Musée du Quai Branly: A Little French Inspiration

Last July, David Wright from Tangible Experiments and I decided to take a trip to the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. I had visited this museum a few years back when it had just opened  and was  quite impressed with their use of technology and the subtle ways in which it blends in with their impressive collection of ethnographic artefacts. Having visited many museums where indigenous art and especially ancient are displayed, I found that Branly has succeeded in drawing the interest of the general public to a realm that was exclusive to ethnologists, sociologists, historians and curators.

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I can’t help but thinking that it is in part technology that has facilitated the accessibility of these treasures as well as their history to a lay vary-social and multicultural audience. Moving Image, interactive displays, touch screens, all the technologies the more recent generations are living with everyday, invites the public to engage beyond the pure contemplation of the pieces, and draws on their curiosity to learn about the context in which these works were made, the cultures and civilizations who made them and how they used the. Branly,  in my opinion is digital storytelling.


On entering the museum, a striking and welcoming digital art installation greets the visitors and leads them to the collections. The River is a piece by artist Charles Sandison, which invites the audience into a stream of words (“16,597 names of all the peoples and geographic locations displayed in the museum’s collections”) evolving along the museum’s entrance ramp.


This is quite an appealing piece which does indeed as Charles Sandison intended “prepare the viewer to enter the collection, to create a state of reverie consistent with the architecture and the dream like experience of the permanent collection space”. [A forword by Charles Sandison accessible at : ]

And the museum in riddled with multimedia gems, either playful or informative, descriptive or illustrative. The one thing that particularly caught our attention was the use of rear projection films inside the display cabinets. The only instances I have seen these screens being used are in the windows of estate agencies. It seems these have been somewhat successful for such businesses and other marketing strategies. However, I had never really seen it used in more creative or at least aesthetic ways as galleries and museums I imagine have not been generally targeted by suppliers and despite the seemingly flexible nature of such screens, they are rather the contrary as once stuck [they come with an adhesive side] on a surface, they are there pretty much permanently.

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However, projecting on glass is attractive, and Branly has found a successful compromise by integrating these screens in the display cabinets of their permanent collections. Because of the fragility of their artefacts, the exhibition space is kept in very low light which is an added bonus for permanent projections on glass.

Doing this adds to the contemplative experience of these precious objects, garments, tools, ornaments; but also places them back in their context of origin via moving image projection within the same location. The glass and translucency of the projection screen makes the images merge with the physical objects, and it seems it is coming to life within that little box of history.

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