In November 2014 the British Museum worked with first year MA Narrative Environments students to develop an alternative scheme for their Room 3 Object in Focus series. This programme of temporary exhibitions provides the Museum with an opportunity to experiment with new display techniques and to try out innovative ideas.
The subject of the exhibition was The Meroe Head, a stunningly well-preserved bronze head from the 1st century AD that once formed part of a statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Discovered in present-day Sudan in 1911, it is one of the Museum’s most treasured objects.
The multi-disciplinary project team (Alice Barsottini, Tom Butler, Julie Howell, Julia Mariani, Dan Morrison and Lea Nagano), developed a design scheme that sought to challenge the Museum’s view of the curated object and provide the visitor with a counterpoint to the rest of their Museum experience. In the scheme, the standard museum object – the plinth – was repeated throughout the space: at different heights, in clusters, and suspended from the ceiling. As well as embodying the rise and fall of power across history, these plinths also provided the surfaces for supporting information such as text, images and maps, and a seating area directly in front of the Head (itself on a plinth in the centre of the space.)
A subtle soundscape throughout the room featured the sounds of wind, of marching and of rioting, corresponding to the images and text presented, and mimicking the sounds that the Head might have heard while underground. An animation projected onto the entire back wall showed grains of sand and earth trickling and blowing together to form the scheme’s title, “Witnessing Power”, before falling away.
All these elements worked together to create a dramatic and immersive encounter with the Head, a space entirely different from the rest of the Museum. As the last room on the way out for many visitors, this proposed scheme for the Meroe Head in Room 3 acts as a reminder, as you leave the British Museum, that all things rise and fall, and each object in the Museum is just a moment in time.
This was a hugely successful collaboration between The British Museum and MA Narrative Environments, and discussions about joint future projects are underway.