The Space in Future World by Art Science Museum is an example of Experiential Design, from the way the works are curated and the manner in which visitors navigate through the space. The purpose of a successful and immersive space is the create an ‘umwelt‘ — a world of perceived reality that is unique to each individual that comes into contact with it. FutureWorld achieves this through its enclosed yet open layout, comprising of various interactive art works placed all over, allowing visitors to move around freely and make their own choices. As visitors ourselves, we were not restricted or force to directly interact with any of the works. Everyone had 3 choices while navigating between the works : Interact, Observe as a Voyeur or Interact in ways different from what is suggested by the description complementing each work. This ‘freedom’ makes each individual’s experience and take away from the same overarching narrative of FutureWorld, unique to them and them only. This was evident in the way me and my friends approached different works we gravitated towards or engaged in different modes of contact with the same works.
2. Experiential Journey
Hero’s Journey in FutureWorld
Coined by Joseph Campbell, any successful Experience Space should incorporate this theory of leading one from the known to the unknown and back again to the known with some sort of internal transformation.
Source : Worlds of Wonder ,Experience Design for Curious People
Based on my personal experience at the FutureWorld Exhibition, I will breakdown how it integrated this theory and achieved each step in leading us through this journey through the gallery space.
Pre-Visit, people are enticed to step into this ‘unknown’ realm via its advertising and promotion online. We are given a tease of the potential ‘journey of discovery’ we will undergo and urged to explore it for ourselves. We are also informed of a Story (Narratives) that tie the exhibition together, making the idea of visiting the exhibition less foreign and more intimate. When I read the ‘invitation’ my curiosity was undoubtedly piqued and I wanted to experience this narrative for myself.
This crucial step is the first glimpse the visitor gets of the unknown world they are about to step into — a bridge between their present familiar world to the one they’re about to be immersed in. We were introduced to a guide who gave us the breakdown of the key exhibits and the modes of interaction we would encounter once we stepped in. She also presented us with a floor plan to facilitate our navigation while in the gallery space. Each student was also given a sticker right before we stepped into the FutureWorld space, almost like a ticket to our transition.
In this stage, visitors would typically be immersed into an introductory area filled with evocative and sensory elements to welcome and give them a taste of the rest of the space they will go on to explore. In FutureWorld, the first area we stepped into was enclosed with high ceilings and big walls that had projections all over. These projections were interactive and veracious in the way they reacted to touch and movement. Even the floor had projections. This space also featured six different artworks that seemed to dissolve and flow seamlessly into each other. Many of us spent a considerable amount of time within this space before stepping into the main area which was sealed off with a black curtain. The intense ‘immersiveness’ set the appropriate tone and mood for the digitally interactive theme of the whole exhibition.
Typically in this stage visitors would come into contact with a myriad of exhibits and stations allowing them to choose which ones they would want to participate in. The key element in this stage is the freedom of choice coupled with the depth and multitude of experiences to choose from. Here, users are ideally supposed to complete certain tasks and see the direct effect of their interaction. In FutureWorld, most of the tasks involved direct and deliberate physical interaction and an outcome. For example in the Giant Block Connecting town area, we were able to build our own cities with large blocks and observe a real time projected map of the city. We were able to place obstructions to divert ‘traffic’ or hinder movement in the virtual projected city. In the Sketch Aquarium exhibit, users had to draw and colour out caricatures that once scanned, got projected and brought to life on a huge aquarium screen. Hence once we completed tasks, we were paid with a satisfying ‘reward’ in the form of a tangible and observable outcome.
This stage is a pivotal moment where an intimate relationship with the audience is created to encourage them to continue on their ‘journey’. All sensory organs should be potentially engaged and and evoke enough wonder to sustain the narrative and their commitment to it. In this area of FutureWorld, most of the interaction here was physical involving pushing illuminated balls which resulted in corresponding music and designing and playing hopscotch. It was a predominantly ‘play’ area where visitors were able to respond to each other via their interaction.
In this stage, which Campbell describes as the ‘Descent into The Innermost Cave’, the interaction between the visitor and the main subject or theme meet in the most intense manner yet. In context of FutureWorld, we as visitors are transported into a ‘psychedelic’ room that alternates between complete light and darkness with projections that warp according to specific movements. The experience one feels here is somewhat overwhelming.
7. Connection & Recollection
This step aims to consolidate the overall experiences for the visitor and offer them a transformational final experience before they depart from the space. In a sense it is the stage that fully tries to engage the visitor on a personal level and convince them of the relevance of the narrative they went through to their personal lives. In FutureWorld, Crystal Universe undoubtedly and successfully delivers this. As we step into a mini ‘maze’ surrounded by strings of shimmering 170,000 LEDS and distorting mirrors, we experience a temporal existential moment — floating in a ‘digitalverse’. The lights around us changed as we interacted with our phone screens. The sheer luminosity and intensity of the surroundings reminded me of my ‘insignificance’ in the vastness of the universe we live in today — not just the literal universe but the virtual one of technology.
When I reached the Sketch Aquarium Exhibit, I sat down at the drawing tables that were occupied by kids and their parents and observed how drawings were being converted into animated images onto a huge projected aquarium. I realised that there was no mediator to filter the works or images that were being scanned and couldn’t help but wonder what kind of reaction would something controversial or ‘inappropriate’ incite in the viewers. Hence I decided to disrupt the idea and demography of the work by making a ‘protest’ Jellyfish. I used the colour red, an angry face with the slogan FTP (Fuck The Police) and Free HK. I wanted to it to be graphic, tacky and controversial —especially right now with the ongoing protests. As I wasn’t breaking any law by doing so, it was a line that I decided to cross intentionally. The fact that this particular artwork was accessible to anyone and had no filter, gave it huge potential for open collaboration. I scanned the image multiple times and an army of angry looking jellyfish started floating insidiously in the aquarium. Almost immediately, adults who were before just smiling innocently at kiddy drawings, got tensed up and murmured among themselves . It was significant that there were a number of mainland Chinese tourists on the day. The station was mostly ‘intended’ and targeted at adolescents who would pick up their crayons and enthusiastically draw. But does the museum expect only kids to interact in this work? Despite being open to public? Personally I felt that the lack of a moderator and the easy access gives way for a ‘Trojan Horse’ in the way the safe space within the kid context allows for controversial opinions to be conveyed and garner attention without facing hinderance.