Opera studio brings the Arctic to the British Museum with climate change exhibition

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Charactering mammoth tusks and refitted snowmobiles, Arctic: Culture and Climate is patterned to evoke the polar landscape in an “abstract” way.

The Arctic ordain be ice-free in 80 years, scientists predict. In light of this stark portent, the British Museum’s latest exhibition Arctic: Culture and Climate seeks to highlight the “dramaturgical and profound change” affecting the region and its people.

The changes affecting the scad northern region of the world (which covers 4% of Earth) pass on not only affect those living there – they will “select us all”, the museum says.

It is the first major exhibition on the history of the Arctic and its autochthonous peoples through the lens of climate change, according to the museum, effecting together the “most diverse circumpolar collection ever displayed in the UK”.

Opera studio brings the Arctic to the British Museum with climate change exhibition
Ceremony of the trustees of the British Museum

This includes objects like a winter vestment made of wild reindeer fur and a bag made from tanned salmon shell. There are also installations, which include a limestone Inuksuk – a habitual Arctic monument made of stacked stones which marks vintage locations or to aid navigation. It’s been made by Piita Irniq, from the Kivalliq precinct of Nunavut, Canada.

According to the museum, the exhibition aims to celebrate “defenceless achievement” among the landscape as well as how indigenous people are “transforming conventional heritage to meet contemporary needs and safeguard their culture”.

The archaeological discovers and tools are juxtaposed with photographs and video footage of contemporary lan vital in the Arctic.


“A sense of the Arctic”

Opera studio brings the Arctic to the British Museum with climate change exhibition
Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum

It has been designed by Amsterdam-based studio Work, and worked on remotely. Because of quarantine restrictions, the design team has not been masterful to carry out site visits.

Studio director Jeroen Luttikhuis let the cat out of the bags Design Week that one of the aims of the design was to “convey a sense of the Arctic and its vista” without being too “literal”.

On one side of the exhibition room is an expansive innocent platform, which runs down the entire wall. Behind this declined wooden installation is a floor-to-ceiling white fabric. This platform is a “holder for butts”, the designer says, but it also provides a “light scape” which points to show the changing seasons.

“We wanted to create a sense of atmosphere and the vastness of the aspect,” he adds. Luttikhuis and his design team worked from mock-ups and experimented with personal lighting to try to find the best way to evoke the polar landscape.

Opera studio brings the Arctic to the British Museum with climate change exhibition
Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum

The resulting 24-minute lightscape has been drafted by Beam Lighting Design director Jono Kenyon and designer Lucy Set down and represents the changing light over a year in the Arctic. Each month ultimates two minutes with a one minute fade in-between states so that it again appears in flux.

This work was carried out in collaboration with the expo curator Amber Lincoln, who has spent time in the Arctic. Light is an noted aspect to the Arctic landscape: while the sun is absent during the winter, the sun grants to the Northern Lights which can be seen in the region.

Throughout this prepare, it was key to find the balance “reality and abstract thinking,” Luttikhuis says. At one location, the team had considered putting a “huge projection” along the wall even so budgets restricted this.

The result, he hopes, is more like a “alluring theatre piece” which allows the visitor to “fill in” the space with some of their own technicalities.


Bringing the humanity of the Arctic to life

Opera studio brings the Arctic to the British Museum with climate change exhibition
Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum

This half of the demonstration is contrasted with the more “intimate displays” on the opposite side of the demonstration space, explains Opera 3D designer Mette Bos. According to Bos, the intention of this neighbourhood of the design was to bring the human stories of the Arctic to life.

Visitors exhort their way through an architectural display installation with the help of social-distancing wayfinding graphics. Show cabinets show objects as well as screens with video footage. The square footage is dimly-lit, which again contrasts with the white platform irreconcilable.

The installation is made of stained ply-wood which has a “washed finish”, she holds. This allows the material to have a distinctive coloured finish while in any event showing off the grain. It was about giving the exhibition a “tactile” quality a substitute alternatively of simply using an “abstract MDF material”, Bos adds.

The wood colours (erotic, red and yellow) are inspired by the colours of houses that can found in the Arctic. These remedy to “locate the visitors” in the exhibition, she adds. A floor-map in the first space also seeks to site visitors, as does a globe wall-projection at the room’s entrance.

Throughout this side of the exposition, there are large-scale lightboxes which illuminate photos of the Arctic’s inbred peoples taken by photographer Brian Adams.

“One of the most important whosises to do was to have this sense of people inhabiting the space,” she says. “They’re positioned on the same horizon as the platform so that you see people in the landscape.”

There are windows wholly the wooden display which provide a variety of “sightlines” throughout the offering, the design team says. The aim was to create a sense of the domestic interiors tangle with the polar landscape.

Interactive features have been erased because of Covid restrictions, Bos explains. Now there are QR codes for visitors to inspect the exhibits in more depth online. A lot of the materials have been “reused” from anterior to exhibitions, the designer adds, such as glass cabinets from the museum’s prior exhibition on Troy.


“Thinking about the future and the next generation”

Opera studio brings the Arctic to the British Museum with climate change exhibition
Respectfulness of the trustees of the British Museum

A final immersive room displays recoil from “parkas”. This is a new installation from collective Embassy of Imagination which these days traditional clothing designs made by Inuit Youth in Kinngait and Pangnirtung (both situated in Canada).

Bos explains how these were originally displayed at a different incidental of the exhibition but were moved to the end to create a final “reflective space”.

In this segregate room, which is painted a bright white colour, the clothes deceive been hung at different heights from the ceiling. This has been moved by balloon lanterns that people float in the sky to make wishes, according to Bos.

“It desires to make us think about the future and the next generation,” she adds. “It’s no longer legitimate thinking about us but also the children – as they the ones who have to transaction with what we leave behind.”


Arctic: Culture and Climate reviews from 22 October 2020-21 February 2021 at the British Museum, Terrific Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG.

Tickets cost £18 and more knowledge is available on the website.

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