Our Climate Control series of exhibitions opened on 11 May. The exhibitions draw on the idea that we can’t change the past but we can change the future. Rather than focussing on repeating all too familiar information about melting icecaps and changing weather, the exhibitions focus on things that people can do, and encourage people to reflect on the difference they want to make. We wanted to disrupt the sense of hopelessness, and encourage creative and critical thinking, to change the narrative. We drew on ideas of balance, of cause and effect, of choice. We worked with MET studio to develop our ideas and bring them to life.
The Peppered Moth is used as a linking motif in the different exhibitions, and as a different symbol for climate change than the Polar Bear, which has been almost subsumed as a victim. The Peppered Moth evolved in Manchester and the industrial north of England, so that a black mutant replaced the more common speckled form.
Our three marketing posters drew on the Peppered Moth, with a nod to the Yin and Yang symbol. Actually, there are Peppered Moths all over the place- but more of that later.
In the Temporary Exhibitions Gallery, visitors have to choose whether to explore climate change in terms of the past or the future. They can explore the whole exhibition, but the direction is up to them to decide. The exhibition is strongly coloured black and white, reflecting the black of the carbon of our ‘carbon heavy’ period over the last couple of centuries, and the blank whiteness of the unknown future. All museum objects are in the dark side, as we thought they spoke more of the past than the future.
An important feature of the gallery is a central wall, which is coloured in opposition to each half of the gallery: in the black half, the wall is coloured white. Visitors are invited to add black stickers to the wall, to reflect our individual carbon footprints, and to show how, collectively, we make a difference.
A Polar Bear (usually on show in the Living Worlds gallery) is on open display so people can get close to it. The intention is that people can look into its eyes. We want to move away from the idea of the Polar Bear as a passive victim of climate change, but to remind people of just what a magnificent animal it is. Projected words appear periodically on the wall behind the bear: ‘wild’, ‘free’, ‘powerful’ and ‘are we so different?’
Peppered Moths again feature in the transition between the past and the future halves of the exhibit. Visitors are asked to think about what symbols they can think of that would help realise positive change and transformation.
The main interactive in this half of the exhibition is asking for people ideas and thoughts as, again, together we make a difference.
There are other activities that involve the public leaving their mark on the exhibition, but I’ll cover them in another post.
The pièce de résistance of the series of exhibitions is a stupendous sculpture of a ball of white Peppered Moths, over 3 metres in diameter. This is a new addition to our Living Worlds gallery, which opened in 2011 (still my favourite gallery). The whiteness of the moths complements the black ebonised effect of the display cases. The sculpture was designed and produced by 24 Design.
Two weeks in, and the response has been terrific: people have been sharing what matters to them, talking with us, with one another and with experts. We’ve had a really packed programme of events, with lots more to follow. I look forward to sharing updates on the programme from time to time.