of an Exhibition
Published on October 31, 2008
Visit Date: May, 2008
Deep inside the relatively traditional National Museum of Science, Technology and Medicine in Oslo is the truly surprising and powerful exhibit experience: Klima X. Visitors begin in an ante-room where they trade their walking shoes for tall yellow rain boots. They can then enter a darkened hallway which ramps gently down into the main exhibition space. The railing slowly becomes warmer to the touch as visitors begin to notice water underfoot, pointing to the relationship between rising temperatures and rising sea levels. This is the first of a series of innovative “aha” moments structured into the exhibit.
The main exhibit builds on these techniques of juxtaposition, multi-sensory experiences, and immersive environments to create a seamless context for the main message of the exhibit. Standing in 10cm of water, visitors navigate a large room containing a series of components. Some of these
such as the large, slowly melting blocks of ice set on palettes, and the occasional rain shower in one portion of the roomreinforce a sense of place, and are highly aesthetic experiences. Other components are more interactive and contain more content, including a foot-activated piece, and robotic boats that visitors can dock at columns where they trigger a light sensor to learn more about specific topics. Most of the detailed interpretation is in the form of giant banners hung edge-to-edge all around the room.
There are many wonderful dimensions to this exhibit. It is playful and thought provoking, memorable, engaging, and stimulates curiosity. There is an immediacy to the experience that works on an unexpectedly emotional level. It is refreshingly unusual, in a way that felt right for the urgency of the subject. I appreciated that the museum considered this important enough to take a risk on the exhibition. And while it may not have been intentional, I thought their out-of-the-box approach worked on another level as a model of the kind of thinking we collectively need to adopt to begin to address global warming.
Not everything was so successful, however. I don’t speak Norwegian and so couldn’t read the graphics, or understand the audio pieces. That was disappointing to me because I was interested in more detailed information. The limited interactivity probably also limits the audience for the exhibit. Although younger visitors might enjoy splashing in the ankle-deep water the exhibit seemed to target somewhat older visitors.
In all, I spent almost an hour in the exhibit, making connections between the water underfoot, the melting ice, the rain showers, and the images, and absorbing the central message. It was an experience I will never forget.