Having designed the critically acclaimed First World War Gallery at London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM), Casson Mann was commissioned by iEC EXHIBITIONS, to create The WW1 Centenary Exhibition.
This compelling touring experience opens at Melbourne Museum on 18th April in readiness for the imminent Gallipoli Centenary on the 25th of April 2015 and forms a major part of IWM’s global commemoration for the First World War.
Working closely with the IWM’s curatorial team and iEC’s exhibition team, Casson Mann’s challenge was to condense the incredibly complex object-rich story, as told in the new highly acclaimed permanent galleries at the museum, into a nimble yet engaging touring event.
Without the means to bring very large objects such as the Mark 5 Tank and Sopwith Camel that form key exhibits in the IWM’s gallery, Casson Mann’s team had to be inventive about how to embody the drama such large, powerful and iconic objects generate in a temporary exhibition.
Under founder and creative director Roger Mann’s leadership, the response was to create a twisting ‘trench’ at the core of the exhibition space that reveals dugout styled doorways to a series of themed collection displays on each side. As the main passage, the trench serves as an ideal metaphor, enabling Casson Mann to create a powerful, memorable and immersive experience that visitors constantly re-engage with on their journey.
This visually dramatic space is further enhanced with huge projections of the battlefield above the ‘Trench’ parapet, with attacking tanks crawling over the broken ground and soaring planes fighting in the sky. Enriched with a soundtrack that is synched to the narrative, a series of large freestanding screens create a fractured war landscape in which animated films immerse the visitor in the action.
The body of the exhibition is found behind eight doorways that lead from the Trench into distinct ‘Chapters’ that each tells a themed story through large and small object displays, works of art, personal artefacts, memorabilia, and projected films that bring voices and events to life. Designed to ensure a holistic understanding of the war without harsh chronology and detail study of each battle or episode, each of the 10 Chapters provides insight into key themes that characterised the nature of the conflict, including why it started and how it ended.
The animated approach to both Trench and Chapter projections provides the basis for a rich visual language that brings scale, movement and colour to a war that is largely perceived in black and white, and is powerful enough to engage with a younger audience whilst the style and authenticity, inspired by the plethora of contemporary recruitment and war bonds posters, and illustrated journals, will also appeal to older visitors.
In terms of design language and organisation, the show references Casson Mann’s carefully considered First World War galleries at IWM London, in which plinth construction clarifies the division of War and Home fronts, evoking either landscape or furniture in the design of the exhibits. Sensitively integrated audiovisual elements help to set context, explain events, tell authentic personal stories and support a rich collection that includes 350 small objects, 8 large objects, 14 uniforms, 29 AV and over 40 pieces of art.
The WW1 Centenary Exhibition Highlights: Trench experience
Designed to add dramatic effect to the visitor journey as the audience progress through exhibition, a series of projected films help to root the experience in time and place by carefully referencing authentic graphic styles of the era and involving the audience in the unfolding action from a soldier’s point of view.
The effect of seeing events unfold on these huge towering screens set just above their heads helps the visitor to see and hear the action from as realistic perspective as is possible to create in a temporary environment. The animated films include fixed views of a series of airplanes and tanks passing through the background intercut with more engaging action narratives (advances, artillery bombardments, dogfights, etc) that the visitor ‘joins’ in with.
As an example, Machine of War illustrates the power of these screens to capture attention and engage the senses and imagination. About the story of a British tank, ‘Fray Bentos’, stranded in No Man’s Land, the action shifts from a view of the tank in the distance, as seen from an allied trench, the claustrophobia of being stuck inside (almost life-size in scale on screen) to close quarters on the outside as German soldiers attempt to break in.
Screen dimensions: 4 metres x 2.2 metres
Trench projections images: Creative concept and direction: Casson Mann, media by iEC