the collection. Once the art works no longer exist in their physical form, the experience of Virtual Reality can bring them back to live. In 2020, SAMA worked with other Amsterdam heritage institutions on a project to preserve the memories and contemporary heritage of a parking garage (Parkeergarage Kempering) located in the southeast area of Amsterdam. The building was to be demolished, but local residents protested due to the different social functions the building had served, varying from a hangout to a gym to a church. They also wanted to save the contributions of the many graffiti writers. SAMA used VR to capture the works of graffiti and its surroundings to create a ‘Virtual Reality Memory Capsule’. SAMA’s aim is to document its own street art collection in a similar way, securing its local identity.

Documenting the collection in VR

SAMA documents its collection using text, photos and film. Since 2019 SAMA also explores documenting its street art collection with Virtual Reality. It started with the ‘Heroes of Amsterdam’ project initiated by the Amsterdam Impact HUB, that learned SAMA to work with VR to show the magnitude and surrounding environment of a selection of three art works from the collection.

Taking on board skills and lessons learned from this project, the following step for SAMA was to experiment in documenting the making-of an art work in VR. This was done for the production of the mural ‘Memories’ by the Colombian artist Bastardilla, a street art production funden by the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK). SAMA filmed with the Amsterdam Media College the making of the large mural including its surroundings. The artist herself also filmed the making-of taking the camera with her on the elevator to document the mural up close. In succession of this project, SAMA used 3D filming for the making-of the street art project ‘Hit the floor’ produced in 2020 in collaboration with the local organisation Wij zijn 40-45 and the City of Amsterdam. The following years, in 2021 and 2022, SAMA is researching further possibilities for documenting its collection in VR and to bring back demolished art works with the help of new techniques by transforming photography into 3D images. A try out was produced in the Metaverse as part of SAMA’s ‘Street Art & Democracy’ project, with the murals ‘Safety’ and ‘Fatherhood’, using the platform Lieu.City.

Presenting the collection in VR

Besides exploring the use of Virtual Reality to document contemporary art, SAMA is also pioneering in the Dutch museum field using VR to develop tours and experiences with its outdoor collection. In the films created for the ‘Heroes of Amsterdam’ project, a museum tour guide provided information about the selected art works in VR. The films were presented during the ‘We Make the City Festival‘ in 2019 in the Amsterdam Impact HUB. The same year SAMA presented the VR-experience ‘Memories’ to the Amsterdam public combing it with a live view of the art work. The VR-experience was offered to visitors in a special guided tour of the collection. As an extension of the physical mural, visitors could see the making-of using VR-glasses, and experience a view of the surrounding environment from a 21 meters high point of view.

To further explore this market, SAMA made its collection in 2022 available to a VR-experiment conducted by Helen Webb, student of the School of the Arts in Utrecht (HKU). As part of her internship at a youth detention center in Holland she created a VR-tour for juveniles (12-24 years old) in prison. SAMA made a selection of art works and Webb filmed them using a 360C-camera and added educational information about the art works to the footage, using the recorded audios from SAMA’s multimedia tour. As a next step SAMA wants to further explore making visitor experiences in VR with demolished art works from its collection. A pilot was presented In the exhibition ‘Street Art & Democracy’, providing a VR-experience of two demolished art works combined with the display of the left over bricks from the murals.

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