Yokai Interactive Touch Wall

For hundreds of years, Japanese art and storytelling has been captivated by yōkai – supernatural monsters and household objects come to life. In partnership with creative technology studio S1T2 (Story 1st, Technology 2nd), the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia brought these supernatural spirits to life in a large-scale interactive touch wall at the Japan supernatural exhibition.

In putting together this exhibition, the Art Gallery of New South Wales was interested in how digital interactions within the exhibition could enhance the visitor’s experience of the artwork, rather than being a distraction. Together with S1T2, the Gallery decided to explore this idea by bringing Hiroharu Itaya’s 19th century narrative handscroll ‘Night procession of the hundred demons (Hyakki Yagyô)’ to life through an interactive touch wall.

The touch wall’s main goal was to contribute to the overall challenge of the exhibition: introducing Australian audiences to characters that are very well known to audiences in Japan. Through delicate projection animations and interactive conductive ink, the work invites audiences into a more immersive, intimate relationship with the realm of the Japanese supernatural. Stepping into Itaya’s supernatural world, and interacting directly with its inhabitants, audiences were given the opportunity to explore the personalities and stories behind these characters through a more contemporary medium.

Shown alongside Itaya’s handscroll, the touch wall immersed visitors in a supernatural world they could not only see through projection-based animations, but also touch through six conductive ink interaction points. The combination of these technologies saw Itaya’s delicate illustrations come to life as if by magic beneath the audience’s fingertips. Removing this barrier between artwork and audience, the touch wall’s interactivity invited visitors to experience Itaya’s vision in a tangible, visceral way, engaging them in a story that they might – in today’s busy, media-saturated world – have otherwise missed.

Over the course of the three-month Japan supernatural exhibition, the Yōkai Interactive Touch Wall has seen over 295,000 individual interactions, with one conductive ink touch point triggered every 11 seconds. Retaining the rich beauty of Itaya’s original handscroll, the touch wall reimagined its stories in a contemporary medium clearly perfect for engaging modern audiences. In doing so, it brought to life the Gallery’s mission to ‘deliver a rich and diverse range of experiences for visitors of all ages and backgrounds, presenting art from around the world from an Australian perspective’.

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A detail from Hiroharu Itaya Night procession of the one hundred demons (Hyakki yagyô) c1860, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Asian Collection Benefactors’ Fund 1995.