IN­NO­VA­TION

IN­NO­VA­TIVE TECH­NOL­OGY IS PRO­PEL­LING MU­SE­UMS AWAY FROM THE STUFFY STEREO­TYPES OF YES­TER­YEAR AND INTO THE 21ST CEN­TURY. SEC­TIONS OF THE OLD FORT AT THE CON­STI­TU­TION HILL PRECINCT IN JO­HAN­NES­BURG ARE BE­ING TRANS­FORMED INTO EX­PE­RI­EN­TIAL EX­HI­BI­TION SPA­CES ACCE

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Jo’burg’s Old Fort wel­comes new tech­nol­ogy to be­come a 21st-cen­tury mu­seum

As mean­ing­ful pub­lic spa­ces, mu­se­ums al­low us to re­flect on the past and pro­vide an in­for­mal learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment that’s both ef­fec­tive and in­spi­ra­tional. Mov­ing away from a re­sem­blance to zero-fun ceno­taphs, mu­se­ums are em­ploy­ing new tech­nolo­gies to bring ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces to life.

“The pen­du­lum has swung from the mu­seum as a pas­sive tem­ple to the mu­seum as an ac­tive space; from a trea­sure box to a tool­box,” said Madeleine Gryn­sztejn, Di­rec­tor of the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art in Chicago, USA, in an ar­ti­cle by Ash­ley Lane en­ti­tled Fac­ing the Fu­ture: How Mu­se­ums are Em­brac­ing New Trends and Tech­nolo­gies.“to­day’s au­di­ences are no longer look­ing for a cold ‘white cube’ mu­seum ex­pe­ri­ence. In­stead, they crave warmer, shared ex­pe­ri­ences.”

The vis­i­tor up­grade at the Old Fort will show­case an im­por­tant as­pect of SA’S his­tory and jour­ney to democ­racy through the use of im­mer­sive sto­ry­telling to en­gage and ed­u­cate wider au­di­ences. The up­grade will give vis­i­tors a self-guided ex­pe­ri­ence, game-like ac­tiv­i­ties, the abil­ity to en­gage phys­i­cally with the his­tory of the site through au­dio-vis­ual sto­ry­telling and the clever use of cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy.

“THE CELLS TELL PROM­I­NENT PRIS­ONER STO­RIES AND SA’S HIS­TORY, AND ALSO RE­VEAL HOW FAM­I­LIES OF THE IM­PRIS­ONED MUST HAVE FELT.”

THE OLD FORT: IN A NUT­SHELL

Pre­vi­ously known as the Jo­han­nes­burg Jail, the Old Fort is a Na­tional Her­itage Site. The Fort housed white male po­lit­i­cal and com­mon-law pris­on­ers, as well as po­lit­i­cal in­mates. One of them was South African Com­mu­nist Party leader Joe Slovo and an­other was for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, the Fort’s only black pris­oner, who was in­terned here twice.

EX­PE­RI­ENCE-DRIVEN EX­HIBITS

Head­ing up the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence up­grade is For­mula D, an award-win­ning ex­hibit de­sign firm whose forte is craft­ing mean­ing­ful in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences that push the bound­aries in terms of tech­nol­ogy and cre­ativ­ity.

“Many mu­se­ums in SA strug­gle to get feet through the door be­cause their tra­di­tional way of pre­sent­ing con­tent no longer works for their au­di­ences,” says Michael Wolf, CEO of For­mula D. “We use tech­nol­ogy and good sto­ry­telling, ask ques­tions and en­cour­age the au­di­ence to form their own opin­ions. At the Old Fort, our in­ten­tion is to un­lock the site’s his­tory in ways that en­cour­age crit­i­cal think­ing for vis­i­tors of var­i­ous age groups and ed­u­ca­tional back­grounds.”

The up­grade is fo­cused on spe­cific ar­eas at the

Old Fort, each with its own theme, fo­cus story and side story. For ex­am­ple, the cells tell prom­i­nent pris­oner sto­ries and SA’S his­tory, and also re­veal how fam­i­lies of the im­pris­oned must have felt. Each cell ex­plores a dif­fer­ent pris­oner’s re­al­ity us­ing a va­ri­ety of medi­ums, in­clud­ing time­line for­mat, shadow theatre, first-per­son au­dio ac­counts and holo­graphic video, al­low­ing for a rich mul­ti­me­dia ex­pe­ri­ence that’s hugely ap­peal­ing to the youth.

“The project started with re­search and in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which then de­vel­oped into a sto­ry­line and find­ing cre­ative meth­ods to tell the story to vis­i­tors,” says Jo­han du Toit, For­mula D’s Se­nior Prod­uct De­signer. “We de­vel­oped ‘ghost’ char­ac­ters to lead vis­i­tors through the site and his­tory. The ex­hibits and in­ter­ven­tions were all de­vel­oped around these char­ac­ters. This then be­came the tem­plate on which all ex­hibits and me­dia were de­signed and pro­duced.”

Ac­cord­ing to the For­mula D team, de­sign­ing the Pep­per’s Ghost ex­hibit was prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing, as it in­volved a lot of re­search and pro­to­typ­ing to achieve the de­sired re­sult. “Pep­per’s Ghost recre­ates a 1:1 scale vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence of in­mate Joe Slovo read­ing from a let­ter he wrote to his wife, Ruth First, and walk­ing around his cell. The cell’s also fit­ted with an au­dio de­vice, al­low­ing the user to lis­ten to Joe talk­ing to him­self about daily life in the Old Fort. With this au­dio-vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence, a user will grasp what a typ­i­cal day was like for Joe Slovo in­side the prison.”

Up on the Old Fort’s ram­parts, which of­fer stun­ning views of the city, two full-scale replica can­nons have been added to the north-east and south-west bas­tions. One of them will sim­u­late the fir­ing of the daily 1pm gun, as re­ported in his­tory.

In terms of game-like ac­tiv­i­ties, For­mula D cre­ated the Ex­plorer Game, which en­ables chil­dren to trace a pen­cil over cut-outs of rel­e­vant ob­jects placed around the Old Fort. It’s a fun way of nav­i­gat­ing the space, while also serv­ing as a me­mento to take home.

An­other out­door ac­tiv­ity cen­tres on the in­ter­ac­tive “he­li­o­graph” sig­nalling sta­tions, which al­low chil­dren to learn about and send their own mes­sages via

Morse Code. “It’s a fun and en­ter­tain­ing way to teach chil­dren the meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion used by sol­diers within the Old Fort’s his­tory,” says the prod­uct de­sign team at For­mula D.

The new ex­hi­bi­tion space will be open to the pub­lic at the end of Oc­to­ber. Visit: www.con­sti­tu­tion­hill.org.za

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