A Treasury of Unexploited Possibilities

Interview with Zsófia Ruttkay, head of TechLab at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design

The work of Zsófia Ruttkay and the TechLab she heads at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME) is well known on both the Hungarian and international museum scene. By connecting various fields of science they are developing new methods of information transmission. Their activity includes audiovisualisation, city games, the digital museum and cultural heritage, broadening museum experience and linking museums with education. Since their applications, which are simple to use and offer information in an interesting and interactive manner, are highly suitable for transmitting knowledge, an increasing number of Hungarian cultural institutes are linked with the Lab. From the 1990s Zsófia Ruttkay worked as an IT specialist in Holland where she was mostly involved in research but also taught. Around 2005 the University of Twente, where she was teaching at the time, and an academy of the arts launched a joint course on which students with different backgrounds worked in teams on applications utilizing IT in a novel way. Thus the first applications linked to cultural heritage were created, which became extremely popular with students. A BSc course, entirely new regarding its form and content, was introduced. Today more than a hundred people with background in IT, the humanities and the arts – many from abroad – apply to study.

Ruttkay returned to Hungary in 2009. Gábor Kopek, the then Rector of MOME was about to open up the university to digital technology. The now six-year-old cooperation with the Budapest University of Technology is similar to that of the Dutch one in its inspirations and results. MOME’s first course, ‘The Museum of the Future’, introduced within the Media Design MA course, was soon followed by interdisciplinary projects. On the occasion of the Liszt Memorial Year in 2011 they created installations for the Palace of Arts. Then more and more museums working together with or commissioning the course Digital Museum contacted the Lab which has been cooperating with cultural heritage institutes ever since. With the help of digital technologies exhibitions were embedded in a message story while regarding visitors as partners. As a result technology can help greatly with museum interpretation, while extending and enriching traditional methods. An entirely different role and museum visiting protocol may appear with the use of digital apps. A museum can not only learn a visitor’s opinion in traditional ways but can apply the different modes of participation embedded in the exhibition or can initiate a dialogue with visitors before or after they have seen an exhibition.

In Hungary the more complex use of technical facilities is not really exploited. It requires a team involving background knowledge of technology, creativity and a varied professional, educational and exhibition staging expertise of those involved in the world of museums.