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When innovative scientific patronage serves the arts

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Facilitating access to the new Cluny museum for people with disabilities, or a different approach to the cave paintings created 36,000 years ago in the Chauvet cave... these two projects illustrate the diversity and specificity of the patronage of scientific skills initiated and supervised by the EDF Group Foundation: unprecedented scientific challenges, at the service of civil society, calling on the diverse skills and expertise of EDF's research engineers. Implications that enrich lew permanent digital devices, museums and heritage sites deployed since 2018 in many exceptional cities and sites in France (1).
 
Ahe patronage is a free commitment on the part of a company in the service of causes of general interest. It can take the form of financial support, as is still the case today, but it can also rely on the sponsor's other resources: its products, its technology, its skills and those of its employees. This is the choice made by EDF Group in developing this original form of patronage, putting the scientific and technological skills of its research engineers at the service of civil society. Through two examples, the Musée de Cluny and the Chauvet cave, we can see that the sponsorship of scientific and technological skills represents a specific form of commitment. It involves technologies but also people, the R&D research engineers, on their working time. A total of 300 days are made available each year.

 

Making the Cluny Museum accessible to all

As part of the "Cluny 4" modernization work, the Musée de Cluny (or National Museum of the Middle Ages - Thermes and Hôtel de Cluny, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris) is able, thanks to the EDF Group Foundation's scientific skills sponsorship, to improve the accessibility of all its spaces that were previously inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. The adaptation of a technology intended for the maintenance of nuclear power plants has made it possible to develop a simulation tool: the Virtual Chair.
 
In the heart of Paris, the museum of Cluny holds one of the largest collections of French medieval art including paintings, sculptures, tapestries, stained glass windows. In 2015, the museum began a major renovation in four parts: restoration of the ancient remains and the chapel, construction of a new reception area, redesign of the museum's museum itineraries and redesign of the medieval garden, with the main objective of ensuring both physical and intellectual accessibility. Total reopening is planned for 2021.
 
Photo © Michel Denancé and Bernard Desmoulin
 
The new welcome and the redesigning of the routes are an opportunity for the Musée de Cluny to integrate accessibility into its work, as Béatrice de Chancel Bardelot, general curator, explains: "As part of the "Cluny 4" modernization plan, we are determined to be exemplary in this respect, even if the task is extremely difficult given our site itself, but also the nature of our collections.. For Béatrice de Chancel-Bardelot, it's "Thanks to the EDF Group and its Foundation, we have access to valuable skills and tools that we would never have been able to finance on our own. » 
 
The museum of Cluny indeed presents a very particular configuration: it is an addition of buildings (ancient, medieval and 19th century addition). With 28 breaks in levels including many staircases, the museum was until now a real obstacle course.
 
The Cluny Museum has contacted the EDF Group Foundation. This meeting led to the creation of a completely new project, prior to the transformation of the museum, to find relevant answers to the problem of accessibility by engaging, within the framework of a skills sponsorship, the expertise and adaptation of a technology developed by the Group's R&D. As Alain Schmid, a research engineer in "Virtual Reality and Scientific Visualization" explains: "EDF's R&D has devised a virtual reality simulation tool to make it easier to move around in reactor buildings, thus in an environment with high constraints. Being able to have 3D tools for simulating operations is already a great innovation! Then, it was during almost informal discussions that the idea came up to use this tool to help people with disabilities to imagine moving around in a wheelchair, in a city, in a district, in buildings, etc. The idea was to use the tool to imagine the use of wheelchairs in a city, in a district, in buildings, etc., in order to make it easier for people with disabilities. ".
 
From the nuclear power plant to the museum, there is a world, but "the bricks of the same technology" have been adapted by Alain Schmid, a simulation application has been implemented for several years and used by communities to solve accessibility problems. Virtual Fauteuil technology makes it possible to simulate the movement of a wheelchair in a given environment, taking into account current accessibility standards. However, in order to enable this transfer of technology and skills within the Cluny museum, it was necessary to digitise its spaces before the start of the project.

The Cluny Museum in 3D

Modelling required photographic and telemetric surveys. They were paid for by the Foundation within the framework of the sponsorship agreement. Initially, only the ground floor was modelled (rooms 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11) and finally, in 2018, with the company Emissive, the modelling was carried out in all the areas of the museum that are open to the public.
 
Virtual Armchair © EDF Camille Froment

 
Virtual chair technology, a wheelchair connected to a screen, allows a diagnosis to be made in a virtual environment, to reveal all the pitfalls (slopes, doorways, overhangs) and to define the best locations for lifts. The simulation is carried out using the most common modes of wheelchair travel (manual, electric and scooter).
The aim is to enable people with reduced mobility to move around independently and smoothly. And where the wheelchair passes, so does a parent with his or her stroller and children, or the elderly person with his or her cane. As Alain Schmid explains, "It is often difficult to convince architects and communities of the relevance of the developments. The museum in Cluny is a very good example, it is such a complex configuration that at first sight accessibility was impossible, but thanks to the adaptation of technology and the support of a motivated team, the project was successfully completed. "
A second step could be envisaged: since all movements can be simulated, one could imagine a visitor standing and optimize, for example, the choices in terms of signage and placement of the works.
 
The horses panel © Patrick Aventurier - The Chauvet cave 2 - Ardèche

Understanding the scenography of the Chauvet cave

36,000 years ago, who could see what and from where? An exceptional site, the Chauvet Cave has benefited since 2015 from a patronage of scientific expertise. EDF R&D researchers, experts in virtual reality, have adapted a software developed for the company's needs to quantify the visibility of works on the walls by simulation.
 
The Chauvet cave, located in Vallon Pontd'Arc in the Auvergne-Rhône Alpes region, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2014. Discovered in 1994, it conceals a unique heritage of universal value: the oldest parietal works ever discovered (made 36,000 years ago), i.e. 18,000 years before those of Lascaux. Beyond its antiquity, the Chauvet cave stands out for the beauty of the drawings and engravings that adorn its walls, for the originality of its bestiary with more than 14 different species (lions, rhinos, bears, mammoths, megaceros, etc.) and the highest concentration of felines and rhinos.
 
The Chauvet cave has been the subject of a conservation programme since its discovery and a research programme since 1998; only scientists have access to this fragile heritage. Indeed, the works of our distant ancestors have been preserved in a geological environment which, due to its environmental stability and the closure of the porch, has constituted a remarkable conservatory. When these natural safes were opened, these parietal treasures were put in danger, subjected to natural and human aggression. In order to preserve the unique and inaccessible testimony of the Chauvet cave, a synthetic physical replica, known as Chauvet 2, was inaugurated in April 2015.
 
The works painted in the darkness of the cave fascinate by their beauty, by the modernity of their features and raise multiple questions for archaeologists: what meaning did these representations have? Who were they intended for? Were they ritual representations, free artistic gestures? Were they made one after the other? Were they addressed, according to their position and visibility, to groups or solitary observers?
"We had no idea how an observer at the time actually saw them. All he had to illuminate himself was a grease lamp or a torch, and perhaps some lights on the ground. ", underlined Jean-Michel Geneste, archaeologist, in charge of the scientific team of the Chauvet cave until 2018.
The questions were asked, but of course the archaeologists did not have the opportunity to make tests in the cave. The digital simulation approach was considered, but again, they did not have a scientific method of simulating visibility. Two EDF R&D researchers, specialists in the field, contributed their expertise on this key point. Thanks to them, prehistorians now have a reliable numerical simulation that can answer the question "who saw what and where".

Virtual Reality experts come into play

In order to optimize maintenance operations, as part of the work to extend the life of nuclear power plants, R&D engineers are developing powerful tools for industrial purposes, taking advantage of virtual reality technologies in particular. For example, the VVProPrépa software provides virtual means of visual access to facilities for maintenance workers. In this way, they can digitally refine the preparation of their interventions. It is these digital training methods, supported by the most up-to-date knowledge of the cognitive capacities of humans placed in complex environments, that have been made available to the TIPTOP* project. « We have used and improved two software building blocks developed in R&D for the nuclear industry, says Guillaume Thibault. I won't make a direct parallel between a nuclear power plant and the Chauvet cave, but these two universes share some common features; they are complex environments: many obstacles reduce visibility (walls for power plants, walls and their folds for caves), which is dealt with by software brick #1; displacements (equipment occupies a large part of the floors and ceilings in power plants, stalagmites and stalactites or slope breaks in caves, etc.), which is dealt with by software brick #2. "
* Processing of Perceptive and Topographical Information applied to Parietal Works. 4 L

An experimental method and a multidisciplinary team

How is a work on a wall perceived in the dark when I walk towards it with a flickering torch? This is the initial question that led to the application of EDF R&D algorithms to the Chauvet cave. Guillaume Thibault and Jean-François Hullo constructed an experimental calculation method that takes into account visual perception in movement (based on the hypothesis that Homo sapiens from the Chauvet cave was probably more accustomed to the dark, but had a visual sensitivity close to ours).
The combination of expertise and interdisciplinarity was necessary to develop a method that takes into account a range of data: imagine a standard sized Homo sapiens, his motor skills and field of vision in the standing position, crouching and integrating the differences in perception according to the size and techniques of the parietal works. It took two years to collectively develop the analysis tools, tested on the data from the 3D digital model of the Chauvet cave. Full-scale experiments, led by Jacques Droulez, a CNRS specialist in cognitive sciences, were carried out not in the cave itself, but in a quarry. Facsimiles of works from the cave were reproduced there by Gilles Tosello, an artist and researcher who worked on the replica of the cave.

Simulations that led to the first visibility maps

"We were able to obtain scientific results on "knowing what we see and where we see it from", which is unprecedented in the restitution of cave art. Illuminated with a torch or a grease lamp, we were able to establish how far an individual can see, roughly or in detail, a rhinoceros drawn in black, red or engraved on a wall". sums up Guillaume Thibault.
 
 
The simulations show the places from which this or that group of works is more or less visible and give clues about a possible scenography. The results of the TIPTOP project were presented to the Chauvet Cave scientific team in March 2019. They are in the process of scientific publication. In addition, an image presentation, financed by the Foundation, will illustrate the method used.
* The project initiated in January 2015 was carried out within the framework of an agreement between the EDF Group Foundation, EDF Research and Development, the CNRS (Edytem/Chambéry and ISIR/Paris) and the Ministry of Culture.
 

 

THE BALD CAVE IN NUMBERS
- 18 December 1994: discovery of the Chauvet cave
- 36,000 years before our era: dating of cave paintings
- 8300 m2 on the ground
- 1000 drawings, including 425 animal figures represented
- 14 different species

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Header photo : digital model of the Cluny Museum
 

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