Cultural Mediation in the Collection Presentation
Cultural mediation at the National Museum is based on the principles of pluralism, participation, and dialogue. The collection presentation is built around the human dimension: the individual who creates, collects, and perceives art, architecture, design and crafts – from 3,500 years ago to the present. This focus has been decisive in determining the approach to learning resources. The aim has been to communicate to a broad and diverse audience with a wealth of information that provides points of access to a variety of art experiences.
General principles of cultural mediation
The National Museum’s vision is to make art accessible to all, while simultaneously reflecting the society and the times in which we live. The museum provides the conditions for encounters and experiences that facilitate discovery, learning, and insight. We define cultural mediation as the creation of learning resources that make the encounter with art, architecture, and design meaningful for the museum visitor.
Mediation is based on the exhibited works and the themes chosen for the respective room. Stories about how a work was produced and what it has meant to people over the course of time encourage visitors to reflect on what they see in the encounter with the respective work. We wish to communicate with the person as a whole and to touch them on many levels.
To this end, the museum has developed a varied programme of learning resources aimed at different target groups and visitors with different needs. The museum should be a place for reflection, further learning, and participation – and a social meeting place that engenders a sense of public ownership. Cultural mediation activities should provide opportunities for learning and moments of inspiration, surprise, and challenge, while also stimulating creativity.
Three editorial teams (for text and graphic elements, multimedia, and activities and participation) have been responsible for the respective learning resources.
Several subsidiary objectives have served to guide the development of the programme and its components:
Subsidiary objective 1: Relevance and diversity
One objective has been to enable all visitors, regardless of their interests and backgrounds, to experience the collection presentation as relevant and meaningful and to see themselves reflected in what they encounter. One way to achieve this has been to broaden the object’s historical context by looking at it from a variety of angles, provided they satisfy the general requirements for representation and societal relevance. For example, the artists, architects and designers featured in the learning resources have been selected according to demographic and geographical considerations.
To this end, we have invested considerable energy in finding stories about: artists from different parts of the country, women and Sami artists, queer artists and artists of non-Norwegian origin now living and working in Norway. It is important for the museum to reflect each artist’s cultural background, language and the like. We have also sought to highlight little-known stories about works and those who created them. On the museum guide, visitors can listen to stories that establish links between various works and contemporary society, thereby articulating just how relevant those works are today.
Subsidiary objective 2: Participation and further learning
The mediation material provides a variety of opportunities for participation and further learning. Unique objects have been designed for visitors to interact with. Video and photographic material indicate how the objects exhibited in the room were originally used. This allows visitors to revise their understanding of what design can be. The use of authentic images showing buildings and people in their historical contexts, and of music from the respective era, stimulate curiosity and foster interest in, not least, the architecture we see around us today. Texts in the exhibition rooms elaborate on themes in ways that invite reflection. Specially developed practical learning activities that encourage children and adults to explore the exhibited works together have been integrated into the benches.
Subsidiary objective 3: Accessibility
It has been our ambition that the collection presentation should make art accessible to everyone. In this context, accessibility means both physical accessibility, in the sense of meeting the requirements of universal design, and the adaptation of the learning resources to suit an audience with different interests and needs. It is our hope that no one will feel excluded from a full and wholesome museum experience and that everyone will be able to find something that satisfies them personally. In a mediation programme that is sufficiently broad, the various elements will complement each other.
Collectively, the learning resources constitute a larger whole and are spread throughout the collection presentation. All texts in the exhibition rooms are in both Norwegian and English, as is also the related digital content. The museum guide is available in a number of languages, and all audio tracks are subtitled. Dialogue cards have been developed and translated into Braille.
Target groups and learning surfaces
The term learning surfaces is used here to denote permanent learning resources that are integrated with the exhibition space in various ways. The target groups for these activities are broadly defined, with three focal groups: the museum’s core audience; young adults with only limited knowledge of art, architecture and design; and children and adolescents or families with children. The learning material has been developed in the awareness that each of these target groups has its own characteristic needs and interests.
The themes of the rooms and the context of the individual objects are conveyed in a range of media using a variety of surfaces. Different kinds of text and photographs, soundscapes and audiovisual materials are incorporated into the rooms. Practical learning activities are also an integral element. Visitors encounter elements they are free to touch, illustrated cards with philosophical questions – in print script and Braille – that prompt conversation and wonder, and objects that invite interaction and further learning.
Some rooms are designed to create variety for visitors as they move through the extensive presentation. In room 12, the Garden Room, visitors are invited to draw or simply to relax while taking a break from the art. Here one also finds audio and audiovisual materials.
In addition, an app for a digital museum guide has been developed. This contains information about the museum building, the collection presentation, and the opening exhibition I Call It Art.
The texts in the exhibition rooms provide knowledge intended to enrich the visitor’s understanding and experience. The texts relate to the themes of the various rooms while referencing narrower subsidiary themes and groups of works within the respective space. There are also texts about individual works and artists. In addition to providing information, the texts are an opportunity for further learning and encourage the formation of opinions.
The general guidelines for the texts stipulated, among other things, that they should have a unified style and a form and content aimed at both young people and adults who live in Norway and tourists without prior knowledge of Norwegian culture. The intention was that the texts should contribute to the best possible museum experience for a varied audience.
The collection presentation contains the following text types or genres:
- Welcome signs with a map of the two floors of the collection presentation, located at the entrance to the first of the exhibition rooms on the 1st floor
- A room text placed beside the door of each exhibition room, consisting of a title, a timeline, and a narrative text about the room’s theme (80 in total)
- Theme texts (37 in total) located on the wall, a podium, or in a showcase, consisting of a title and a narrative text about the context of a work, a group of objects, how an object was used, or an artist or producer. Some of the texts are accompanied by a graphic illustration
- Labels: basic information about the artist / designer / architect, work, and ownership
Most of the roughly 6,500 works have labels of the latter type, consisting of only basic information. In addition, more than 300 selected works have been given narrative texts of various lengths (extended label; extra extended label; extra-extra extended label).
Linguistic guidelines were developed in order, not least, to ensure a consistent voice throughout the presentation. Important general guidelines for the narrative texts included writing that is simple and easily understood, consisting of short sentences divided into paragraphs. Specialist terms and obscure words must be explained. Since each room panel includes a timeline, we sought to avoid the mention of years within the texts.
One important decision was that all texts should be written in the historic present. In the past, this has not been common in texts written for museum exhibitions. The historic present was chosen because we wanted to create a sense of time and to draw the audience into the period represented by individual rooms.
The past tense tends to suggest that history is in the past, yet the past is also relevant to us today. In places, the themes of the texts are deliberately challenged in order to create friction and to make them relevant to the contemporary visitor. Each room has been given a short title, and in the texts we have sought to describe sensory perceptions, to use surprising formulations, and to ask relevant questions where it seems natural to do so. These are all devices that serve to draw the reader into the text and by extension into the works in the room.
One ambition for all the descriptive texts was that the choice of themes and perspectives should reflect the latest state of knowledge in the respective field and hence current opinion.
The Italian design company RovaiWeber developed a comprehensive graphic profile and programme for all genres of text and other graphic elements in the exhibition rooms.
Audiovisual resources relating to the collection presentation help to bring the art, design, and architecture to life, thus fostering the processes of learning and discovery. In some rooms the visitor encounters specially developed screen-based films and interactive presentations, in others, scenic interiors with soundscapes, wall-projected film, and animation.
All audiovisual resources are developed to illuminate the exhibited works and the themes of the respective rooms. Audiovisual materials are situated close to the works they deal with. They present a diversity of content and stories. Visitors are able to learn more about the historical and geographical background of selected objects and about the artists, architects or designers represented in the room. One point of focus has been to highlight themes that bring together different subject areas within the museum.
Quotes from artists and interviews with living designers and architects provide insights into artistic processes that are difficult to convey through descriptive text or by other means. One example is the film about Asta Nørregaard’s altarpiece painted for Gjøvik church, in which three female voices bring to life the artist’s letters and descriptions of the work during the period when she was developing it in her studio in Paris. We are also shown pictures of Gjøvik church and the altarpiece as it is today, thus conveying an impression of the work as a whole.
Our ambition has been to make innovative and sometimes surprising films that engage the emotions while conveying an increased understanding of the importance of art, architecture, and design. While they build on authentic and historically correct sources and stories, in some cases they are brought to life with the help of animation, music and graphic design. In addition, there is a separate genre of interactive productions that offer opportunities, not just for play and exploration, but also for deeper immersion in historical and political themes that may help the viewer to understand our contemporary era. A total of forty-eight learning resource screens are scattered throughout the exhibition rooms, seven of them interactive.
The story of Hannah Ryggen as an artist who created labour-intensive tapestries that comment on the dramatic years through which she lived and to news images from a world at war and in turmoil is told in “What shall I fight with?” (room 74). In another room stands a copy of a “red phone booth”. Inside it, the visitor can dial a number on the phone to select one of three films displayed on the wall opposite (room 20).
Spread across the two floors are six atmospheric sound installations designed to evoke the history and geographical associations of the rooms in which they feature. A total of fourteen multimedia installations confront the visitor with moments of surprise that capture the attention. On approaching the harp exhibited in room 8, a mini concert begins, as if from nowhere, while the interior of the ballroom from Villa Solliløkken (room 11) is brought alive with music and the sounds of dance. Contemporary fashion is generously splashed across five-metre-wide screens to the pulse of rhythmic music (room 30). “Screen time” (room 25) is devoted to graphic design developed for screens, with examples from the worlds of computer games, TV vignettes, music videos, weather forecasts, websites, and apps.
Why have we chosen to use digital audiovisual media?
Traditionally, the National Museum did not employ audiovisual resources in its permanent exhibitions. These represent a relatively new development, which until recently was more widely used in museums of cultural history and of architecture and design. Given that the museum’s collections would henceforth be displayed in a unified presentation, it was decided that the exhibition rooms should include multimedia resources based on digital technology. All the forty-eight films scattered throughout the eighty rooms of the collection presentation are web-compatible, thus ensuring that this audiovisual content will remain viable for several years to come.
Although the main priority has been to make films for the exhibition rooms, digital technology allows the content to be shared and displayed on other media, for example on the museum’s website and in the portable guide the museum has developed. Consequently, these learning resources are not reserved exclusively for those who visit the museum in person, but can also be viewed independently of a visit, whether before or after. The museum has also secured the rights that will allow it to further develop this material and to have it translated into other languages in the future.
Digital learning resources can include many forms of content, from the historically objective to more intuitive and emotive material. Digital resources can have many target groups, but in the case of the collection presentation, it was particularly important to cater to a young audience. It was decided that digital content should be designed to provide a meaningful experience, not for small children directly, but rather for families and friends who visit the museum together – whether or not they watch the material as a group. Visitors can listen to any audio story two at a time, and there is space for several to gather around a screen to talk about what they see.
Three French companies have contributed on the production and supply side. Alain Dupuy (director) and Bénédicte de Lescure from Innovision initially helped with the planning of the audiovisual material in the exhibition, in close collaboration with Statsbygg and the National Museum. Mardi 8 and the subcontractor Femme fatale took charge of interactive productions on a smaller format or for small screens.
Activity and participation
The museum seeks to use learning resources that engage the visitor in an active encounter with the art. It is our conviction that a hands-on experience of a creative process enables the viewer to better understand what art is and can be. In addition to looking, the visitor should also be given opportunities to touch, listen, and smell. The activities should be intuitive and easy to understand. The target group for these learning activities are visitors who explore the museum on their own, without a guide or learning assistant. The activities are primarily devised for families with children. The aim has been to open up new approaches to art that help people to reflect and to make their own discoveries and interpretations. Practical, visual, and sensory in nature, these activities are generally integrated with a bench, display unit, or table in the exhibition spaces.
A total of thirty-eight rooms have practical learning resources, representing an integrated approach with considerable variety. Designed with a recognisable style, the multifunctional pieces of furniture offer opportunities for further learning, practical participation, and reflection. Visitors are informed about things that are there for them to touch, explore, and engage with by means of icons mounted on the furniture. The furniture in the exhibition spaces is designed by Guicciardini & Magni Architetti. Easily recognisable with a uniform design, the graphics associated with the learning resources were developed by RovaiWeber.
The learning resources encourage the following activities:
The explore category provides a wide variety of opportunities to investigate a theme or visual phenomenon relating to the works displayed in the exhibition space. In total, there are more than thirty such activities, all of which are included in the museum guide[PAC1] . For example, you can: assemble a Sverre Fehn stool from a small scale construction kit (room 77); discover what you would look like with an 18th-century hairstyle (room 36); smell coffee, tea, and chocolate (room 8); or explore combinations of colours and areas in a painting (several rooms). Another example of a learning resource is situated in room 80. Here one finds a three-metre long shelf with variously shaped pieces of tinted Plexiglas, which visitors can use to make their own patterns and compositions. The shapes cast patches of coloured light on the wall. This resource relates to the installation Blikk by Irma Salo Jæger, Sigurd Berge, and Jan Erik Vold.
One particularly flexible activity-based learning tool is the specially designed mobile trolleys that can be reprogrammed in support of a variety of themes. The trolleys can be deployed on a temporary basis in exhibition rooms either by museum employees or external parties. For example, by a conservator giving a demonstration of how to clean a painting, or by an invited artist presenting a personal working method.
For a number of rooms, a range of objects have been specially developed that help visitors to learn more about a material or process. This category includes objects that can be touched. One such object is located in room 5, where visitors are invited to feel the texture of gilt leather, an experience that helps them to understand the production process. Examples of gilt leather are on display in the room in the form of a wall covering and chair upholstery. Another example of a tactile resource is a reproduction in wood of a carved panel from beside the entrance door of Vegusdal stave church (room 3). Materials can have many lives and are often recycled in architecture and design. Displayed on one wall in room 23 are items that illustrate how wood, glass, textiles, and metal can be recycled. These include an insect hotel made from timber off-cuts and a skateboard made from old fishing nets. The wall is designed so that visitors can learn by touching and exploring the various materials.
At several places in the collection presentation, materials are provided to encourage the visitor to draw. Utensils such as drawing boards, museum pencils, and paper or digital sketch pads can be found at specially designed drawing stations on both floors (rooms 2, 12, and 55). Stools that can be moved to wherever one prefers to sit and draw are available in these rooms.
In room 2 you can draw the sculptures on display in the room. In the Garden Room, room 12, visitors are invited to draw trees to the sound of birdsong. Boards made from five different types of wood with drawings on them illustrate the materials walnut, cherry, beech, ash, and birch wood, providing inspiration and learning. In room 55 the theme is body language. Here one finds digital sketch pads with tasks relating to sculpture and the body. There is also a podium, where visitors are invited to adopt the pose of a sculpture and to let themselves be drawn or photographed.
If they wish, visitors can make their drawings part of the exhibition by hanging them on the wall (in rooms 2 and 12) or by sharing them on a digital screen (room 55). The drawing can also be taken home or sent digitally as a memento of the visit.
Illustrated dialogue cards with philosophical questions have been placed in rooms on both floors, on both the benches and shelves. They are designed to prompt conversation among visitors and to encourage reflection about the exhibited works. One side of the card is printed with questions, while the other has an illustration relating to the room. The dialogue cards are provided in Norwegian and English.
The cards are designed to be accessible to a diversity of people. They use large print that is easily legible across a range of visual abilities, while the museum guide includes audio descriptions of the material on the cards and a reading of the questions. On the Norwegian cards, the descriptions and questions are also in Braille. The target group for the dialogue cards is primarily young people.
Several companies and individuals have contributed to the design of the active learning resources:
- for the learning materials in the benches: Pivot Industridesign AS and Fjordfiesta
- for the drawing boards, inspiration cards, and dialogue cards: RovaiWeber Design
- for the detail of the stave church: Bjarte Einar Aarseth, the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo
- for the step-by-step introduction to gilt leather: Ingvild Aunan (design), Norges Gyllenlærlaug, and Kjersti Leikvold and Turid Hop (gilt leather)
In several rooms, reproductions of a selection of significant historical publications are placed on specially designed tables beside the benches for visitors to browse, read, and study. In room 8 one can leaf through a copy of Owen Jones’ compendium of ornamentation, while in room 14 there is a copy of Thomas Chippendale’s catalogue of furniture designs. Johan Christian Dahl’s publication on Norwegian stave churches is available in room 45, where one also finds several paintings with scenes that feature stave churches. Interior decoration is the theme of Bernt Heiberg’s book Slik vil vi leve (How We Want to Live) in room 66. In integrating these books in the displays, the aim has been to allow visitors to delve deeper into the themes of the respective rooms and to inspire further study.
The reproduction of one of Johan Christian Dahl’s sketchbooks in room 41 helps the visitor to imagine the scenes and impressions the artist encountered on his travels in Italy from 1820 to 1821.
Museum guide (app)
Developed with a number of purposes in mind, the museum guide covers the entire museum. It is designed not just to help visitors find their way around by means of floor plans and room descriptions, but also to serve as a significant learning resource. The museum guide offers in-depth material in the form of audio stories, text, images, and video. This content is developed both for the collection presentation and for feature exhibitions.
The audio stories relating to the collection presentation are supplementary to the material presented in the room as such, in the form of wall texts, labels, and the videos shown on the in-situ screens. The stories are intended to enrich the museum experience and assume a relatively low level of prior knowledge about art on the part of the listener.
The guide also includes in-depth material about selected works in the form of video and text.
Audio stories have been produced relating to almost 100 works in the collection presentation. For each room, there is an audio story about the item that has been designated as the room’s key work. Visitors can follow a range of predetermined routes, or devise their own. Each room has at least one audio story. In these stories, the listener gets to meet experts from the museum’s own staff, in addition to artists and external specialists, all of whom contribute to a variety of narratives about the collection. Annelise Josefsen, one of several contemporary artists who discuss their own work, talks about Krigsdans (War Dance) (room 1). The zoologist Petter Bøckman talks about game animals in the 17th century, in connection with the painting by Frans Snyders, Vilthandlerbod (A Game Shop) (room 38), while the photographer Hedevig Anker talks about different shades of the colour blue in her audio story about Harriet Backer’s Blue Interior (room 51). In the story relating to room 47, “Nature and man”, the listener hears the views of Sharam Khalifeh, a secondary-school sports and outdoor activity teacher who has traversed Greenland.
A route with fourteen audio stories for children has also been developed. This includes encounters with well-known works such as Edvard Munch’s The Scream and others the young listener might not have heard of before, such as Ilya Kabakov’s The Garbage Man, and Sverre Fehn’s exhibition architecture. In the “Fairy Tale Room” (room 64), it is, of course, fairy tales one finds on the playlist.
Some of the material on the app is specially adapted for people with varied visual or hearing ability. All audio stories and texts are available in both Norwegian and English. Some audio stories are provided in twelve languages. New content is being developed and added on an on-going basis.
The exhibition architecture
Designed by Guicciardini & Magni Architetti, the exhibition architecture is an integral part of the collection presentation. It was developed to provide a spatial and visual framework for the works encountered in the rooms. One of the aims of the exhibition architecture was that it should build on the fundamental objectives for the collection presentation. It should help the visitor to appreciate the objects on display and benefit from the learning resources in the rooms, while also blending in with the materials used in the museum building. It should bind these elements into a whole, while simultaneously reinforcing the atmosphere and themes of the individual rooms.
The exhibition architecture is crucial in helping visitors to orient themselves within the collection presentation. Vitrines and other furniture for the display of art, architecture, and design, such as plinths and podiums, look different from furniture that visitors engage with physically. The latter category includes benches, various types of learning stations, and spatial installations to relax or take a break (the pavilion in room 12 and the “onion” in room 21). The colour scheme and graphic elements in the rooms have been developed to help visitors orient themselves in the various parts of the museum.
The colours are taken from the works on display or they reflect the historical period of the respective rooms. Thus the palette contributes to a unified museum experience. The lighting and graphic design were developed in conjunction with the exhibition architecture and are integral to the exhibition’s chronological trajectory. Adapted to the various historical periods and forms of the art on display, the lighting evokes different moods ranging from the sober to the dramatic, helping to bring the exhibited works together into a unified whole.
The following is a statement by the exhibition architects outlining their thoughts on the design of the National Museum’s collection presentation:
Exhibition Design for the National Museum
The type of museum we believe in is a place of knowledge and exchange, development, integration, education, study and interaction, but also a place of entertainment and socializing, sharing and development.
Exhibition design has to create a realistic image on the basis of a corpus of artworks, stories and places forging the exhibition narrative. Museum Interpretation allows us to tell a story by means of exhibition design based on a cultural project.
Chromatic scale and material variations are fundamental to balance the scenic climate around the themes of the exhibition trail, and to introduce elements of variation during the visit, which are crucial in increasing the visitor’s involvement.
The lighting design solutions respect exhibits' conservation requirements, and at the same time they support their perception and sequence: in other words, they interpret the exhibition atmosphere.
Multimedia installations help the visitors experience. Different levels of language have been selected to address different levels of communication. In this process of cultural mediation there are new elements such as educational tools, which are generated by different thematic contexts.
Photography and graphics continue to play an important role, and therefore they are used, next to other media which belong to the history of museography such as architectural models, interaction, reproductions and acoustic sources.
The layouts basically consist of purpose-designed elements: both serial display cases and special display cases, bases, walls, seats and special constructions. In general terms these elements are noteworthy for their lightness, given the presence of a large number of original exhibits.
Through our work we tried to create light and sober installations, whose quality mainly consists of the deep interpretation of those themes peculiar to the place and the museum collection.
Guicciardini & Magni Architetti