institution: National Library of New Zealand and Archives NZ
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
He Tohu is a new permanent exhibition of three iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand.
The exhibition houses a large 3-D map of New Zealand, onto which we tell geographic stories of our documents:
- 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni — Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand
- 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi — Treaty of Waitangi (our Treaty document signed between indigenous Maori and Queen Victoria’s representatives)
- 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition — Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine (which saw NZ women be the first in the world to get the right to vote)
The design was based on research that showed us that our teen audience were engaged the most when they were told great stories. They love interactivity, and are drawn into technology in an exhibition, and they also said they were drawn to strong visual elements in exhibitions.
The map table is a large CNC-routed image of the map of New Zealand, a physical extrusion. On to this 3D canvas we project data-driven stories that relate to each of the three documents – the story of the signatures collected all around the country by Kate Sheppard and her collaborators; or the logistical challenge of sending nine sheets of Te Tiriti around the country by ship and land in 1840 to gather all those signatures.
There are five stories, each representing vast content from academic books, research notes government reports and theses. Few teens would be willing to wade through that content, so, we decided to tell these stories visually. We then had the challenge of distilling the content into short, authentic stories that they can simply watch.
A projection-mapping technique brings these stories to life, making the country a glowing jewel on to which we project each story – each with its own unique visual style.
Having five content-rich animations to play is challenging in an exhibition space because visitors can enter at any point in the story. Further, these stories are very dense in the data they display (e.g. displaying every single Treaty settlement).
The solution to this is twofold:
- “Title graphics” always provide the viewer with the context of the story.
- A “dial” beside the touchscreen allows viewers to pause, rewind, see something again, or fast-forward. This is particularly useful for teachers who want to pause and discuss, as well as for individuals interested in a particular Treaty settlement, but don’t want to watch 30 years of settlements. It makes it flexible, which makes it more engaging.
What surprised us the most, is the quality of conversations around the table. People young and old, with deep knowledge of the subject matter or virtually none, and from all cultures, have been seen discussing the issues. It is an eye-opening experience for so many visitors and has become an unexpected star in the exhibition.
One visitor’s words:
“The highlight for me definitely being the interactive map: a magical map on which you could scroll through time, back to Kupe (first discoverer) or forward to Whina Cooper (recent activist) … this map is a great resource, beautifully presented.”