Pocket time traveler

| Katie Hung 11 Jan 2019

The most common method of preserving the past is to put historical objects under a glass cover in a museum.

But Japanese new media artist Masaki Fujihata prefers to make them come alive.

The pioneer has challenged the norm by coming up with the concept of a "pocket museum" in his new project - BeHere - using augmented reality technology and a mobile application.

His latest public art work, a creative tourism project entitled Design District Hong Kong, features more than 40 three-dimensional figures of adjustable sizes, recreating scenes of daily life from the 1940s to 1970s, in the mobile app named BeHere - HKACT! It can be downloaded free from the App Store.

Visitors can explore Wan Chai, where Fujihata finds has the best combination of the old and the new - from Blue House heritage building to Dominion Garden park.

Meanwhile, figures are used to recreate historic scenes such as people eating at dai pai dongs, as well as getting haircuts on the street, or reading newspapers.

The app allows users to take photos of themselves in virtual spaces, or to recompose their own scenarios in the background of modern society.

"My role for this project is more like that of an architect," the 62-year-old said.

"I have designed a museum that does not exist physically, but there are functional portals like doors, windows or entrances. To play, you open the door."

He explained that the museum is right at everyone's fingertips, just in our pockets.

The idea of such time-traveling hit Fujihata due to a pretty straightforward reason - "because we all hate history classes, don't we?"

He has devoted himself to employing multimedia technology to explore the possibilities within virtual spaces for communication.

"Actually, history is really interesting, but history classes are not. By using new media, maybe we can find another way of giving people a chance to understand the past," Fujihata said.

"It would be interesting [to see] these new equipment serving as objectives for the younger people, who can then show these images to their grandparents, and that would be another occasion to start telling the story."

So the Academy of Film guest professor at Hong Kong Baptist University started researching old photos online and interviewing Wan Chai residents for references to create the 3D figures.

Though they look outmoded, all have been generated by photogrammetry - the measurement of photos - commonly used in map-making.

Shot by interlinked 70 cameras in a studio, with styling and technical support from educational institutions like the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and City University of Hong Kong, the two-dimensional photos are then turned into 3D model data. The figures are so detailed that even words on a newspaper can be read.

Fujihata - who started out making use of augmented reality technology five years ago by focusing on Shibuya in Tokyo for his first project - claims to be a follower of the technology, rather than the virtual reality that has of late become more prevalent.

"It doesn't mask you like virtual reality does," said the new media art practitioner. "But augmented reality can complete the reality space and information space, which is better. You can keep your consciousness.

"Each time, I'm curious to know how and what kinds of things a different media can give us, what we can get and see, and how they can change our perception."

The new media fanatic seems likely to stick with augmented reality for awhile as he plans to hold another exhibition in Poland, where he's thinking of extending the idea of the technology.

The Behere art project is running until April 30 with a free guided tour every week. The public can register online at http://www.designdistrict.hk/en/programme.

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