The Economist has used virtual reality to bring back to life some of the artefacts and exhibits of the Iraq Mosul Museum destroyed by Islamic State in 2014. An interactive exhibition is on display at this year’s Wearable technology Show.
The project, which has been dubbed RecoVR: Mosul, was launched last year in collaboration with Project Mosul, an organisation committed to preserving the memory of lost cultural heritage through digital restoration.
"In real life it's no longer possible to visit the Mosul museum or see these destroyed artefacts. But RecoVR: Mosul lets you experience them in virtual reality, with The Economist as your museum guide, explaining the bigger picture," said Tom Standage, The Economist’s deputy editor.
The RecoVR: Mosul exhibition forms part of the VR and AR section of the Wearable Technology Show, taking place at London Excel from 15-16th March 2016.
Visitors are able to don a VR headset and take a guided tour of the museum and its exhibits – and on opening day the exhibit was certainly drawing attention, as people lined up to use one of four VR headsets at The Economist’s stand.
The VR experience was built using crowd-sourced imagery stitched together to reconstruct in 3D those artefacts destroyed in the 2014 raid. The exhibit includes the tomb of Yahya Bin Al-Kassim, the stone Lion of Mosul and a sculpture from the ancient city of Hatra.
The crowd-funding aspect of the project takes place on the Project Mosul website, where past visitors to the museum are invited to submit photographs they have taken of Mosul exhibits. These photos are used to produce a 3D reconstruction by stitching together pieces from multiple photos.
"The more photographs you have, the more potential you have to create more 3D points and have a denser cloud," said Matthew Vincent, one of Project Mosul’s co-creators.
The reconstructions do not have the same visual intricacies of the original artefacts, as the limits of crowd-funded images mean that certain angles and details are lost. However, in digitally reconstructing the images, the project has made it so that can anyone can view what the works were like, and, more importantly, has ensured that the artefacts can never be destroyed.
With headset and headphones in place, anyone can now walk through the exhibits of the Mosul Museum, pausing to view and read about the digital reconstructions of the destroyed artefacts, with an audio guide commenting on the museum’s destruction and subsequent rebirth.
"This is our first venture into VR, a medium which offers huge potential for new kinds of storytelling," said Tom Standage.
And of course the damaged caused to the museum and its exhibits is part of the story and features heavily in the virtual reconstruction. As more of the museum comes to life through the tour, whole are walls given over to videos of the destruction of the original pieces back in 2014.