Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology and Medicine

Henrik Treimo

Senior Curator

Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology and Medicine

Kjelsaasveien 143, 0491 Oslo

Oslo, Norway
Norwegian Museum Of The Year 2011

Experiments and anxiousness: Changing the Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology and Medicine through experimental exhibitions and moods

"The museum is Norway's major museum for technology, science, and medicine. It is recognized for its untraditional and exiting exhibitions, and it has used new methods to try out the exhibition concept.

In relation to the University of Oslo's 200 Years Anniversary the Museum engaged the world famous theatre artist and exhibition designer Robert Wilson for the exhibition "Mind Gap" - on neuroscience, how the brain works, and how it affects people. This exhibition has evoked great response (hellip;).
The museum has had a strong development in visitor numbers, not at least due to its Science Center which presents kids with a unique opportunity for exploring curiosity, creativity and experimental eager through loads of simple and graspable installations (hellip;)." (Jury of the Norwegian Museum of the Year Award, 2011).

In the last decade the Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology and Medicine has undergone a metamorphosis from a quite mainstream introvert museum of its kind to one of the most visible, most visited and awarded museums in Norway. There is not one single reason for this. It is the combination of some particular deliberate choices the Museum made in endeavor to achieve more visibility and higher visitor numbers, and events, particularly unexpected events, which have played a major role in determining the change of the museum. One particular important impetus has been that the Museum seems to thrive and develop with a certain degree of risk taking and anxiety.

Since 2006 the museum has produced some of its most daring, costly and spectacular exhibitions ever. With Klima X, an exhibition on global warming (2007-2009), and Mind Gap, on neuroscience (2011-2012), the aim has been to develop the content in innovative ways and in dialogue with society. We've had the ambition of challenging the themes, the exhibition form, ourselves and our visitors. The bottom line is to think of an exhibition as an experience and a place for transcendence. Therefore both exhibitions were made in collaboration with artists that, in different ways, treated exhibitions as places for experiences, creativity and participation rather than places for text, showcases and objects.

Klima X was opened in 2007, the day after the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, by the Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg and Prize winner Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Certainly the timing for this exhibition was good. Klima X shows the causes, effects and possible solutions to global warming. The theme was on everyone's lips. But, in the end, the media coverage and the visitor numbers we experienced was an effect of an unusual and exiting exhibition.

Klima X was designed by the Swedish exhibition designer Peter Ullstad, Codesign. The idea was to make the visitors experience the effects of global warming. To enter, visitors had to put on yellow rubber boots. The floor was covered with 10 cm of water to illustrate the effect of increasing sea level. The exhibition area was 400 square meters, so there was a lot of water! People were supposed to be immersed in the theme as well as inspired by interactivity. This was the museum's first major experimental exhibition.

Parallel to the development of Klima X, we explored another dialogic exhibition concept, so called "hot spots". These were small exhibitions with the particular aim of taking a stand, being a voice in contemporary social debates and also, maybe, being provocative. Among the themes were national regulation of artificial insemination in relation to the World Wide Web, another theme was (mis)treatment of children with tuberculosis in the 1950s. These exhibitions got a lot of attention with national media coverage, and they stirred up public debates and even a public investigation. The "hot spots" lasted only for a few months, but they brought the museum into the spotlight as a place where unexpected and interesting things happen.

In this period the museum also developed new concepts like for example "Late", which is night open museum for adults, and "Meeting with memories" for people with dementia. The museum has also been represented at festivals and external events, where particularly the museum' science center has played an important role. A total makeover of the Science Center has also enhanced the positive impression of the museum. It is very popular among the youngest visitors.

Neither of these events are (alone) the reason for the Museum of the Year Award. The reason for the price is that the museum has changed, and the way it is done. The change has been towards a museum of public engagement and experiments. Experiment in this regard, involves taking risks, and to some extent sacrificing the authoritative position so characteristic of the traditional museum. To a larger degree the museum invites visitors to take part in a co-production of knowledge, the museum experience, as well as the museum itself. On November 1st, 2009 the museum received the Leading Edge Award for "Best Visitor Experience" for the Klima X exhibition. By this time we were already far into the planning of our next big contemporary exhibition, on neuroscience.

Neuroscience is hot, it's a huge field of research covering a wide range of academic disciplines, it's a theme that engages and affects us all - and it encompasses some of the big questions for mankind.  The exhibition should not be about the results of science, not about everything we know about the brain, it should be about neuroscience as a material and intellectual practice - neuroscience as culture. The exhibition was planned in co-operation with the University of Oslo's 200 years anniversary in 2011.
Mind Gap is designed by the American artist Robert Wilson, in collaboration with the Swiss scenographer and architect Serge von Arx. The design and the physical staging focus on capturing people's interest, activating their senses, intellects and bodies through the exploration of three different rooms that complement and supplement each other: A room of triangular mirrors, a room of trees, and a pitch dark room with a light and sound installation.

We chose to work with Robert Wilson because we wanted an exhibition in which the audience is envisaged as part of the design per se and where seeing and hearing the exhibits is also a physical experience. For several decades, he has experimented with space, sound, light, movement and objects in his productions. He is probably best known as an avant-garde stage director and collaboration with Philip Glass on the opera Einstein on the Beach.

Mind gap is a comprehensive expression enveloping both art and science alike. It represents a new way of communicating science. The public response in terms of visitors and media coverage has been even more extraordinary than that of Klima X. Visitor statistics showed a new all time high in 2011 with 260 000 people, and the prognoses for 2012 is even higher. The scale of the project, involving professionals from art and science from all over the world, and the fact that we did not know where it would finally end, undoubtedly evoked a sense of anxiety. A kind of anxiety that I think contributes to the necessary enthusiasm for such projects, not just for the director and project group, but for the whole museum.
The exhibition is nominated for the International Design and Communication Award (IDCA), 2012. In my presentation I would like to reflect and elaborate on different aspects of being experimental, taking risks and profiting from anxiety in museum practice.


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