institution: Mystic Seaport
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
Password to access Vimeo Link above: SeaChange
For the new “SeaChange” exhibition, Mystic Seaport Museum selected (10) of the most significant artifacts in their collections to premiere their new Thompson building, which opened in December 2016. The contemporary design of the new building is a radical departure from Mystic Seaport’s traditional 1800’s-village environment. The new “SeaChange” exhibition is meant to reflect notable sea-born transformations not only related to each artifact, but also to reflect a re-invention of the institution’s legacy and the experience for visitors. The exhibits are intended to meet the range of ages and interests of a very broad audience. The objective of the exhibition is to honor the dramatic interior, be minimal in presentation, and to make the featured objects heroes.
To tie all objects to the sea via use of form, the design solution included the creation of a variety of abstract sail shapes towering up from 12’ to 20’. These minimal but bold curved forms served to define the space, create pristine backdrops to feature each hero object, and to complement the dramatic height of the gallery.
To maintain an austere approach while still providing relevance for a broad audience, the design team worked to create choice and variety for museum visitors. Each sail form provides not only a backdrop for the accompanying artifact, but also a canvas upon which to project visual stories to interpret that artifact. The visitor can opt to learn more about the artifact via a 30-second media presentation that brings the object to life via minimal text, archival imagery, and moving graphics. Then, at each object station there is an another interactive that allows visitors to dig deeper by choosing topics and listening to an expert on the artifact speak. To add to the sensory approach, at many of the artifact areas we also included tactile interactions such as photogrammetry of scrimshaw, an endoscopic camera to see inside a ship, a test lab for WWI Dazzle ships, a touchable narwhal tusk, and finally the option to smell guano! Each artifact station was designed with multiple entry points to provide multiple ways to understand the meaning of each artifact.
The choices were meant to provide relevance for the guests by telling rich stories of emotion, technology, and survival through visual storytelling and meaningful interactives. The theme of “SeaChange” necessitated stories that would bring the significant of the object forward, explaining relevance to today’s audience.
One of the design team’s challenges was to honor the client’s request to not visually clutter the exhibition space with secondary support objects or graphics. This resulted in our unique use of media as a way of interpreting each object through a moving visual backdrop. The 10 objects chosen did not tie to each other at first. They ranged in time periods from 1740 to 1918 and identified with places all over the globe. There was also a great variety of sea-related transformations ranging from handmade objects, objects that embodied great emotion, or represented turbulent times of trade and war, or objects that launched great technological changes. It was the theme of sea change that tied these disparate objects together and made a cohesive whole, as well as our use of media backdrops to pull it all together. We began with a grand video effect at the entrance: on a 20’ high curved sail form visitors can choose between 4 different states of the sea, and be instantly immersed in a calm, blustery, raging or frozen sea. By projection-mapping onto both the complex curve of the sail and the floor in front of it (2 projectors), this initial immersive experience is simple yet dramatic, embracing the entirety of the exhibition in capturing the dramatic differences in the sea itself.
An additional challenge we encountered, born out of our mission to create an austere yet powerful experience, was that there was a rich body of content attached to each artifact that we needed to interpret to visitors. As mentioned, we developed a media backdrop, or a moving collage of images, words, and graphics, for each artifact and projected it onto the sail behind the object. But with the lack of interpretive explanatory graphics, these media pieces became key in introducing visitors to each artifact, tying it back to the overall theme of “sea change,” and telling its individual story…all within 30-60 seconds! And, we had to do this ten times over, for ten different artifacts, and ensure there would be enough variety in our approach so as to not cause fatigue. The entire team worked in concert to develop these media pieces, from the original vision set forth by the exhibit designer, to the interpretive outline prepared by the developer, to the client’s overarching guidance, and finally the media producer’s hands-on approach. Storyboards were developed, reviewed, revised, reviewed, revised again, and so on until each piece was distilled down to the absolute essence of what the artifact needed in order to accurately tell its story.
This exhibition was successful in achieving the requested objectives to honor the space within the height of the new building, to showcase (10) hero objects with a new way of seeing these artifacts, and, through a variety of media experiences including those providing choices to visitors, we achieved relevancy for their visitorship, as we accurately addressed the range of age and interest of the Mystic Seaport’s audience.
The exhibits at Mystic Seaport Museum are continually measured and evaluated by their Exhibit Dept. and Training Staff. One member of the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Exhibits Dept wrote:
“I have spent the past few days observing visitors as they navigate throughout and the key decisions are working as planned. In addition to the delivery of a beautiful exhibit you have demonstrated how various design and business tools are used to make decisions on time and in budget.”
This review is from Mystic Seaport Museum’s former Director of Visitor Services and now VP of Operations at a Science Center in New England wrote:
“It was probably some of the best story telling we’ve ever experienced. The short “videos” or media productions were right on target in terms of tone, length – perfect. I love that they didn’t need audio (but its there if you want it). Plus, the quiet led to a much more contemplative experience. The shapes of the projection walls were awesome. We truly enjoyed our experience there.”