A quiet reverence hangs in the air of the fine art gallery you’ve just stepped into. Hands at your sides, you study the piece on display and read its paneled description carefully, keeping your voice barely above a whisper so as not to disturb the ambience in the room. 

Because some museums and galleries contain replicas of priceless objects or keep originals carefully housed in airtight containers, visitors instinctively treat these spaces with great care and respect. 

Compare this type of immersive environment to an advanced visualization solution, such as a CAVE. Universities tend to use these spaces for research and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curricula, educating students about big data topics such as engineering capabilities or architectural design. Rarely, an immersive visualization solution is utilized in a humanities setting. For researchers and educators like Mary Katherine Scott at the University of Wyoming, it’s time to step outside the box. Or, in this case, inside the CAVE.

Multi-Year Project Starts HereImmersive Technology at University of Wyoming

Dr. Scott is hosting the university’s first virtual art exhibition in the Shell 3-D Visualization Center’s CAVE. Equipped with nearly a decade of research on Yucatec Maya artisans and a team of students and interns, weeks of preparation have culminated in an exceptionally realistic space. “The student interns have done a fantastic job of making this look stunningly real,” says Dr. Scott, “This is a wonderful way to start this new phase of my research.”

This first step in understanding how art viewers react in digital spaces will launch Dr. Scott’s research into exploring the negotiation of value based on people’s individuality: “We go to an art exhibit and instinctively rank objects—what is good and what is better—based on our own backgrounds,” explains Scott, “By placing simulated replicas of these objects in the CAVE, we are challenging visitors to reconsider how they assign value to them. Essentially, they must ask themselves, ‘Is this experience or object authentic, even if it isn’t really there?’”

Pushing the Boundaries 

Dr. Scott’s excitement may stem from witnessing her research come to life in the CAVE, but it is rooted in innovation. Historically, advanced technology solutions like the CAVE are largely utilized for science, mathematics, and engineering fields, while the humanities—such as cultural, societal, and historical anthropology—remains fairly unexplored. Dr. Scott explains:

“I’m a mix between art historian and a cultural anthropologist. My fields tend to conduct research in a fairly traditional way – interviews, field research, and looking at museum collections and writings. I am thrilled about the opportunity to use innovative technology in my research. I love the idea of pushing the boundaries of both disciplines in my research.”

In a time where technology application is spreading into multiple disciplines, Dr. Scott believes that the humanities must not be left behind. By seeing what is possible in other fields, she and other researchers can flex the boundaries of their own disciplines.

The Virtual Gallery

So how exactly will the CAVE be utilized as an art gallery? The CAVE walls will act as physical walls for the art gallery, and the simulated replica will be “displayed” along the walls. “I’m interested to see how people will respond to the gallery,” explains Scott, “We’re interacting with two levels of artificiality – not only are these simulations, but they are simulations based on replicas of original artwork.”

The replicated artifacts derive from Scott’s research into the Yucatec Maya culture’s art, religion, history, and politics. Dr. Scott explores how handcrafted pieces become representative of Maya art, identity, and history, and how value systems within tourist art markets are constructed around these concepts.

For more information on the University of Wyoming’s CAVE, view our testimonial video or read our portfolio page

For more information on Mary Katherine Scott’s research, click here