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g2gp 17-01-2009
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Creating and Using Virtual Reality: a Guide for the Arts and Humanities #

Virtual Reality Case Study Library#

Case Study 7: CyberAxis#

Michael Gerhard, Leeds Metropolitan University

Reception area in the CyberAxis virtual gallery

Figure 22: Reception area in the CyberAxis virtual gallery

The Intelligent Systems and Learning Environments (ISLE) Research Group at Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU) in co-operation with Axis, an organisation for information on contemporary visual artists in Britain, is developing a web-based, multi-user, virtual gallery. This joint project, named CyberAxis, has been granted financial support from the government's Millennium Festival Fund for the Arts and various other sources. The aim of the project is to increase the accessibility of contemporary British art by developing a 3-D virtual world as a new interface for the Axis database.

The Axis database has been established as the National Artist Register since 1994 and contains multimedia information on over 3,800 artists and 15,000 artworks. Traditionally, access to the Axis database is from a number of nationwide Axispoints. Axispoints have a 2-D, single-user, graphical interface. They are connected via the Axis Intranet and updated monthly, hence representing an up-to-date, but static, snapshot of information on contemporary art in Britain. The recent increase in accessibility and usability of the Web made it a promising platform for delivering the Axis database. The implementation of full web-access to the database was a first step towards increased accessibility.

Furthermore, new communications technologies can give access to visual arts in new ways and could be very effective in widening the audience for contemporary visual artists, particularly amongst young people. The recent rapid increase in 3-D multi-user virtual environment technologies available for the Web has the potential to offer a new kind of experience. As this technology is emerging, it is now possible to exhibit artworks of the Axis database in a virtual world; a web-based, multi-user, three-dimensional, virtual gallery. Within this shared space, avatars represent visitors and artists who can come together to spread information, share their views on art or simply chat.

CyberAxis went live on 14 June, to celebrate the Year 2000 – Year of the Artist – and Contemporary British Art, with a series of four exhibitions – Julie Mackies' exhibition 'Star Date 2000'; 'Landmarks' by Angela Edmonds with Teresa Pemberton in residence; Jenny Rumens and Sally Wallace's exhibition 'Exploring the Possibilities: an Eclectic Approach'; and the fourth exhibition 'Cabinet of Curiosities' by Chila Kumari Burman. All of these exhibitions can still be viewed.

Visitors represented by avatars in CyberAxis

Figure 23: Visitors represented by avatars in CyberAxis

Since the launch of CyberAxis it became apparent that technology was still a hurdle that not everybody was able to overcome. The download and installation of the VRML browser plug-in caused some problems on low-specification machines with slow Internet connections. However, visitor numbers have shown that the virtual gallery has been accepted and is highly appreciated by some. During the course of the four initial exhibitions the CyberAxis home page received 4,607 hits, 632 distinct visitors made their way to the interactive CyberAxis virtual gallery, engaging in some interesting debates that took place during scheduled artist residencies. A further 581 users have viewed the gallery in single-user mode. Overall, the feedback that Axis received was very positive and it has proved to be a step in the right direction.

Axis hosted events in the CyberAxis gallery during 2000 and 2001. Users of the Axis on-line database were invited to nominate their favourite artworks to be exhibited in the 'Common Curator' exhibition, which went live in CyberAxis in spring 2001. CyberAxis was hosted by Cybertown and was based on Blaxxun software (see Section 4.6).

The CyberAxis virtual gallery has now closed, although it is still possible to view previous exhibitions in single-user mode. Click here for more information on CyberAxis.