Following two-and-half years of renovations, Royal Jelling re-opens to visitors on the sixth of June. A new exhibition space of 1000 square metres now spans the existing structure and new extension.
UNESCO World Heritage listed Jelling, with its rune stones and burial mounds, is one of the most important cultural-historical sites in Denmark. The Royal Jelling exhibition is an exploration of Danish history and mythology and, crucially, the mysteries of the Viking kings of Jelling.
Archaeological artefacts and Viking legends are powerfully presented in a diverse and media-rich exhibition. Visitors can travel back to the earliest days of Jelling and immerse themselves in lives of the Vikings through ten different exhibition areas and forty media exhibits.
Because the subject is an archaeological site, a number of important artefacts are not viewable inside the museum. In the exhibition, these finds are presented with media installations so that they can be experienced virtually.
ART+COM Studios won an international competition to design the new exhibition, and went on to develop the overall design as well as individual media exhibits.
Art director, Felix Hardmood Beck, and creative director, Jussi Ängeslevä, headed up the exhibition and scenography design. In this interview, Felix H. Beck talks about the specific features of the exhibition and offers insights into the design process.
Susanne: What was the central design approach for the new Royal Jelling?
Felix: Jelling has been known for decades as the place of Viking king Harald Bluetooth. Bluetooth’s rune stones are World Heritage listed and constitute a part of Danish identity. Excavations over the past ten years have shown that sections of Danish history need to be rewritten because Jelling is much more important than previously thought. The stone ship, discovered long ago, has turned out to be twice as big as first estimated, and the remains of a wooden fortification were found — a huge wooden palisade surrounding the whole area. The finds suggest that Jelling was the most important place of its time, up to the year 960, and played an even more important role in the period of flux between old Viking beliefs and the adoption of Christianity than ever previously considered.
To communicate this archaeological process — that knowledge evolves with every new discovery — was the central approach to the design of the exhibition. We show visitors not just one state of knowledge, but several. In some areas, visitors can even contribute their own interpretations of the findings. In this sense Royal Jelling is not a traditional archaeological museum, but one that makes archaeology accessible as a continuous and active process.
Susanne: How did you and the design team get to grips with this topic? And how was the collaboration with the museum in that respect?
Felix: Two years working on a Viking exhibition is every little boy’s dream come true. As well as researching the subject through the usual channels, books, films and exhibitions, we had access to scientific material in the Danish National Museum. The director, the project leader and an archaeologist from Royal Jelling were our interfaces with the National Museum. The collaboration just flowed right from the first moment. I was able to visit the National Museum Archives, and we had access to scientific experts as required to ask questions and develop content that we thought would be important for the exhibition. We were able to find some auratic artefacts in the archive, which we used for visualisations of certain areas of the life of the Vikings: a clay bowl represents life in the village, a sword illustrates fighting and conquest, coins portray trade. The exhibition reveals what roles these areas played in the lives of the Vikings and also how special the place is — that it was a royal place where European history was made.
Susanne: How is the exhibition structured and staged? And how do visitors experience the exhibition?
Felix: We organised the exhibition chronologically and by subject. It begins with the time of the Vikings and goes through the development of Jelling right up to the here and now. Visitors will have a different experience in each room. For the whole exhibition as well as for the individual rooms, we developed Epic Profiles to define an array of topics, content and media exhibits that build up suspense. The exhibition is rich in content and some elements are continually changing so that visitors who come for a second or third time still experience new atmospheres and stories.
Susanne: Could you give me a concrete example?
Felix: The most obvious instance is the ‘Mythology Room’. The focus of this immersive space is sound. Visitors hear stories that have been handed down orally through the centuries. Moving images are projected onto a sculpture in the centre of the room that is a reference to Yggdrasil, the Vikings’ mythological tree of life. On the walls are images of a wide variety of sacrificial offerings, supported by scientific evidence. The walls, with silhouettes — two-dimensional cut-outs — are backlit and change colour over timed intervals. In conjunction with the stories, new atmospheres are continuously generated in the space.
Susanne: The exhibition presents archaeology and history as active processes. Accordingly, you would expect a lot of interactive exhibitions where visitors can take action themselves. How does the design factor in different visitor profiles?
Felix: We have something in every room for all types of visitors. Analogue and media experiences are distributed evenly throughout. Many of the exhibits are designed so that they need to be explored. For example, the floor plans of six other Viking sites and castles built by Harald Bluetooth are on show, and printed onto them, in invisible ink, are archaeological events and discoveries. Visitors can explore and discover these themselves using a UV lamp. And for very young visitors, laser stencils have been hidden throughout the exhibition. When found, rubbings can be made with pencil and paper and then the images taken home.
Susanne: How do the artefacts and the media exhibits work together in the exhibition?
Felix: Most artefacts in the exhibition are staged using new media. But we also made some objects ourselves. One particularly nice example is the installation ‘Hammer and Cross’. The starting point was a found object — a mould for the production of the Thor-hammer-and-cross-shaped jewellery that marked the Vikings’ shift from pagan religion to Christianity. This change of religion began with Harald Bluetooth, the first Viking king to be baptised. In fact, it took another two to three hundred years before the Vikings completely converted to the Christian faith. In the intervening years both religions were practiced, depending on the occasion. When it was stormy, the Vikings brought their Thor hammers to the fore; when trading with Christians, they wore crucifixes visibly around their necks. With our installation, we found a metaphor for this back and forth between religions. In the room is a small, freestanding, metallic, 3D-printed object. The object casts a shadow on the wall showing a cross or a Thor hammer depending on the lamp position. So we have reinterpreted a piece of jewellery and from that developed an exhibit in which its shadow becomes a spatial experience.
Susanne: Drawings are a recurrent theme and a central motif throughout the exhibition. And there is a drawing robot working right in the foyer that visitors can watch. How did that come about?
Felix: The starting point for the drawing robots were the rune stones, which, in the medium of the Vikings — stone engraving — communicated that the Vikings had become Christians. It was knowledge that existed around AD 1000 and was documented with the rune stones. We took that as a basic theme and reinterpreted it with a new, contemporary medium. The drawing robot presents knowledge not as incontrovertible fact, but illustrates that knowledge is a process by drawing new finds and discoveries on the wall. We created software that allows museum employees to import and position image files (SVGs). Then the drawing robot draws the image, first creating a rough outline across the wall, and over the following hours and days, fills in the details.
Susanne: The special thing about Royal Jelling is that the archaeological site is accessible, so a part of the exhibition is located outside. How have you managed to connect the outdoor and indoor areas?
Felix: It’s possible to experience the scale of monumental Jelling of Viking time if you explore the area on foot. In the last exhibition room, the terrain can be viewed through a huge panoramic window. Right next to that is a large screen showing a bird’s eye view; visitors can control a prerecorded Archeodrone flight with a joystick and ‘fly’ across the area.
Right at the end of the exhibition, visitors move onto a roof terrace. From there, they look over the outdoor space with images from the exhibition in their heads. Now they can imagine how people constructed the site, how they pushed those enormous stones through the wetlands, how they sat around fires working the stakes with axes. And to enhance these mental pictures further still, two Timescopes have been installed for visitors to look through. They can see the most important areas of the site marked out in a transition of the live view. With the push of a button, images of different periods can be selected. The Timescopes show how the longhouse, the church, the burial mounds, and the wooden palisade have changed over the centuries.
About Felix Hardmood Beck:
Felix is art director at ART+COM Studios. His research interest and work focus is on the overlapping fields of design and technology — both in his work for ART+COM Studios and in his independent work.
About Dr Susanne Jaschko:
Susanne is an art historian and curator based in Berlin. Next to her freelance writing for ART+COM Studios, she focuses on participatory art and design processes. prozessagenten website: http://prozessagenten.org
ART+COM Studios team
Design direction: Jussi Ängeslevä, Felix Hardmood Beck
Project management: Mascha Thomas, Gert Monath, Peter Böhm
Illustration: Sebastian Bausdorf
Design: Tim Horntrich, Arne Michel, Christoph Steinlehner, Simon Häcker, Dimitar Ruszev, Eva Offenberg, Felix Groll, Patrick Garus, Sarah Klemisch, Elisa Hasselberg, Duc Nhan Truong, Maximilian Sedlak, Adrian Bernstein, Alyssa Trawkina, Jip Eilbracht, Alexander Pospischil, Christine Eyberg, Lukas Dürrbeck, Julius Winckler
Development: Valentin Schunack, Gunnar Marten, Claudia Winterstein, Andreas Marr
Computational design: Christian Riekoff, Max Göttner
3D: Simon Häcker
Content editor: Anna Elena Hauff
Media planning (Medienprojekt P2): Marcus Heyden, Stephanie Sturm
System administration: Rasca Gmelch
Exhibition design in collaboration with
Bertron Schwarz Frey (Prof Ulrich Schwarz, Johanna Ziemann)
Realisation and construction
M.o.l.i.t.o.r. (construction management: Jochen Voos)
Media production in collaboration with
m box, Markus Lerner, Jonas und der Wolf (Janek Jonas, Daniel Urria Redia, Mikkel Bech), picaroMEDIA/Peter Weinsheimer (Audio), Weißpunktundpurpur (Antonia Spieß)
Special structures MKT, Dieter Sachse
Scale modelling Monath & Menzel
Vejle Kommune (project manager: Morten Teilmann-Jørgensen, unit-leader Kongernes Jelling: Hans Ole Matthiesen)