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3 ways of presenting history in a museum space so that it bears a lasting impression

Curiosity is a part of us. It is what arouses the desire to explore the world of science, culture, and art, as well as to learn history. We are extremely fortunate because we live in an age of “accessibility”. Museums and science centres are widely available — and with them, everything we like to explore. However, how to make the exhibitions attractive to visitors? How to evoke emotions and make museum visits truly memorable?

We visit museums to slip for a while into the world of culture and art, learn something new and feel the atmosphere of a different era. We gladly discover and marvel at museum exhibitions – but do we remember them afterwards? The best way to achieve a lasting effect is to make the exhibition speak to our emotions. The deeper these emotions will be, the more intimate and friendly the exhibition will become. It’ll become memorable. How do we revive history in museums so that it influences our senses and feelings? I would like to propose three solutions, though they do not exhaust all the possibilities. Yet, in my opinion, they are the most important.

1. Augmented Reality

A quiet museum hall filled with works we admire. We are real – here and now. They are the subject of our research. What if we moved for a moment to a dimension where we would be able to see the interesting exhibit at a really short distance? What if we had the opportunity to learn about its structure and admire its details? We might even be able to hear the sounds accompanying it, or we would be illuminated by its brilliance for a moment. Such tangible contact with the studied object would allow to erase the boundaries that divide us from it, and through the multitude of stimuli we are offered, the exhibit would become closer to us. We would remember it better.

Today, such experience is made available by technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR, more about which you will read in this article). One of the prime examples showing the use of this technology can be the exhibition hosted in Gdańsk (at the beginning of 2019) of Zdzisław Beksiński’s artworks — presented at the Shakespeare Theatre. Thanks to the VR goggles, the visitors could literally find themselves inside the artist’s image for a while. The eerie atmosphere, the music, and the isolation from the outside world allowed the participant to focus more on experiencing the work.

Every day we are distracted by numerous stimuli and information coming from all directions. Close, one-on-one contact with pieces of art allows us to transfer for a moment to another reality and experience it deeper.

2. Interaction

Introducing multimedia and interactive elements into the exhibition is currently a norm. How involved we will feel while we are interacting with the exhibit will certainly affect our overall perception of the whole set up. It is important that we have the opportunity to make decisions and explore the installation or exhibit on our own, and that we can immediately observe the effect of our actions.

One example of such an interactive model was one of the sites we prepared in the German pavilion during the World Expo 2017 Exhibition held in Kazakhstan. It was a combination of wall-painted illustrations with animations displayed by a projector. The result was greatly admired by the visitors – touching real images triggered a virtual, interactive animation.

3. Discovering the unknown

Creating dedicated mobile applications which guide visitors around the entire exhibition area is becoming increasingly popular. The apps often contain information that is not otherwise available. The advantage of such an application is the ability to download it on your own mobile device and use it also outside the museum. This solution allows to create a bond between the exhibition and the viewer – after all, the application stays with the user for a longer time.

A perfect example is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where you can explore interesting facts about almost every piece of work by the artist, using a mobile app. Visitors can find out what is hidden on the canvas under a thick layer of oil paint or what the first sketches of the work looked like.

Another example is the Nicolaus Copernicus House in Toruń. In this case, a mobile application was created in order to combine the information and experiences gathered during a visit to the museum with the world outside its walls – with places in the city space thematically linked to the exhibition. This is one of the ways to put ourselves in the place of an explorer and to awaken (and satisfy) the natural child curiosity, which we often forget in everyday adulthood.

Engage, process, explore…

Boring, dusty museum halls are a thing of the past. Nowadays, there are numerous engaging ways to interact with art, that stimulate the senses and encourage independent exploration. Through participation, visitors engage not only in reception but also in co-creation of exhibited works.

Alternative reality, interaction, co-creation, continuing the visit after returning home – all these examples have one common goal – to evoke emotions and feelings, which is the essence of exploring history. They are made to stimulate a sense of coexistence with the world presented in the exhibition space. Technology is designed to awaken the most human feature in us – the desire to learn about our own roots, human history and our existence on Earth.

MARTA WRZODAK

graphic designer