ACMI | The Story of the Moving Image

Chris Harris

Director, Exhibitions & Touring, ACMI

Australian Centre for Moving Image

ACMI, Federation Square, Melbourne

The AMaGA Victoria Award for Large Museums/Galleries 2021






ACMI’s The Story of the Moving Image exhibition is unique for a permanent museum exhibition in that it is constituted almost entirely of loaned items and licenced digital content. These loans, which come from the word over, are combined with digital and physical experiences created specifically for the exhibition. Although ACMI does have a collection of over 45,000 moving image items, it does not have a permanent collection of objects. While this seems like a limitation for a museum, in fact it allowed a freedom for the exhibition makers to tell a unique global story, a story which was our particular curated version of this history of the moving image, selected from the world of the moving image itself. The exhibition is by no means definitive, and it is designed to change constantly.

Given that the stories we could tell about the moving image was as broad as the entire world of that moving imagery, a co-design co-curatorial process was developed from the outset by ACMI which allowed for the maximum creativity in developing the exhibition. ACMI believes fundamentally in collaborative practice and The Story of The Moving Image was the ideal project to put that practice in to reality. So, it’s important that ACMI’s key staff team of exhibition makers consisted of technologists, curators, designers, writers, experience specialists and included marketing and other outward looking teams too. And it’s important that a process and timeline was devised allowing maximum input into the co-creative process from all the diverse players involved.

As an example of how a collaborative approach from the outset can bring new ideas, the ACMI Lens resulted in a desire from some teams for our visitors to engage with our new exhibition and its stories long after they have left the museum. This presented a real technical challenge – developing a new tool (The Lens) which allowed visitors to ‘collect’ exhibition stories and objects and tie them into a whole digital ecology of stories and links on a newly created ACMI website. The collaborative and technical effort in linking object records and digital signage with a tool that could collect everything in the exhibition and embed that into a website that linked the collected object to more curated stories was enormous – but the results are unique and powerful, allowing visitors genuinely deep interpretation and engagement with the exhibition.



Exhibition Design

The Story of The Moving Image was designed collaboratively with many contributors across a range of disciplines, but primarily with Exhibition and Experience Design partner Second Story (now Razorfish). The gestation of this partnership was a lengthy one, starting four or more years ago when ACMI commissioned the Art of Fact firm to develop a Master Plan for a renewed permanent exhibition and a renewed ACMI building. We wanted to bring our permanent exhibition into the 21st century and better represent the ever-evolving world of digital technology and moving image storytelling. We also wanted to make our difficult building more workable, more user-friendly and more social, for today’s visitors.


Finding a design firm

The Master Plan helped us clarify our direction with the new exhibition and align it with our overall future strategy for the organisation. We used it to raise funding and generate excitement around the redevelopment. We put the design of the new exhibition out to market, seeking expressions of interest, and then went to international tender. We chose Second Story based on their deep knowledge of technology, their understanding of building experiences, and their approach to telling stories through design. We also loved their preferred collaborative approach. 12 months or more and working with our curators, technologists and exhibition makers, Second Story have designed the physical exhibition spaces and displays, as well as the visitor’s journey through the new spaces and their encounters with ACMI-curated stories and objects. Sometimes the stories came first, sometimes key objects or interactive experiences, or sometimes physical design led the way with simply great ideas for how an idea might look.

Much of what has been conceived and designed with Second Story has been intentionally developed to enable further input from our collaborators. There are many other design and developer firms involved in finalising these designs and delivering individual exhibition elements. Local Victorian and Australian designers and interactive developers like Grumpy Sailor, Megafun, Arterial and Mosster, as well as joiners and fabricators like Arete and Show Works all have a role to play in realising the concepts. Companies such as these are working with us to enhance the deep design development with their specialised expertise. This is a particularly rewarding phase of the process as it allows for renewed fresh ways of seeing our concepts and delivering on their full potential. Throughout the process of design all our partners and contractors are encouraged to contribute to the design and making the overall experience as good as it can be.



Challenges and opportunities

Our curators and exhibition makers are sourcing objects and other content from collections around the world. Creating an exciting and consistent narrative that makes sense for audiences – physically, conceptually and aesthetically – and not allowing either the stories or the experience design to dominate, is the challenge for our teams. The opportunity to start from scratch with the world of the moving image and make stories come to life is so exciting. Conceptually, almost anything is possible.


Unpacking exhibition experience

The process of developing the exhibition experience has been complex and great fun. It has involved audience research and testing (what do people expect, want, understand, bring to the experience), consultations with key industry players like filmmakers and videogame developers, ACMI staff workshops and brainstorms, and lengthy development workshops with Second Story. Second Story bring a range of specialists to the table, including creative producers, 2D and 3D designers, interpreters and story makers. ACMI put together our core team: curators, exhibition design and production specialists, digital and visitor experience experts, technologists as well as our educators and film programmers. Second Story wrangled all the knowledge and ideas and, ultimately, we all shaped them into an unforgettable exhibition experience.


A unique, down-to-earth sensibility

At the heart of all our exhibitions is a love of our subject matter and a desire to bring it to life for audiences. Key to this is a non-hierarchical approach – we value the craft of a videogame developer, a big film studio’s special effects animator, a world-renowned or emerging video artist, a TV producer or a great costume designer, equally. We love exploring and celebrating the processes and final product of all these artists.

We like to have fun in making exhibitions and allow our audiences to participate in that sense of play. We can achieve this while being respectful to the works, allowing the discovery of process and craft to uncover a new understanding of our world through the moving image. As a result, our exhibitions often look very different from each other. We don’t have a house style; just a way of making which is collaborative and hopefully deeply engaging for our visitors.

The Story of The Moving Image succeeds so well because it brings together so many disciplines, experiences and styles of storytelling into a cohesive whole which feels rich, engaging and entertaining. And because through The Lens we have given a life to the exhibition beyond the walls of our museum and allowed it to exist within the moving image ecology of the world itself.


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