Connecting opposites: meSch technology in an exhibition

From April to November 2015 in the Museon there will be an exhibition in which meSch technology will be fully integrated. The title of the exhibition: The Hague and the Atlantikwall. War in the city of peace. It will provide an excellent setting for the visitor studies that are planned within the project.

Until now in the Museon we have had a couple of more or less standalone experiments using meSch technology, for example, we tried out an early version of the loupe with a limited number of visitors (it was not available to the general public). From May until a few weeks ago there was an installation with four interactive showcases set-up in our exhibition space. Although the installation was available to all our visitors it was a more or less isolated exhibit, independent of the storyline of the surrounding exhibition, meaning if the showcases were to fail, this would not influence the general visitor’s experience.

Inspired by these interactive showcases, we are now preparing an exhibition in which meSch technology is fully integrated, offering a second, more personal and evocative layer to the exhibition. It should not be necessary for the visitor to use meSch technology, but it is expected that by using this technology the visitor’s experience will be enhanced.

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Brainstorming session in Sheffield: discovering opportunities for meSch in the exhibition: electronic ink.

War and peace connected
The theme of the exhibition is the Atlantikwall in The Hague and the impact that it had on the city of today. The Atlantikwall was the German defence line along the European west coast from Norway to the Spanish border, that was erected during the Second World War to block an allied invasion. A large part of The Hague was converted into a ‘fortress’ and a broad strip throughout the city  was cleared to make room for the Atlantikwall.  In total around 130,000 people had to leave their houses, over 3,000 houses were demolished and almost 28,000 houses were evacuated. Nowadays in a specific part of the zone that was destroyed during WWII important international organisations in the field of peace and justice are established, which symbolically bring together war and peace. During WWII there was a tank ditch at the location where the Museon is built today.

Brainstorming session in Sheffield, the next step: from collecting a smart object to returning it.

Brainstorming session in Sheffield, the next step: from collecting a smart object to returning it.

From different perspectives
The exhibition focuses on the impact of the construction of the wall on the city and its inhabitants. Subjects like evacuation and the daily life in the ‘fortress’ are important in the exhibition’s storyline. The story is told by means of museum objects, documents, maps, models, photographs and video all displayed in an evocative environment. meSch will be related to a selection of key objects like the bracelet of an evacuation officer, a collection of wine bottles found in a bunker in the dunes, a carrycot used during the evacuation to another part of the country, a permit to enter the ‘fortress’, the cross made out of an execution pole and the fragment of a V2 rocket that just missed a baby’s cradle after a failed launch. Attached to these objects there is of course the (more or less) objective information: what is it? Where was it used for? What is the story that it represents? However, they can also be an occasion to offer more personal stories such as; how was it to being forced to leave your home? to live in the almost empty fortress? to enter or to leave the fortress? to experience the launch of a V2 rocket? The stories will be different from person to person, but they will also depend on a person’s role, for example; the story of a civil servant who was involved in the evacuation will be different from the story told by a civilian and the story of a German soldier again will be different. We will use meSch to explore all of the different perspectives.

Smart replicas
A dedicated exhibit at the entrance to the exhibition will introduce the meSch technology and the different perspectives a visitor can choose from. The storyline will be determined by means of smart replicas of objects that civilians or civil servants or Germans could have carried with them such as; a box of matches, a German-Dutch dictionary or a bracelet showing someone’s official function. These objects trigger meSch contents throughout the exhibition, usually sound clips supported by images. Each object stands for a specific perspective and language – all information will be available in Dutch and English.

Past and present connected
Throughout the exhibition present and past will be closely related. With regards to meSch this will be realized by photographing the historical objects against the background of a relevant location as it is in the present day. For the bracelet of an evacuation officer this may be for example the OPCW building or for the V2 fragment the location of the building that it destroyed. These photographs will be projected on the showcases in which the objects are displayed, thus attracting the visitors attention and arousing their curiosity. By activating the showcase with the smart replica, the projected image will be replaced by historical images illustrating the short stories told by a voice. These meSch-specific contents will mainly be based on interviews with eyewitnesses, collected during a previous oral history project along with still and moving images retrieved from different online archives.

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Initial concept for the design of the exhibition including meSch showcases with projection. Design: Concern, Amsterdam

Inside and outside world connected
The visitors using meSch technology will be fully anonymous, although their interaction within the exhibition will be logged. We will know which meSch exhibits they have activated, for how long they stayed and whether they waited until all contents were displayed. This information will be used in the final stage of the exhibition, where a special exhibit will be located. This exhibit will invite visitors to exchange the smart replica against a data souvenir. This personalized data souvenir has a double function, on the one hand it reflects the actual visit to the exhibition and on the other hand it invites visitors to visit relevant locations outside the museum that are related to the Atlantikwall.

Within the project we are still working on the concept of the data souvenir but one of the ideas is to print a postcard. On one side images of locations in the city are displayed; the selection of images as well as the size of the images is based on the interaction in the exhibition. The other side contains some personal information and directions to the specific spots in the city.

Talking about user generated contents: visitors' contributions to a plan of the city

Talking about user generated contents: visitors’ contributions to a plan of the city

User generated contents
The data souvenir also encourages visitors to contribute to one of the exhibits in the exhibition. There will be an interactive map of The Hague to which people can add information relevant to the exhibition’s theme. These could be historical images but also personal stories or even selfies made at specific spots. For the museum it will be quite interesting to find out whether this link between the exhibition and the real world outside the museum can actually be established and to see whether the visit to the exhibition will trigger visitors to contribute to the exhibition with their own contents. In any case these questions will be part of the visitor studies that will be based on the use of meSch in this exhibition, we’ll keep you updated on our progress!