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Interactive installations for a Wild Reindeer Exhibition

—— 1. Introduction ——
In 2013, Gagarin designed thirteen installations for a Wild Reindeer Exhibition in Hardangervidda National Park, Norway. Our installations help communicate the important work that is being done in Norway to protect some of Europe’s last herds of wild reindeer. The exhibition encompassed almost everything one can learn about this fantastic animal including its history, biology and social behaviour. The interactive installations play the major role in the overall exhibition and visitor experience. Our work involved transforming and enlivening complex research and scientific data into an engaging and tangible design that makes the museum experience exciting and memorable.

Although the exhibition specifically focuses on wild reindeer, it provokes reflection on the broader and more complex issues of man’s relationship with nature, that is modernity and humans’ intrusion into wilderness areas. Visitors are taken on a journey to discover life as a wild reindeer that is trying to survive in this harsh plateau environment. Throughout the museum experience, visitors are enticed to explore various topics and issues to eventually make their own predictions regarding the fate of the wild reindeer.

—— 2. Background ——
Wild reindeer originally roamed free across all of Europe but due to changes in the climate, hunting practices and domestication, they have become almost extinct on the continent. Europe’s largest herds of wild reindeer now reside in Hardangervidda, Norway, where their livelihoods are constantly threatened by human activities. Norway has shouldered international responsibility to protect the wild reindeer through its Norwegian Wild Reindeer Foundation (Stiftelsen Norsk Villreinsenter), which promotes the preservation and sustainable management of the wild reindeer populations and their habitats in Norway. 

The Foundation manages the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre (Villreinsenteret), which is located in the Hardangervidda National Park. The centre serves as both a research facility and an exhibit space. In 2012, the centre was refurbished and a new 600m2 Wild Reindeer Exhibition was curated. Gagarin worked with the Centre to design and produce thirteen interactive installations for this exhibition, which was launched in the summer of 2013.

—— 3. Target audience ——
The Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre plays an important role in the dissemination of both research-based knowledge and traditional knowledge to a broad audience that includes schools, government authorities, recreational users, the business sector, landowners and the general public.

—— 4. Challenges ——
The Centre wished to communicate their specialised research on reindeer in a very accurate and deep way. Much of the content that we had to work with was scientific and indigestible for the general public. This included academic texts, images, videos as well as various geographic maps and data.

—— 5. Objectives ——
— To create an interesting and accessible story about wild reindeer;
— To engage visitors in an interactive and compelling museum experience;
— To educate, entertain, share opinions and provoke introspective thought;
— To show the value of preserving the wild reindeer.

—— 6. Research and Design ——
The research and design process was complex and challenging. It focused on interpreting and transforming science-heavy material into an engaging and interactive visual story. We took a holistic approach to develop this visualisation and collaborated across several specialised disciplines ranging from science, art, design, multimedia and software engineering.

We concluded that one effective method to make the visitor truly understand the human threats posed to the reindeer was to tell the story from the reindeers’ perspective. Based on this concept, we developed a provocative narrative that essentially unfolds in four parts as visitors move through the exhibition. 

1. Introduction (5 installations): The visitor learns about the physical, social and behavioural characteristics of the reindeer through a series of introductory installations. Another five installations providing related content are placed in other areas to provide further information.

2. Threats (1 installation): Based on one-hundred years of recorded data in the national park, the Red Lamp installation is where visitors can easily understand the cause and effect impact of human development on the reindeer’s habitat. The key to this installation is that the visitor modifies the levels of threats to the reindeer: roads, hydroelectric power stations, cottages and walking tracks, and through a projection on a screen, they can observe the detrimental effects that it has on the reindeer’s living space. In this way, the visitor begins to understand and hopefully take responsibility for their actions.

3. Self-identification (1 installation): In the Bella installation, we personalise the reindeer and put the visitor into her hoofs so to speak. A reindeer called Bella bore a camera for a whole year taking close-up images and video of her herd. We collated this material and transformed it into her own ‘personal travel blog’. The result is an evocative and intimate experience where visitors can follow her movement and learn what she did on any particular day. This included the remarkable event of her giving birth to her young. Through this installation, a visitor is able to visualise her daily trials and attain some level of empathy for the threats that she and her herd face.

4. Future Prediction (1 installation): In this last installation, Think Tank, the intention was to provoke further reflection after the visitor has gone through the exhibition. A series of questions are posted to the visitor that asks for a standpoint on certain issues related to wild reindeer. Answers are compared with those of other visitors to encourage more exchange and perhaps debate.

Overall, a variety of installations was developed to help communicate the story of the wild reindeer. They were designed to encourage visitors to interact with the installations in order to obtain more information about a particular subject. The technology and techniques that were used included: touchscreens, projectors, data visualisations and a variety of interaction devices. 

Most of the installations are also composed of layers of information that increase in complexity as you explore further, so this feature caters to the passing tourist or researchers. In addition, the installations can easily be updated with the latest field data to ensure that what is happening in the national park is accurately reflected. Brief explanations of several of the installations are provided in section 8.

—— 7. Concluding remarks ——
About 28,000 wild reindeer live on Hardangervidda but the chances of spotting them from the main road are limited. The exhibition is therefore an opportunity for many visitors to gain a personal experience of these outstanding animals.

We are proud of the installations that we designed and believe that we are helping the Centre to effectively communicate their important work and findings to visitors of the exhibition.

—— 8. Selected Installations ——
The following is a brief description of our favourite installations. More information can be found at our website: http://gagarin.is/work/wild_reindeer_exhibiton/

A. Wild reindeer: Where are they located in the world? This installation displays geographical maps of Norway and the world. On one touch screen visitors see the twenty three living areas of wild reindeer in Norway and on the other the different tribes of reindeer in the world. Visitors can select different areas and get information on the wild reindeer.

B. Life in the herd The natural behaviour and characteristics of a herd to avoid human contact are visualised using an animation whereby each dot represents a reindeer. The herd actively evades the user’s finger across the touchscreen and the visitor is asked a series of questions. If answered correctly, the visitor is rewarded with additional information.

C. Biological adjustments In this installation we use information graphics and videos to convey the highly scientific explanations of how wild reindeer have adapted and thrived in harsh Arctic conditions. When a visitor selects a topic on the stand, animated text and illustrations are projected on to the corresponding reindeer figure. The choice of topics include food/nutrition, fur, nose, muzzle and tongue, bone and blood, hooves, horns, and the natural ability of the reindeer to avoid other animals.

D. Red Lamp What impact is human activity having on the reindeer living in the Hardangervidda National Park? In this interactive map of the park, visitors can modify visual elements representing roads, hydroelectric power stations, cottages and walking tracks as they were constructed over a hundred years (1900-2000).

The projection of these elements can be individually modified, as each is represented by a touchscreen slider at the front of the installation. The slider or bar represents time and as the user drags it from left to right, the map is projected into the future. 

A visitor can therefore investigate, make comparisons and explore the effects that each element has on the habitat and behaviour of the reindeer. This provides them with an overall picture of how human intrusion is threatening the living space and existence of these animals.

E. Bella This installation shows reindeer migration from an unusual perspective: a reindeer called Bella bore a camera for a whole year taking close-up footage of the herd. On a large screen, users can “travel” with Bella through a year of her life, from January to December, following her trail throughout the year, reading her “diary” or visual-blog, and looking at images and videos that Bella took along the way. 

F. Where do the reindeer come from? This installation reveals the history of the reindeer’s migration across the world during the period 1,600,000 – 5,000 BP (Before Present), as it followed the ice rim into the North. Alongside this story, visitors also receive information on the migration of other animals, such as the mammoth, the woolly rhino, the horse and more. They can also trace how human beings followed the reindeer into the north, settling in new areas.

In this installation we focused on tangibility. We used a big heavy cylinder as the interaction device to simulate the turning of time. When visitors use it, they begin to feel and understand how long the reindeer have existed.

G. Think tank This last installation encourages visitors to reflect further on their experiences at the museum. Visitors are posed a series of questions that require them to take a stand on certain issues relating to the reindeer and their environment. Their answers are immediately compared with those of other visitors.

—— 9. About Gagarin ——
At Gagarin we create highly interactive media solutions that allow people to experience stories vividly, understand interesting content and share their discoveries with others. Our customers are museums, companies, municipalities and institutions that utilize our work in showrooms and visitor centers, at events and online.

We have vast experience working with a multitude of media, interfaces, devices and technologies. In every project our primary objective is to create intuitive solutions, focusing first and foremost on the story to be told and the experience it creates.

Our team of creative artists, designers, animators, programmers, producers, film and sound specialists has years of experience in design and production of interactive media. We work closely with our customers to deliver total solutions and team up with specialists in history, art, geography, science, archaeology and other fields to ensure that the right expertise is applied to every project.

At Gagarin our goal is to take the complexity out of deploying rich, interactive media solutions. We work closely with our customers from the initial analysis stage and all the way through the concept design, specification, project management, development and deployment phases, culminating with on-going service provided by Gagarin experts. We strive to understand our customers’ needs and deliver total solutions that are cost effective and scalable.

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