SPACE – THE EXHIBITION
Space is not somewhere out there. It is all around us.
Technisches Museum Wien- exhibition design by LSG
October 2013 – January 2015
LSG team: Waltraut Hoheneder (management, design), Barbara Imhof (scientific consulting, design), René Waclavicek (design, 3D-visualization), Damjan Minovski (3D-visualization support), Ewa Lenart (3D-visualization support)
Photos: Bruno Stubenrauch, 2013
The exhibition SPACE focuses on outer space – a space without perceptible limits that surrounds our planet Earth. Though we still know very little about it, outer space has inspired human thinking and longing for millennia. It has come to stand for a journey into the unknown, overcoming frontiers, striving for knowledge, and following our fascination with the extraordinary idea of human life in a harsh and hostile vacuum. The International Space Station (ISS), the first manned outpost in space, is no more than 350 km above us, circling our planet every 90 minutes. By now more than 500 international astronauts have had a chance to look down on Earth live from the ISS. Looking down on Earth from up there shatters our complacent, conventional view of life on this planet; instead, we start feeling utter astonishment at the incredibly unique biosphere we rely on to survive – on Earth.
The exhibition SPACE at the Technisches Museum Wien is an attempt to achieve a virtually impossible task: to cover the vast topic of outer space in spite of the limited space available in a terrestrial exhibition context. For this purpose the curve of the outer wall along a long, rounded room in the north wing of the museum building was mirrored inside, creating an infinite panorama loop in which the exhibits are displayed on separate “orbits” according to the key concepts of the exhibition.
Structured in nine major chapters, the exhibition gives a succinct overview of the topics researched and prepared by a team of three curators over many months. A palpable, universal sense of curiosity and a positively unstoppable exploratory spirit can be felt at various levels in the exhibition. Every chapter has its own storyline, which is told in fragmentary episodes by the exhibits – unique objects, replicas or interactive stations. The episodes contain lyrical images that tell the tale of man’s early ambitions to conquer the skies, the blossoming of science during the Baroque period, struggles with the established religious world view, rocket launches, the Earth’s superpowers racing to secure their primacy in space, the Moon landing, space stations, real and visionary Mars rovers, and plans to explore far-off realms beyond our solar system.
The entire exhibition revolves around the concept of travelling to worlds yet unknown – in images and imagination, real or imagined journeys. It tells the story of pioneering minds who teamed up with adventurers to try and achieve what seemed unachievable. It shows how incredibly simple and down-to-Earth most of their equipment and technology was; only true madmen could squeeze into this rickety lunar module in hopes of one day taking the very first human step on the Moon’s surface. It recounts how some of the pioneers of space travel willingly succumbed to military interests, illustrating that bravery, madness and unscrupulous ambition can lie very close together indeed.
Every chapter contains two key attractions. The first is a hands-on activity station that encourages visitors to test their own perceptions and abilities, using multiple senses to gain new insights; the second is a lead exhibit that symbolizes the chapter’s key content. All other exhibits are color-coded according to the different chapters. A general introductory text in German and English helps establish a reference framework for each chapter. Visitors can either follow the golden thread provided by the curators, from the distant past to the future; or they can take an intuitive approach, following their own impressions and independently exploring the topics that catch their attention.
Guided tours can reveal further unexpected aspects, as guides deepen the exhibition experience with their own expertise and background knowledge. Two additional exhibition chambers – prologue and epilogue – help visitors tune in and out of the exhibition in a poetic, imaginative way. Visitors can choose to start the exhibition from the future to the past, or to start from the baroque period and follow the course of history as the skies and spaces beyond were understood and conquered by humankind. The funnel-shaped images spanning the entire height of the prologue and epilogue rooms, and their uncommon artistic interpretation, create a highly impressive effect that prepares visitors for the impressions awaiting them in the main exhibition room, and helps them find their way back to reality on Earth.
Light is a key element of the exhibition; it allows visitors to take in unprecedented vistas and see images they have never seen before, based on data recorded by telescopes or even cameras mounted on satellites or robot vehicles. More specifically, light and color have been used as central design parameters; colors are mostly subdued, just as in outer space, where the sky-blue color created by the Earth’s atmosphere is replaced by deep black. The dominant black background has the effect of emphasizing the few colors present in space, highlighting every exhibit like a celestial body or spaceship that comes into sight as visitors make their way through the exhibition rooms. Lights and colors are used as orientation aids; visitors recognize them quickly and intuitively. For instance, the hands-on stations and exhibits are shown in bright blue, similar to the positioning of the grip handles on the International Space Station. Neon letters shine against the black background, while the cases and display furniture for the exhibits seem to melt into the subdued colors of the walls and floor.
Visitors walk on a sound-absorbing carpet of dark grey, covered with a powder reminiscent of lunar dust where their footprints remain clearly visible for subsequent visitors. A number of windows in the endless loop of the panoramic wall provide interfaces to other worlds, distinctly separate from the images displayed on the wall itself showing scenarios. They represent independent scenarios, narrating stories in additional depth. Some of the windows have rounded corners, similar to the cabin doors on the space station. The miniature spaces behind them illustrate the adventurous life of individuals in strange interior and exterior spaces characterized by different degrees of gravity: in a rocket capsule launched into space, during a mission on ISS, or – as a glimpse into an uncertain future – on the surface of Mars, where gravity is only about a third of what we are used to on Earth.
Apart from the windows, there are further rectangular openings in the wall, each containing several related objects that would risk being lost in the larger context of the exhibition. These groups of exhibits are displayed separately so they remain in context. Thanks to the separate windows and openings in the panoramic wall, countless original objects of importance can be part of the exhibition, while the main room allows visitors to explore, relate to, and experiment with the exhibits shown there in a highly independent way.
Outer space, after all, comprises numerous worlds; it is a space that does not always follow a pre-defined course; a space where we are spurred on by our own curiosity. These are the concepts the architectural concept chosen for this exhibition is meant to reflect. We hope you will enjoy exploring the strange extraterrestrial worlds!
LIQUIFER Systems Group Vienna, 10 Sept 2013