Innovative Tech Solutions for Accessibility in the Arts
April 19, 2017 | Zach Baldwin
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” exhibit has captured the attention of Washington, D.C. during its three-month stint at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. This mesmerizing exhibit utilizes small, enclosed rooms covered with mirrors to create a visual “infinity effect.” Kusama’s work reflects her personal experiences with mental illness.
The “Infinity Mirrors” are small rooms constructed inside the museum. Each room has a narrow walkway that leads to the center of the room, leaving enough space for only two to three people at a time. The narrow size of the doorframe and walkway presents challenges to some people with disabilities who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices. Unable to enter these small rooms, many visitors with mobility constraints would lack the full experience Kusama intended to convey.
To solve this problem, staff at the Hirshhorn Museum came up with an innovative idea to use virtual reality as an alternative way to provide visitors with the full immersive experience of “Infinity Mirrors.” Using hundreds of photos of each room, they created digital renderings that mirror the visual experience of each room. Thanks to a generous contribution from Samsung, dozens of visitors have been able to experience “Infinity Mirrors” virtually with Gear VR, Samsung’s virtual reality headsets, and Galaxy S7 smartphones. While wearing the headset, users have a complete 360-degree picture of the “Infinity Mirrors” rooms that feels like the real thing.
The Hirshhorn’s use of virtual reality to make the museum more accessible to visitors with disabilities is just one example of how technology can help expand access to the arts. Art can be a powerful tool of expression, commentary, and emotion. People with disabilities should be afforded the same opportunity to experience culture and the arts — in all of its different forms — as their non-disabled family members and friends. Both the Smithsonian and the National Endowment for the Arts offer additional accessibility resources. “Infinity Mirrors” remains in DC for a few more weeks before it continues on its tour to five other major museums in the United States and Canada.